Over the years, many betrayed partners have told me they need to know their spouse’s thoughts or fantasies about other people in order to heal or stay in their relationship.
Some partners believed that they had a right to know their spouse’s every thought or fantasy. Several said that if their spouse had sexual thoughts or fantasies about another person, it was a sobriety slip or even a deal-breaker—meaning it was something that they couldn’t tolerate in their relationship.
Because thoughts and fantasies are part of the addictive cycle of preoccupation and ritualization, it is understandable that betrayed partners would be curious about or want to know what their unfaithful spouse is thinking.
Preoccupation with thoughts or fantasies interferes with intimacy if your spouse can’t remain present with you in ordinary, everyday activities like having a meal together in a restaurant, or in more intimate experiences like sexual connection.
Thoughts and fantasies may also interfere with intimacy when the person fantasizing spends inordinate amounts of time lost in, or indulging in fantasy even when not with their partner.
In cases like this, it is sometimes recommended that the person struggling with fantasy apply the “Three-Second Rule” to them. (See the Sex Addicts Anonymous website here for more information about the Three-Second Rule.)
The solution is for the unfaithful spouse to do whatever is necessary to remain more present and focused, interrupt the pattern, or take a break so that he can bring himself more fully into what is happening in the moment. Ideally, he could simply say, “I just realized that I was distracted, and I’m going to do what I need to do to be present with you.”
Although preoccupation, thoughts, and fantasies are definitely a problem for sex addicts, I don’t generally recommend that thoughts or fantasies about others be shared with a partner, and here are 4 reasons why:
Thoughts—like so much in life—are not in our control.
As I write this post, I’m reminded of a thought I had earlier today that seemed to come out of nowhere. It happened to be a negative thought about something that I would never want to happen, but nonetheless the thought came. I didn’t choose it. I wouldn’t have chosen to have it. I didn’t want it.
Have you ever had an experience like that?
Believe it or not, sex addicts do experience unwanted thoughts and images. Of course, there are many ways in which our prior experiences and choices impact what we do or don’t think. But if you agree that none of us has 100% control over every thought, it is preferable—and more relational—to use boundaries when choosing what thoughts to share with others, especially our intimate partner.
Every person has a right to privacy, even unfaithful spouses.
Thoughts are private information and each of us has a right to choose if, who, when, and how we share private information with others. Even if you have been unfaithful, you have a right to decide what thoughts you want to share, and what thoughts you don’t.
There are legitimate mental health diagnoses that can cause some people to have more challenges than others around unwanted or recurring thoughts.
For example, people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) describe having a flood of thoughts that can appear random or even out of control for someone with a neurotypical brain. Other mental health conditions that impact the degree to which a person may have unwanted, intrusive, or repetitive thoughts include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder (specifically Bipolar I).
These mental health issues also happen to be more common in people who struggle with addiction in general, which makes having no boundaries or limits around sharing of thoughts problematic and potentially harmful.
A fantasy is defined as:
the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.
Fantasies may be sexual or non-sexual. People have fantasies about many things—most of which they don’t want—or never intend—to do.
Have you ever fantasized about “running away from home” when parenting got extremely challenging, or wishing you could eat the whole cake:-)? Or how you would like to give someone a piece of your mind after feeling slighted or offended? My guess is that you have, and in the vast majority of cases you didn’t follow through.
The problem with hearing all of your spouse’s thoughts and fantasies is that many of them have little or no meaning. And once they’re in your head, they will cause you pain and may unnecessarily haunt you for a very long time.
The reality is that unfaithful spouses, addicts, and betrayed partners alike are all preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies from time to time.
The sad truth is that many betrayed partners spend more time “fantasizing” (imagining) the indiscretions of their unfaithful spouse than the time that their spouse actually spent in those activities.
This is a sobering truth, and one that should not be dismissed lightly.
Most betrayed partners will tell you that when thoughts and fantasies were shared with them, they usually regretted it later. The information did nothing to help them heal, and didn’t give them any meaningful data to create more safety, or to assist in restoring trust. And ultimately, the details were painful, hurtful, and unintentionally harmful.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)
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