When Fantasies Hurt

I have seen a few different search terms in my stats that indicate people are searching for resources around what to do when a particular fantasy is hurting their relationships. I think the idea behind this scenario is that a partner has shared a fantasy with you and perhaps now you feel insecure about yourself or your relationship and maybe you wish you didn’t know about the fantasy. Maybe your partner is so insistent on sharing the fantasy, or even making it materialize, that you are closing yourself off from your partner and are starting to feel like you are sexually incompatible.

That is a tricky, and probably painful, situation. What do you do?

First, I think it’s important to recognize that everyone has fantasies. We probably have different fantasies, but we are entitled to our own. They are ours, just like our feelings and thoughts are our own. Try cultivating your sense of independence around your fantasies and work on respecting your partner(s)’s imaginative boundaries as well.

Second, it can be helpful to view the sharing of fantasies as an intimacy-building component of a relationship. Viewed from this light, when a partner shares a fantasy, they aren’t doing it to make you feel less-than or insecure about yourself or your relationship, but because they feel close enough and safe enough with you to share a vulnerable part of themselves. It could even be viewed as a form of coming out, depending on how deeply someone has held onto a fantasy, and how much it makes up their sexual identity.

Third, it could also be helpful to work on assessing your own sexual intelligence and your ability to be GGG (Dan Savage’s acronym for good, giving, and game), in addition to your sexual soft and hard boundaries. Is the fantasy initially squicky to you? Can you imagine indulging it in some way, in some circumstances? Are you willing to talk about it or try it? Is it something that is absolutely non-negotiable to you?

Fourth, I think that Dan Savage has it right regarding the idea that people deserve to evaluate relationships not just based on traditional compatibility measures (personality, finances, living, kids, religion, etc) but on sexual compatibility as well. Try thinking of sex as a distinct category that you can use in evaluating your relationship with someone. It doesn’t make you shallow or ungrateful to evaluate a relationship based on your sexual compatibility: it makes you honest and it shows you are invested in assessing the long term sustainability of a relationship. (Obviously, determining how important a sexual incompatibility issue is to you is important in this as well. Maybe the sexual incompatibility isn’t that important to you, and maybe it’s a huge deal. Only you can answer that.)

Fifth, approach your partner with your honest feelings and thoughts around the fantasy sharing and start brainstorming possibilities for moving forward. Is the fantasy triggering some insecurities for you? What do you need from your partner? Do you need your partner to stop sharing the fantasy with you? Do you simply need some emotional reassurance? Would it be helpful to have some boundaries around sharing- for instance, we can talk about the fantasy a few times a week, and other times need to be reserved for other erotic play/talk?

Lastly, if the fantasy is taking up a large amount of space in your relationship (maybe it’s turned into a “third partner”) and it’s not a presence you want at all in any way, maybe it’s time to come to terms with the fact that you are not sexually compatible and move on to more compatible relationships. (And: if your partner is pushing you to do things that you are not comfortable with, that is another flag that your relationship is not sustainable. If you are uncomfortable, that is a sign that the fantasies may not be for you and maybe that your partner is not respecting your feelings and boundaries, which is not a healthy or satisfying way to be in relationship with someone.)

I’ll say for myself that J and I have gone through a little bit of this. Not in terms of really sharing fantasies that hurt one of us (at least to my knowledge) but in carving out specific times for specific kinds of erotic play (“we’ve talked about that a lot this week, I want to talk about this other fantasy tonight”). I have also had flashes of jealousy before in hearing some of J’s fantasies, but those feelings have largely been founded in fears that the fantasy would turn into reality and feeling like I wouldn’t be able to handle it right then. When I can ground myself in the moment and see the hotness of his fantasy myself, I have calmed myself down quite a bit, and been able to enjoy our erotic sharing (and, am also able to emotionally calm down over the long run with the confidence that I could handle it if the fantasy turned into a reality).

Have you ever shared a fantasy that has hurt your partner in some way? Have you ever been hurt by a partner’s fantasy? How have you negotiated that?

fantasies

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