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“My wife had an affair a year ago. We separated and then came together, worked through it and reconciled two months ago. However, our sex life has not been the same. Please help!
Dear John, thank you for your question. Surviving infidelity can be a difficult experience. For one thing, there is the hurt and betrayal that often accompanies it. Along with that are the seemingly endless questions about who/what/when/how often and how you compare to that. On top of that is the grief, and as we know, grieving is a process and processes take time. It actually makes sense that you would be struggling in some ways just two months after reconciliation.
Let me say this about reconciliation; while I support it, I feel that it is too often treated as acceptable theatre – an outward manifestation of your ‘forgiveness’. So what happens when you may still want to try to reconcile but also simultaneously feel hurt, angry, depressed, confused, worried or even insecure as a result of the infidelity? You may go through the theater (outward) motions but your hurt will still find a way to come out. It would make sense, then, that you find a way to truly acknowledge your internal world even as you find a way to build/rebuild your lives together.
In essence, what you would really be asking would be, “how did we end up here?” which is a more useful question than “how could she do this to me?”, which is a disempowering question that would leave you feeling helpless.
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So, for example, was one of you feeling/being ignored? Had the relationship turned from that of a couple to that of siblings or non-sexual friends? Were some of the relationship resources being spent outside the relationship e.g spending too much time at work or even at church, being too ‘generous’ with time, money or other resources “at the expense of your partner”? These questions are worth exploring, so explore them.
Grieving is a process
Grieving can be an excruciating human experience and it only gets worse when you overlook it or undermine its presence. It’s like a river; it will always find a way out so if you block its path, it comes and carries with it everything in its path. In your life, you may notice that your unexpressed grief is showing up as a hotter temper, greater irritability or even trouble performing in the bedroom.
Grieving is a process, and processes take time. However, there are 6 stages that you will cycle through, and knowing what they are may be useful to you in this process so here you go: 1. Denial 2. Bargaining 3. Anger 4. Depression 5. Forgiveness and 6. Acceptance. Mind you, you may not experience them in a linear fashion and will likely experience them in a jumbled fashion.
If you think that this could be the problem, then I have some good news for you; emotions have a natural end so no matter what comes your way, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the emotions won’t last forever – as long as you allow them to be acknowledged. Every time you feel like crying, screaming or some other emotion, let it be. If the tears come, let them come (you can always allow yourself some privacy if the tears bother you). Emotions are how you know what you really feel and what you really want; they are your friends, so let them visit you as they wish.
Reconciliation requires patience
This one may be easy to overlook because it looks like you are ‘going back’ to the same home, the same marriage with the same person. In reality, while you may be going back to the same outward women, the marriage that you had is over so give this reconciliation time. You will both need to make room for a new way of being, and that can take getting used to.
Whereas before, one or both of you would come and go as you pleased with barely a discussion, your new marriage may require more conversations about coming and going, who you socialise or work with. That can irritate you because it’s different from what was there before but you must remember that reconciliation requires a lot more trust building so take the time to build it, and then give everything some time.
The same could be happening with your partner, where they are also struggling to go back to the previous marriage yet that marriage somehow made room for the infidelity in the first place. Parts of your reconciliation will requires patience; allow it and give time, time.
Recreate and co-create your marriage
John, you are reconciling so that you can hopefully have a happier, healthier, more secure marriage, yes? Well, that means that you will need to recreate and co-create your marriage so that it meets your needs more fully.
In terms of sex, you need to do what Kenyans refer to as ‘calling yourself for a small meeting’ and ask yourself what is getting in the way of reconnecting sexually with your wife. Is it that you can’t help but imagine her with the other person? Is that you feel so hurt and/or angry by the betrayal that your heart, mind, body and soul feel like they are unable to function? Is it that you consciously or subconsciously think that your withholding of sex will keep her desiring you?
Could your sexual troubles be more about protecting you e.g. I trusted her and she betrayed me? If she does it again, I don’t want to feel the hurt like that again? Or maybe you’re just not in the mood at the moment (revisit the part of grief, because grief can actually be a sex killer).
If you do want to have sex but are struggling, recreate the sexual experience so that you can have new, ‘untainted’ experiences that are good and satisfying. Have sex outside of the bedroom, with clothes on, in the car…the possibilities are endless. Recreate your sexual positions too! Be willing to try new things in new ways, include toys and props if you wish…just make an effort to recreate your sexual experience with your wife.
Get a support system
I know a lot of people do not like to show their vulnerability to others especially when it’s their season of difficulty. However, everyone needs support because no one should have to go through this on their own. Please get a support system around you – using your greatest discretion.
My rules for this are that your support system has to be comprised of people who already love you as you are, people who you’d be comfortable letting know what’s going on and why (it doesn’t have to be detailed; a simple “Jane & I are struggling at the moment and I’m not handling it well” should suffice).
If you would rather not talk to someone who knows you intimately (friend, family, religious leader), then make use of the services of a qualified professional e.g. a couple’s therapist. Whatever you decide, it is important that both of you agree on who you are sharing your sensitive information. A support system has to feel ‘supportive’ so avoid people who will choose sides because your intention here is to reconcile and build a better relationship.
Psychotherapist Esther Perel, “the marriage you had is over. You can now have a new marriage with the same person or a new marriage with a different person.” Since you have chosen reconciliation, plant seeds that can sprout new plants so you can reap a more bountiful marital harvest. I wish you all the best.