Dear Thomas,
I have been married to a fantastic man for 15 years--a faithful and kind husband, and a great Dad to our children. But I am always thinking of having sexual relationships with other men. I have not done it, but it's bugging me all the time. I am afraid that because my desires are pretty strong, I will succumb to them one day even though I know how desruptive an affair can be. I do not know why I have such intentions when I am happily married, and when I am very sure that I love my husband deeply. Please advise.

Dear Guilty,
Your situation is very common. In my practice I have worked with many people, men and women, who love their spouses and are concerned for their children and yet harbor secret passions for a third party. The confusing emotions often generate a dilemma: should I protect my marriage and family or should I honor my passion? Some people try to suppress the problem altogether through their beliefs or guilt, but over time that solution only causes more problems.

If it's clear that the attraction doesn't come from a lack of love at home or from sexual dissatisfaction--sometimes illicit desire makes conscious conflicts that have been ignored--then maybe the desire is bigger than you think. Maybe it isn't another person you need but another life. This is not a far-fetched idea. Sexual desire often represents something bigger than itself. Especially if you have been a loving wife and attentive mother, the limitations of that role may finally start to make themselves felt. I would suggest looking at the whole of your life. Is there room for expansion? Consider your time of life. Have you gone through changes? Are your children entering new phases that affect your sense of yourself and your own goals in life?

You sign yourself "Guilty." That's a clue that you haven't explored your situation broadly enough. Guilt is a kind of protection. Sometimes people feel guilty when they don't allow themselves to be guilty. I'm not suggesting that you go ahead and have an affair. I mean guilt about being yourself and paying attention to your own needs and desires. Sexual fantasy is often more about deep and broad desire than about having sex with another person.

Guilt also makes it difficult to make good decisions. See if you can step outside the guilt pattern. Try to see that it is an ego thing, a way of not facing your current challenge to be a vital person. Beyond guilt, you may see for the first time how you can now have a bigger life and satisfy desires that are ultimately more important than having another lover.

One more thing. It's tempting for any married person to feel limited by their marriage and to blame her spouse for not having a life of her own. But that is like an optical illusion. Usually it isn't the spouse who gets in the way. He is only a convenient excuse. Your challenge may be to keep opening yourself to life's opportunities, to fulfill your destiny without excuses. As I see it, life is always asking for expansion. It never stands still. Either you move further into the vitality it has to offer, or you decline and risk depression and a lowering of interest, which, incidentally, may manifest itself as diminished sexual desire.

Eroticism doesn't have to be sexual. You can be erotic--energetic, full of passion, and seeking pleasure--in everything you do. I suggest you take the hint from this unwanted attraction and eroticize your life-- explore your deep and solid desires, your passions, and the things that give you real pleasure.

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