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 and can take a specific form called betrayal trauma. 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 walk away after infidelity. 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 saved? Should 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. Even sharing a bed after infidelity can feel triggering.
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 about the affair 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 from infidelity, and become healthier and happier than before — whether you do so together or you choose to end your relationship after cheating.
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
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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.
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Sex After Infidelity
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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