Is sexual fantasy about your own partner appropriate?

In my work with the LifeSTAR program, an interesting question has been brought up by men in recovery from sexual addiction. The question is, “Is it OK for me to have sexual fantasies in my mind about my own wife?” I recognize that the question of the appropriateness of sexual fantasy is not so simple as to merit a few paragraphs only. However, in the context of individuals struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors, such sexual fantasies can be concerning. I think that the above question actually gets at a common, but flawed, assumption about sexual intimacy in marriage. The assumption is this: once I am married to someone, “anything goes” sexually. There should be no limitations or boundaries around how I approach my spouse sexually or engage in my sexual relationship. So what harm is there in creating mental sexual fantasies about one’s own spouse? First, fantasy sexuality and real sexuality are not the same thing. In fantasy, you do not have to put any effort into the relationship, and sex is “free” and without the obligation of emotional engagement. Second, in sexual fantasy, even when the subject of the fantasy is one’s own spouse, the person in the fantasy becomes objectified. In the fantasy, the spouse actually becomes a sort of sexual puppet, subject to the whims of the person creating the fantasy. This is the opposite of how real relationships should work. Fantasizing about one’s own spouse creates a false version of that person that the real person cannot, nor ever should, try to live up to. The fantasy person is not human, does not have emotions,...

Healing After Affairs

I work quite a bit with couples trying to heal from the effects of extramarital affairs. Although every situation is different and each couple requires personalized attention, there are some common healing processes I help couples work through. First is accountability on the part of the partner who had the affair. After the discovery of an affair, the offending partner often wants to “move on” quickly or blame relationship problems for the affair. My experience has been that before any healing can happen, the partner who had the affair needs to take full accountability for the affair, without excuse. This, of course, implies that contact with the affair partner has ended, to the fullest extent possible. Ongoing connections with former affair partners are almost always damaging to healing processes. Part of taking accountability involves creating new routines and behaviors that engender a sense of safety for the partner who was not involved in the affair. This may included increased connection or contact during the day, notes expressing renewed commitment, and overt boundary setting with the affair partner to communicate a clear end of the relationship due to a desire to heal the marriage. Safety also involves a “no more secrets” attitude such that both partners know what to expect. Knowing what to expect leads to a sense of predictability, which is an important part of feeling safe. The partner who was not involved in the affair will experience immense pain in the aftermath of discovering the affair. While pain is inherently uncomfortable, being alone in pain feels infinitely worse. This is partly why it is common for hurt partners...

Rebuilding Trust in Relationships

Trust in relationships is often challenging to create, easy to break, and difficult to regain. One of the most common issues I see is damaged relational trust. Here I will offer several things I have learned about how trust is rebuilt after a significant betrayal in a relationship. 1) Trust is not automatically rebuilt over time. Rather, trust is built on a daily basis through consistent, purposeful action. 2) If you have damaged relational trust, assume that the other person can only believe what he or she sees. In other words, your intentions or feelings may be in the right place, but your visible actions are what “count” in working toward rebuilding trust. 3) Leave the timetable behind. Each person and each situation is different. It’s easy to become impatient (including with yourself) in the process. Learn to accept the fact that wherever you are today in your recovery process is enough. 4) It is possible to love someone and not trust him or her. Love does not imply trust. 5) Trust and forgiveness are also not necessarily the same thing. You may forgive a person for hurting you, whether or not the person chooses to ask for forgiveness. But trust is always earned....