Affair Recovery: Rebuilding Your Sex Life after an Affair

affair recovery

The betrayal of an affair can be one of the most devastating things for an individual, and also for a relationship. It may not surprise you to hear that many relationships don’t recover from the fallout of an affair. However, many relationships do. That’s the focus of our attention today, those couples that decide to try to work through the pain and confusion to reach the other side: an intact marriage or relationship.

It doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to realize that the fallout of an affair would negatively impact a couple’s sex life. But a healthy, mutually-satisfying sex life helps couples deepen intimacy and strengthen their bond, so a sex life isn’t something couples should ignore when they’re trying to learn how to survive an affair.

Affair Recovery: Rebuilding Your Sex Life after an Affair

Among other things, coping with infidelity will require lots of patience and humility on the part of the partner who had the affair. It will also require, on the part of the betrayed partner, the willingness to honestly explore the feelings of confusion and hurt in order to understand where those feelings are coming from. This is a pre-requisite to finding the strength to ultimately let those feelings go (you can’t let go of something you don’t honestly look at; denying your feelings will only press them down deeper, setting them up to make an appearance at a later point, perhaps even more fiercely).

In order for the couple’s intimate life to be rebuilt after an affair (indeed, for the wounded partner to even consider sex after an affair), it is imperative that trust and a sense of security are re-established. This, of course, will take time, and no two couples (and no two betrayed individuals) are exactly alike in the path they take.

The progress can often feel like a spiral instead of a line; in other words, rather than always move forward, sometimes you will feel like you’re slipping back into a cycle of destructive thoughts. This forward/backward feeling is normal and all part of the complex work of surviving an affair. It does not mean that you won’t survive the affair recovery or that you and your partner are not working on this with all the best intentions.

Can there be sex after an affair?

With all that said, if you and your partner are in the process of knitting the torn pieces of your relationship back together, at some point you’ll likely feel ready to re-start your sex life. It may take awhile for you to be ready for that; be kind to yourself and don’t rush yourself.

Making love in the best of times is an experience that makes you feel vulnerable, seen in a way that perhaps no other experience approximates. Add in the betrayal of an affair (which is a deep wounding on top of that vulnerability) and you can understand why it may take time to feel ready to venture into intimate waters again.

Coping with infidelity: how are trust and security re-established?

In the rebuilding of intimacy, the two most important components are time and communication.

The necessity of time in the affair recovery process:

If you’re the partner who was cheated on:

Give yourself all the time you need to feel all the hurt inside. Don’t tell yourself you have to “get over it” or “jump back into bed” by a certain date.

If you’re the partner who had the affair:

Give your partner all the time s/he needs to work through the pain. Don’t send any messages that say, “It’s been long enough already; how many more times can I say I’m sorry?”

Also, allow your partner to see that s/he can grow to trust you again by respecting his/her need to wait to re-engage the relationship’s sex life. If you pressure him/her about your needs for sex, the underlying message is that your partner was somehow the cause of the affair.

Any form of pressure, no matter how subtle it might seem to you, is antithetical to the trust and sense of security rebuilding requires.

The necessity of communication in the affair recovery process:

Communication is vital for rebuilding. Often the first communication step takes place when the partner who cheated clearly and sincerely expresses remorse for the affair (as many times as that takes; if you’re serious about affair recovery, you won’t see your “I’m sorrys” as having a finite number).

Another important point to remember: in order to rebuild trust, you must genuinely say, “I’m sorry,” which means you say it without an agenda attached. In other words, you don’t expect your apology to magically put things right in your partner’s heart. An affair is a major betrayal, not a minor infraction that can be (or should be) easily released.

Furthermore, the responsibility of the partner who cheated does not end at an apology: s/he must be genuinely open to the betrayed partner’s honest communication about how s/he is feeling. This too is a big part of regaining your partner’s trust, paving the way for them to air their feelings, even when (especially when) it might feel to you that the discussion is heading down a well-worn path of blame and incredulity.

But even with the best intentions, there are challenges

The path to re-establishing your intimate life includes common issues that may get in the way. Knowing about these issues is incredibly important so that if/when they come up, you won’t dismiss them or feel blind-sided by them. And, even though they’re issues that more directly impact the betrayed partner, it’s important for both of you to be aware of them, and for both of you to normalize them instead of dismiss or pathologize them. These are typical issues arising in the aftermath of an affair and should not be seen as “wrong.”

Common stumbling blocks on the path to sex after an affair (in the betrayed partner):

1) Triggers

When you feel ready to make love to your partner for the first time after an affair, you may feel flooded by intense emotions (i.e., rage, despair, sadness). You may have even thought that you were “done” with those emotions, and yet here they are. Having sex with your partner for the first time (or the first few times) after the affair is a major trigger and may stir up what feel like unbidden thoughts and imaginings, even after a long stretch where you felt better overall.

Above all, remember to be compassionate with yourself. No matter how motivated you and your partner are to survive the affair, discovering that your mate has cheated on you is a traumatic experience, which means that your healing journey will include triggers that cause you to relive the painful moments in your mind. Time will help with this.

2) Comparisons

If you’re the victim of an affair, your thoughts may sound something like this:

healing from an affair“What did they do together? Did they do the same things we’ve done? How do I compare with the other woman/man? Why wasn’t I enough for my mate?”

And you may notice that if you try to fight or resist these thoughts, they tend to get bigger, louder, and more entrenched. Recognizing that they are a normal part of the affair recovery process is an important first step in draining their power. These are questions you may want to ask your partner aloud, or you may feel that you don’t want to know specifics about the affair.

Either way, it’s crucial to listen to your inner wisdom regarding whether you seek answers to these questions from your partner. That’s very much an individual, personal choice (there’s no right or wrong approach).

3) Self-doubt

Once you’re ready to reclaim your sex life with your spouse/partner, you may struggle with self-doubt. You might tell yourself you’re not as interesting or sexy as the other man/woman. You may assume that your partner must be thinking about him/her when making love to you.

When our self-doubts are the strongest, we often assume they are telling us some truth. But they are not. Self-doubt is skewed vision, not clear-headed vision. It’s natural to doubt yourself when the person you love the most (and the person you trusted the most) has betrayed you.

Just because it’s a natural part of wounding does not mean your self-deprecating thoughts are true in reality. Understand where they are coming from, and, above all, don’t judge yourself for having them.

Sex after an affair: take it slow

The wounded partner is the one who should decide the right time to re-engage in sex. Take it slow and get all the help and emotional support you need (from your partner, of course, but also from family or friends if you’ve taken them into your confidence, and/or a professional if you decide counseling could help).

When you do try intimacy again, it is vital that you and your partner create a space before and after sex to communicate about the above points when you feel moved to do so. In this way, you can re-ignite the spark on your own terms, and your partner can prove to you that s/he is committed to doing what’s needed to repair the break.

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Featured images “Unhappy couple going through breakup” and “Couple sitting on couch” by David Castillo Dominici/