Sharing sexual fantasies about other people can fuel the erotic relationship you have with your partner.
It is common to have erotic fantasies about co-workers, strangers, and good old figments-of-our-imagination. While children have imaginary friends, adults often benefit from having imaginary lovers. But many people are so threatened by their partner’s freedom to desire and fantasize about other people that they forbid them to socialize with those of the opposite sex.
Any attempt to control the other’s erotic thoughts and feelings can lead to resentment and frustration.
This insistence on strict monogamy of fantasies and desire stems from the common misconception that if we allow our partners to fantasize about, communicate with, or flirt with others, they will inevitably act on their sexual fantasies. Fear of infidelity is relentlessly stoked by media reports: All sorts of celebrities seem to be cheating on their partners! In fact, the hit parade of famous infidelities includes numerous statesmen of different political stripes and sexual orientation: Schwarzenegger and the house keeper, McGreevey and the Israeli dude, Spitzer and the call girl, Sanford and the Argentine belle, to name just a few.
Conventional wisdom suggests that allowing our partners to fantasize about and freely interact with other people they find attractive is paramount to giving them a license to cheat on us. This view is famously summarized in the Biblical warning that desiring one’s neighbor in one’s heart amounts to adultery. I have to respectfully disagree with the Scriptures on this one: Desiring one’s neighbor in one’s heart is nothing like having sex with that person.
Unfortunately, for many couples, any attempt to control the other’s erotic thoughts and feelings can lead to resentment and frustration. One partner becomes an insecure sexual cop, while the other gets stuck in the unappealing role of a proverbial child waiting to get caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar. So, instead of buying peace and harmony, enforcing monogamy on people’s erotic imagination tends to backfire: When feeling stifled in a relationship, cheating can become a way of asserting autonomy.
Modern couples need to negotiate a way of using their fantasies about others to feed the erotic tension in their relationship.
For example when we outlaw a particular behavior, like daydreaming about a certain man or woman at work, we tantalize and the prohibition may inspire transgression. Although it might sound counterintuitive, indulging in imaginary cheating—fantasizing about someone other than one’s partner—might strengthen, rather than undermine, monogamous relationships.
Paradoxically, the thought that one’s partner might be attracted to somebody else can make the relationship more exciting and titillating. The bedroom scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut portrays an intimate and playful repartee between Alice (played by Nicole Kidman) and her husband Bill (played by Tom Cruise). “Those two girls at the party last night, did you by any chance happen to f— them?” Alice teasingly asks Bill as a prelude to love-making. “Who are they?” she continues smilingly. In response, Bill feigns surprise, though he seems clearly amused and tickled by his wife’s playful jealousy. “Some models,” he laughingly confesses.
However, in romantic relationships, one partner’s attempts to acknowledge and share his or her erotic fantasies might rock the boat. For instance, when Alice reveals to Bill her erotic fantasy involving a dapper naval officer, it shatters his illusion that she can only fantasize about him. While Alice never acts out on her extramarital fantasies, her hurt and jealous husband proceeds to seek erotic adventures on the streets of New York.
Like Kubrick’s attractive characters, modern couples need to negotiate a way of using their fantasies about others to feed the erotic tension in their relationship. At the same time, couples must respect the privacy of one another’s erotic thoughts and feelings. Sharing one’s fantasies should be a free act of unilateral self-disclosure, rather than acquiescence to a partner’s demand for transparency or reciprocation.
If people decide to share their erotic fantasies about others with their partners, they need to proceed with tact and caution.
In psychotherapy, I often invite individuals and couples to examine the meaning of love, eroticism, and sex in their lives. In particular, my patients and I explore the difference between their fantasies and reality. For example, to enjoy a temporary respite from a dreary and cold New York winter, many people fantasize about moving to Hawaii. However, very few of us quit our jobs and head to the airport. Similarly, most erotic fantasies about others do not materialize.
Many people desire and fantasize about their neighbor’s spouse without committing adultery. By allowing our extramarital fantasies to play out in the privacy of our imagination, we create the option of not acting them out. Imposing oppressive monogamy on erotic fantasy can lead to resentment and rebellion in the form of sexual infidelity. I encourage my patients to acknowledge their sexual fantasies involving other people, use them to rekindle romance and spice up their erotic lives.
Originally Published: Psychology Today
Photo: Getty Images
I actually can’t remember the last time I fantasized about an actual person. All of my fantasies involve people I’ve invented. I think it would be too weird to fantasize about someone I know. I’ve always felt that way. Or maybe the problem is that I really don’t know any men (other than my boyfriend) who are attractive enough to me that I’d bother fantasizing about them …. IDK, this article assumes everyone fantasizes about their friends and coworkers but I know that’s not true of everyone (me being an example)
I think what goes on in your head is where your heart is. If you have bitter thoughts, that will manifest on the outside. If you are an angry person on the inside, that will manifest on the outside. You might fantasize about hurting your boss and never actually do it. But if you are fantasizing about hurting your boss to begin with, that anger and pain is going to come out in other ways – like cursing and giving the middle finger to other drivers or being angry with your family for minor offenses. If you are always thinking… Read more »
It’s hilarious that the title says “if” your partner has extramarital fantasies. That’s a waste of two letters. Probably the vast majority of spouses have some fantasies about other people at some level. It’s not an “if/then” question. Maybe I’m just biased and/or stubborn, but if someone tells me he/she has never fantasized about anyone else, then I simply don’t believe that person. “Do you want to hear about your partner’s extramarital fantasies?” That’s the realistic question. And, if someone bases all the sexual ethics completely on the Bible, then there are much larger issues at stake than talking about… Read more »
I think fantasy, especially sexual fantasy is very important. Fantasy helps us put boundaries on reality. There are about 100 Million copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” translated into 52 languages out in the world. More than 80% of Romance novels are read by women. It doesn’t mean that tens of millions of women want to hook up with the likes of Christian Grey, they are looking for a safe environment to explore their feelings about non traditional sexual practices. That’s what fantasy can provide. And it can make for great discussion to cement bonds, not break them.
Spencer, while I agree with you that books are used to explore a wide range of feelings, sometimes traditional – sometimes not, I’d like to clear something up. The romance genre is not dominated by BSMD sex and characters like Christian Grey. I really think we need to stop using “Fifty Shades” as our beacon to what we think reveals about women’s sexuality or romance. This is one book. One book that got as much criticism from women as it may have gotten praise. “Fifty Shades” does not accurately represent my sexuality. It is not the Cliff Notes to women’s… Read more »
Love your comments Erin, although this is over a year ago now lol
It’s refreshing and extremely comforting to see someone write like this about fantasies and about 50 Shades
I for one am not a fan of 50 Shades and find the fact many men and people seem to think that’s what all women are interested in
You are so right!