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|Fantasy in Couples Therapy - Page 4|
Fantasy has enormous erotic potential, but sharing it may be dangerous. I've treated a number of men who believed that they were bisexual. One of them, a clergyman who loved his wife, his family, and his profession, described the positive effects of keeping his fantasies private. He often fantasized about a man (or boy) to whom he was attracted for. As he and his wife made love, he sometimes imagined that she was that man or boy, and it was a powerful sexual experience for him—and for his wife, who loved his passion and felt a part of it. Encouraging fantasy sharing with this couple might have yielded disastrous results.
Age, culture, ethnicity, religious beliefs and traditions are a few of the many elements that define our patients' contexts. The couple who enjoy Sex in the City may respond quite comfortably to the question "What are your favorite sex fantasies?" For people who grew up in a different context, the question may seem bizarre or deeply insulting. Orthodox Jews, people who grew up in Asian cultures, and devout Catholics are but a few who might react poorly to that degree of directness. Encouraging sexual fantasies is fine—as long as therapists remember that the sharing of sexual fantasies is fine with some couples, but can be destructive for others.
Finally, I'd take some issue with Nelson's broad assertion that "couples who are satisfied with their sex lives are happier than those who aren't." In some marriages, people have great sex but little emotional connection, and in others, it's the reverse.
British sexologist Havelock Ellis said that modesty is one thing that people of all cultures and ages have in common, and he defined one aspect of modesty as the fear that others would be "disgusted" by one's fantasies. So it's understandable that couples hesitate sometimes to share their inner desires directly with their partner, for fear that their partner won't show empathy or understanding.
The intense intimacy that's developed from sharing fantasies is different than "true confessions"—when one shares fantasies with a partner in an attempt to create animosity, distance, or jealousy. Sharing sexual fantasies in the context I develop here has more to do with the idea that a romantic, committed relationship includes the erotic, regardless of whether people experience that aspect of their relationship as satisfying at the moment. Without it, they may feel like roommates and report less passion and connection.
The question for people of all cultures isn't "What's your favorite sex fantasy?" as this implies that they have sex fantasies. The question for all couples is more about "What do you desire?" Shared desires can be acted out, or simply used as a way to explore the other.
Sexuality is something we all share. What separates from other mammals, whose sexuality is merely biologically driven, is our capacity to be erotic and to use our imaginations.
What I imagine is that couples can learn to share their desires without creating pain in the relationship, and—this is a fantasy of mine—and that these techniques will create emotional connection, and not be merely a way to alleviate sexual boredom. n
Tammy Nelson, M.S., the founder and director of the Center for Healing, a holistic psychotherapy center, is a certified Imago Relationship therapist. She's the author of Getting the Sex You Want and What's Eating You, a publication for young people with food issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don-David Lusterman, Ph.D., is adjunct clinical supervisor at the Ferkaug Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University and has taught at Hofstra University. He's the author of Infidelity: A Survival Guide and Bridging Separate Gender Worlds. Contact: email@example.com.
Letters to the Editor about this department may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.