Sex After Infidelity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Sex After Infidelity: It’s “Me Before We” 

So often, when your trust, self-esteem, wellbeing, and basic sense of safety have been shattered by infidelity, the experience shines a light on the places within yourself that are in need of care, attention, and healing. That’s why a good couples counselor will help the individual heal from the pain of infidelity before trying to save the relationship. 

But compassionate self-care is not always our first response when a partner cheats. It’s very common for the hurt partner to focus on healing their relationship rather than themselves in the aftermath of infidelity. 

If you pause to take care of yourself first, you’ll be more in touch with what you need from your partner to feel safe again, and then you can begin the process of rebuilding intimacy. 

How to Rebuild Trust After Cheating

The “offending partner” is often so overwhelmed by guilt, shame, and regret in the aftermath of an affair that they’re eager to put the episode in the past and move forward as fast as possible. They may even feel frustrated with the hurt partner’s inability to simply get over it.  

Recovering from infidelity doesn’t happen overnight and repairing trust is a slow process. It’s important for the offending partner to be patient with their partner’s healing and remain empathetic to all the painful feelings that accompany it, for as long as it takes. 

Effective affair recovery work requires the partner who cheated to take time for understanding and healing as well. They need to process their guilt and shame, take accountability for how they’ve hurt their partner, understand what led them to cheat, and sometimes even grieve the outside relationship. 

Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder: PTSD from Cheating

PTSD from cheating is real. The hurt partner will experience serious hurt, a sense of betrayal, jealousy, shaken self-esteem, and anger. They’re likely to fear losing the relationship, while also fearing that, if they stay, the betrayal will happen again. 

In that intense swirl of emotion, it’s hard to make a level-headed decision about whether to fix the relationship or end it. It’s smart to take some time, process feelings, and consider whether or not the relationship was actually what you wanted it to be, even minus the infidelity. 

“Hysterical Bonding” After Cheating

When cheating threatens your relationship, it’s very common for the hurt partner to feel a need to hold on at all costs. This desperate need to not let go of an important attachment bond is sometimes called “hysterical bonding,” and is more like an instinctual response than a thought-through decision. The hurt partner is simply reacting rather than stopping to think, “Can this relationship be savedShould this relationship be saved?”

The challenge is to process the painful emotions without allowing them to sway your decision either way about whether to heal your relationship after infidelity or let it go. 

Infidelity and “The Myth of Monogamy” 

Most couples in monogamous relationships have never had a real conversation about what monogamy means to them, their attraction to other people, or where they draw the line between innocent connections and actual betrayal. 

Is chatting with an Ex allowed? Is a Facebook affair really an affair? Most couples never discuss these issues. 

Monogamy may be the norm in our culture, but affairs in long-term relationships are incredibly common. Rather than defaulting to monogamy, it’s smart for individuals and couples to think through whether that’s actually what they want, and what exactly monogamy means to them. 

Sex After Infidelity

When couples have worked to heal their emotional connection after infidelity, they’re sometimes surprised by how triggering sexual intimacy can still be. It can be hard for the hurt partner to stay present during sex after infidelity and to keep their mind from drifting to the affair, and the affair partner. 

Building safety and trust outside of the bedroom, with clothes on, through consensual touch exercises can help. The partner who cheated can also try using their partner’s name, rather than “baby” or another pet name, to reinforce that they’re not thinking about anyone but their partner. 

Both partners need to step up their communication about what feels good, what doesn’t, what’s triggering, and what they need from each other to restore sexual intimacy and feel safe again in sex after infidelity. 

How to Fix a Relationship After Cheating

It’s very common for the hurt partner to want all the details of the affair — even down to sexual positions, clothing, and how the affair partner smelled. This is a trauma response. Your body wants to know why this happened to you so it can keep it from happening again, and it thinks that having all the information will help. 

Details are delicate. They lead to painful comparisons and give the hurt partner a vivid image of the betrayal that they won’t soon forget. While the hurt partner has every right to know what happened, nothing their partner can tell them will make it all ok, or even make it make sense. Instead, more information will feed their obsession and add to their pain. 

The partner who cheated should be careful not to shut down when their partner asks for details, but rather to validate their need to know and proceed with caution, possibly with help from a marriage counselor

There are some details that the hurt partner definitely needs to know after being cheated on: possible pregnancies, STDs, and whether or not the affair partner is anyone they know. 

Sex After Infidelity: How to Get Over Being Cheated On

As painful and traumatizing as infidelity can be, it is possible to get over being cheated on, and there is hope on the other side. 

Infidelity is mind-blowingly hurtful, but it can lead to post-traumatic growth, and a deeper understanding of yourself and of your partner. It’s possible to heal and to move on after infidelity, healthier and happier than before — whether you do so together or separately. 

If you or a loved one is struggling to put the pieces back together after infidelity, I hope you find this episode validating and useful. And if you’ve found ways to rebuild intimacy after cheating, we’d love to hear how you did it in the comments below. 

All the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Grow, Together.

Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.

Sex After Infidelity: Episode Highlights

  • Infidelity Recovery Stages
    • People try to heal the relationship and not themselves.
    • Educate your partners about your triggers.
    • Intimacy is not about sex.
  • PTSD from Cheating
    • PTSD is real with the affairs.
    • Commit to the healing process with your partners.
    • Emotion is intimacy.
  • Hysterical Bonding
    • A relationship can be a three-legged stool.
    • Affairs are glamorized.
  • How To Rebuild Trust After Cheating
    • Have an open and honest conversation with your partner.
    • Understand your self-intimacy.
  • Sex After Infidelity
    • Create a safe environment for your partner.
    • Your body remembers trauma.
    • You have the right to know about possible pregnancies and STDs from their infidelity.
    • Overcoming infidelity: what’s on the other side.

Music in this episode is by Om Quillio, with their song Trust.

You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

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Sex After Infidelity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Figuring out how to fix a relationship after cheating is a long and challenging road for most couples. Healing from infidelity happens in stages, and it can take a long time to rebuild trust after cheating. Some people say the pain of infidelity never goes away. Others find that it opens the door to a really positive new chapter of growth in a relationship. But for many couples, one of the biggest challenges for how to get over an affair is in the bedroom. Physical intimacy after infidelity can be very triggering for both partners actually. Most couples working on sex after infidelity really do need professional support.

Today, that professional support is coming to you in the form of my colleague, Renelle. Renelle is a marriage and family therapist here on the team at Growing Self. But she’s also a certified sex therapist with AASECT, which is the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. I just have to tell you, it is actually very hard to become an AASECT certified sex therapist. I looked into it. After reading just what all was involved, I had to lay down and take a nap. But Renelle has done it. 

In addition to that, she is also a certified infidelity coach. An area of specialty of hers is helping couples recovering from infidelity in marriage, particularly around sexuality after infidelity. Today, she is here to share her wisdom with you. Renelle, thank you so much for doing this with me today.

Renelle E. Nelson: Thank you, Dr. Lisa. I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for talking about this topic.

Infidelity Recovery Stages

Dr. Lisa: Well, this is the hard part, isn’t it? I mean, there is nothing easy about trying to repair a relationship after infidelity, right? I’ve seen so many couples kind of work through the stages of healing, and then they get to the sex part. It gets really hard again. I’m just— I’m so thrilled that you are open to doing this with me because you are the authority on this in just so many ways, so thank you. 

Just jumping right into this, okay? I know you work with so many couples who are struggling after affairs and with sexuality separately. What are some of the things that you’ve noticed with your couples when they’re working on sexuality, and when there has been infidelity or cheating in the past what’s—air quote—normal?

Renelle: Normally, if we just go back and discuss what the affair meant. We’re talking about a betrayal of trust. Affair shatters your whole well-being of yourself, your relationship, the people around you. Just think, if you are already on the cuff of not understanding yourself, or have low self-esteem, sometimes that affair shines that light on that. When I’m working with people who deal with infidelity, and trying to do something after affair, I really kind of say, “You know what? It’s me before we!” 

Many times people try to heal the relationship and not themselves. What I do is I give them a safe space to say, “Hey, I know you want to be intimate and reconnect and revive this relationship, but let’s understand what the affair meant to them and said to you.” We get back into how do they feel about themselves. Things that they can control. An affair makes the hurt partner feel powerless. I want them to feel more powerful in their skin so they’d be more apt to connect. 

One thing is we talk a lot about self-intimacy. Self-intimacy is understanding what you want, what you desire, your emotional connections? What makes you aroused, what makes you not. What’s your desires? What’s so awesome is because now you want to rebuild this relationship, and after affair, it’s a lot of communication. It’s a lot of communication because the relationship that we know it before, the marriage is gone. So many people, I say, “You know what, they want it back.” I’m like, “You know what, it’s just like COVID. Before COVID— this is your new normal,” right? 

Dr. Lisa: I can’t remember what that means anymore, Renelle.

Renelle: Pre-COVID, when we go to birthday parties and blow out candles, and hug? That’s gone. That doesn’t mean— we can grieve that, but we can also look forward to what it could be. I take the partners, take the couples, and really just explore what they can be. But I always emphasize, “What do you need?” That personal healing piece always gets left off for the recovery.

Dr. Lisa: Well, I think that’s a good point because I think that so many people — usually, the offending partner — are in such a hurry to put the past behind them. I have talked about that on other podcasts in the past. I did one about—oh gosh, what was it called—like the stages of healing after an affair, and how to start to go back, and do some of that emotional repair work. What I’m hearing you say is that that is crucial to do before any, at least healthy, sexuality will happen. Is that it? 

Renelle: And creating a space outside the bedroom. You’re dealing with a hurt partner that may have triggers, who may have comparison. Sometimes they can’t meet you where you want to be, and it’s not go to it, we’re growing through it. How can I support you through it? Educating each partner about the triggers, how to support each other through the triggers, validating the infidel, or how to listen to the hurt partner, and just see what they got going on so they can understand them, right? There’s no right or wrong. There’s no right or wrong. It comes from healing. It comes from understanding. But you can’t heal what you don’t know. I always ask my partners to understand you because you want this intimacy building, but you have to know what to discuss.

Intimacy is “into me, you see”. When your partner comes in, what are they looking at? It’s not always sexual. It’s like, “You know what, what’s my dreams? What do I want out of life?” It’s really reconnecting with who you are so your partner can see who you are. We’re doing that outside the bedroom. So many people come to me and want to jump right in the bedroom. I say, “You know what, it’s just like an oven. Some women, we need to have it on all day, or like a crockpot — how you set it on. By the time you get home, you can smell — the smell so good.” A lot of stuff comes naturally doing. It’s just like we’re just not quick, and when you’re healing from a betrayal, oh, it’s going to take longer than that because we have so many layers to pull back.

Betrayal shatters our well-being, our trust, our safety. We have to understand all that. If we want to heal successfully through that, our partner has to support us during that. A lot of that comes Lisa, outside of the bedroom.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, fantastic points. I completely agree. I was really struck by something that you just said outside of the bedroom, and how it’s like creating the context in which sexuality can occur. You were talking about how important it is for the offending partner to really have a lot of empathy and understanding for all those layers of pain that you described.

Trust is broken. Safety is broken. Self-esteem, all these things. I’m wondering if you can speak to one thing because I have struggled with this with my own couples sometimes, which is when I think the person who has had the affair or cheated, I think that they feel so guilty and ashamed and eager to move. It’s almost like they can feel frustrated with their partner for being hurt or being angry, and want them to sort of feel better and, air quote, move on. It’s like… So they can get impatient with some of those. I mean, you’re such an expert on this. I’m asking for the benefit of my listeners, and also for myself right now. How do you help people with that?

Renelle: I will let the hurt—the infidel, I call them infidel—understand that they need personal healing too. A lot of their stuff is a trauma response. They want to get through because they can endure the pain. I let them be empathetic or if you can’t deal with it hearing, think about what they’re doing. They’re dealing with it. You’re just hearing about it. What can we do to make your ear stay on and not fall off? What can we do to create a safe environment of not blaming shame so you can be more attuned to your partner of what they need, and take accountability because that’s going to build safety. That’s going to rebuild trust, and that’s what’s going to create intimacy. 

Sometimes, we always go for the hurt partner, but I always focus on the infidel. They need understanding and healing too. I know in this moment people may say, “Well, they do understand,” because a lot of them don’t understand. A lot of them going outside the relationship can be anything, but can nobody force them to the affair, and just seeing where the root of that is. 

Giving them the understanding, and then for them to have a space to be like, “You know what, you right! I never thought I need healing.” Sometimes, to grieve what that outside relationship did for them. We don’t talk about that. We don’t talk about the grief in that. That opened up a whole can of worms.

PTSD from Cheating

Dr. Lisa: Well, there is so much to unpack here, and I want to talk about that. First of all, just what a brilliant intervention. I’m hearing you say that as hard as… Because it’s easy to be mad at the person that cheated, right? What you’re saying is that the empathy and the understanding for what happened with them, and that they need healing too. I just want to acknowledge what a compassionate perspective that is, and I can see how that would really help. I love what you’re saying,  just hearing your partner talk about how hurt they are is hard for you. Can you imagine what it was like for them to go through the experience? That’s so good. 

Renelle: I just want the listeners to understand, I’m not by any means saying that let them get away. It’s not that. It’s creating a safe environment for understanding. Understanding promotes healing, even if you don’t be with that partner ever again. The trauma still exists. PTSD is real with the affairs. One thing is you don’t have to commit to your partner, but commit to the process of healing. You may not agree, that does not mean you don’t have to understand, and letting go of that power that affair has on you. I know people like “Oh, they did this. They broke my—,” I understand all of that. But having that is not going to get you to where you need to be.

Dr. Lisa: So much good stuff in there. Empowerment. I want to talk about affair PTSD. But you also started talking about something incredibly important a minute ago, which is the truth that the partner—the infidel—may also be experiencing a very real loss. That they may have had an attachment and a connection to the person they were having an affair with. That is painful for them to lose.

Renelle: Yes, it comes from talking to infidels, and just understanding the selfishness, and selfishness that some has to do with their own intimacy. Their need in love, right? Their need in love, and maybe, lack of communication, right? It’s like several different types of affairs. Sometimes, it’s not right. But sometimes people go outside the marriage to get their needs met. Sometimes it’s a split self that they have a happy marriage, but this person gives them this. When it’s exposed, it’s like, “You know what? I can’t lose everything. I have to go back to my marriage. But this person made me feel alive. This person listened to me. This person assisted me.” It is hard to tell somebody in a hurt state, and they grieve that because… 

That’s why we have to, in recovery, look at the relationship and see how did the relationship open a door? It’s no blame or shame. But I tell my hurt partners, “You are not responsible for the affair, but you are responsible for your role in the relationship. I’m not saying sometimes affairs can be symptoms, sometimes not. But we have to rule it out and look at it. Again, it’s a neutral territory, but just that understanding and just let them see, especially if they want to work on it, like, “Man! The relationship was flatline.” What made you. Talking to people is the feeling, not the person. It’s the feeling that brought them along, like the feeling of excitement, the feeling that you see me. I just didn’t talk about a repair— how can we revise that relationship and take that feeling?

Dr. Lisa: How can you feel that way with your partner?

Renelle: How can you feel that way? It’s a grief process because I’m coming back to some more of the same. They know they want to be there, but they don’t want more of the same, and they can’t communicate that.

Dr. Lisa: Well, and it’s so hard, isn’t it? Because when the hurt partner is just in that, I mean, you use the word trauma, PTSD. We just found out that somebody was having an affair and they’re shocked, and they’re hurt, and they feel terrible, and they’re angry. It’s so hard, I think, in that space to help them recognize that the pain that their partner may have been feeling or that kind of feeling that they were moving towards outside the relationship, it can be hard for them to have empathy for that.

Renelle: It could be very hard. It could be hard. That’s why I said, it’s good to talk to somebody because we are emotional beings. Emotion is intimacy. Sometimes, I tell the hurt partner, “Take the time you need. Surround yourself with people who respect the relationship, and try to just get into your body because you don’t want to make a lifelong decision on emotion.” Yes, it’s hurtful. Yes, it’s that. But I don’t want you to make a lifelong decision on an emotion.

Dr. Lisa: What do you mean? What would be a lifelong decision?

Renelle: A lot of times leaving, staying? Our relationships should or can’t be saved, right? Looking at that, and then doing the in-depth talk about the attachment, and why are you here. What do you want? Are you more of romanticize having a marriage, or do you want your partner? Sometimes we have to look at the relationship. Was it really a relationship or was it just people playing the roles and the part? 

When we hear about affairs, not all affairs happen because of a bad marriage, or a good marriage. It’s the players involved in it. I’m seeing that when I go back and really do counseling with them after their affair recovery, the relationship wasn’t even what they wanted. But the point of separated, they fall for that. It’s the renewal and understanding. Honest and transparent communication heals, and it’s not brutal. We think honesty is brutal, and it doesn’t have to be brutal. In case it is going to help or harm us, that’s what make it honest. But you have to be real with yourself. I’m always gonna say this to listeners, you have to understand, “me before we.”

Dr. Lisa: That can be so much to unpack. I recorded a podcast recently with another one of our colleagues here in our group, Kensington. I think she hosts our breakup support group, and she was talking about how being attached to someone, like bonded to someone, has nothing to do with whether or not that’s a good relationship. That’s like that split, intellectually knowing that somebody isn’t good for you, but feeling like it’s so hard to let go of them and this is also a context of n the relationship being over. 

What you’re saying is that “me before we” of how difficult it is, and how important it is to help people sort through what is their truth around, “Am I afraid to leave this relationship because of my attachment to you or is it because I want to stay married? What is real?” In the swirl of emotions, I mean, right after an affair. How hard is that? I mean, people really need help sorting through all that.

Renelle: That’s one of the key questions in journaling is, “What did affair say to you? When did you feel that emotion before? I do a lot about betrayal. I love talking about betrayal because betrayal, it’s just not affairs. Betrayals are unspoken contracts. You can have a betrayal because you went outside to talk to somebody didn’t tell me. It’s so many small betrayals —,financial betrayal. It’s so many different types of betrayal, but you don’t know unless you communicate. You can’t assume. Just talking about the betrayals, and what did affair say to you, and it brings up a lot of deep rooted betrayals that they had through their life. It goes real deep and it shows. Because it’s all talk. It’s all talk on what to do. 

Having that reflection for yourself is so amazing because you go back in a relationship feeling more woke, and you’re going to be more assertive. Not aggressive, assertive. When something happens — because you’re already hyper-vigilant — “You know what, we need to do this or we don’t need this. I need this.” And making sure your partner is fully present to hear you. Understanding yourself is such a key to intimacy after infidelity.

Hysterical Bonding

Dr. Lisa: There are so many questions that I have right now, and I’m sure that our listeners here do too. One of the things that you also alluded to, I have heard it called — I wish there was a better word for it — but technically, this hysterical bonding, and it’s like this automatic emotional response. If attachment is threatened or ruptured, or if there’s an affair, the instinct is actually to try to stay with a partner and reconnect with them, whether or not that’s like a good idea longer term, when people can slow down and connect with themselves as you’re advising. Have you seen that happen where people just instinctively want to try to stay connected?

Renelle: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: What do you make of that?

Renelle: It’s all go deep down into our upbringing — betrayal, trauma response, attachment, demons dance and go with each other. Sometimes that we learn that we need to have this relationship and have a third party to make it even. We don’t talk about that triangulation. Sometimes it’s a person, place or thing. Is our marriage in a person, place or thing—like a triangle? 

The affair is not fun no more if you don’t have that. It’s not, “My wife know about us,” “My husband know about us.” It’s the triangulation. Sometimes, we need something third to just smooth it out. That comes from a lot of trauma and seeing that, “I need this in order to do this.” I’ve seen a lot of people do it like that. Their demons dance good with each other, or you fit this need, but I need something for this need. I see a lot of that, but then when I asked them to stop and think about it, that’s when a real discovery happens — the why. The why. Then, it’s really unpacking, then understanding their selves, then talking to their partner about what that means.

Dr. Lisa: That makes a lot… I’ve heard it described as that a relationships can be like a three-legged stool. A three-legged relationship is actually more stable than a dyad between two people. What you’re saying is that there can be realizations that early childhood experiences, or traumas or like attachment stuff for the one person that they didn’t even realize can be making them gravitate towards that three-legged stool because of the intensity of that one on one relation. 

Renelle: Your career, kids, everything. Remember I said that a person, place, or thing — it’s not always — video games. It’s not always…

Dr. Lisa: That actually hits kind of close to home.

Renelle: It’s not always another person

Dr. Lisa: That’s a good… Like, what is the third leg? You’re saying that when you crack into that with people, there’s a “why” there. There’s a “why.” That makes sense. Again, going way beyond the scope of a podcast. I mean, this is something that you unpack over many sessions with people over time, but like, what are some of the things that you’ve discovered through your work that it can be some of the things that people are taking with them? The life experiences that make them more vulnerable to creating that three-legged person, place or thing.

Renelle: Survival. Survival. A lot of men, and some African American men, sometimes was taught, “when I’m hurt” — doesn’t count for everybody — when I’m taught it, sometimes it was just for survival because they taught uncles and cousins, and everything, “You always have something on the side. Sometimes, something on the side make the house more better.” You have these… It’s just a learned thing, and it’s a generational narrative sometimes. If you talk to people — and it can be the opposite. 

I saw my mother go through this. I saw her do so much for my dad, and he’d do this, I’m never gonna be like her. I’m never gonna put all my all in this. I never want to be like A. I never want to be like C. I saw this hurt somebody. The hurt partner has a history, and the infidel has a history, right? That’s the thing is understanding and tapping that, and getting to know that because it is a why and it’s a root. If we act on emotion, we never know what that is. Sometimes the person doesn’t know until you ask the right questions about it. But it’s all learned. It’s learned by generations and society. 

Society holds up because the great peg… Monogamy myth. The monogamy myth. Affairs are glamorized. Women get book deals and prizes. Book deals, everything. The tell-all book about all my escapades. The side chick. The mystery. It was even a show on ABC called Mistresses. All this is glamorized. Society is like, “Okay, it’s acceptable.” Right? It’s one thing is that we have to get down and peel out the layer, but what did this mean for you? 

One thing that I love to discuss is monogamy. Stop assuming people are monogamous. Just don’t say I do. Talk about monogamy through your relationship. Talk about attraction to others. Talk about what betrayal means. These are the conversations that are not happening.

How to Rebuild Trust After Cheating

Dr. Lisa: Well, let’s have a little bit of it right now. You talked about the myth of monogamy. Tell me more about that.

Renelle: The myth of monogamy is that everybody wants monogamy, but then it’s a whole part that does it. We know that monogamy, talk about monogamy as a business. We talk about nobody is monogamous. Different cultures and everything. No matter what it is, it’s what it means to you. Having these conversations, right? Then, we also talk about what doing affairs. I have to talk about it. Who else held that affair? We’ve got to look at your family. 

The biggest thing with affairs is who knows. It’s the shame and the guilt that people know, and it meant to them that I can’t take care of my person. Nobody talks about that. Relationships end because they cannot deal with the shame, especially if did your parents know? Did your friends know? Did your coworkers know? How can I show my face again?

Who knew and didn’t tell me? This is another betrayal. It’s so many there. It’s so many betrayals. You mean, you took around your family. You mean your best friend who come over knew, and nobody told me? How can I have a relationship with his… How can I go up to the school again? How can I do this? It’s a lot of shame. Just going by that, it weighs on a lot. But shame, yes. Oh my goodness! That’s such a big thing that nobody talks about. That’s saving face.

Dr. Lisa: Layers of betrayal that were betrayed by the partner. But all these other people that were kind of complicit in what was happening. 

Renelle: It’s a lot. What I do want to say is even through all that, again, all relationships can’ or should not be saved. But the ones who I find that want to work, we work through a lot of commitment. We work with commitment. We know what’s going to vary. We build on a lot of stuff. I let people know who like, “I will never do this.” Trust me, you don’t hear about how many people stayed because affairs are so hidden. It’s the shame. A lot of times my client, “But what is so-and-so going to think? What is someone so going to think?” I’m like, “Trust me, it’s just like with sex.” When we talk about what’s normal for sex, people lie. But you got to do what’s right for you, but that’s a good thing. I just want to say that because societal views, and family and friends weigh heavily on monogamy.

Dr. Lisa: Coming back around. This is such a complex and multidimensional path of healing — the only way of saying it — like so many deep things to explore on both sides. Both partners are carrying hurt and there’s so many different variables. You’re saying that things really need to be worked through thoroughly there in order to begin rebuilding a sexual relationship and when it comes to that — so I have much less experience with this then than you do obviously — but what I have seen, and working with couples around affair recovery is that they do a lot of good emotional work and healing, and rebuilding trust. When it’s time to feel stable enough to kind of start being sexually intimate with each other again, it is a huge trigger. Like you use the term affair PTSD a little while ago, and that’s very apt. What do you see with that piece?

Renelle: We talk a lot about triggers. We talk about not letting the affair partner in your head, and if you are, how to get over that — not over, we’ll talk about it — because I want your partner to know when you just spaced out. With my pleasure act of betrayal, we start again outside the bedroom. We start with consensual touch. Can I touch you here? Do you mind if I touch you here? Would you like for me to touch you here? How can I support you? It’s really building a lot of safety and trust outside the bedroom because your mind is racing, “Did you do this with them, or do this with them?” 

I like to make the bedroom like a sanctuary. We do a lot of exercise with the clothes on. A lot of massages. A lot of getting on feeling safe. Building that safety back. Building that, “I can trust you again.” A lot of conversation getting to know. When we get in the bedroom, and we’re taking it slow, very consensual. I do a lot of grounding exercise because sometimes we don’t like the pet names. Sometimes, I say, “Call your partner by their name so they know you’re talking to them.” Because sometimes they disassociate and think about, “Oh, I’m not this. I’m not, if you say ‘baby.’” “Renelle, you look beautiful today.” “Lisa, I love the way you feel.” It takes Lisa and Renelle out of their head, and be like “You’re talking to me.”

Dr. Lisa: That is such a… Because I think that’s the fear. The last person they did this with was their affair partner. Are they thinking about them right now? What was that like? How do I compare? Are they thinking about them while we’re together right now? And that is brilliant. You’re saying use their names so they know you’re talking to them.

Renelle: Using their name creates a lot of grounding, consensual touch. Consensual touch above the clothes, and then ask, gradually go without the clothes. Every affair recovery and talking to your partner what does sexual intimacy look like? We know intimacy is not sex. But what does sexual intimacy look like? Talk a lot about affection intimacy. What is it look like? Intimacy is the intent to connect. Ask your partner. Don’t assume! Ask them what they need. That’s why I say self-intimacy first because when your partner say, “What do you need when you’re triggered? Where can I touch you? What makes you feel good?” 

You’re going to explore together, and this is something that an affair can never do. It’s the intimacy. It’s the connection that you need to open that up to build back that trust. A lot of allyship, pleasure allies, outside the bedroom, and in proving that ally is a pleasure inside the bedroom. Taking the time. Playing with sensuality. Playing with different things, and taking your time in a slower pace. “I want to relearn you, and what do I need to do that? But also let me know when something doesn’t feel right so I can support you.”

Dr. Lisa: And just like making it okay for people to feel scared or anxious, or have those intrusive thoughts come up, and to be talking about that as they do.

Renelle: When you have those thoughts, how can I support you? Touch can be grounded. So many times, as we know in relationships, when something falls to the wayside, touch and communication is the first to go. In this building phase, that’s what we need. You wonder why the affair phase is so hard because we self-betray ourselves. Because I’m hurting. Self-betrayal — we’re always talking about betrayal from somebody else, but we never talk about the betrayal of ourselves. Self-betrayal is a residue of betrayal. “I’m not worthy. I don’t deserve. I don’t deserve pleasure. I’m fat. I’m broke. I’m this. You cheated on me.” Everything that happens with self-betrayal. 

Even though you are healed, or working on your relationship, that residue of self-betrayal is there. Sometimes, you don’t feel like you may not deserve to be in this space. “I don’t deserve to do this because I’m still healing.” Sometimes I say, “It’s just like with anything. You need gas in the car to move.” Right? Don’t self betray yourself of just friendly touch, friendly grounding, friendly understanding. It’s okay to laugh. Sometimes you need energy for this journey. Just thinking you’re going to ride on fumes is not good for you. Just let them understand that because I don’t want him to touch me. I don’t want… I say, “I can understand all that but where can you get physical touch? Consensual. Where can you get touched because you need it. Don’t self-betray yourself and because I’m in this her space. I don’t want any of it because you’re running on fumes, and you can’t.

Sex After Infidelity

Dr. Lisa: That’s such a wise perspective. I want to ask you something, and this is for the benefit of people who might be wondering the same thing right now. Okay. You have two partners, they’re in the bedroom. One of them is starting to feel triggered than the other says, “What do you need from me right now?” And one partner says, “I need you to tell me every single thing you ever did with her sexually. What did she look like? What are the boobs look like? What was she wearing?” I mean, what do you say to people who are like “I need details”?

Renelle: Before we even get to that, I work on that even before we get into the bedroom. We have a time that we ask all the details that you want to know. We put a time limit on it. We avoid comparison, right? You can’t heal what you don’t know, but you also don’t want to make it worse. I have to tell the hurt partner, “I know you want to know all that, but what is it going to do for you?” “I just want to know, I just want to know.” I said, “Is it going to make it worse?” “I just want to know” “What’s knowing going to do.” We do want knowing. I say, “Do you feel better?” It’s nothing that’s going make you feel ‘Aha! I get it,’ because your heart is shattered. It’s nothing your partner can say to make you feel better. “Oh, that’s why you do it.” Nothing! Nothing is going to make you feel better. You think you’re going to get that one magic dose of that, “That’s why you did it.” You’re not, right? 

It’s like, “What do you need now? What do you need?” “Well, I need to know.” “What do you need to know, or what do you want to know?” And we do that even before we get to the bedroom. I will just say to that couple that’s laying in the bed and like that. I would like the infidel to say, “You know what, honey? You deserve all of that. Let’s talk about it tomorrow. Let’s just cuddle right now. Let’s talk about that tomorrow. Validate their need. Understand the emotion. Don’t stop the intimacy, right? Just say, “Okay, let’s just cuddle? Do you want me to rub your feet? What do you need right now? I still want to connect with you, but you do have a right to know, right? But let’s put a pin in it and talk about it tomorrow. Is that okay?” 

Just understanding what they’re going through on everything, and know… Because sometimes it’d do no harm. You’re already harmed but this is not going to make you feel any better. Validate it, “I’m not putting it off. Just putting a pin in it to a later day.” Or if it’s that bad, “You know what? Let’s put on our clothes, and let’s go for a walk. I can answer to your questions. Come out the bedroom, right? If it’s that intense, but understand what they need. Validate the need, try to comfort them and their needs. Either stay there or leave. We try to talk about what that looks like for a safe environment.

Dr. Lisa: Well, that’s a good point. You’re saying like in the moment of sexual intimacy, that is not the right time to be… It is potentially causing more harm than good. I heard you say a couple of other interesting things which was, it’s valid — and the people deserve to have information — but to be very cautious and to have conversations around, “Is this going to help you, or is this going to make it worse?” Because when you say, “Maybe making it worse by having more information.” What kinds of things have you seen with that?

Renelle: I had people asked the position, taste, smell — everything — pictures, it’s an obsession. Because remember, when your body is traumatized, your natural instinct is to know. Understanding trauma. Trauma can live when there is got lacks of body. Understanding your body remembers trauma — understanding your body. When you understand trauma, your body wants to understand what happens because your body is stuck in understanding. If you gave me the pieces, I’m going to understand, and I let my clients know you’re not going to get the understanding. You’re going to get vivid tragic memories — flashbacks. 

Dr. Lisa: Of things that you didn’t see. 

Renelle: You’re going to go to sleep and are you going to think of… “Look at you’re…” and then the comparison kills you. Comparison kills you, right? “Am I this, and I’m that?” Especially I have a lot of men that are hurt partners. Their wife cheated on them. People like, “It’s more men.” And I’m like, let me let you know. It’s even and out right now. Please don’t think that; men go through it too. They go through a lot because it shatters their manhood. It shatters what they’re looking at in society. Just understand that and just validating that, Not brush it off. “You know what? I know you want to know, but I just want to give you some. I don’t want to hurt you.” If they say, “I can take it, I can take it.” I’ll be like…

Dr. Lisa: Thank you for explaining why it’s not helpful. It’s because that traumatized mind does become vigilant. It becomes obsessive, and it feels like the right thing to do is be seeking information, and like putting things together. What you said, something that I just thought was so profound, which is that when you get lots of vivid details, it creates a visual image in your head that traumatizes you from the inside out over and over, and over, and over again. It’s like creating a traumatizing experience for yourself. Thank you so much for explaining that to me. I didn’t really put those pieces together before but that’s why…

Renelle: Because Lisa, remember, your body wants to protect you. If you feed the body something, it’s just hyper-vigilant. Like you say, you ever bought a rare car and only see rare cars. Think about if you put this ideal person and you, that’s all you’re going to look like, “I bet he messed with her. I bet she messed with him.” You’re visual, because your body wants to protect you. Your body wants to protect you. That’s what the triggers are for. That’s where nightmares… Like nightmares — everything. Your subconscious is all to protect. It comes out in different ways. If you understand, if you feed it, it’ll grow. 

But also understand that I understand that sometimes you can’t heal what you don’t know. You have to know to heal. You just mount to get you where you need to go. But understand, over the mount can be harmful for you. Knowing the hotel room and going by in case you triggered that’s where you find it by knowing what happened in there. Is that going to make you feel better? 

Now, for sex because we’re talking about sex after infidelity. What you do need to know — possible pregnancies, STDs. That’s the things that you need to know. Various positions — everything like that — that’s what I’m like, “Do you really want to know that?” But you have the right to know about possible pregnancies, STDs, AIDS. You have the right to know that for your safety. Anything above and beyond that, who? Sometimes we know who. “The thing is, is it anybody I know? Is it anybody I know? Anybody I should be aware of?” Because you be so hyper-vigilant because you live in a stance that it can be anybody. Sometimes, letting the partner know, “No, it’s not anybody you know.”

Dr. Lisa: Just to be able to make informed choices. Like if it is somebody that you know, now I understand that is not a safe person. I mean, you do actually need to know those.

Renelle: Yeah, they want to feel more powerful, or was that a powerless? Affair takes away all your power — it shatters your whole well-being, and you are in a state of numbness and shock for so long. Just understanding that.

Dr. Lisa: The other thing, and maybe my big takeaway from this fantastic conversation is also this idea that growth and healing are very possible, and that there’s a lot. If we have to go deep, we can’t leapfrog over all of the things. You’ve worked with so many couples through this. What have you seen for couples on the other side?

Renelle: I see it good on the other side because I let them know if you stay where you should go, the trauma still exists. Let’s heal. Let’s commit to the process of healing and understanding. The couples who stay, it’s like a real awakening and awareness. They’re hurt, but they’re growing through it. Just like, it’s more like we know we talk more about affair proofing, and we talk more than we ever had. We don’t take stuff for granted anymore—everything like that. All the literature about affairs, it can make a relationship better. 

Do we tell everybody, “Go out and have an affair”? No! We’re not saying that. We’re just giving people the hope that if two committed people that are genuine, honest, and transparent, it can make it better. If they got alternative motives, it’s not. That’s why it can’t be for the kids. It can’t be for the house. It can’t be for the business. Those I say don’t really make it, is building on the shaky ground.

Dr. Lisa: Renelle, this was such a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much just coming on today and speaking with me about this. For the benefit of our listeners, I know that there are a lot of people hearing your wisdom that really benefited from it today. Thank you 

Renelle: I hope so. I like to shine a light on it because a lot of people don’t talk about it, and I want to talk about it.

Dr. Lisa: Well, you have an open invitation to come back and talk about it anytime you want, okay?
Renelle: Thank you! I’ll take you up on that.


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