You are in the aftermath of your partner’s affair, trying to work things out. It’s a time of great emotional upheaval, everything upside down and inside out. Your relationship feels shattered…you feel shattered, yet somehow something survives and you still hope to work things out. It might be the thing you thought you would never do, stay with someone who has strayed, yet you find that now that you are in the situation, it’s not that simple. Somehow, amidst the outrage and devastation there is still love.
Couples in this situation have to rethink their sexual relationship. In my experience one of three things happen.
The discoverer of the affair cannot stand the thought of reentering the sexual relationship. He or she might not even be able to stand being touched by their partner. The sexual relationship feels ruined now that someone else has intruded on it. Or it might be that withholding sex seems like a good way to retaliate. And if protection wasn’t used during sex with the other person, there is an added issue of STDs.
The discoverer of the affair might want to resume sexual relations as soon as possible, and tries, but cannot bear the experience as it triggers flashback imagery of her partner having sex with someone else. Sexual encounters become emotionally charged scenes, sometimes resulting in conflict and or tears. One or both partners may begin to avoid physical intimacy altogether.
The discoverer of the affair wants to have as much sex as possible. This happens for many different reasons, but all have one thing in common. These encounters are extremely intense, and frequently different in quality than pre-affair sex. Here are several possible scenarios:
Sexuality becomes a mode of expressing relief that there are no more secrets. The encounter feels more real and both partners feel much more present than they have in a long time. You feel closer to each other.
Revenge sex can occur where the discoverer seeks to restore a sense of power, of having defeated the other person. “You are mine, not his (or hers).” The worst possible case of this would be rape, but revenge sex can also take the form of a sudden interest in S/M, or a formerly timid or passive partner becoming aggressive and dominant. This type of sexual encounter can feel confusing for the discovered.
Sex during this time can also be an act of desperation by the discoverer who might want to use it to get his or her partner to desire them, and only them, once again. It’s part of a bigger effort to make themselves more physically attractive. Usually the person who had the affair can feel the desperation. Sometimes both partners are desperate together. They hope to restore their bond through their sexual encounters. Usually they find out it’s going to take a lot more than that.
What all of these alterations of your sexual relationship have in common is that they are most likely temporary. In my experience, for better or worse, after a number of months, the sexual relationship returns to it’s pre-affair discovery mode. You can think of it as sex being one of the vehicles for different stages of the healing process.
Some couples in therapy find that after this initial alteration of their sexual relationship they are more able to talk openly about their sex life. In the safety of the therapy relationship, they find they can give voice to thoughts and feelings about coming together physically in a way they weren’t able to before.
If you would like more information about marriage counseling after the affair, please visit marriage counseling and psychotherapy.