Updated: Feb 13
4 Useful Tips to Facilitate Sexual Reconnection After an Affair
by Jill Baumgarner LPC
Staff Therapist, Enhancing Intimacy Austin
You may find that sex after an affair can feel - well, complicated! In my years as a therapist, I’ve noticed that there doesn’t seem to be one specific pattern sexual reconnection follows. You may find that suddenly you and your partner, in the immediate aftermath of an affair, are suddenly - surprisingly?- spending much more time in the bedroom. You may find that you, as the hurt partner, have skirted the topic completely; feeling that sexual reconnection at this time would be a betrayal to yourself. How is a relationship supposed to navigate such treacherous, scary and uncharted waters?
Rather than a specific conversation that needs to happen, there will probably be many ongoing conversations that will need to happen in order to create enough of an environment where a sexual relationship can begin again. Toward sexual connection with intention, questions and curiosity create opportunities for more authentic connection. The assumptions we may have made about what sex was like for our partner may be challenged and their assumptions may be challenged too. To sexually connect authentically, we must be able to speak honestly. If you find that there are things that are too hard to be honest about and authentic communication cannot happen at this time, it may be helpful to talk with a therapist about these concerns.
1. When communicating about sex, try and keep the focus on your relationship
So simple, right? Actually, I
think this is the hardest part! When
reconnecting sexually, there can be an
urge, as the hurt partner, to focus on
the sexual connection that your
partner shared with the other person.
Both of you may find that you are
caught in comparison mode: for the
hurt partner, comparing themselves to the affair partner and for the
unfaithful person, comparing the affair partner with their current relationship partner. It may almost feel that the affair partner is still in the room. Although it’s extremely important to acknowledge the feelings of betrayal and loss, this comparison will not pave the way to sexual reconnection. Therefore, if the goal is sexual reconnection, it’s important for the two of you to create ways to keep the conversation focused on the relationship rather than on comparison with the affair partner.
2. Explore your willingness for sex at this time
If you find that you aren’t ready or willing for sex at this time - this is important - IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO. Just because you are in a partnership does not mean that you are obligated to have sex nor does it mean that your partner owes you sex, for any reason. This can be something particularly difficult for the hurt partner to hear when the unfaithful partner is not ready to engage sexually yet. Additionally, if you are the hurt partner, you may feel pressured to reconnect sexually - and fast - if you want to "keep your
partner faithful and around”.
These types of mentalities will
erode your relationship, create
disconnection and possibly, due
to the state of the relationship,
make an affair more likely to
happen again. Sex must be an
action that two people are
FREE and WILLING participants in and sexual obligations and perceived -or real- threats of termination of the relationship due to lack of sex are abusive. You two, if one or both of you are not ready for sex at this time, will need to have explicit conversations about the work and intention you are
putting into sexual reconnection, however. Sexual withholding for punishment will also not pave the way for authentic connection. We need to know that reconnecting sexually is a shared goal and that active steps are being made to obtain it. Understanding our own readiness and willingness can be tricky. With all the overwhelming emotions to manage after an affair, it may be hard to distinguish our readiness/willingness to sexually reconnect from fear or hesitation. I encourage you, if you are lost in this area, to talk to a therapist to untangle some of these thoughts.
3. Talk about what turns you on and be open to confronting assumptions
You both may have had a full sex life before the affair and felt pretty confident that you knew what the other liked or you may have wanted to see some change in this area. Now, you and your partner have the opportunity to get to know each
other sexually again and learn more
about about each other’s sexual interests and what you do to turn yourself on. By sharing with each other what you do to turn yourself on, you have the opportunity to challenge some
assumptions both of you may have
made. This part is hard, hurt feelings can come up when we have to confront some expectations and assumptions
we may have had about our partner. And to go back to number one on this list, it may be especially hard not to ruminate on the sexual experience with the affair partner when you, the hurt partner, hear the unfaithful partner disclose new sexual interests or when you, the unfaithful partner, may want to reveal these new sexual interests that you learned from your time with the affair partner. Rather than focusing on where these things were learned, whoever is disclosing, it’s important to focus on the vulnerability it takes to reveal them and that the reveal itself is an attempt to sexually connect with each other, not the affair partner.
4. Remember to be gentle with yourself
This is such a hard process - trust recovery after an affair, and all that it entails. When the two of you decide that it’s time for sexual reconnection, it can sometimes have the propensity to shake things up and reopen some wounds. It’s difficult work! Try to find the time to be compassionate and gentle with yourself throughout this process. It takes an incredible amount of courage and vulnerability to go through this process - you are so strong and brave!