Sex advice with Suzi Godson: 'My wife called me by an old boyfriend's name during sex'

Suzi Godson offers sex advice to readers. 

Q: "My wife called me by an old boyfriend’s name during sex. She says it was a slip of the tongue, and not to worry about it. However, I can’t forget about it — I keep thinking that she must still fantasise about him when we are in bed. I find this deeply troubling."

A: In any long-term relationship, the odd slip of the tongue is not unusual, particularly mid-coitus. No one’s brain operates at full steam during sex. In fact, something happens to our brains to help us to feel relaxed and to make orgasm more likely.

During sex the female brain slows down activity in the parts that deal with fear and anxiety (the amygdala and hippocampus), and switches off the area that governs reason and behavioural control (the lateral orbitofrontal cortex). These changes increase the likelihood of a woman fully engaging with sexual sensation, but they also decrease mental acuity and can make them less guarded about what they say in the heat of the moment. Less dramatic, but still notable, the male brain shows increased activity in the ‘periaqueductal grey’ — an area that plays an important role in pain inhibition and emotional response.

The ideal situation would be that you could have both turned it into a joke that you could share. However, you were caught off guard, at an intimate moment — not a time for witty repartees. The best way for your wife to have dealt with her faux pas would have been to apologise profusely and affirm her commitment to you. This obviously didn’t happen and it sounds as if it was left to you to challenge her. She may have felt a bit embarrassed and instead of giving you the reassurance that you needed, she has told you just to forget it, and not worry about it. That’s a disastrous strategy — endless studies have shown that if you specifically instruct someone not to think about a ‘white bear’ or a ‘red apple’, that is all they think about.

There is, of course, the possibility that your wife’s ex has a similar name to you (perhaps an overly optimistic thought on my part)? When people have similar names, ‘phonetic misnaming’ is more common. When the two names in question also fall into similar semantic categories (ie, you are both in the ‘romantic partner’ category), it only increases the confusion.

Although it’s not what you want to hear there is, obviously, a chance that your wife really was thinking about her former boyfriend and that she lied to you to try to spare your feelings. Even if you were to get her to admit that, would it make you feel any better?

You and your wife had lovers before you met and getting married doesn’t erase your individual histories. You can’t police her private thoughts, and you need to try to remember that everyone occasionally indulges in some extra-curricular fantasy.

You are clearly upset, but choosing to doubt your wife over such a minor offence says more about your insecurity than her fidelity. Are there underlying tensions in the relationship that you haven’t mentioned? When couples withdraw from each other emotionally it is very easy for something small, like uttering the wrong name, to take on a magnitude that it would not ordinarily deserve. It also becomes easier for one or both partners to romanticise old lovers, or fantasise about potential attractions.

If what this incident has done is reveal deeper anxieties about your wife’s level of commitment to you, use it as an opportunity to start a conversation about how you are both feeling and work out what you could be doing better. In marriage, paying attention to the small cracks helps you to avoid the bigger ones.

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