Up­set by wife call­ing ex’s name dur­ing sex

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health - with Suzi God­son Send your queries to suzigod­son@mac.com

My wife called me by an old boyfriend’s name dur­ing sex. She says it was a slip of the tongue, and not to worry about it. How­ever, I can’t for­get about it — I keep think­ing that she must still fan­ta­sise about him when we are in bed. I find this deeply trou­bling.”

>> In any long-term re­la­tion­ship, the odd slip of the tongue is not un­usual, par­tic­u­larly mid-coitus. No one’s brain operates at full steam dur­ing sex. In fact, some­thing hap­pens to our brains to help us to feel re­laxed and to make or­gasm more likely.

Dur­ing sex the fe­male brain slows down ac­tiv­ity in the parts that deal with fear and anx­i­ety (the amyg­dala and hip­pocam­pus), and switches off the area that gov­erns rea­son and be­havioural con­trol (the lat­eral or­bitofrontal cor­tex). These changes in­crease the like­li­hood of a woman fully en­gag­ing with sex­ual sen­sa­tion, but they also de­crease men­tal acu­ity and can make them less guarded about what they say in the heat of the mo­ment. Less dra­matic, but still no­table, the male brain shows in­creased ac­tiv­ity in the ‘pe­ri­aque­duc­tal grey’ — an area that plays im­por­tant role in pain in­hi­bi­tion and emo­tional re­sponse.

The ideal sit­u­a­tion would be that you could have both turned it into a joke that you could share. How­ever, you were caught off guard, at an in­ti­mate mo­ment — not a time for witty repar­tees. The best way for your wife to have dealt with her faux pas would have been to apol­o­gise pro­fusely and af­firm her com­mit­ment to you. This ob­vi­ously didn’t hap­pen and it sounds as if it was left to you to chal­lenge her. She may have felt a bit em­bar­rassed and in­stead of giv­ing you the re­as­sur­ance that you needed, she has told you just to for­get it, and not worry about it. That’s a dis­as­trous strat­egy — end­less stud­ies have shown that if you specif­i­cally in­struct some­one not to think about a ‘white bear’ or a ‘red ap­ple’, that is all they think about.

There is, of course, the pos­si­bil­ity that your wife’s ex has a sim­i­lar name to you (per­haps an overly op­ti­mistic thought on my part)? When peo­ple have sim­i­lar names, ‘pho­netic mis­nam­ing’ is more com­mon. When the two names in ques­tion also fall into sim­i­lar se­man­tic cat­e­gories (ie, you are both in the ‘ro­man­tic part­ner’ cat­e­gory), it only in­creases the con­fu­sion.

Al­though it’s not what you want to hear there is, ob­vi­ously, a chance that your wife re­ally was think­ing about her for­mer boyfriend and that she lied to you to try to spare your feel­ings. Even if you were to get her to ad­mit that, would it make you feel any bet­ter?

You and your wife had lovers be­fore you met and get­ting mar­ried doesn’t erase your in­di­vid­ual hisan tories. You can’t po­lice her pri­vate thoughts, and you need to try to re­mem­ber that ev­ery­one oc­ca­sion­ally in­dulges in some ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar fan­tasy.

You are clearly up­set, but choos­ing to doubt your wife over such a mi­nor of­fence says more about your in­se­cu­rity than her fidelity. Are there un­der­ly­ing ten­sions in the re­la­tion­ship that you haven’t men­tioned? When cou­ples with­draw from each other emo­tion­ally it is very easy for some­thing small, like ut­ter­ing the wrong name, to take on a mag­ni­tude that it would not or­di­nar­ily de­serve. It also be­comes eas­ier for one or both part­ners to ro­man­ti­cise old lovers, or fan­ta­sise about po­ten­tial at­trac­tions.

If what this in­ci­dent has done is re­veal deeper anx­i­eties about your wife’s level of com­mit­ment to you, use it as an op­por­tu­nity to start a con­ver­sa­tion about how you are both feel­ing and work out what you could be do­ing bet­ter. In mar­riage, pay­ing at­ten­tion to the small cracks helps you to avoid the big­ger ones.

“Choos­ing to doubt your wife over such a mi­nor of­fence says more about your in­se­cu­rity than her fidelity

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