We've been focusing on the inner lives of men for a while. I'd like to remind husband and wife that we're seeking to move towards two humbled other centered people living out marriage together. If the words come out of a man's mouth, "See, you need to meet my needs here," you've missed the point of why I am going through these basics of a man's inner world. My hope is that you'll be able to tell your wife, "This is what this is like for me in this. I struggle with my question when...fill in the blank."
Wives, it is important for you to listen to your husband's inner world without questioning his strength. Part of getting to our strength is walking through our doubts about it. I encourage you to stay with him when he begins to be vulnerable with you. If there is anything in you that shames him in that vulnerability it could really hinder the process.
This post continues to get strong responses from time to time. The original post is here if you want to read through the comments.
I am going to post on two more chapters from Shaunti Feldhahn's not for women only.
This chapter, Keeper of the Visual Rolodex: Why it's so natural for him to look and so hard to forget what he's seen, is maybe the most honoring in the book for a man. She says, "Even happily married men struggle with being pulled toward live and recollected images of other women."
She isn't talking in terms of boys will be boys so let them have their fun. In some parts of Europe (probably the US too though not as prevalent) it is just assumed that men will have a mistress and if a woman wants to be married she needs to learn to deal with it.
This is far different. She is talking to men who are pro-monogamy. They want one wife and want to honor her. Therefore, something must be hard-wired in us to be attracted to women in this manner. In my own words, God just forgot to put the 'attracted to other women switch' on my hip that I can turn off once I got married.
This chapter is so good it is difficult to excerpt. It certainly isn't news to me that men are visual. It certainly isn't news that good men struggle...see even the word struggle indicates something is wrong with me rather than it is God's design for my soul to quicken when I see a beautiful woman. In my case my soul quickening at the site of a beautiful woman was soon followed by that little voice from the enemy, "Scumbucket." "How do you call yourself a man of God?" "Shouldn't you be past this by now?" "Your daughter is almost her age." It's important too for a man to own that the struggle begins after the attraction happens not because it happened.
She says there are two areas of 'men are visual' that she didn't get before:
- First, a woman with a great body is an "eye magnet" that is incredibly difficult to avoid, and even if a man forces himself not to look, he is acutely aware of her presence.
- Second, even when no such eye magnet is present, each man has a "mental Rolodex" of stored images that can intrude into his thoughts without warning or can be called up at will.
Speaking for women about these two revelations she says,
We might even experience it as a personal failure on our part (for not being enough of a woman to keep his attention) or as a personal betrayal on his (why would a loving and committed husband have to push back images of other women at all?).
Thankfully, as we delve deeper, discovering how hardwired this compulsion is--and how little it has to do with us--is oddly encouraging. Actually, it is two separate but related compulsions.
Compulsion #1 A man can't not want to look. For Shaunti this clarified why her husband would sometimes suddenly just turn away as they walked together. He had seen an attractive woman and was choosing not to linger on her. He was honoring Shaunti.
Compulsion #2 A man has a mental Rolodex of sensual images. Men don't think about sex they picture it. She says these are often involuntary images burned in our brains. She is right. I remember images of women from when I was twenty that I would just as soon not have hanging around my mind. My college roommates and I kept porn in the apartment. If I could erase them I would. If they pop into my mind I attempt to handle them by remembering my wife. As she notes so well they do just pop into the minds of men. 87% of men say this happens for them.
Most ladies don't get it because it doesn't happen to them. She shares a great conversation with her husband about this where he is dumbfounded that she never has images of a guy pop into her head. That is even after she saw a movie with a mega hunk.
She said it happens, "Zero times. It just doesn't happen."
No wonder guys and gals miss the mark with each other so much in this area.
So, do guys have any say in this whole matter with our minds? She breaks it down like this.
- For every man, sensual images and thoughts arrive involuntarily. She quotes one man who shared this about seeing a woman with a nice figure in tight clothes, "It doesn't even register that I thought 'great body' until two seconds later!" We can't prevent those initial thoughts from intruding. Even if we gouged our eyes out we can still smell the fragrance of a woman or the sound of her voice. So, I just realized this, it is more than just visual. It is totally sensual. Jamie Foxx did a great job portraying this in the movie, Ray.
- Every man's involuntary physical impulse is to enjoy the feelings associated with these thoughts and images. --Wow is she brave for saying that!--She says, Because men are hardwired to be sexual hunters, every thought and image related to that pursuit comes associated with powerful feelings. When a sensual image enters a man's mind (or a great body enters his line of sight), it brings a rush of sexual pleasure. She quotes one man, "When an image plays on a man's brain or he gazes at an attractive woman, it's not just pure lust. There's a thrill there. And a man can go back to that adrenaline rush by entertaining those images." For me I think of something I learned from Larry Crabb in dealing with this. Crabb shares the image of a man in an airport bookstore who sees the cover of a porn magazine. He feels that initial excitement. What to do? Are there other options besides buying it or 'white knuckling (I won't look, I won't look) it out of the store? He says there is a third. It goes something like, "That picture gives me a sense that it brings life. But God I know that it is just an illusion. Though I am drawn to it I choose not to look further because I know, God, that you are the giver of life and I want what you have that thrills my soul." He continues his shopping or leaves if the pull remains too strong.
- But every man can make a choice--to dwell on the images and thoughts, or to dismiss them. Ooops, guess my comments in 2. were a little ahead. :) According to Shaunti, 'Women need to know that men make, rigorous decisions to avoid unwanted visual invitations.' Most men will try to stop looking though they will desire to continue to do so.
She has some reassurances to offer women
- His temptation is often not primarily sexual. One man told her of the admiring beauty aspect of it. There is truth in it. Most guys are not looking and booking the motel room in their mind. For me sometimes upon finding a woman attractive I'll pray silently, "Lord, thank you for making me attracted to women. Thank you for making their curves and making them beautiful. But this one is not the one you have given me. Ann is the one for me and I thank you for her."
- Every Man is Different. Men will struggle at different levels with this. Her example is she may struggle with not having a tasty dessert at a party for two hours. Others may struggle for two seconds and be done with it. She says, "Don't you just hate those people?!" :)
- It's not because of you. Shaunti says that women will secretly wonder, 'What's wrong with me? Am I not attractive enough?' Ladies I got news for you. Cindy Crawford's husband, he looks. Halle Berry's husband, he looked. Unfortunately, he also touched and they are done. Nicole Kidman, her husband looked. And her next one will too. So, it isn't you. Sometimes I ask myself why I want to look with the beauty of my wife. It isn't because she isn't a hotty I can tell you that. I believe deep down we all want to be accepted 100% and that only comes in heaven. We cross those desires with those desires in the area of be fruitful and multiply and tada here we are. Women have that same desire to be accepted but the emotional enmeshment and fantasy seems to be the bigger pull for them.
- This doesn't impact his feelings for you. She refers to men who told her that these temptations have "no impact whatsoever on my feelings for my wife." Same here. I have known my wife since 1981. We have been through so much. We've learned all about each others dignity and junk. Why would I want to throw that away and relearn all about another woman's dignity and junk if I don't have to.
This post is long, but know that I left out a lot of great information from this chapter. She closes it like this.
Finally, realize that God doesn't make mistakes. One of my closest friends relates that when she was a new bride at twenty-three years old, she was very shaken up when she discovered that her sweet husband had this thought-life issue. She cried out to God, "Why did you create him like this?" And then she realized: God did create him like this, and He said His creation was gooooooooooooood (ok I added the extra o's for effect--BW) We may be fallible, but we are created the way we are for a purpose.
And God has something good in mind for you--and for the man you love.