How does a couple regain sexual intimacy after betrayal?
There is a discovery by one partner that the other partner has cheated on them. That moment becomes devastating, disorienting and shocking.
A lot happens emotionally to that betrayed spouse and there is a lot of pain that needs to be processed. Likewise the partner who did the betrayal is now confronted and has to deal with all kinds of anxieties and pain on his or her end as well.
I am most often asked these 2 questions about sexual intimacy after betrayal:
- What typically happens in the sexual intimacy of the relationship?
- How can a couple get to a point where they have healthier sexual intimacy once again if not for the very first time?
Let me start with the first question:
What I have seen with couples that have come into my private practice is one of two typical reactions after the discovery of an affair.
The first reaction is that the person who is betrayed is now anxious and feels threatened which obviously is understandable.
The person is constantly thinking about comparing himself or herself to the person that their intimate partner had the extramarital relationship with. They basically become hyper-sexual as they try to keep up and suppress the sexual and erotic experiences that partner had with the other person.
This can be a time of amazing sex. This may look good but it actually is not very healthy.
The sex is built on a foundation of fear, feelings of inadequacy on the part of the betrayed person and even desperation.
The second reaction I have seen just as prevalently, is when the betrayed partner feels repulsed and totally shuts down sexually.
This partner is so hurt and angry and the feeling is that they don’t even know who their partner is so “why would I ever want to have any kind of sexual intimacy with this person?” This person will avoid any kind of touch and has that wall up very high.
What both of these reactions have in common is that there is really no emotional intimacy in either one.
In the first reaction, the partner is acting out of desperation and there’s really not a true sharing.
I heard a person describe intimacy as ‘Into me see.”
I actually like that short definition. Intimacy involves a sense of being seen or heard or gotten. There’s a sense of attunement between the couple. When there is that hypersexual reaction, there is no seeing each other.
And of course when there is the wall, resistance and repulsion, there is no intimacy either. So this leads us directly into getting to answer the second question:
“How does healthy sexual intimacy get established after an affair?”
There is an expression that I have used that has some truth even though there are always exceptions to these kinds of truths. I say that men are like microwaves and women are like crock pots.
What that means here is that it just often takes a loving touch or look from a woman to a man for the man directly to get sexually stimulated and aroused. With women, in order for them to be aroused there also has to be some time of emotional connecting and sharing. There is once again that sense of the need to feel like they are being known or seen or heard.
I have found that after being a victim of infidelity, men need that sense of connection and reassurance as well. This is especially true because they may be concerned that their wife or girlfriend has had some feelings for the other person which often times is true.
So what I’m starting to do is build a case for the importance of building emotional intimacy outside the bedroom so there can be sexual intimacy inside the bedroom.
The person who cheated has to realize that his or her job is going to be to make the other person feel significant. This means that their feelings matter, there ambivalence towards you (the adulterer) matters and their emotional needs matter. It means that the betrayed person’s need to know some of the aspects of what happened between the betrayer and the other person matters as well.
Likewise, at some point of the process, the person who was betrayed has to engage in a process of getting to know more about the betrayed person and what might have led to the indiscretion or indiscretions.
Here is the key point about regaining sexual intimacy after betrayal:
The relationship has to shift from one made up of partners who blame to one made of partners who are curious about each other.
The person who cheated may have to get curious first and eventually it becomes a two way street. Curiosity involves a decision to be interested and to pay attention to the inner experiences of the partner.
Intimacy is about seeing each other and feeling each other. As each partner feels understood by the other; when there is room for both people’s feelings, needs and expressions, healing can take place. Emotional intimacy replaces emotional disconnection.
You have now paved the way for healthy sexual intimacy.
Now that you have developed the emotional intimacy, you can reboot your sexual intimacy after betrayal. It is now based on some healthy healing and the relationship feels different enough that the person who was betrayed can take a chance on the person who had formerly cheated.
Trust leads to openness and vulnerability and THAT is what is needed to regain sexual intimacy after betrayal and for a passionate long term committed relationship.
These is no need to compare sexual techniques or sexual prowess with the “other person,” because good sex is not based on sexual prowess. It is based on mutual curiosity, interest and trust.
Todd Creager is a marriage, sex and relationship therapist as well as an accomplished speaker, consultant and author, specializing in couples counseling, marriage and intimacy. For wisdom, insight and relationship guidance, please check out his book, “The Long, Hot Marriage”!