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Straying Thoughts

Straying Thoughts


Dear Rachel,

I am happily married to a wonderful man, but for some reason I find myself sometimes thinking about other men, and people I dated before meeting my husband. I know I will never act out any of these thoughts, but I still feel terribly guilty for thinking them. Is there anything I can do to stop? Thank you.

Orlando, FL

Dear G.R.,

Firstly, you are not alone in the difficulty that you describe but what is amazing to hear is that you are so very aware that it is a problem.

Many people are quick to write off thoughts as something that is not important, especially if there is no real chance of acting on it. However, thoughts are unbelievably important, whether or not they actually manifest into action, as they are so powerful in their raw form.

This is so much the case that we are taught that there are three main times when a couple is not allowed to be intimate (outside of the times that apply to couples in general). This is if either partner is drunk, if the couple is contemplating divorce, or if either partner is thinking about someone else.

This third aspect seems very strange that there could be a law regarding how we think. Because ideally, we are not sharing these thoughts with our partner. But yet, we are shown that we are most definitely responsible for what we think, and even more importantly, that we have the power and ability to control our thoughts and to overcome our thoughts. The only way we can be told that something is not allowed based on our thoughts is if we have the ability to change that situation.

So, here is your real question. How does one rid oneself of improper thoughts? For starters, it is very important that you realize how destructive they can be, and hopefully just knowing this will make you that much quicker to try to fill your head with something else.

For the most part, we are only able to think about one thing at a time. Which means, if you are thinking about something you shouldn't be thinking about, the first thing you must do is replace the thoughts with something else. Sometimes this is easier to do, other times there is no other thought that can compete with the intensity of the inappropriate thought. If this is the case, try to find something to do that requires complete concentration so that you cannot just let your mind wander. Try building something or answering emails or calling someone, something that will ensure that you stop thinking about someone in your past.

If you find that you have a lot of free time on your hands and that you keep lapsing into these negative thought processes, try doing something that will make you feel fulfilled and productive. Start volunteering or spending time at the hospital or an old age home. If you are busy thinking about others, you won't be able to start thinking about yourself and your past.

Lastly, I would recommend trying to actively not only think, but verbalize how happy you are with your husband and how much you love him. Try to make yourself focus on how fortunate you are to be with him and how happy he makes you. Ideally, you will be able to eventually get to the point where the only man you think about is your husband. Until that time comes, you want to ensure though that if you start to think of anyone other than your husband, that you take yourself out of that headspace and into another situation so that your thoughts can be redirected.

May you be blessed with a happy and healthy marriage, with the proper thoughts that then lead to proper speech and proper action!


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Rachel baltimore April 3, 2012

YOU ARE NORMAL I have loving marriage of 8 years, I am totally in love with my husband and think he is very hot. However, I do think about other men sometimes. I know it is wrong and I try very hard to divert my thoughts. But if a guy who I have a lot of contact with through work is extremely good looking, then sometimes its hard. I am human and this is the way G-d made us, to work on our selves. Why else would it say in the torah to guard our eyes and our thoughts? Because G-d knows our human character. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you or your marriage, it just means you have something you need to work on. And by the way, you definitely do not need to share this with you spouse. Some things do not need to be shared. Even with the best relationships, keep your character flaws to yourself. Reply

chavah August 29, 2010

daydreaming about what wish your spouse possessed. I think it would be almost a lie, if every woman didn't admit to having a thought of an ex boyfriend pop into her mind at one point or another. However, I read a chapter in an excellent book that speaks about just this. The author say's that when thoughts of an ex arise, that we are to remember that all of the people we dated in our past were and are illusions. We are married to our bashert (soulmate) and therefore all other relationships were illusions.

I also think that it may be good to introspect as to why we are in-fact having thoughts of an ex, especially if you are claiming that your marriage is great! Perhaps something is lacking, and perhaps whatever it is that is lacking is a trait that you found fulfilled in your ex. Recognizing what we feel we are lacking in our relationship with our husband, and then communicating it to our husbands in a loving and caring way, could serve in helping to alleviate the emotional tie that draws us to the ex that possessed it, Reply

rabbi s.g.tornek rehovot, israel March 4, 2009

rebuttal to alternative answer your answer is a good one for people who are not interested in serving G-d with their soul faculties. i.e.thought, speech, action. these are the only forms of expression that the human being has and a person should use them to serve His/her creator. if someone entertains thoughts that feed the self satisfying ego than that ego becomes bigger even if these thoughts will never be acted upon the fed ego will rise up in other places. of course if one goes ahead and dwells and meditates on these thoughts, even in a daydreaming manner, they will want to be expressed in words. this is the nature of the human being. words will want to be expressed in action, at first an innocent action, later on in more severe ways. there is no such thing as nuetral though, speech or action, if it does not improve you, it will bring you down. as beautiful as daydreaming is, controlled thought can be infinitely more so. this can be acheived through jewish meditation. good luck Reply

Rabbi s.g.tornek rehovot , israel March 4, 2009

add on to Rachel's answer it is important to know that the initial thoughts that come to us throughout the day we are not responsible for because these rise up from our hearts to our brains in an unexpected way. what we are responsible for are the sudden thoughts that we latch on to and decide to follow them through till the end or even improve upon them and DAYDREAM knowing fully aware what we are doing.we may be daydreaming for quite a while before we realize that we are doing so, but once we realize we must put Rachels advice into effect. the more we train ourselves to recognize the inappropriate thoughts the quicker we will learn to avert our minds. an easy way is to avert the eyes first then refocus our thoughts. thoughs are one of the 3 forms of expression we must use to serve Hashem with. i.e.thought, speech, action. good luck. Reply

Anonymous via September 2, 2007

dont think of others is important not to because its path to ruin. you're not giving 100%,
you're not working on solutions, you're taking the easy way out Reply

Elle LA, CA July 8, 2007

An alternative answer I totally disagree. Thinking about other people is totally normal and part of human nature! Don't beat yourself up for it and certainly don't try to avoid it (what we resist - persists!) Just relax! So you've thought about other men...the possibility of being in a relationship with them...not a big deal. Does that mean you've been unfaithful - or will be? If you're unhappy in your marriage and repressing it - that's one thing. But daydreaming? That's simply - just that - daydreams. When you open your eyes - whose the man in front of you? Now don't you love him? Doesn't your heart just go aflutter when you think of the joy, compassion, love, and intimacy you share with this man? The man you've actually chosen? The man you're actually with? Now how the heck does that compare to a daydream? So relax - enjoy the antastical mind-wandering of the different life you could have had....and then open your eyes to the beautiful, imperfect, complex, messy, human life that you really have.

Robert, Prague, Czech republic May 25, 2007

Thank you very much for your thoughts. I concider every of articles for repository of living knowledges, the same as this sentence have strong impact to me, because of its true: "If you are busy thinking about others, you won't be able to start thinking about yourself and your past" Thank you again! Reply

Anonymous February 3, 2007

I disagree I disagree with the notion that if you're thinking of other people it is a sign that something is missing. People are generally vain, and although you guy may be handsome the chances that he's perfect are close to nil. There is always something that you see in another man that you wish your man had- y'know better hair or darker complexion maybe even a better sense of humor (not just corny!). After getting to know all the ins and out of my guy I sometimes think that if I had waited just a little longer I could have found a guy who has better control of the English language (my pet peeve). Still when it comes down to it that is just a silly technicality and I love my husband dearly - I swear I wouldn't trade him for anyone!- But being vain people can get carried away from their inner truths by things as silly as smaller noses! Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY January 23, 2007

IF THIS IS HAPPENING SOMETHING IS MISSING FROM YOUR MARRIAGE- IF YOU WERE TRULY HAPPY IN YOUR MARRIAGE, you would not feel the need to think of other men. I know this from my former marriage. I was miserable for 13 yrs. And never cheated on my ex, but I wondered about the 2 men I let go to date my ex, and was sorry everyday of my marriage that I did not marry any of them. And when I was finally divorced, and free- one of these men was widowed a couple of yrs. after my divorce, he called me, and we started to date- we fell in love, planned to marry- but his lifestyle issues ripped us apart- those stupid lifesyle issues did not exist when I first met him, but they existed in the present time, and destroyed our relationship. So he left me, broke my heart- which three yrs. later I still hurt! I know during my former marriage if I was happy I never would have wondered about this man, and when i was divorced I would never have dated him! WE WANT SOMEONE ELSE- WHEN THE ONE WE HAVE IS NOT THERE FOR US! Reply

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