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Relationships

Is It OK to Have a Crush on Someone Other Than Your Partner?

... and how a crush can become something more concerning.

Key points

  • Many people in relationships meet potential alternative partners.
  • Having a crush on someone outside the relationship is largely harmless.
  • A third of volunteers had a crush on four or more people outside their relationship.
  • People who are less satisfied with their main relationships developed stronger crushes.

When somebody is in a committed romantic relationship for a longer time, it is quite likely that they encounter one or more potential alternative partners whom they might find attractive. A new co-worker in the office, a friend of a friend, or just a chance encounter in the gym—the possibilities are endless.

However, there is not much psychological research on how often people in monogamous relationships develop a crush on someone outside the relationship and which factors may lead to developing a crush on someone who is not the partner. Also, it is not clear, whether such a crush is largely harmless or whether it may lead to the end of the main relationship.

A new study on how often and under which circumstances people develop a crush on someone who is not their partner

Therefore, a new study aimed at getting a better understanding of why people in a committed monogamous relationship develop a crush on someone who is not their partner (Belu and O’Sullivan, 2024). The paper with the title, “It’s Just a Little Crush: Attraction to an Alternative and Romantic Relationship Quality, Breakups and Infidelity,” contained data from 542 volunteers who had been in a committed monogamous relationship for at least three months and had a crush on somebody else. Volunteers were between 22–35 years old. Each volunteer had to fill out a couple of questionnaires via an online platform. They had to answer questions about whether they had been attracted to somebody else than their partner, whether they had the opportunity to make a connection with their crush, about infidelity, and their investment, commitment, and satisfaction with their relationship with their partner.

People in a relationship often have a crush on more than one person who is not their partner

The results of the study showed that it is widespread for people in committed relationships to have a crush on more than one person who is not their partner. Overall, only 34 percent of volunteers reported that they had a crush on one other person who was not their partner.

That means that 66 percent of volunteers had crushes on two or more people outside the relationship!

Overall, 24.2 percent of volunteers had a crush on two other people, while 14.7 percent had a crush on three other people. About 27.1 percent of volunteers even had a crush on four or more people who were not their partners. The average number of crushes volunteers had on people outside the relationship was two. This shows that people in a relationship who develop a crush on someone outside the relationship once are very likely to do it again.

For most volunteers (67.7 percent), the partner did not know about the crush on the outside person. On average, volunteers knew their crush for about two years and felt attraction to them for about one year. The most likely place to meet the crush was work (38.2 percent).

The scientists investigated whether having a crush led to problems in the main relationship or could even lead to the end of the main relationship. To this end, they asked the volunteers to fill out another questionnaire four months after the first data collection. However, only 3 percent of participants engaged in infidelity with the crush during that time. This clearly shows that in most relationships it does not necessarily end in cheating if one partner has a crush on someone else. Most people stay faithful to their partner, even if they have a crush.

For most relationships, crushes are harmless.

The scientists also developed a statistical model that showed that the attraction to the crush was driven by the expected quality of the alternative relationship, but also by low satisfaction and investment in the main relationship. This implies that people who were happy and satisfied with their main relationship had a lower attraction to their crush. However, people that were not satisfied with their main relationship, felt a stronger attraction to their crush.

Taken together, it is unlikely that people who develop a crush on a person outside their relationship cheat on their partners, but if they are unhappy with the relationship, it might happen.

Facebook image: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock

References

Belu, C. F., & O'Sullivan, L. F. (2024). It's Just a Little Crush: Attraction to an Alternative and Romantic Relationship Quality, Breakups and Infidelity. Journal of sex research, 1–14. Advance online publication.

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