This is why flirting with other people is so exciting, even if you're happy in your relationship.
There's hardly a feeling more electrifying than that flip-flopping, tummy-turning feeling you get when you're instantly attracted to someone. Whether it's how you suddenly catch eyes or the effortless way he makes you laugh, that "butterflies in the stomach" feeling is exciting.
Unless, of course, you're in a relationship — and the person making you feel this way is NOT your partner. Then that feeling can be downright terrifying.
Here's the thing: feeling butterflies in the stomach when you like someone is totally normal.
In fact, in a survey of over 1,300 people we conducted with Ashley Madison, we found that 62 percent of people in relationships get strong butterflies in their stomach or feel excited at the idea of flirting with someone else at least once a year. And if you're not part of the 62 percent, well... there's a pretty good chance your partner is.
What's more, 19 percent of people feel those fluttering sensations every WEEK.
While that may seem precarious, based on some pretty amazing data from biology and neuroscience, it's not surprising at all.
Scientifically, what you're physically feeling when someone makes your heart skip a beat is your body's fight-or-flight response.
Basically, this is an evolutionary response the human body has developed over time which prepares it to either fight or run in the face of a threat. Your heart rate speeds up, your breathing quickens, and you might even start feeling a little sweaty. According to Greatist, "the smooth stomach muscles are also extra-sensitive during the fight-or-flight response," which is why your stomach starts freaking out, causing that infamous "butterflies in the stomach" feeling.
Sure, being attracted to someone isn't exactly life-threatening, so the whole fight-or-flight response might seem like your body's doing too much. But that doesn't mean catching yourself falling for someone isn't stressful (especially when you're already with someone else)!
As guilty as you might feel at the thought of getting excited by someone other than your partner, we promise you're not alone in the experience.
If you're one of the 62 percent of people who get excited at the idea of flirting with someone other than your partner, don't spend too much time feeling guilty about it. Research has shown that women are actually "genetically programmed" to have affairs — and you can't argue with evolution!
According to researchers at the University of Texas, affairs served as a type of "mate insurance" for our ancestors. "A regular mate may cheat, defect, die, or decline in mate value. Ancestral women lacking a backup mate would have suffered a lapse in protection and resources," explained Dr. David Buss, senior author of the research.
Basically, our ancestors would keep people on the back burner just in case anything happened to their primary spouse. That's not to say they didn't love their mate, rather that they would pursue and make themselves available to others just in case. Which means those butterflies in the stomach are kind of like a leftover evolutionary process signaling that the person making you feel that way would potentially make a good backup mate.
The truth is, people who pursue affairs likely still do love their partners.
Meaning these butterflies in the stomach you feel for someone other than your partner isn't necessarily a sign that your relationship is in jeopardy, but rather it's a biological impulse passed down from our ancestors.
Biology aside, the act (or even just the thought of) flirting with someone new is exciting purely for the fact that it makes you feel good about yourself. There's no denying that we like things that make us feel good, and getting positive attention from someone we like feels great.
In long-term relationships, as you become more comfortable with your partner and move into the deep attachment phase, "you lose that 'goo goo eye' feeling," therapist Dr. Foojan Zeine explains. You probably don't feel those tingly chemical reactions from the spikes of dopamine and serotonin like you did in the early stages of your relationship. Often that comfort you feel gives way to complacency and your relationship starts to feel boring, lonely, or even hurtful.
This doesn't necessarily mean you don't still love and care for each other, but you often may not feel valued or prioritized like you used to. According to Andrea Miller, author of Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love, "This is doubly damaging because not only does complacency threaten the viability of your relationship, it often erodes your well-being and self-esteem. Not feeling valued in your relationship is one of the leading causes for breakups and divorce."
According to acclaimed author and therapist Esther Perel, this creates a kind of desire vacuum that makes people susceptible to affairs. "It's not about sex, it's about desire," she explained to Slate. "[It's] about attention, about reconnecting with parts of oneself you lost or you never knew existed."
Again, this goes to show that the butterflies sensation is a much more internal, subconscious process than many people might realize. "Very often we don't go elsewhere because we are looking for another person," said Perel. "We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self." Something as simple as flirting with someone new gets you out of that mundane routine and serves as a reminder of who you really are.
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Brittney Lindstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.
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