In an ideal situation, you find someone we like sufficiently to want to commit to him or her for the rest of our lives and from that point on you love this person to the extent that you have zero interest in anyone else. But this is not always how things go. Sometimes, a woman meets a man who is super smart and she recognizes the person she is dating or is married to is nowhere near as bright. This bothers her and plants seeds of doubt in her mind about whether she made the right choice.
Other times, a man sees a woman that he finds particularly attractive and cannot help himself comparing her more favorably to the woman he is dating or is married to. He is overcome by the sense that he is settling for less than he really wants and finds it difficult to find joy in his current relationship.
Being confronted by jarring feelings of self-doubt can be quite debilitating and painful. It is debilitating because it leaves us highly confused. Rarely do those feelings of self-doubt result in a clear-cut conclusion that we made a mistake is selecting our current partner. Rather, we just question our choice. This leaves us in limbo, and depletes our vitality.
It also is painful, as we are crippled with self-recrimination. We blame ourselves for getting caught up in a relationship with someone who falls short. This whole process really messes with our head. As this phenomenon relates both to dating and to marriage, terms such as “relationship” and “partner” will be used to cover both scenarios.
Many people have “The Wobbles”
Before getting to the main point, let me acknowledge the simple truth that this can happen in almost any relationship. There will always be someone superior in one or more dimensions to the person we are with, and there is therefore plenty of opportunities to compare him or her negatively to someone else. In any relationship, there are going to be ups and downs, so it is likely that there will occasions where our minds may be more inclined to drift towards these morbid thoughts.
Some people are more disposed towards self-doubt, and thus are more likely to second-guess themselves. Also, as explained elsewhere, some people are not wired to fall in love (or do so to a milder degree) and they are particularly vulnerable to this tendency. When people fall in love, their brains are flooded with chemicals that make them highly obsessive about their love-object. But some people are more cerebral in how they choose a mate, and are thus also more prone to question their decision.
Here is the good news: for the vast majority of people, these are fleeting thoughts and pass into the wind in short order. No sooner do they come than they go. We may feel guilty afterward for thinking critically of our partner, but this achieves nothing and is usually misplaced. We are all capable of having dark thoughts or moments of misgiving, and it is not worth making a bigger deal of it than it is. You are most likely to “get over it” and return to your previous equilibrium.
Most people realize once they bounce back from their “slump” that no one is perfect and that it is unrealistic to so easily lose heart in a relationship. Any decent and half-intelligent person understands that he or she can also be measured and judged in the same way. We would not take it too well if the same terms were applied to us.
Surely, no living being truly believes that they are superior to anyone else on every dimension. If we were going by the rule that any imperfection is cause to call the relationship into question, no person could ever feel secure in a marriage – which contradicts its very essence.
What happens when your eyes and mind wander?
Now let us get to the meat of the issue – and I apologize in advance for working with certain gender stereotypes. Men are easily distracted by women, and some men are much more affected by this than others. A small minority will find this affects them in significant ways. One of the more damaging consequences is the destabilizing impact on their relationships. Of course, women are not immune to this either, but it is an issue that affects men far more than women.
Some men will be discouraged because they saw someone else (they perceive to be) more attractive. This places significant downward pressure on the dating, as he feels he is losing out by continuing his current dating. In some cases, they may decide to discontinue their current date in order to pursue their chances with the other person. People who are prone to this can repeat this cycle multiple times, leading to a litany of dating disappointments. If already married, this leads to continual bouts of discontent and marital unhappiness, and in extreme cases leads to the deterioration or even demise of the marriage.
I had a client (we will call him Mark) who had – by his account – dated over 200 women. He was 42 at the time, and had just broken off a six-month relationship. Mark had the sense to realize that something was not adding up. Many of his relationships ended because he saw someone more attractive at the gym and felt dissatisfied with the person he was with.
Despite this repeating itself dozens of times, he did not catch on to what was happening. Whatever one may think of Mark’s behavior, it clearly was not working. Something needed to shift in this brain, or he was likely to perpetuate this vicious cycle. So, I told him he needs to understand the math. This is how it went.
Doing the math
Yossi: “After dating for six months, in percentage terms how confident are you about her compatibility?”
Yossi: “The girls you saw in the gym, in percentage terms how confident are you that she would be compatible with you?”
Mark: “I have no idea; I have never even spoken to her.”
Yossi: “How many of the 200 people you dated lasted for six months?”
Mark: “A handful, maybe five.”
Yossi: “Of the more than 200 people you dated, how many would you give a 90% score?”
Mark: “Perhaps two or three.”
Yossi: “So let us do the math. The person you last dated you thought there was a 90% chance you would be happily married to, while the person in the gym at most there would a statistical probability of 2% that you would want to marry them. How does it make sense to compare someone with whom you have spent a huge amount of time and have good reason to believe you be a highly compatible life partner with a complete stranger who is almost certainly (98% chance) not going being suitable?!”
Here was the problem: When Mark saw the girl in the gym, he was not doing the math. He was allowing one point – her looks – to undermine his satisfaction with his current partner. If he were to take a broader view, he would know from his own experience that it is highly unlikely that his efforts with this other person would go anywhere – the real chances are extremely low. First of all, the “gym girl” may already be in a relationship. Even if not, she may not be interested in him. Even if she is, the chances that it would go the distance without any background knowledge about her is infinitesimally small.
That the presence of a completely random person could influence Mark to this degree is surely insane. Because Mark’s case is extreme, we can dismiss it as an anomaly. It would be better to recognize that similar – if less pronounced – reactions are twisting many people’s mind into a confused and irrational state.
The woman you saw in the store or on the street is irrelevant. If you had your chances all over, the likelihood is that you would not marry that person anyway. You probably would find that you are not compatible and have little in common. When people end their dating at an advanced stage to pursue their interest with someone who caught their eye, it almost never ends in success.
You would be giving up on someone with whom you have a 90% chance of a successful and happy marriage to pursue an interest in someone with whom you most likely have no more than a 5% chance of the same – maybe lower. The numbers just do not add up. You are just playing roulette with your life.
If you are in a marriage, please have the composure and clarity of mind to realize that in all likelihood you ended up in this marriage because of very good reasons. The chances of you having the same with the stranger who seems to have managed to get you “all hot and bothered” is minute.
Get a grip on reality, friend. You are in a real marriage with someone who is committed to you and loves you. You have gotten to know this person well and have strong justification for believing you can build a home and family with this person. The only thing this other person has to offer is in your own fantasy. To help you shake off the fantasy and get back in touch with reality, do the math.