You’re in close quarters five days a week, eight hours a day. You exchange glances, playfully tease each other, and have inside jokes. This is your office romance. Although you’re in a committed relationship and only have eyes for your significant other, you can’t help but feel guilty to get a glimpse of your office spouse. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, a work crush can be beneficial for your relationship by increasing your sexual desire and attraction for your partner.

Developing an attraction and even feelings for someone outside your relationship is more common than expected. It is inevitable to be attracted to someone because of how the brain works. When you look at another person, the brain quickly processes the visual stimuli the eyes see, which leads you to instantly make a judgment about the other person’s attractiveness, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Neuroreport.

However, those in committed relationships tend to revise this original reaction. These revisions are done to make potential partners seem less attractive. This process is known as derogating alternatives, which helps couples maintain their commitment in their original relationship.

To explore the impact a work crush has on a relationship, a team of sexual health researchers at Columbia University, Indiana University, and the University of Kentucky-Lexington, conducted an Internet survey distributed to 160 women who ranged between the ages of 19 to 56 who were highly educated. Typically, most of these women had been in relationships for three years or longer either married or in long-term relationships to men. The participants were asked open-ended questions about their significant others and their sexual attractions.

The findings revealed about 70 percent of the participants reported having crushes outside their relationships. Moreover, a majority of them revealed their crushes were on people they worked with. Most women were not concerned about the flirtations between them and their office spouse when asked about its impact on the relationship, which was none.

Ironically, "participants also reported that these crushes improved their desire for their partner," wrote the researchers. The women explained being infatuated with their coworker stimulated more sexual thoughts for their partners. This was described as an “emotional transference,” meaning they funneled their increased sexual desire from a crush to their original relationship.

So, can a work crush be considered harmless if it’s not acted on? Not exactly. The emotional energy you spend on someone other than your current partner can lead to an emotional bond. This may be considered cheating by your partner. In a 2013 study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, when participants were asked what interpersonal behaviors they considered as “cheating” in a long-term partner, over 50 percent reported “forming deep emotional bonds.” Women were more likely than men to view this type of behavior as cheating.

Giving someone else your undivided attention can seem like pure, harmless fun, but it also can suggest something may be missing in your original relationship. Being attracted to someone other than your partner, or being more aware to notice others' attractiveness is known as attention to alternatives. As previously mentioned, those who report greater relationship satisfaction and commitment pay less attention to alternatives. They subconsciously derogate these alternatives to remain committed in their original relationships.

Your work crush may be harmless, or it may suggest underlying issues in your current relationship. Whether or not you act out on your sexual desire with your coworker can mean the difference between sweet eye candy and a sour relationship.

Sources: Barnhart KJ, Herbenick D, Mark K et al. Women's Experiences With Feelings and Attractions for Someone Outside Their Primary Relationship. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 2015.

Bairtas AM, Rellecke J, Schacht A. Automaticity in attractive face processing: brain potentials from a dual task. Neuroreport. 2011.

Chopik WJ, Fisher ML Fitzgerald CJ et al. Was that cheating? Perceptions vary by sex, attachment anxiety, and behavior. Evolutionary Psychology. 2013.