Fifteen years ago I had a girlfriend during a seven-year period. My relationship with her having ended, I am now married and have two children, but I continue to think about her. I dream about her at night, sometimes continually, and that leaves me a little dismayed and reflective the following day. I wonder if I am being unfaithful to my wife in my thoughts even though I love her with all my heart.
You raise a very good question. It has a two-part answer. We must separate what happens in your mind when you are sleeping from what happens when you are awake. As humans, we have no control over what happens in our dreams, so you are not morally responsible for anything that you dream. As you are falling asleep each night, make a mental list of all the things you love about your wife. Try to repeat that list every night, adding one more item to the end of the list. When you focus your thoughts on your wife immediately before sleeping, you are less likely to dream about the other woman.
However, your thoughts while you are awake are a different matter altogether. If you really want to, you can control your thoughts when you are awake. But it takes discipline. Of course, at first the unwanted thoughts will continue to come into your brain, especially if you dreamed about the other woman the night before. If you then feel guilty for your dream and relive it in your mind, the other woman will stay in your thoughts. Instead, accept the fact that you are not guilty for your dreams and refuse to relive them. There’s no reason to worry or fret about what you dreamed. As soon as you realize that you are thinking about the dream or the other woman, you must substitute a pre-determined thought that will cause you to change the subject in your mind. It could be that you begin to think about your favorite sports team, or possibly some problem you are going through at your job. Or you may have a hobby or project that needs to get done, and you can think about the steps involved.
Where are you and what are you doing when the thoughts come to you? Change your patterns and habits to take away the time you have to think about what you shouldn’t. Keep your mind so busy that there is no time for wrong thoughts.
You said that you are worried that you are being unfaithful to your wife. Jesus held that what goes on in your mind is just as important as your actions, so you are right to want to change your current pattern of thinking about the other woman. When teaching about this subject, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”1
We wish you well,
Linda and Charles
1 Mt 5:27-28