Dear Reb. Faige,
I have been married for quite a few years already and find my marriage to be happy and gratifying. However I find myself daydreaming about another guy that I dated a few months before I met my husband who I really liked but found to be a bit louder and impetuous than what I wanted for a husband. I deeply resent myself for feeling these old sentiments. Would that guy have made a great husband for me too?! Please help me with any ideas on how I can reframe my thinking to achieve greater peace of mind and heart. Or better: How to forget about that other guy! I need your direction. Thanks!
My dear reader,
The following incident might be instructive in helping to settle your mind. Sarah, a young mother in my community, sought out a holy rabbi in Israel for counsel. He inquired about her family, asking her how many children she had. She replied, "I have two sons and a daughter who was killed in a car accident years earlier. She would have been ten years old." The otherwise gentle rabbi looked at her sternly and very emphatically stated that her child never would have been ten years old. She wasn't meant to be ten years old. She was dispatched to this world by a purposeful Creator whose plan it was that she be here for the duration of the five years that she lived. That's the way it was meant to be.
Your husband is your "bashert" and nobody else is relevant to your life.
In relating this story, Sarah told me that his surprisingly sharp words were actually a comfort to her. She felt that she could now move forward, beyond the blaming of herself in all the myriad of ways people in pain consciously and subconsciously hold themselves responsible, second guess and beat themselves up when viewing the incident in hindsight.
Likewise, my dear reader, when you chose your husband as your mate, you did so for good reason, with the best judgment and resources available to you at the time. From a Jewish perspective, we are assured that when such is the case, our choices are orchestrated and supported from Above. This is what was meant to be and nobody else is relevant to your life. Clearly, your husband is your "bashert" (ordained from above). Our sages advise that, "There is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt." This is the time to lay all your doubts to rest and the vistas of ever greater joy will open up for you.
Your fantasies and wandering thoughts are a figment of your yetzer hara (the evil inclination -- the lesser part of yourself, the part identified by Freud that seeks to destroy its host).
In our evening prayers we beseech the Almighty to "remove the satan (the evil inclination) that is both in front and back of us." The commentaries explain that we are all familiar with the fact the path toward achieving our goal is fraught with obstacles and stumbling blocks that attempt to derail our efforts and resolve. We can identify these as the work of the dark force in front of us.
Less known to us, however, is the work of the same forces that come up behind us. This is the voice inside of us that, having been unsuccessful up front, now moves his evil designs behind us. This is the voice inside us that in hindsight tries to question and undermine our decisions and actions of the past. Needless to say, this voice portrays itself as an ally, devoted to our best interests. We must be vigilant of its deadly ploys. Your yetzer hara, dear reader, is working overtime to destroy your "happy and gratifying marriage."
Your situation has echoes and overtones of "Gone With the Wind." In the book, the heroine has a husband who is crazy about her and seeks to give her the world. But she is consumed by thoughts of another man that keeps her from accepting and relishing her husband's devotion. In the end, the other fellow -- the object of her fantasies -- becomes available, but to her great disappointment he turns out to be a total disaster. As reality sets in and she realizes that what she had pined away for all those years is just a figment of her imagination, she desperately runs back home to attempt to retrieve the relationship with the man whom she realizes she has loved all along and who loves her. But it is sadly too little, too late.
These thoughts are not innocuous. They will ultimately compromise the good life that you have.
Be forewarned that even if you don't share your thoughts about another man with your husband or anyone else, they are not innocuous. These thoughts and fantasies will ultimately compromise the good life that you have. Intangible and unquantifiable as they may be, thoughts are part of the energy of your home and your relationship. Ultimately, our thoughts are the forerunners of the behavior that impacts and shapes the emotional environment of the home.
Not only are your thoughts counterproductive, but think of all the constructive things you might be doing if you let go of your contaminating thoughts and channel your energy in the right direction, toward infusing your marriage with greater excellence, appreciation and focus on the gift of a "happy and gratifying" relationship (which would be the dream and envy of so many).
How to do it?
First, recognize that the thoughts you allow yourself to think don't just happen to you. This is a choice that you make. While it's true that we can't control the myriad of thoughts that bombard us moment to moment, we do choose the thoughts that we want to engage and allow to take residence in our head. Remember that you are the thinker. You are the host. You can deny any given thought entry when it knocks at your mind's door.
Some may be very insistent (the ones unleashed by the yetzer hara always are), but you can very firmly and consistently affirm that "this is not the bus I am going to take today." You are all too familiar with its undesirable destination and it's not where you want to go. Drop it. Let it go. Move on to something else -- read a book, bake a cake, call a friend, take a walk, visit an old age home, attend a class, etc. Distract yourself and do whatever it takes not to indulge the thought. This is learned behavior and with time it will become easier.
Be assured, dear reader, that you and your family will be the beneficiaries of your efforts. The greatest blessing we can aspire to is the presence of God in our midst. Since the Almighty's essence is oneness, He cannot dwell in a fragmented, divided and conflicted context. Only unity of person, being "together" of one mind, mirrors God's essence and invites His presence, accompanied by its myriad of gifts -- peace, tranquility and true joy. I wish you the best of luck.