Dear Carolyn • What are you supposed to do when you meet someone who so clearly highlights everything you're missing in your current relationship? I started a new job and have connected on a serious level with one of my co-workers. We often find ourselves in these intense conversations and seem to relate to each other on just about everything. No topics have verged on the romantic or suggestive, but I'm strongly attracted to him, and I suspect he feels the same about me. I've never had such intense conversations with my husband, and now I realize how much intellectual stimulation I've been missing out on in my marriage. And it doesn't seem like something you can simply "reignite" or "recapture" that mental spark is either there between two people or it's not. Does this sort of thing end marriages?
Dear Intellectual Spark • Often, yes. Sometimes it doesn't. The important thing is to decide right now that you're not going to surrender yourself to the laws of unintended consequences. Instead, make choices. That includes giving objective attention to your marriage; you've got the lust goggles on, and that means you're not getting a fair or accurate look at your husband or Sparky. That also means you quit playing footsie with Sparky. Once you're back on a path of deliberate choices, ask yourself whether you'd want to stay in your marriage even if Sparky vaporized tomorrow. If the answer is yes, then do the work your marriage needs. You can't reproduce an intellectual fizz that never existed, but you can recall the best of what you and your husband did share, and nurture that. If the answer is no, if you don't think you can feel or show love for your husband anymore, then it's especially imperative that you distance yourself from Sparky as you start thinking about a separation. That is, a separation without imagining Sparky waiting for you on the other side. If Sparky is right for you, then you can find that out if, and only if, the process of getting your emotional life in order delivers you to a place where you are not just single, but also fine on your own.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.