Dear Anne, I am a betrayed spouse trying to heal our marriage after my spouse’s affair, and we are struggling with intimacy issues. There are things my husband and I used to do that we no longer do. I ask my husband about it and he says, "I don't like..." kissing for example. Yet I know there was significant kissing with the other woman, so this makes me feel inadequate. Any advice on how to deal with this?
An affair always has a profound affect on a couple’s sex life. It tends to go towards one of two entirely opposite extremes. Either the betrayed spouse goes into what I call “super sex god” or “super sex goddess” mode. In this case the sex life of the couple often becomes great after the affair. If you’ve read my book, “My Husband’s Affair Became …” you’ll realize this is what happened to us. This is not necessarily a good thing, because the better sex is motivated out of intense pain. The betrayed spouse is busy comparing themselves with the 3rd party.
Don’t Compare Yourself to the 3rd Party – Don’t Compare Your Spouse to the 3rd Party
We are always wrong when we compare ourselves one to another. People are like colors, or flowers, all beautiful, unique, and different. To say, that one is better than another is to err. For example to say that red is better than blue is somewhat crazy. The world would be at a complete loss if either color didn’t exist. In every person one can find strengths and weaknesses, things that might be better, and things that are not as good. So trying to feel good about yourself by comparing yourself to others sets you up for failure. There is always going to be someone prettier, sexier, smarter, funnier, better with children, more talented at something … whatever.
Better sex resulting from an inward comparison with the 3rd party eventually needs to move over into being based on restored love, trust, and security in the relationship – knowing you are loved and found desirable by your partner for who you are – not because you are competing (and feel like you’re winning) against another person. To feel good about yourself by comparison is founding your relationship on a weak foundation that will in time crumble.
The Other Extreme – “I am repulsed by you!”
More frequently, however, a couple’s sex life goes to the other extreme after an affair. The betrayed spouse is so sickened by the thought of their spouse having sex with someone else, that they feel repulsed by the idea of being sexually intimate.
As the question above indicates, sometimes the lack of sexual intimacy comes from the person who has been unfaithful. They can struggle because of feelings of guilt or shame. Some may be struggling because they have not ended their affairs, or they are fighting an inward struggle where they are grieving the loss of the affair partner.
Intimacy issues should never be put into cookie cutter solutions. They can be as complex as we are as people.
It’s important for any couple dealing with intimacy issues after an affair to realize, and never say, “he has an issue” (of the husband), or “she has an issue” (of the wife). When it comes to intimacy, say “we have an issue.” Because intimacy in marriage is a “we” thing.
It’s important to understand some of the purposes of sex and intimacy. They include:
- To Heal
- To Comfort
- To Reconcile after an argument
- To Build self-esteem (and a sense of masculinity in the husband)
- To Express love in a profound way, when words simply are not enough
- To Connect on a deeper level
- To Relax
- To Please one’s partner
- To Feel sexual or attractive
Many professionals believe it’s important for couples not to reunite sexually after an affair too soon. I disagree. I could not think of a time in a couple’s life when the above list is more crucial than after an affair. The goal, then, is to reconnect sexually as soon as the couple can do so without either party feeling forced or violated.
It’s also important to realize that reconnecting sexually after the affair should not be considered a sign of reconciliation. A lot needs to happen in order for husbands and wives to recommit to a marriage after an affair. True healing takes time, but it’s hard to heal if sexual intimacy is to be put on hold for months. If sexual intimacy = reconciliation, most betrayed spouses will not be able to engage. It’s best to let it be understood that having sex together doesn’t mean, we’re all good now.
A couple needs to learn how to discuss intimacy openly and honestly in a non-judgmental way. This is one of the topics we help couples with in the Healing From Affairs Intensives. Intimacy issues should not be discussed during intimacy however. And if you have an intimacy experience that does not go well, just hold each other and take the pressure off. Never discuss what went wrong in the moment. Have that discussion some other time. In other words you separate difficult conversations about sex from times when you’re engaging in sex.
There are two different sexual styles; lovemaking sex, and wild adventurous erotica. Both are perfectly fine in a healthy marriage, however, during the affair-recovery period, it is recommended to focus on lovemaking sex, while the bond of love and trust are in the process of being restored.
Restoring intimacy after an affair requires patience, gentleness and understanding. David Schnaarch in his book, Passionate Marriage, says that generally sex therapy cannot be done, without doing marriage therapy at the same time. And marriage therapy cannot be done without doing sex therapy. Marital issues and sexual issues tend to mirror each other in a relationship. What is happening in your marriage will tend to show up in the way you are (or aren’t) engaging in intimacy, and what is going on in your intimate life with each other, will tend to be acted out in how you’re doing your marriage.
In restoring a marriage after an affair, it’s important for the one who had the affair to be sensitive to the needs of the injured partner in restoring reassurance of their sexual attractiveness. When people engage in certain acts of intimacy in their affairs, it is most conducive to healing for the unfaithful partner to be willing to do those same things in the marriage, if their injured spouse desires it.
For example, a typical scenario might include something like during the affair the unfaithful person had sex in a car. Now the injured spouse wants to have sex in the car too (which the couple may never have done – or not since they were teenagers). Often times the “affair-high” leads one to do things they might not normally find desirable (like having sex in a small car). Let’s face it. A bed is much more comfortable, than having to fight to avoid the steering wheel, gear shift, and wondering who might see you. But if the betrayed spouse now wants to experience this, if you love them, if you really care about healing your marriage, just do it. Otherwise things like this easily become sticking points that hinder the healing.
Remember, to love someone is an action. It’s not only about you.
So in the case above where the one who had the affair engaged in kissing with the affair partner, but does not want to engage in kissing in the marriage, definitely this is a problem that needs to be explored. It’s not okay. What is the reason behind this? Is it guilt? Shame? Ongoing promises or attachment to the 3rd party? Hygiene issues? Something about the way the kissing is done? Open, honest discussion needs to take place.
One thing is for sure a marriage void of sexuality and intimacy is a marriage doomed to fail. So if you’re having intimacy struggles, find the help you need to get beyond it.
©Copyright 2012 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.