Sharing a sexual fantasy with your spouse can be daunting. I’ve received many emails from husbands and wives who have opened up to their spouse about something they want and get so completely shut down and rejected that they never want to open up again.
I know that’s generally not what the other spouse intends to do. They don’t mean to break their spouse’s heart. They don’t mean to crush their desire to share themselves. They don’t mean to damage their intimacy and prevent further vulnerability. It’s just that they never really planned for this, and so didn’t know how to react.
So, in this post I’m going to share some tips for how to respond to a spouse sharing a sexual fantasy so that you can be prepared and have the tools, for when the time comes, you can respond appropriately. Some of these come from our new resource: Our Sexploration List, which is a workbook designed to help you explore sexual desires, fantasies, and activities between a husband and wife. You can check it out here if you’re interested.
1. Respond instead of reacting by planning ahead
The biggest problem is generally just that people tend to react instead of respond. This doesn’t just go for marriages or discussing sexual fantasies, but it does come out very strongly in those situations.
Most people go through life simply reacting to whatever comes their way. They just go with their gut feeling, like an animal, and react. So, when their spouse brings up something that makes their mind recoil, their body recoils as well. They’ll take a step back, their face will show disgust at the idea, and they’ll say something like “that’s gross” or “only a sick person would want to do that”.
This is reacting. Like when you see a snake and your first reaction is to jump away in fear. It’s seemingly uncontrollable. And that’s what some spouses tell me when they’ve realized the mistake they’ve made and ask me how they can fix it. They didn’t expect it and just reacted. Generally poorly.
But, if you know there’s the possibility of coming across a snake, and you know how to deal with one if you do, then you often don’t have the same reaction. You can instead appreciate it, enjoy the experience, examine it and have a positive interaction. Now, I know some people are just terrified of snakes regardless of the situation, but I’m hoping you get my point.
If you take the time to think about how you would respond to a fantasy, then if / when it comes up, you can respond appropriately rather than just reacting. This might mean more than just reading this post. It may take having a conversation with your spouse setting down a protocol for bringing up sensitive topics.
The majority of this post is for the responding spouse, but here are some ideas if you are going to create a system for sharing any difficult topic:
Ask beforehand if it’s a good time to talk about something difficult – Blocking off time and letting someone know they’re going to be shocked can be very helpful. Like the difference between sneaking up on someone with a snake and going to a reptile zoo. At the zoo, no one is going to be shocked by a snake. That’s where they live. You know what’s coming.
If it’s not a good time, schedule time in the near future when you can discuss it.
Share what you feel – If you say “it would be sexy if you do xyz” they might respond with “no, no it wouldn’t”, but if you say “I find the idea of you doing xyz very arousing”, they can’t argue with that. They can’t say “No you don’t” because you do. Plus, this gets the discussion focused on how you feel rather than specific behaviours. More on that later.
They’re allowed to say no – both spouses should be acutely aware that they are allowed to say “no”. Sex is a privilege, duty, right and obligation in marriage. Specific sexual acts are not. Sharing a desire is healthy and normal. Saying you “need” something specific is not. You need to respect their right to not be coerced into something they’re uncomfortable with. You and your spouse committed to a physical relationship when you got married, but that doesn’t mean they committed to fulfilling every sexual whim you might have.
Though sometimes don’t you just wish that was in the vows? I mean, not really, if you think it through, but, you know, sometimes it would just be easier wouldn’t it? Maybe just for a weekend …
Lastly, openly listen to their request. If it’s not morally wrong, then at the very least give it serious consideration. If you need time, then ask for time before responding. Too often we just run with our gut reaction which may be based on bad teachings, wrong theology, messy history, or our mood. Instead of “No!” you might find your actual response is “not yet”. Or you might ask yourself “why not?” If you don’t have a good answer, then how are you going to give them one?
2. Focus on your spouse first
When your spouse shares something deeply personal like a sexual fantasy, sometimes we tend to focus on what they want rather than them as a person.
We start immediately tearing apart what they are asking for, saying “I’m not doing that”, “That could never work, it’s just impossible”, “That’s gross” or worse yet “Only someone sick would want that”.
Instead of focusing on what they are asking, start asking questions in return about why they want to do that, what it means to them. What do they get out of it? Because often it’s not what we think.
For example, in our survey on oral sex, one of the responses to the question “Why does it matter if your wife lets you ejaculate in her mouth?” the response was this:
I know it sounds cliche but my sexuality is at the center of who I am as a man, and for my wife not to embrace my ejaculation regardless of where my penis is at the time feels very much like a rejection of me.
That’s a pretty powerful reason behind his desire. I wonder if his wife knows. And my point is not that you should do it because the reason is more than just “it would feel good”. But rather if you know the reason, then your response might change. Reacting to a request like that with “No, I’m not interested” to him would feel like an absolute rejection of him as a man. It sounds selfish and uncaring.
But you could say something like:
My dear, I love you and love all the things we do in bed. You’re so generous and give me such pleasure and I want to continue to explore our sexual relationship and grow and I hope that one day I’ll be comfortable with this idea. I’m just not ready yet. In the meantime is there some other way I can show you just how much I appreciate and embrace you as my husband?
I mean, what can you say to that? Can you possibly call her selfish for a response like that? A conversation like this, while difficult and takes a lot of intention shows the heart of both spouses. They’re sharing how they feel, honestly and authentically by responding rather than reacting and getting to the deeper reasons for the request.
3. Get on the same page
Another thing we need to do as the responding spouse is to clarify what the request itself is. For example, I once said I’d love to have a full day of sex. To which my wife responded, “That’s impossible.” To her, a full day of sex meant we would not leave the bedroom. Just sex all day long, nothing else. With 5 kids, that is impossible. It’s also a big ask for a spouse with a lower sex drive. Plus, frankly, I can’t have sex all day long continuously, I just don’t have the energy for it. And she’d be pretty sore by the end I’d think. Though that would be amazing, wouldn’t it? …
Sorry … started daydreaming there. Back to my point.
What I had meant though is that I wanted a day of sex as described in this post. In short (if you haven’t read it), short sex sessions split throughout the day. Orgasms aren’t even required. Just the fun of slipping off for some fun here and there. That’s all I wanted. But, I didn’t communicate that clearly and she didn’t ask. We’ll call that a tie for whose fault that was.
When we finally got the on the same page, turns out she was on board and enjoyed it. Which brought along the post.
Point is, ask questions, figure out what they actually want. It might not be what you are thinking. It might be doable instead of impossible.
4. Saying no will likely damage the relationship
Unfortunately, saying no to a spouse’s request will likely damage the relationship. The tips I’m sharing will help mitigate or lessen that damage, but the damage will likely still occur. That does not mean that you should accept everything. Damage happens. Relationships can handle it.
I just want you to be aware that it is damaging. That can help you be more compassionate when giving a “no” or a “not yet”. Also, you might want to put some extra effort into those things you are willing to do, sexual or otherwise (though the sexual ones might help more in this case). They’re going to be hurting a bit and there’s some repair work that needs to be done. It’s okay. It’s not your fault nor their fault. That’s just the reality of two people sharing a life together. That is the nature of relationships.
So, invest in the relationship and help rebuild it. Do the repair work and you’ll find next time they’ll be more willing to share. If you don’t, next time will be harder for them, and we don’t want that. We’re all about promoting intimacy, not shutting it down. Once a spouse stops sharing themselves, it’s very difficult to repair a marriage.
5. Sometimes accepting the fantasy is all they want
And some fantasies are impossible. Maybe they have a fantasy of having sex in space. Well, that might actually be possible soon, but most of us won’t get to experience that. That doesn’t mean you have to respond with “Well, that’s never going to happen.”
Instead, you could play it out in your mind and share the fantasy. You could say something like:
Hmm, yeah, weightless sex does come with some interesting possibilities.
… sorry, got lost in thought there again. This is a very distracting post.
Sometimes accepting the fantasy is enough for them to feel like you’re accepting a part of them. Especially for those ones that are literally impossible, dangerous or illegal, like sex in a car while driving. Don’t do it. Please. But feel free to think about it and talk it through:)
6. When you need to shut it down, do it gently
Sometimes we have fantasies that are inappropriate. Sometimes we don’t even want them. I know a lot of people deal with same-sex attraction. Or have fantasies of sex with other people. Often they don’t even want those fantasies. If you find out your spouse has them, be very careful. Chances are they already feel a lot of guilt about it. Adding to it won’t help.
In the cases where it’s unwanted, talking through it might help. Men with same-sex attraction often find it has to do with an absent father-figure and talking through it can be healing and potentially even resolve some of the attraction. Many women find other women attractive, and who can blame them? I mean, I certainly agree women are more attractive. That doesn’t mean they want to act on it. But talking through it and getting to the reason can help them understand that it’s not about sexual orientation, but about aesthetics.
Now, this isn’t always the case. There are differences between attraction, orientation and lifestyle choices that our world is constantly trying to blur together into one topic. I’m just saying, be compassionate and understanding. Talk through it, but be clear this isn’t something you are entertaining trying.
In other cases, one spouse simply doesn’t care that it’s wrong, or doesn’t believe it’s wrong. It’s still important to be gentle and compassionate, yet firm and resolved. You are allowed to set your own boundaries, whether or not they have them for themselves.
There is nothing wrong with saying:
I love you and I feel entertaining this fantasy would damage our relationship. I’m willing to discuss it because I want to understand you better.
You can discuss it without entertaining it. You can have them share how they feel and what it means to them without sharing in the fantasy itself. I hope that’s clear.
How to make sure your spouse never shares a fantasy again
The other option is to not follow these tips. You can have a visceral body reaction showing them your disgust. You can tell them they need psychological help because no normal person would want that.
If you do, you will likely damage your marriage, and require years, if not decades, to return trust and intimacy. I know it takes more effort to respond appropriately, but this is how you build intimacy, how you let them open up more. If you show them you can be trusted with sexual fantasies, they will likely trust you with anything. Show them you can’t be trusted with them though, and they may never trust you with anything again.
Learn to respond instead of reacting.
P.S. If you think “we never share sexual fantasies”, you might want to check out the Our Sexploration List resource that I mentioned earlier. It will help you figure out what things you may or may not be interested in trying.
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