Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: 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 coworkers. He's in a five-year relationship, and I'm five years married. 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.
Also, we seem to be finding more and more excuses to spend time together outside of work. 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?
Answer: 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. That just leaves a swath of casualties and collateral damage.
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, and stop with the "finding more and more excuses." Next time he suggests something, you say, "No, this is getting out of hand, I have to go home." Do it even though your every cell screams to play footsie. (I wish I had a Velcro-ripping sound effect to throw in here.)
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. Or you can focus on the (many) benefits of being with someone who has seen you at your lowest and is still at your side.
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. You don't know that he wants that, or whether you even want it. You don't know him yet, not really. Ever have a crush burn out? Happens fast, doesn't it? Leaves you wondering what you were thinking? Yeah.
Now imagine chucking a marriage for that crush. Ouch.
You have to assume your Sparky ardor will fade, and manage your life accordingly. 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.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.