Friday, November 20, 2009

for women only (part 7) - visual images

for women only:
you need to know about the inner lives of men
Shaunti Feldhahn

Chapter 6 - Keeper of the Visual Rolodex
Why It's So natural for Him to Look and So Hard to Forget What He's Seen*

This is a fascinating chapter, and one which for many women will be a little bewildering, as well as a bit concerning. Feldhahn explains the moment when the truth of 'men are visual' clicked for both her and her husband:
Jeff: "Maybe we just use different language to describe it. For example, think of a movie star you find physically attractive - Tom Cruise, say. After we've seen one of his movies, how many times will that attractive image rise up in your mind the next day?"
Me: "Never."
Jeff: "I must not be explaining myself correctly, I mean how may times will a thought of what he looked like with his shirt off just sort of pop up in your head?"
Me: "Never."
Jeff: "Never - as in never?"
"Zero times. It just doesn't happen."
Jeff: (After a long pause). "Wow" (p117)
What she found was:
Even happily married men are instinctively pulled to visually consume attractive women, and these images can be just as alluring whether they are live or recollected. (p111)
I'm not going to include too much detail about the whole chapter, but will summarise a few things she said. Firstly the progression of male response:

Step 1: For every man, sensual images and thoughts arrive involuntarily
Step 2: Even man's involuntary physical impulse is the enjoy the feelings associated with these thoughts and images
Step 3: But every man can make a choice - to dwell on the images and thoughts, or to dismiss them.

Then she gives reassurances (for wives):
#1 - His temptation is often not primarily sexual - it can just be admiring beauty
#2 - Every man is different - some really struggle with this, others do not
#3 - It's not because of you
#4 - This doesn't impact his feelings for you

So what should wives do?
  • Pray for him & and us - to protect our own hearts from anger or hopelessness and to protect our husbands from the sex culture around us
  • Check our own hearts - are we wiling to support them in their temptations and struggles rather than freak out about them?
  • Determine your involvement level - we can be supportive but sometimes men should be sharing these struggles with other men. Also, some wives cannot cope with hearing these types of details - in that case, we should show we are willing to be supportive, but would prefer they sought help from a male friend.
  • Become a support - try to have openness and honesty in your marriage - the ability to share struggles in this area in a way that is supportive and helpful rather than accusatory or blaming.
  • Champion modesty in yourself and others - the images men have of women came from somewhere and they are other women. Make sure you are not unwittingly becoming an unwanted visual image for a man other than your husband.

Some things to think about:

For men:
  • How strongly are you affected by visual images?
  • Do you need more accountability measures in your own life to help you control your temptations in this area? Can you seek out a trusted male friend for help and support?
  • Are you able to talk with your wife about whether you struggle with visual images?

For women:
  • Does this chapter surprise you or upset you? Why?
  • Are you willing to talk with your husband about whether this issue is one he struggles with?
  • How can you support your husband and help him to avoid temptation?
  • Do you need to think about your own modesty and encourage others (eg. your daughters) to do the same?

Next time: Part 8 - romance

* these are her titles and subtitles - not mine!


Anonymous said...

I've decided to comment on this, but I've decided to stay anonymous as well.

This might be a bit different to what this chapter is talking about, but there are certain women that my body seems just hardwired to react to the way they look with "Wow."

I don't mean J-Lo or Keira Knightley. They're attractive, but I can shrug them off fairly easily. I mean certain women who most men would just walk past without a second look but something about them leaves me jaw-saggingly lost for words.

The first time this happened to me I thought I'd "fallen in love" even though I was already married and it took a long time to figure out that that isn't what it is.

I've met three women who have this effect on me. The first was someone I knew socially, and caused quite a bit of trouble for my marriage. The second was someone I met at a party, and I was aware enough to think, "Hang on, I've only known this person for three minutes, this feeling can't mean what I think it does." The third is someone I currently work with, and I've learnt now not to react to the feeling. It is still inconvenient though!

I want to be clear that I love my wife dearly and have never acted unfaithfully toward her. I also cherish her, including the way she looks. I find it really frustrating, then, that there are other women who seem to have this very unwelcome effect on me, apparently without knowing it, just by the way they look. It's taken me quite a bit of time and pain to learn that this is just something about how my body works and not to react to it.

I'm not sure if this is a common experience for other men or if there is something strange about me and how I work - I'd be interested to hear from others.

Wendy said...

Thanks for being willing to comment Anonymous, that takes some guts. I cannot answer your question as to whether other guys experience the same thing.

My only suggestion (which you seem to be aware of, if not already doing) is to have another male friend who you can be accountable to and who will ask you if you are always being appropriate and managing your feelings, etc in a right way.

Hopefully you can also be honest with your wife about it, but if it happens regularly I suppose those could be hard conversations to keep having...

I hope some men comment too!


Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous
What a reassuringly honest comment, written skillfully too!
You have described my own life exactly.
Only...I'm a woman.
It is worth being transparent with an understanding spouse and journeying this sometimes terrifying predicament together.
With time, we personally have come to laugh at this phenomenon and take it in our stride, using each other to keep accountable. It is not my husband with the issue I must re-inforce, this is my own walk but it has given both of us remarkable empathy for those who wander unwittingly into marital sin. It's so easy to do, and so very, very lethal. And can affect either partner!!
We have now set up tight boundaries that work for the two of us, as keeping accountable to an outsider is not an option in our opinion. One of the first rules of this is for us to confess each 'attraction' as soon as it surfaces. Nipping it in the bud like this doesn't take away the feelings, but neutralises the way they can transfer into the landmine territory of the secret thought-life. Then we pray together. Next we tenderly devise a plan to either protect me from seeing that person alone, or involving a way for both of us to relate to that person in healthy manner.
It certainly adds a dimension to our lives every now and again that brings us closer together! I am blessed though with a non-judgmental man who remembers his covenant to protect and cherish me daily.

Wendy said...

Thanks Anonymous for your comments as well, much appreciated and very honest. Sounds like you and your husband have worked through this together well and I can see how doing so will indeeed bring you closer. Thanks.