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Affairs of the Mind

Why romantic brain candy isn't all that sweet

The tall, handsome man looks deeply into my eyes. My skin tingles as he pulls me toward him and gently lifts my chin. He leans down to kiss me ….

"Whoa, stop!" I tell myself, "This is a fantasy."

After gaining so much ground in the battle to stop destructive romantic fantasies, I'm surprised how easily I can allow my thoughts to drift from reality.

My mind is in turmoil with conflicting thoughts: Go on! What happens next?

Real life happens next.

Birthplace of a fantasy

Sexual fantasies can be addictive and lead to dissatisfaction. I give my "dream man" all positives and no negatives—then compare my husband unfavorably with an unrealistic portrait of another man. When I hold my husband to unrealistic expectations, I can easily become disappointed and discontented with the way he expresses love.

What are you thinking?
Almost three out of four readers have fantasized about someone other than their spouse.
Studies show that people who fantasize about someone other than their spouse are seven times more likely to commit adultery than those who haven't fantasized.

Christian counselor, sex therapist, and author of For Women Only: God's Design for Female Sexuality and Intimacy, Dr. Shay Roop says, "Many times women believe their expectations are far beyond their husbands' abilities and never explore those expectations with their spouse. Better communication regarding romantic or sexual needs can reduce frustration and go a long way to increasing real, not fantasized, intimacy."

I began indulging in romantic fantasies during my teen years. Throughout high school, fodder for fantasies ranged from the local star basketball player to Elvis. As a young woman and then a young wife, I continued to fantasize about local heroes and movie stars.

I didn't intentionally set out to fantasize about someone other than my husband or to dishonor him. But when we'd hit tough stretches in our marriage—when I felt my husband didn't meet my emotional needs, when I felt he didn't give me affectionate hugs, attention when I needed it, or acceptance instead of criticism—I found it easier and more comforting to escape into a world I could control. One where my fantasy man did what I wanted, how and when I wanted.

I used to rationalize my fantasies by telling myself I wasn't hurting anyone, no one knew, and it wasn't as if I were having a physical affair.

But the more I fantasized, the more critical I grew of my flesh and blood husband—after all, he wasn't perfect like my fantasy men. Soon, we shared less time together; to escape each other he watched more TV in the basement and I read more novels in the living room. We laughed together less and drifted apart emotionally and physically.

Eight years into our marriage, I became a Christian.

I began to study the Bible and apply to my life and relationships what I was learning. One day after reading my Bible, I felt convicted about my thought life and wondered, Do fantasies impact my marriage? I took an honest, painful look at how my inward thoughts affected my outward behavior toward my husband. As I created fantasies to satisfy my romantic needs, I proportionally tuned out relating with my husband.

That realization hit me hard: I was as much to blame for our declining emotional intimacy as he was! With this new perspective on my destructive attitudes and behaviors, I became determined not to allow fantasies to disrupt or ruin my marriage—no matter what. And in the process, I discovered a lot about the truth behind fantasies.

Tearing off the mask

Like the Phantom of the Opera hiding his grotesqueness behind a mask, something ugly and vile hides behind the mask of fantasy: it's the Evil One trying to entice me from God's will for my life and marriage.

I shy away from reading romance novels and read books that give me a glimpse of the woman God created me to be.

With that realization, whenever I began to fantasize, I did two things: I'd force myself to acknowledge that my fantasy guy had faults and imperfections (he had bad breath, left up the toilet seat, threw his dirty underwear on the floor). If that didn't work, I'd visualize snatching the mask off the fantasy face—and finding an ugly black snake with a darting tongue and lethal bite. Who wants to kiss a snake?

As a child, I learned the old jump-rope singsong:
"Cindereller, dressed in yeller,
went upstairs to kiss her feller,
made a mistake and kissed a snake.
How many times did she kiss that snake?"

As an adult, I learned that every fantasy adds one more time that I kiss that snake.

Reflecting on foolishness and wisdom, King Solomon wrote, "Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake" (Ecclesiastes 10:8). Fantasies become a pit. And when I break through God's wall of protection, I'm inviting that snake to bite me.

Controlling the images

I can train my mind away from fantasizing. How? The best way is through prayer—but not for the man I'm fantasizing about (who's usually a real person). When I first started to tame this indulgence, I realized that praying for the man I was fantasizing about made me think more about him. Rather, I've learned to pray for his wife and children. If he's not married, I pray for strong, healthy relationships with the wife and children God may have in store for him.

Next, I pray for God to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). I ask him to show me the destructive nature of romantic brain candy and to give me something worthwhile to think about.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 the apostle Paul promises that "no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." I ask God to show me the way out.

Then I pray for my spouse. I focus on thanking God for my mate's good traits. If I can't think of anything, I ask God to show me something good. I pray that I'll be the kind of spouse my mate needs and wants; the kind of wife Proverbs 31:11 describes: "The heart of her husband safely trusts her …." (NKJV).

Finally, I pray for mind protection when I see, hear about, or meet a man I might be attracted to. My former pastor is intelligent and has a great sense of humor—things I find appealing. When I first began attending church, I asked God to protect me from fantasizing about my pastor. God's been faithful to my request.

Getting straight

I admitted to God that what I'd been doing wasn't pleasing to him. I journal, so I wrote a letter to Jesus, asking him to forgive me for my fantasies, to help me understand why I let them happen, and to give me the strength to resist.

Why is God interested in my thought life? In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus equates our thought life with adultery: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a [person] lustfully has already committed adultery … in his [or her] heart."

The apostle James writes, "After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:15). I turn away from God when I indulge in my illusions. Like many poor choices, the short-term gain isn't worth the long-term price.

Ashamed of my fantasies, I was reluctant to admit them to my husband and ask for forgiveness. But I felt God prompting me to confess. While I prayed for the right time and words, I was a coward to face him. Finally, I mustered up the courage one morning and told him that for years I'd indulged in sexual fantasies.

I asked for his forgiveness because I felt I'd betrayed him emotionally. He seemed surprised, but said he forgave me.

Afterwards, I felt clean and lighthearted—doubly forgiven by Jesus and my husband. I also noticed that after my confession, God filled me with a great respect for my husband.

A good reality

Getting rid of the fantasies meant I needed to find something to take their place. I needed to be proactive and focus on distracting myself. I took up new activities such as exercise, writing, and speaking. After I became a Christian, I learned that reading the Bible, especially Proverbs and Psalms, comforted and helped me.

I would underline and memorize Scripture that fed my soul and recall it when I needed it most. I like to ponder Psalm 16:11: "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (NKJV). To me, this means that Jesus will show me how keeping my thoughts pure will bring new life to my marriage. Being aware of God's presence and maturing in my love-relationship with Jesus spills over into joy in my marriage with my husband. Jesus' right hand signifies power—and Jesus has the power to change me, to bring pleasure in my marriage.

Keeping from fantasy triggers

I made a point of learning my weaknesses and fleeing from them. Sometimes a certain song opens the door to a fantasy, so while driving, I turn the radio to my local Christian station or pop in a tape of a church sermon or a non-romantic audio book. These keep my mind engaged in productive activities.

I shy away from reading romance novels and read books that give me a glimpse of the woman God created me to be. I also read topics related to my husband's interests so I can converse more intelligently about things that are important to him.

Finally, the silver screen can unleash unhealthy romantic daydreams. For me, one good chick flick can be worth years of mental reruns—with me as the scriptwriter, director, and heroine. So I guard vigilantly what I watch.

Today, real life is better than yesteryear's fantasies. I thank God when he lets me see that my husband shows his affection when he washes my car. I make wiser, intentional choices and avoid my trigger points. I'm more alert, willing, and able through prayer and Bible reading to weed out a fantasy before it sends down deep roots.

When I return home from work, I smile in response to my husband's grin when he meets me at the door. And I know now that the best time for a warm hug is after we've been cutting up and laughing with each other. When he reaches over to hug me, I look into his smiling Irish eyes, and know the satisfaction of being connected emotionally with my flesh and blood husband. Reality is a better place to live—it's more full of life than fantasies can ever be.

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Linda LaMar Jewell, a freelance author, speaker, and seminar manager for CLASServices, Inc., has been married 22 years.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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