How can I get better at having eyes only for my fiancee?
April 19, 2015 1:39 PM   Subscribe

I used to think it was OK to fantasize about other women as long as I wasn't emotionally or physically cheating. Fiancee did not, and we would both like me to be start being mentally faithful as well. What are your best tips for keeping thoughts of other women out of my mind? Details inside.

My fiancée (F, late twenties) and I (M, late twenties) have always had a great relationship: I love her completely, we are extremely compatible, we have lots of fun together whether at home or out and about, we feel like a really strong team when it comes to our career/work lives, and our sex life is incredible. Our relationship is supportive, validating, highly communicative, and has in short been the most fulfilling experience of my life. Of course, we’ve had disagreements and hard times, but we’ve always gotten through them with a combination of patience, communication, and effort.

Recently, though, we uncovered our biggest issue to date. One of our lingering issues was that I’d lied about a few things related to my ex, so we made a big effort for me to be more honest about everything. As part of that effort, I revealed that for the first 1.5 years we were dating, when we’d been long-distance, I had occasionally fantasized/masturbated thinking about other women that I knew (coworkers, friends, etc). I previously thought that this was relatively normal; I wasn’t proud of it but didn’t think it was a big deal, suspected she might do the same, and didn’t think she would want to know. I certainly didn’t think it meant that I loved her any less or thought of her as less attractive, and was very careful to avoid any semblance of emotional or physical cheating with said people.

She had the exact opposite expectation; this was cheating to her, and she was absolutely devastated. She says (and I believe her) that she has never even had so much as a sexual or romantic thought about someone else while we have been together. It simply doesn’t occur to her; while she can understand that some men are physically attractive, almost in an academic sense, she doesn’t have any urge to think about them romantically or sexually. For her, the fact that I did this cheapened that entire length of our relationship, made her feel like a fool for thinking I was being mentally faithful as she was, and was generally extremely hurtful. Most of all, she continues to fear that she’s not enough for me sexually and doesn’t feel safe from infidelity in our relationship.

My fiancée expects me to think the way she does: never having sexual or romantic thoughts about or desiring other people. Due to some really bad experiences she’s had, she draws a hard line on this, especially given that her previous boyfriend did make her feel safe in this way and seemed to have a similar lack of such thoughts. It’s clear that we’ve come from different places on this, but we both want to work through it. I have agreed to try to change the way I think and totally avoid thinking about other women romantically or sexually. We’re in couples therapy and I’m in individual counseling. And due to the fact that I lied about some of the details of this when it was first coming out, we agreed that I should tell her about any instance in which I have even a shred of a sexual thought about anyone else.

It’s been up and down so far. I’ve certainly started to literally and figuratively avert my eyes more actively and been more aware of my thoughts at any given time. There’s been progress, but the failures I’ve had to report – a small glance, an unwanted image or association – have caused us a lot of grief. We’ve come to find this approach somewhat counterproductive (having to disclose any time I think about X makes it shockingly easy to think about X, and causes frequent distress). We’ve settled on this: going forward, I’ll continue to try to be totally faithful in my mind, and if an unwanted thought involuntarily comes up, I’ll just dismiss it (like when a thought comes up during mindfulness meditation). I’ll only proactively tell my fiancée if I find myself unable to “let go” of such a thought, though she’s of course welcome to ask what’s going on in my head at any time. Our theory/hope is that as I get used to this way of thinking, these unwanted thoughts will reduce to zero over time.

I want to make this work. I get that other couples are more lax on this, and that some think that trying to control your own thoughts in this way is a recipe for disaster. I don’t – I’m committed to making this work and have no desire to continue having thoughts about other women. So what’s your best (preferably non-religious) advice? How can I get better over time at seeing all other women as just people, and having eyes only for my (amazing, beautiful, hot) fiancée?
posted by tripledrop to Human Relations (69 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It's abusive to make someone feel sexual shame or not allow them control of their own thoughts. I'm sorry. We are all entitled to our own meandering private thought world. I would think twice about continuing the relationship but in any case I would stop telling her these thoughts, they were private and werent a lead up to cheating (from how you framed it). Good luck.
posted by pairofshades at 1:51 PM on April 19, 2015 [196 favorites]

hmm i don't have much advice since my situation is pretty much the opposite: ever since I moved to canada there's been a lot more objectification of people sexually and i've tried to fit into that status quo. i've realized that there's a lot of subtext in
i) marketing
ii) social media
iii) certain social circles

that encourages seeing people as sexual objects. the less you consume these things, the less you will be naturally inclined to have these thoughts. i find my state of mind changes (like seriously, on a day to day basis) on whether i've been watching feminist media/talking to feminist girl friends versus hanging around my more sexually driven male friends, and consuming sexually driven media. i hope that helps.

by the way, can i ask which part of the US you're in?
posted by kinoeye at 1:55 PM on April 19, 2015

Your fiancée sounds controlling. And I can guarantee that her previous bf lied. Don't subject your self to this kind of thought control. It's unhealthy.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:56 PM on April 19, 2015 [26 favorites]

so: I don't think what she's asking you to do is in any way, shape, or form remotely realistic. It's an unattainable expectation, and it's REALLY unfair to both of you. You're going to fantasise about other people. It's hard wired into us. What's inevitably going to happen is that you'll do that, feel guilty for doing something normal, and punish yourself for doing it, which just sets up a vicious cycle.

If her previous S.O. said he was able to do that, guess what: he was lying through his teeth.

What you need to do, instead, is get couples' counselling, in order to address these issues of trust that exist in the relationship.

I speak from painful, hard-won experience here.
posted by arkhangel at 1:56 PM on April 19, 2015 [27 favorites]

Is your therapist not telling you that thinking about other people, noticing someone on the street, having fantasies etc is healthy and normal????

Why does "working through it" only mean that YOU have to change? Especially when it is her behaviour, to me, that is unhealthy and damaging to your relationship...

I'm sorry, but there's a big bad wrong in your amazing relationship.
posted by stellathon at 1:57 PM on April 19, 2015 [71 favorites]

I don't really have advice on how to do this, but I'm gonna give it to you straight: This seems like an impossibly tall order. You are a human, a male human at that. Biologically speaking, I just don't think this is possible. You're hard wired to find other women attractive and scan for potential mates. Doesn't mean you don't love your fiance and you certainly don't have to act on your thoughts, but I highly doubt that you can teach yourself not to react to or notice an attractive face/body now and then. And it seems to me totally unreasonable of your fiance to expect this. She might not have these thoughts, or SAY she doesn't notice other people, but that is no reason for her to try to control your thoughts, that's just ridiculous. If you DO learn how reduce unwanted thoughts to zero, please share the technique with all of us. You will have unlocked a secret that has evaded mankind for all of history.
posted by lettuce dance at 1:57 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites] we made a big effort for me to be more honest about everything

What you have been doing is not just being "honest". You two seem to think that you have to fully unveil privacy in front of each other. But that's not what partnerships are for. You are not expected to live in complete symbiosis, with each-others brains flipped open for the other one to freely read in it. Quit that right now, or you both will end up unhappy.

You are also not supposed to manipulate your private thoughts to match your partner's ethics. You should perhaps make your own ethics work for yourself. Then you can only hope that your partner finds the result acceptable. You can, of course, negotiate; but giving yourself up isn't the way to go.
posted by Namlit at 1:58 PM on April 19, 2015 [28 favorites]

Most of all, she continues to fear that she’s not enough for me sexually and doesn’t feel safe from infidelity in our relationship.

I think trying to fix your thoughts instead of her thoughts is like giving her cough syrup to treat asthma.
posted by bleep at 1:59 PM on April 19, 2015 [54 favorites]

I’ll only proactively tell my fiancée if I find myself unable to “let go” of such a thought, though she’s of course welcome to ask what’s going on in my head at any time. Our theory/hope is that as I get used to this way of thinking, these unwanted thoughts will reduce to zero over time.

I'm stunned at how fucked up this is. Nobody is entitled to know everything anyone else is thinking; that's ridiculous. So the two of you had better drop this whole she can ask you whatever you're thinking and you have to confess your evil thoughts and somehow this will serve as exposure therapy and you'll stop thinking COMPLETELY NORMAL THOUGHTS.

If you're committed to making this work it's critical to understand that in any relationship you are 100% allowed to have private thoughts. You are allowed to have things that you keep to yourself. This does not make you unfaithful. This does not mean you don't love your partner.

It means you're allowed to keep some things to yourself. That's what you two need to talk about. And if she can't get onboard with that because she feels it's her right to know every single thing you think, then you two have a very serious problem.
posted by kinetic at 2:00 PM on April 19, 2015 [85 favorites]

Brains don't work this way. You cannot control fantasies like that. If one could, people would be doing it all the time. There are some people in this world who don't feel that desire for people. But you can't opt into that.

What sucks even more is that in her demand to know about every mental violation, she shows disappointment in you. Like you can't possibly win.

You shouldn't have to pay for the sins of her exes.
posted by inturnaround at 2:00 PM on April 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

My advice would be to go back to lying, there's such a thing as too much honesty. The idea that you'll never have sexual thoughts about anyone other than your fiancée is crazy. You're entitled to your private thoughts - where does she draw the line? Celebrities? Women entirely of your own imagination/invention?

What do your therapists think about all this?

I don't want to know what my partner fantasizes about.... unless its something I can fulfil for him (which obviously, being someone else is something I can't do) - no good can come from that but what I don't know isn't hurting me.
posted by missmagenta at 2:00 PM on April 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

If you've done mindful meditation, as it seems you have, and I definitely have, you'll know this is impossible. You're just setting yourself up for failure. This can only cause repeated grief for you and her.

The human mind is just chaotic at times and few people ever maintain a single stream of thought for any length of time, we're just not made that way.

While you clearly haven't been been perfect in this relationship, who ever is? Your fiancee has a major problem in terms of wanting to control and police your thoughts, and you're enabling that. She needs major therapy help to get over this insecurity of hers.

How can I get better over time at seeing all other women as just people, and having eyes only for my (amazing, beautiful, hot) fiancée?

Quite honestly, why would anyone want this? There are plenty of beautiful people in the world and its one of life's joys to notice and appreciate that. Speaking as someone who's been married for close to 15 years, you should never, ever let anyone try to control the way you think.

Seriously, do not marry this person if this how they're treating you. Things will only get worse.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2015 [13 favorites]

She wants control of your thoughts. Or, she wants you to control your own thoughts according to her instructions. Does she realize this? If you put it to her this way, how might she react? Would she agree that this is what she's actually doing? Also, why is her way the right way, and your way is the wrong way? Who decided that?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

I think you're going to get a lot of responses here that are questioning the premise rather than answering the question. I have my own opinions on what your gf is asking of you.

Staying within the letter of AskMe, though, all I got is to look for advice to men in Christian marriages.

This article talks about "guarding your eyes" as important to "mental purity." The search term I used to find it was "Christian marriage mental fidelity."
posted by ottereroticist at 2:03 PM on April 19, 2015 [14 favorites]

So what’s your best (preferably non-religious) advice?

I'm sorry, but the only way in which I can imagine this working (and even then, it's unlikely) would be if you had an ongoing, established, self-motivated (not externally or culturally imposed) religious or spiritual practice in which concepts like "maintaining the privileged environment" and "keeping custody of the eyes" are established practices.

As it is, it sounds unreasonable and controlling.
posted by Lexica at 2:04 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Tell her you're cured and stop talking about it.

People can't help who they are attracted to, they only can control what they do about it.

The two of you policing your thoughts is not going to end well. But it will most definitely end your relationship. Good luck!
posted by KMoney at 2:04 PM on April 19, 2015 [9 favorites]

This level of attempted control over the thought world of your parter is not only inappropriate and unhealthy, but it's completely unrealistic. It makes me worried that she doesn't understand some basics about how long-term human relationships work. I'd also be worried that you'll find other very troubling Easter eggs as you move forward. Joint pre-marital counseling that concentrates on the emotional side of marriage and communication would be a very good idea. In the meantime, stop confessing to things that require no confession. It's not a good idea to share every single thought that passes through your mind, period. Try to close the door on this pattern. Everyone is entitled to privacy. Guard it however you can. Radical honesty is not a good goal. Compassion is a much better goal.

To be clear, this is her problem. She needs to fix it in a way that doesn't involve her trying to control your entire existence.
posted by quince at 2:06 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Most of all, she continues to fear that she’s not enough for me sexually and doesn’t feel safe from infidelity in our relationship.

That's a her problem and it's incredibly unfair and controlling of her to try to dictate your thoughts.

I revealed that for the first 1.5 years we were dating, when we’d been long-distance, I had occasionally fantasized/masturbated thinking about other women that I knew (coworkers, friends, etc). I previously thought that this was relatively normal;

It is normal and don't feel bad about it.

Yay for counseling and therapy and all that but I do have to wonder why you're in couples counseling and you're not even married yet. This relationship sounds intense, in a bad way. I think her insecurities are a major red flag. If you are wise you will take your time in marrying this person because this is going to be hell if she interrogates your private thoughts. If anything needs to be worked on in therapy is her control issues. Don't share what you're masturbating to, because it's nobody's business.
posted by Fairchild at 2:07 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love my husband, and my husband loves me. I believe that we both don't fantasize about other people to get off. However, you can't control your brain. You've heard the expression "I'm married, but I'm not dead." Right??

Look, I'm even the type that doesn't like porn and neither does my husband. Our preference is that it crosses a line, even though many couples and people are okay with porn.

we agreed that I should tell her about any instance in which I have even a shred of a sexual thought about anyone else.

THAT statement is insane. Sorry, but I'm married but not dead. Do my husband and I talk about my crush on Jon Hamm? Sure! Do I tell him any time I have a thought or dream about someone else that's not him, or that there's a cute tattooed guy that I see sometimes on my way to work? NO FUCKING WAY. You're allowed to have your own brain space.

How is this supposed to work anyway? You're walking down the street and say "Hey that chick has a nice rack!" to her? Or "I thought about J Lo's butt today." Those thoughts are healthy and normal and she doesn't need to know them. I understand where she's coming from in terms of "Getting off" on thinking about other people that you see on a regular basis. That's kinda icky to me too, but I don't think it's cheating. This is just a whole other level of controlling that's just really not okay and I think any therapist would tell you that if they understood the situation.

In fact, me being attracted to other people makes me MORE attracted to my husband. The tattooed bicycle guy for example. He's cute, but my husband has more muscles, and my husband has tattoos, therefore cute tattooed guy makes me think about how much more I love my husband because in comparison, my husband takes the cake.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:12 PM on April 19, 2015 [30 favorites]

I think you need to ask yourself what the goal of this request (which seems highly UNREASONABLE to me, personally) is and then decide if that goal is realistic, if it matches how you want to live your life and whether it will create a relationship you want to be in.

If the goal is that you will never ever see a person and think "huh, she's attractive" or never look at a movie or magazine and think "wow, that's hot", then you will never ever meet that goal because you are a person who notices sexual attractiveness in the people you see. That's fine; that's normal; all of advertising and most of the entertainment industry is predicated on the fact that people tend to notice sexual attractiveness in other people. Maybe your fiancee honestly never has any random idle sexual thoughts, but a passing notice of an attractive person or a passing awareness of random horniness not specifically directed at your current partner are normal thoughts. And they sound like thoughts you are unlikely to never have again.

If the goal is that your partner will always feel attractive to you and loved by you and never once doubt you, that's more reasonable and attainable goal, but a lot of that is on her, not you. In my experience, the part that you can control has little to do with your internal response to the scads of sexy people out in the world, although your external reaction matters. But mostly, it has to do with how you treat her, especially since you know she has some serious baggage to work through, and how you conduct your sex life together.

If the goal is that you not make your fiancee aware of whom you find hot, or when you've randomly felt turned on, that's easy. But she's not going to get that out of you if she expects you to "report" your thoughts to her. It may also not be the sort of sexual intimacy you want in a partner. She found it before, apparently, but it might not work for you. She can either adjust her expectations or the two of you can move on.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:19 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't think your partner is abusive and I don't know enough to say if she's controlling. I don't think you should DTMFA. I do think it's problematic that you lied and it may take time to rebuild her trust. (You weren't specific about what you lied about so not sure what level of lying we're talking here.)

Having said that, the goal of not fantasizing about others is not achievable for most humans.

I am rigorously honest with my partner but I also fantasize about other real and imagined people, and periodically find real people attractive in the real world.

I am not a zombie, controlled by my every desire, and my actions - not my fantasies - define my commitment to my partner.

I would attempt to reframe this issue in a way that allows you to be real about your human attractions.
posted by latkes at 2:22 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Don't think of an elephant.

Now you're thinking of an elephant, right?

If I were to demand that you analyze why you're thinking about elephants and remind you on a daily basis not to do so, it would be a recipe for failure. It would be emotionally stressful. That's because it's an emotionally abusive request, especially since it has to do with policing your inner sexual life. Nobody has the right to keep you on your toes in such a manner.
posted by theraflu at 2:25 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have to tell you, my jaw dropped when I read this question. Being "devastated" that one's partner has had sexual thoughts about someone else is not healthy (nor is it normal), either for her or you. If you were insisting upon telling her your sexual fantasies all the time or what have you, that would be one thing. But insisting that you never have sexual thoughts about others? Nuh-uh. Her wanting access to, and control of, your private thoughts is bound to evolve in a very very bad way. Consider very, very carefully whether you really want to marry this person.
posted by holborne at 2:26 PM on April 19, 2015 [15 favorites]

Wow. It's one thing to try to not blatantly ogle women on the street (whether you're with your partner or not) and to not let your fantasy life run your relationship to the point that you are wishing your partner was someone/something else. It's another thing altogether to never have another sexual or romantic inkling about anyone other than your partner for the rest of your life.

The first thing is a reasonable request, an admirable goal, decent. The second thing is unreasonable, unfair, and I'm gonna say I feel safe saying this, impossible.

Even if it were possible to suppress all sexual thoughts, you don't owe anybody an accounting of your every thought.

Your relationship as you describe it is as good as can be. Would she characterize it the same way? If nothing is lacking in the relationship for her, then what is going on inside her that she asks the impossible of you?
posted by kapers at 2:35 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

There is, as yet, no Thought Police. Your fiancée's expectations are unrealistic.
I wonder why you want to be married.
posted by BostonTerrier at 2:40 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I get that other couples are more lax on this, and that some think that trying to control your own thoughts in this way is a recipe for disaster. I don’t – I’m committed to making this work and have no desire to continue having thoughts about other women.

No. This is totally unreasonable. I don't think everyone needs to go into great detail with one's partners about the fantasies s/he has about other people, but to stop the thoughts? Some perspective: when my ex told me that he had never fantasized about another woman since getting with me, I was floored. I don't even think he was lying, but the overwhelming majority of people have fantasies about other people. This is completely normal. Her being devastated and demanding that you stop is not.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:41 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Punishing and shaming you for thought crimes is the kind of thing postapocalyptic dystopian dictatorships do, not fiancees in "amazing relationships". What happens when you inevitably have a sex dream about some random celebrity or friend or acquaintance? How will you be punished and shamed for your actual unconscious mind's wanderings?

I will say this in her defense, however: jerking off while thinking about female friends and/or coworkers can be a very creepy thing for women to hear about from a man in their life, whether that man is their SO or their friend or whatever. I'm not going to get into whether or not this is an uncool thing to do, but if it's something you think will happen again, I advise you to lie about it either directly or through omission.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:44 PM on April 19, 2015 [20 favorites]

FWIW, I personally find that sexual and emotional neediness leads to a roving mind. When a man can take care of my sexual and emotional needs adequately, then I don't tend to think about any other men. If he can't, no, I cannot be "mentally faithful." Asking me to be mentally faithful when I am still needy is an unrealistic expectation. Making sure I have no more hunger is the way to keep my thoughts "pure" and "loyal" to him.

However, I agree with the slew of people saying this is an unrealistic expectation on her part and that it is controlling and not healthy to expect that only YOU need to change in order to work this out. Sorry, there are no thought police (jinx) and I personally won't put up with the expectation that I MUST police my thoughts, especially to such an extreme degree that even passing thoughts are vilified.
posted by Michele in California at 2:46 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

How can I get better over time at seeing all other women as just people

I'm a little confused by this phrasing; could you clarify what this means? Do you not see women as people, or something? Or when you find a woman attractive, you can't think of her as a whole (albeit sexy) person? If this is the case that is indeed a problem (but not one that will be solved by disclosing every passing thought to your partner.)
posted by kapers at 2:48 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Self-control in sexual matters is not a popular concept these days, so you're predictably getting a lot of hand-wringing in here. But for what it's worth, if you were on a diet, and this were a question about whether it was a good idea to avoid extended interludes of lyrically imagining yourself gorging on potato chips and Dunkin' Donuts... well, I doubt anyone would have any difficulty (a) drawing the reasonable distinction between brief, incidental thoughts/impulses, vs. extended, deliberate dwelling on a fantasy, and (b) identifying the latter practice as probably, on the whole, less likely to help you feel happy and content with your diet in the long run.

It's fair to question (a) whether your fiancee has her own weird control issues in this, and (b) whether the level of damage we're talking might be so minor that it's not worth all the angst you guys seem to be expending on it. But I think it's pretty ridiculous to suggest that cutting down on fantasizing can't be done, or that if you try it will somehow bottle up your life force and drive you insane. Freud was... not right about a lot of things, you know?

To address your actual question, which was:
How can I get better over time at seeing all other women as just people, and having eyes only for my (amazing, beautiful, hot) fiancée?
... could you try focusing on subjectifying the women you meet, rather than just not-objectifying them? Get to know more about them. Imagine how much they're loved by their moms, dads, brothers, sisters. When you see an attractive woman, try making one positive comment to yourself about her competency at what she's doing, NOT her appearance. That kind of thing. It's hard to argue with the value of making general progress away from regarding other people as empty things to jack off to.
posted by yersinia at 2:48 PM on April 19, 2015 [20 favorites]

It's hard to directly answer this question because what you've asked is akin to "My fiancée thinks I have too many fingers. Which one should I cut off, and what kind of knife should I use?" The only responsible way to respond is to tell you that your fiancée is being unreasonable (and possibly abusive).

You cannot fix her insecurity, just like no one can fix an alcoholic. Only she can do that, but she is putting that problem on you and not taking responsibility for it. I highly recommend the book Codependent No More, which addresses this kind of dynamic.
posted by desjardins at 2:51 PM on April 19, 2015 [14 favorites]

if you were on a diet, and this were a question about whether it was a good idea to avoid extended interludes of lyrically imagining yourself gorging on potato chips and Dunkin' Donuts... well, I doubt anyone would have any difficulty (a) drawing the reasonable distinction between brief, incidental thoughts/impulses, vs. extended, deliberate dwelling on a fantasy, and (b) identifying the latter practice as probably, on the whole, less likely to help you feel happy and content with your diet in the long run.

Indeed, but we would probably also be concerned if a third party demanded to know every time you thought about donuts. As bad as it may be for you to think about eating an entire dozen of donuts, it won't do anything to make you stop to confess that to someone else - it's just going to make you feel bad. YOU have to control yourself, not anyone else.

This is why the answers are overwhelmingly going WHOA THERE. It isn't that we think the OP should be out ogling women 24/7. It's that OP's fiancée has put herself in the position of punisher. If OP has compulsive thoughts, HE should deal with them for his OWN mental health.

Note: I do not think OP has compulsive thoughts, from what has been written here. I don't think the OP's question is answerable because it is not possible.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:54 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

This is tricky. On the face of it, it sounds like your fiancée is the thought police and ready to emotionally abuse you. But I think there must be something more here to do with those lies regarding your ex and the context in which you shared your fantasy world. Do you get hung up on women you don't have, to the detriment of your real relationship? Maybe instead of repeating, "Don't think sexy thoughts" to yourself over and over, dial into your relationship more. Focus on the sexy between you and your fiancée, so she feels reassured and confident that she remains at the forefront of all those thoughts and feelings, and there's less need to police passing thoughts.

While I think the policing is ... problematic ... I would be really hurt to be made explicitly aware of my SO's private fantasies of real life people. It seems almost punitive, especially if you were hiding the nature of your relationship with someone else.
posted by stowaway at 2:55 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Wankers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

I don't think that the level of thought control you are trying to achieve is possible as long as you have a normal sex drive. It sounds to me as though your fiancee expects you to mirror her thoughts and feelings, but that she has very little interest in sex.

I am a female person. I started masturbating as a young teen and started dating five years later as an old teen. Of course I had thoughts when masturbating, scenarios running in my head (most of them borrowed from Penthouse Forum). I just wasn't thinking about exes, because I didn't have any.

When I see an advice column (not this one) where a whole bunch of people claim that they think exclusively about their dearest partner during sex (and solo sex), I just assume they are lying. (Apologies to those who aren't.) My mind wanders quite a bit and sometimes I see a whole troop of acrobats doing all kinds of things. I don't think there is an off switch to turn this stuff off, except chemically.

I don't think a secular marriage counselor would expect this very high level of unswerving mental focus. It doesn't sound reasonable to me. It takes a huge amount of energy to suppress your idle thoughts, like holding a beach ball underwater. I don't think it can be done one hundred percent and forever.

If a partner says "I'm making you a nice dinner; don't snack on the way home," that's maybe reasonable, if not too strictly enforced. But "don't you dare think about food or notice that your stomach is rumbling" would be way unreasonable IMO.
posted by puddledork at 2:58 PM on April 19, 2015 [15 favorites]

I think it's good your fiancee doesn't want you to tell her about every time you find someone else attractive any longer. Progress is good. I have no problem with my fiance fantasizing/masturbating about other women, and vice versa, but I don't want to know specifics - especially if it's people I know. I also would feel insecure if I knew he lied to me about an ex.

So what I guess I am trying to say is that I can understand why your girlfriend is overreacting, but I do think she is overreacting. And I think you are overreacting too, by going overboard to bend over backwards.

I don't think you'll ever be able to stop thinking of other women. I also don't think your fiancee's request is the way to fix these issues. She is feeling unsure and insecure - these are the things to focus on in your relationship, independent of you looking/thinking of other women.
posted by umwhat at 2:58 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's a classic Twilight Zone episode starring one of the Darrens from Bewitched in which our hero is granted the power to read minds for one day.

He's scandalized by all the thoughts people are thinking. His boss is having an affair. One of his coworkers has the hots for him. A client is using a bank loan to pay off a bookie. Another coworker, the bank's oldest and most loyal employee, is planning to steal cash from the vault at closing time. He calls the cops on the would-be thief, only to find out that the coworker has idly thought about ripping the bank off every day of his working life but never intends to go through with it.

The moral of the story is that it's just one of those things, like finding another person attractive or fantasizing about feeding the annoying guy on the train to wolves, that we all think but would never do. One of those thoughts that filters through your head without you even really realizing it. It does no good to invite people into those thoughts. Thinking things is not a crime. And this is the Twilight Zone we're talking about, back in the early 1960s when everything was more hard line and moralistic. Even Darren-from-Bewitched learned that most thoughts are better left kept private.

What your fiancee is asking here is both unreasonable and impractical. She has no right to this info and no right to make demands on your own private thoughts.
posted by phunniemee at 3:07 PM on April 19, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'm surprised I'm in the minority here, but I'd be pretty grossed out to discover that a partner thought about coworkers or friends while masturbating. Finding them attractive, or having fleeting sexual thoughts - no big. But the kind of fantasies that require a bit of concentration, involving people you know and could conceivably have sex with? Yeah, I'd have trouble with that. There's a difference between thinking Jane the barista is hot and thinking in detail about all the things you want to do to Jane.

Come to think of it, many years ago I was on the receiving end of this sort of thing: a friend of a friend, who I barely knew, told me that I was in his "spank bank." It really creeped me out and came across as incredibly disrespectful of his marriage. Perhaps knowing that the acquaintances in your fantasies likely don't want you to think of them in that way will help you curb those thoughts.

I agree, however, that no one is allowed control over anyone else's thoughts. And your fiancée is way overreacting: does she really need to know if you saw someone at the drugstore with an exceptional ass? But I see where she's coming from.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:12 PM on April 19, 2015 [28 favorites]

Your fiance needs to be in therapy to get to the bottom of her need to control your mind and why she finds even stuff like "the failures [you've] had to report – a small glance, an unwanted image or association" to be so upsetting. That's nothing!! She'll be a lot happier if she's not so tormented.

As for you, you need to address why you tolerate being engaged to the thought police and why you won't stick up for your right to private thoughts.
posted by carmicha at 3:14 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hey, listen. It sounds like you really love your fiance and that you have a good relationship that works well for you.

This is gonna make a conversation with her about this hard, because of course you want to fix it for her. And good on you for having the instinct to make your partner feel safer and happier and not to have to take on a burden of fixing it herself. But to an outsider, it sounds like this isn't about you and your behavior in any shape or form. This sounds like it's about your fiance's bad experiences and insecurity.

Everyone is right that it's completely normal to have thoughts about other people. It's also within the realm of normality to not have thoughts about other people. The only place where this goes wrong is the mismatch between your fiance's definitions of security and fidelity, which are definitely out of line with what society and I think most people would usually expect, even in a committed romantic relationship, and your expectations.

I think you need to take a good long look at whether this request is something you can and are truly comfortable fulfilling. I'm concerned that, if you keep trying and failing, you will feel increasingly like your privacy and the freedom of your own mind are being invaded, while her unhappiness will feed on the occasions that you fail at her request to buy into a narrative that her insecurity pushes her towards-- that you don't love her or find her desirable enough. I think you know this whole thing is much more complicated than you think it is, too, on some level, or you might not be posting here.

It's not going to be a fun or easy conversation, but I think you need to sit down with her and have a talk about this without the moral component. Can she talk about the way she's feeling without connecting it to what you're doing? (In other words, is she able to converse about this on the level of "when you do X it makes me feel Y because Z"?) Or is this such a trigger for her that's she stuck in the morality loop of, "Don't do X because it's wrong!!"? If it's the second, this might be time to pull in your couple's counsellor as well. You might also try talking to your own therapist with the idea of finding out what really works for you, that still makes you feel like you respect your fiance, but that also lets you have your own boundaries. I also think that stowaway is on to something-- do you feel really truly rooted in your self-control when you think about people that you actually know and interact with in a sexual context? Or has this practice encouraged bad behaviors in the past? Only you, or you and your therapist, can decide about that one. I can say that if my SO told me in no uncertain terms that he had specific favorite fantasies involving a coworker that he used for fodder all the time, I too might feel a little apprehensive. But a lot of how I felt about it would be dictated by the tone and history of our relationship, which is information we don't have access to-- only you do.

In the short-term, can you negotiate some kind of happy compromise? Maybe that you can think about celebrities whom you have no chance of meeting in real life to get that exciting 'new partner' kick during solo time, but promise not to think about the girl in the office that you interact with every day? Something like that might help as a good-will and safety gesture for both of you while you work this out.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:21 PM on April 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Maybe try telling her to have so much sex with you that you lose interest in more sex. Like, ugh, sex again?

And then, because even that won't work, just tell her that it did.
posted by ctmf at 3:24 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

My fiancée expects me to think the way she does: never having sexual or romantic thoughts about or desiring other people.... she draws a hard line on this, especially given that her previous boyfriend did make her feel safe in this way and seemed to have a similar lack of such thoughts.

Dude. "Seemed" is the operative word here. Partnering with another human, even for life, is not the end of your individual, private sexuality. The thing where you have to report your thoughts to your partner? Is sick. Literally sick. If your partner is wallowing in this much fear and insecurity, I would hope that she is also in therapy.

(Also, wtf with your therapist checking out on this?)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:39 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

I will add that I really don't think it is terribly unreasonable to be weirded out that you masturbated while actively fantasizing about specific people you knew. I think that is a fairly reasonable reaction, though it sounds like her reaction involves some overreacting to it. However, her request here is not "Please don't have detailed fantasies while you masturbate about people you actually know (other than her)." Her request is for you to never, ever, ever , even in passing, have "impure" thoughts about anyone at all and to self-report when you "slip up." That's just crazy.

I am pretty picky about my own internal emotional stuff in that regard, but passing thoughts are not something you can completely control. And, as others have pointed out, trying to control them tends to backfire. Trying to NOT THINK ABOUT ELEPHANTS tends to lead to OMG, ALL I THINK ABOUT ALL DAY LONG IS ELEPHANTS.

This is one of those "you just can't get there from here"/"I would give my left arm to be ambidextrous!" type things. The key is in the safe. For starters, she has got to back off on the unreasonable and extreme degree of controlling-ness and judgey-ness that you have described.

She was hurt and it sounds like she is doing what a lot of people when they get hurt: Expecting their new partner to be Perfect in order to be acceptable at all. That does not work. None of us is perfect. She has to come up with a more reasonable level of expectation or this relationship has no hope of being healthy. This cannot be worked out by her simply setting some crazy, unrealistic expectation and demanding you try to meet that standard -- meanwhile, she apparently doesn't need to do anything different. That is not how a healthy relationship works. And that is not how her past pain is going to get healed.
posted by Michele in California at 3:42 PM on April 19, 2015 [13 favorites]

I'm picking through your text trying to uncover anything I may have missed, because this puzzle is not coming together for me. Just trying to figure out why your fiancee would ask you something so extreme, and why you seem so on board with complying.

One of our lingering issues was that I’d lied about a few things related to my ex,
Were you still seeing your ex when you started up with your fiancee, or something like that? To me that might explain (but not excuse) your fiancee's insecurity and desire to control.
posted by kapers at 3:47 PM on April 19, 2015

This sounds completely nuts to me, that she thinks this is remotely reasonable and you are willing to go along with it. That said, I think you are on the right track as far as dismissing any thoughts that come up "as in mindfulness meditation". I think even the most sincere, religiously-motivated individuals who believe in purity of thoughts and who believe their thoughts are being directly monitored by God can't manage much more than this. The struggle between the flesh and the spirit is a thing for a reason, and that reason is that it goes against basic biology.

The best you can do, I believe, is not dwell on the thoughts when they come up.

You might look into this book: Kosher Lust, which does focus on how to keep lust alive with your spouse. It's written by a rabbi but the religious stuff is not too overbearing. (And religion is where you are most likely to find people interested in the particular goal you are trying to achieve, anyway.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:49 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

In a perfect solipsistic world, everyone would want to have their cake and eat it too. Everyone would want the benefits of a long term relationship (the trust and security, etcetera) AND lots of awesome, hot sex with as many gorgeous new, exciting, different sexual partners as a person could possibly want. I think your S.O. believes that only if you do not want the latter, you will not cheat. She needs to somehow grok that you do want the latter, but still will not cheat. Assuming that is actually true. And why wouldn't you? If you could have your cake and eat it too, why wouldn't you? The issue is that you will lose something you value in order to gain the exciting new partner sex. Assuming your S.O. really would break up with you, or just become so hurt that the relationship sucked, or whatever. So you need to explain to her that you understand this and are capable of logically making this choice.

Your S.O. believes actions follow thoughts. She is not wrong. Actions DO follow thoughts. If someone is going to cheat, it is more likely "pre-meditated" and therefore, thoughts (especially of a neighbor or friend, especially repeated thoughts) could in some instances very well be a true and reliable indicator of future actions. They don't have to be, but they could be. So you also need to somehow make this distinction clear. I like the idea of celebrities or unattainable people as ok fantasy material.
posted by quincunx at 4:28 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the ways I realized I was a Grown Up in a relationship was when (early in the relationship - as in, "immediately"), my SO and I did not feel the need to 'understand' (or know) everything about the other person.
What was important was to accept that person as they are, and not expect changes.
With that attitude, we've weathered a few big storms, and had loads of fun in the last 23 years.

I wish you well.
posted by dbmcd at 4:32 PM on April 19, 2015 [22 favorites]

One piece of advice good therapists give is to nurture the marriage by keeping some part of each self private - as one put it a generation ago, to "invite the other in to tea from time to time," to help keep the mystery of it all alive. Whether it's sex daydreaming or another intimacy, maybe doing her sweaty laundry, sharing all the details too closely and consistently can kill a marriage. Ask me how I know.
posted by mmiddle at 4:45 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm sympathetic to your fiancée; I'd be incredibly uncomfortable if I found out my husband was masturbating while fantasizing about a friend or co-worker. It's a little too close to home for me, and gross in the sense that those women are people who are being objectified. I also think that there's a difference between thinking someone is attractive and fantasizing about having sex with them, and depending on the person, the latter would gross me out from a failure to draw boundaries perspective.

That being said, your fiancée is completely out of line. It's fine to ask you to work on not sexualizing women, and I think that's a worthy goal regardless of your relationship status. But she has to get some perspective here, and acknowledge that she cannot control your thoughts. If she wants to call you out for specific behavior, or set boundaries as to what behavior she will accept, I think that's fine, but this is going too far. I grant my 4 year old more respect than she's giving you.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:59 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

I am wondering why the leap from not masturbating while fantasizing about real people you know to not thinking about them at all.

While the first isn't something I care about personally, that makes sense to me because it's an action.

The second I find upsetting just like lots of people in this thread.

I don't know if this will help but I am really, really bad at not noticing people. I love people in general, so many of them in the world have these amazing stories and contradictions and histories, not to mention bodies. I also have had crushes at work, at times my marriage was difficult. And not to toot my own horn or anything, because this is the decent, and I believe most common response...I disciplined myself to turn that energy back towards my spouse when it was affecting my fidelity, that is, loyalty. That is what ethics are for.

My husband trusts me not because I don't have thoughts. But because he knows I have thoughts...and I don't act on them.

I mention this because you said other couples are more "lax." Well, sure. That is one way to look at it. My way of looking at it is that we are really, really secure that some thoughts and desires and fantasies are never, ever going to match the reality of the life we have made together. And one of the million reasons is...our energy is not going into policing each other.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:06 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your quest to stop thinking about other women reminds me of something my (clinical psych) supervisor says often: "what you resist persists; what you let be lets you be." I know it's your fiancee who wants you to stop, and she may not understand this because it seems to be tied up in her own issues of mistrust and insecurity, but try to recognize that we cannot control our thoughts in this way. As others have pointed out, the more you try to control these thoughts, the more intrusive and distressing they will become. I would recommend trying to foster some acceptance (both in you and your partner) around these totally normal thoughts and shift the focus of your couples therapy to finding a more workable solution to this issue.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 5:20 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

There are two kinds of things that this request could be referring to, I think. The first is when you have an active fantasy life built around people who are not your partner -- where you actively, purposefully feed fantasies about them, writing erotic scenarios in your head, going out of your way to observe them in real life, looking forward to the time you're going to spend fantasizing about them, choosing to spend your fantasy time on other people to the exclusion of your partner. The second is when you're like "whoa, hot" in passing, or when you're already involved in some quality solo time and the thought rises in your head and ratchets up the erotic potential of the experience, or when you have an erotic dream about another person and wake up fully charged and, you know, take care of business while continuing the thoughts from the dream.

I think the first can be legitimately problematic in a monogamous relationship, because it's about a choice to direct your erotic potential towards a source other than your partner on a consistent and ongoing basis. But the second? The second is both completely normal and and really problematic to ask you to eliminate. If your partner really is referring to the second type of scenario in addition to the first, I think that's very concerning.
posted by KathrynT at 5:21 PM on April 19, 2015 [22 favorites]

There are a lot of polite fictions we tell that are essential for us to get by in adult life. A common one is that we are exclusively attracted to our partners, at all times. (I'm not saying your girlfriend is lying about it, but if she truly feels that way she is probably in a very small minority.) Your girlfriend has put you in a very awkward and unfair position, where she's asking you questions that most people couldn't answer honestly without upsetting their partners. Thinking about other people is a perfectly natural thing, and to not do that you'd have to police your own thoughts in a really unhealthy way.

I think your girlfriend could really benefit from some counseling, to help her with some serious jealousy issues. (I'm not saying she's nuts, but her attitudes seem very naive and like something of another era.) Failing that, I think you should just do like almost everybody else does, tell her a little white lie and say you only ever think about her.

Do you want to be with her, exclusively? Then that's what matters. You shouldn't feel bad about your fantasies, and she shouldn't try to make you feel bad about them either.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:25 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think this bit is important to unpack:
One of our lingering issues was that I’d lied about a few things related to my ex, so we made a big effort for me to be more honest about everything... My fiancée expects me to think the way she does: never having sexual or romantic thoughts about or desiring other people.
Most people would agree being honest with your partner is a good thing. However, it's worth thinking about what you and your partner mean by "honesty" in your relationship and what purpose this honesty serves. You're a monogamous, long-term couple, and you're engaged, so I will presume your goal is to stay together, happily, for an indefinite period of time and that you want to be sexually and romantically exclusive for the duration of your relationship.

Quite frankly, your fianceé is probably lying when she says she has never had any sexual thoughts about other people in all your time together. But maybe she's telling the truth. Okay, but you guys still have, what, 50+ years to go together? Geez, I hope she never, not even once in her entire life, runs into some hunk on the beach and has some fleeting thought about his bulging biceps. Or some hot mail carrier who barges into her office and flashes a charming grin at her.

It is a certainty that both of you will be sexually attracted to another person at some point during the years and years you have left together. This is not due to some personal failing on anyone's part, but simply due to the existence of other attractive people. Even if you live in a town in the remote Alaskan wilderness where your wife is the only woman for a thousand miles, there will still be celebrities or exes or mysterious dream women that creep into your subconscious while you sleep. You're both going to have to deal with this fact.
...we agreed that I should tell her about any instance in which I have even a shred of a sexual thought about anyone else
Again, what exactly is the purpose of this level of honesty? Does it help you be a stable, happy couple? Not really. In fact, in this case, it's tearing you apart, even though (as I submit) having sexual thoughts about other people is inevitable and involuntary. Your fianceé's request is understandable given her experiences, but it doesn't help the partnership, it doesn't help the goal of being a happy, trusting couple for years and years to come. This kind of "honesty" has nothing to do with your relationship and has everything to do with your finaceé's personal trust issues.
posted by deathpanels at 5:44 PM on April 19, 2015 [11 favorites]

Most of all, she continues to fear that she’s not enough for me sexually and doesn’t feel safe from infidelity in our relationship.
Nobody is safe from infidelity, because we cannot control other people. There is a degree of risk inherent in any intimate relationship.
posted by deathpanels at 5:50 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Dude, I'm basically your fiancee, in the sense that I don't really have sexual thoughts about anyone but my partner. (Or rather, I tend only to have fantasies/sexual thoughts about one person at a time--and currently that person is my partner.) So I would be the first to argue that such a thing is not impossible, and fantasies about other people aren't inevitable. And even I think this is completely bonkers.

I am super surprised that nobody's therapist, couples or otherwise, has twigged to the unrealistic standard being set up here, or the weird power dynamic, or you know, any model of human sexuality grounded in reality.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:51 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

we agreed that I should tell her about any instance in which I have even a shred of a sexual thought about someone else

Just want to go back and pick up on that. Under the circumstances (or really any circumstances, but especially these), this agreement you've made with her is, not to put too fine a point in it, bizarre. She was "devastated" when you told her you'd had sexual thoughts and fantasies about other people, so now she wants you to...go out of your way tell her your sexual thoughts and fantasies about other people? What on earth is that supposed to accomplish? To make her feel bad again? To allow her to berate you and make you feel ashamed? To make her worry that you're thinking about cheating on her?

I honestly can't even begin to unpack her request, so I won't try, but I will note that to me, it's indicative that something is seriously amiss here. As in, seriously amiss.
posted by holborne at 6:30 PM on April 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

I think everyone else has made it clear how unreasonable her request seems to an average person. My question is: How is she going to react when she found finds herself having an uncontrolled out-of-bounds fantasy or crush on a man other than you. Were I her partner, it would concern me that she finds no substantial difference between fantasy and fact, and it seems that it might be a rude awakening for her that might cause her to take wandering thoughts far too seriously.
posted by vunder at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Advice I heard a practical and long-married older woman give to her daughter,"It doesn't matter where he gets his appetite as long as he comes home to eat."

And the woman's husband had a comment on this topic,"I'm married, but I'm not dead."

It works for me.
posted by islandeady at 6:57 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

This sounds EXACTLY like sexy mind games Dominants play with submissives -- because it's impossible to "win" and the submissive will get their sexxy kinky payoff - ahem - I mean, punishment.

In your case, this is not a game, it's emotional abuse.
posted by jbenben at 8:44 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the many responses.

The reason we came up with the idea that we'd share when these thoughts came up was in the hope that transparency would build trust - trust that I had lost over a long pattern of being dishonest about things big and small, related to this issue and otherwise. We decided on this idea together, recognizing that it could apply to both of us at different points in our lives and felt sustainable at first (oops). Given that we came up with this idea together, I'm bummed that it ended up sounding like she was pushing for some regime to control my thoughts, and led to some of the harsher sentiments above. Either way, it's validating to hear that the conclusion we came to - that too much honesty and openness isn't necessarily a good thing and can be counterproductive - is in line with the opinions here.

But as everyone pointed out, our approach was naive and did end up in a situation that WidgetAlley described well: "feeling increasingly like your privacy and the freedom of your own mind are being invaded, while her unhappiness will feed on the occasions that you fail at her request to buy into a narrative that her insecurity pushes her towards-- that you don't love her or find her desirable enough."

We've read through the whole thread together and it sparked a good conversation about what we're actually concerned about (avoiding emotional and physical infidelity) and how we can realistically achieve this. She agrees that it's ok and normal to think others are attractive in the course of daily life and that we don't need to bring this up unless it does seem like a real threat to our relationship. I also agreed that while these thoughts are going to come up, I'll continue to try not to indulge in sexual thoughts about others, as not objectifying people in my life is a worthy goal in and of itself.

That's that. Thanks everyone.
posted by tripledrop at 10:10 PM on April 19, 2015 [15 favorites]

I'm not sure if you're still reading or not, but I wanted to share a couple thoughts. They're tangential but might help.

1) You gain trust by behaving in a trustworthy manner. Although (in my opinion) you haven't cheated on her, you might learn a lot about rebuilding trust by reading information on healing trust after infidelity*. There is information out there for both the cheater and the one who was cheated upon - in your case, you'd want to read the information geared toward the cheater. The basics, though, are things like doing what you say you would do and doing what you can reasonably do to make your partner feel safer. I get that you were really trying to do that with the "total honesty" approach, but you might want to read up on some specifics or talk to your therapist for some ideas.

* Strong caveat: you might want to tell your fiancee you're going to read up on this information BEFORE you start surfing for it, and why. "Love, it's really important to me to rebuild your trust in me. I'll be reading up on this information online, and some of it may come from sites about rebuilding after infidelity. I haven't been unfaithful, but I want to read up on it as much as possible, regardless of the source." The last thing you need right now is for her to get the wrong idea by reading over your shoulder or checking your browsing history.

2) My husband uses erotic literature for a lot of his needs, as it were; for him, it's a more ethical way to go about things, as the people he imagines are literally imaginary. That might be a way to satisfy your outlet without having to use real people in your fantasies.

I do sympathize with you two - one of the hardest things to learn in an intimate relationship is sometimes, you really don't want to know.
posted by RogueTech at 10:30 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm happy you've thought better of this plan. Take it from anyone who's been in a long-term relationship: good boundaries are essential, and one of the most important is that each person has the right to his or her own thoughts.

Even though you've resolved this somewhat, I did want to point out that when you find someone especially attractive, that's usually more of a hormonal/biochemical reaction, not an intellectual one. Yes, the brain is called the biggest sex organ, but a huge portion of the sexual response happens elsewhere. So you might conceivable become an expert at controlling your thoughts, but you're not going to be able to control your hormones nearly as much, if at all, and those hormonal surges are going to naturally lead to sexual thoughts, no matter how rigorously you guard your intellect. So, that's another reason why your original plan was a little unrealistic. You can spend the rest of your life striving to view women as simply people, without sex characteristics of any type, but that's not going to stop your body from releasing sex hormones when you smell women, or see their figures, or get triggered by any number of different physical stimuli.

Honestly, I think you're already doing everything you can to diminish these thoughts. Your experiences with mindfulness do seem to be helping you. I think you're already doing a good job.

But...if you felt like exploring other options, you might find it interesting to look into Hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or Biofeedback. I don't know if any of those work, but if you're sincerely interested in methods for controlling the mind and body, those might be a good place to start.
posted by sam_harms at 10:43 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I’ve certainly started to literally and figuratively avert my eyes more actively and been more aware of my thoughts at any given time.

So I've read your question and your follow up and I think you're on the right track. But I wanted to quickly address this bit. As a women I'm on the receiving end of various levels of this behaviour occasionally and it's both really obvious and totally awful. Men who move as far away as possible when I pass in the corridor or street, who won't look at me directly when interacting with me or pointedly avert their eyes when I pass, who won't address me normally, using stilted overly formal language when talking at me. It's corrosive, every time a man flinches away from me, either in body or in sightline, it hurts. And it's not subtle from my end, any more than the ones looking down my shirt.

But I don't think you'll end up one of those guys anyway as long as you focus on these parts:
How can I get better over time at seeing all other women as just people ...
... not objectifying people in my life is a worthy goal in and of itself.

Those are great words that you wrote. The main way you treat women as people is by ... just treating us the same as men. Because we are just people in the end. Really that's all I ever want in the world (I don't give a shit about what's in your brain, just how you behave). I also think you're on the right track with the mindfulness trick, when you have unwanted thoughts maybe acknowledge them briefly and let them slip away. Refocus on the task at hand, whether it's walking down the street or talking to a colleague or whatever. It is totally normal to be attracted to people and is largely subconscious and unbidden. But it's also normal to not do anything about it in the end, so just keep acting the same and treating everyone as relevant, respected people regardless of what your lizard brain is up to, and the world will be good.
posted by shelleycat at 12:25 AM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

I would never ask my partner if he thinks about other women because I wouldn't want to know the answer! That would be messing with a hornets nest. I'm sure he thinks of other women occasionally and I have no desire to hear about it, and I'm ok with that. She is setting your relationship up to fail if she needs to know this stuff. All people have fantasize about others, often people who don't even exist.
posted by waving at 5:43 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

"In one entry, as she comforts a friend suspecting spousal infidelity, Julavits relays the curious findings of a study she had recently come across:

The marriages that last are the ones in which the two members regularly develop (but do not act upon) extramarital infatuations."

posted by kmennie at 7:12 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

My fiancée expects me to think the way she does: never having sexual or romantic thoughts about or desiring other people.

Do you believe this? Because I'm not sure that I believe this.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:17 AM on April 20, 2015

trust that I had lost over a long pattern of being dishonest about things big and small
I feel like your initial question and this follow-up glossed over this and so many of our extreme reactions were based on the assumption that you'd never done anything beyond entertaining passing thoughts.

I'm glad you have found this helpful, though, and it seems you two have great open communication. I do wish objectifying women less was a goal more men actively worked toward, and hope you come back here for advice if you need more concrete steps.
posted by kapers at 8:46 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are so many good points made up there that I just want to tell you that in 20 years of working with couples and 33 years of marriage, I have never met anyone who, when the subject came, up didn't admit attraction to more than one human being.

I still love my dead ex husband. My current one, the 33 year marriage that includes a son, is no less sturdy or healthy or strong for that fact. I have seen men at the grocery and nearly bit my knuckles off and laughed at myself. On rare occasions I've seen my husband almost break his neck to catch the last glimpse of a beautiful woman rounding the corner. So he appreciates feminine beauty. I have only gratitude for that trait in him.

The point is, we are faithful, committed, trusting, trusted and wonderfully imperfect.

It was said above. This is about your girl. Not you. I hate the word "normal", but it is certainly typical for the strongest and most enduring relationships to include thoughts concerning, feelings about and attractions to others. Choosing not to act on them is the point, but prohibiting thoughts is just a preposterous idea to begin with. This is not about fidelity, but insecurity.

You have a life with her, but you also have a life of your own and for anyone to dictate what you should and should not think about (and you to believe she may be right) is not going to make for a healthy, lasting kind of love, a love where you bring out the best in one another and help each other to grow and evolve into better people. Her expectations will only buy a suffocating, judgmental guilt fest that I can promise will either end one day or just make you miserable till you die.

She is asking the impossible and if she says she never even entertains thoughts about another human being she is lying herself. Maybe she even feels guilty for it because she mistakenly thinks real love is all engulfing and consuming, never wavering and excludes all emotional ties to other females. If this is her idea of love, she is in for a huge disappointment. Her expectations are not of the real world. I have every compassion for her idealistic perception. It's just not reality nor would it be beneficial if it were.

I'd also like to mention that revealing every detail of your past loves or even current thoughts is an invasion of privacy and usually ends badly. Honesty is not always total revelation. Some thing should remain in the past or in your head.

Kahlil Gibran said "Grow together, but not too close together for the cypress and the oak grow not in each others' shadows."

Head to a little therapy - separately. When they say you're both ready, go together , but she has issues that have nothing to do with you. Please stop feeling you're being unfaithful. You're being a human being and no one can control their attractions or thoughts and certainly should not allow anyone else to try. You can only control what you do about them.
posted by seldom seen at 11:36 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Late to the party, I know, but since I was once in your fiancee's shoes, I'll give my two cents.

Yes, it's unreasonable to expect a person to never be attracted to anyone but their partner, and yes, trying to keep track of "failures" in order to "confess" them only heightens awareness (the elephant analogy) and actually prompts intrusive thoughts.

I know two wrongs don't make a right,* but I do understand why someone who's been repeatedly deceived is grasping at ways to make herself more at ease, and I don't think it's fair that your fiancee has been vilified in so many of these answers, particularly since your Ask included the fact that you had previously broken her trust.

*One wrong, the lying. Another wrong, the thought police.

I suspect your fiancee's behavior is an attempt (however misguided) to assert control over what happens to her and drawing boundaries for her relationship. It does end up controlling you and limiting your agency as an individual, and that's not okay, but it is understandable. I'm glad the two of you communicate, and I sincerely hope these issues do not dominate communication (I'm guessing they have, for now, or you would not be asking about this).

Since honesty is a dealbreaker for your fiancee, I'm rather appalled at the suggestions that you do as you please and just lie about it. No, she is not privy to every thought in your head, but knowing her boundaries, neither are you in a position to present falsities as truth in an attempt to pacify her. (You seem to know this, and I applaud you.)

There are other ways. Those include but are not limited to you claiming autonomy and privacy in certain matters. If you do this, she is empowered to make an informed decision about whether knowing everything is actually a dealbreaker. I know that I would prefer, "I'm not going to discuss this," over anything intentionally misleading.

As for controlling your own behavior, it's not entirely impossible. Of course you'll find other women attractive. Appreciation of beauty is innate. There's a difference between noticing (reaction) and fantasizing (action). I'm not saying that fantasizing is inherently wrong; I'm saying that if you choose to honor your fiancee's wishes, you are able to appreciate what you find visually appealing and still not actively fantasize about yourself having a personal role. In fact, I find it insulting to men to suggest otherwise.

As for coworkers and friends, the same applies. It's entirely possible to appreciate the attraction without incorporating them into masturbation fodder.

I could say much more, but on preview just now:
"but she has issues that have nothing to do with you"

Her issues have a lot to do with you and the fact that you've repeatedly deceived her! She is always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and -- though it won't work -- she's devised a plan to make sure she doesn't feel a fool again. This has loads to do with you and your dishonesty in the past. She wants to know exactly what page you're on at any given time, and that is the nature of having been deceived.

I really do wish both of you the best. I don't think your fiancee is some freak of nature, and I think you are overly accommodating as some sort of penance for having been dishonest (why not be honest, even if that means saying when you don't want to discuss something, and stop the dishonesty?). Both of you can put these issues to rest, given the right amount of time and understanding.
posted by whoiam at 12:06 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

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