THE BLOG

Erotic Recovery After Infidelity

12/05/2012 11:13 am ET | Updated Feb 04, 2013
  • Tammy Nelson, Ph.D. Sex and relationship expert; Psychotherapist; Author of The New Monogamy and Getting the Sex You Want; International speaker

Erotic recovery is a fundamental part of healing after an affair. Your erotic life together is a very basic relationship need. After infidelity, going back to being erotically and intimately connected with your partner can be complicated.

Erotic recovery encompasses all of the emotional, physical and intimacy needs in your relationship and means that you will need to work on trust, safety and comfort.Until you and partner can heal these areas, it can be almost impossible to move beyond the affair. If you don't repair your sex life, the lover or the "other" man or woman will still be (metaphorically) in bed with you.

Moving from being emotionally and sexually disconnected after an affair to feeling erotically joined and ready to explore a new sexual life together can seem impossible. If you have only recently discovered the affair, it means you are probably still in intense pain. But if you are choosing to work on your relationship and are working hard to stay together, at least for now, working on a new sex life together will be a vital part of your healing process going forward.

It may seem that the bridge between the two of you is too wide to cross. Yet you may find yourself desperately wanting to connect and wanting to hold your partner. You may each crave the feeling of being safe in each other's arms. And you may even find that you are more turned on by your partner than ever before. This is something that couples don't often talk about. The intense renewal or revival of passion that happens in a marriage or committed partnership after someone cheats is more common than most people realize. It makes sense that you would find your partner intensely attractive at this time. The distance between you that has been created as a result of an affair can many times increase the attraction as well. Although this feels confusing, it is a natural result of a new relationship being formed -- who is this person that you thought you knew? What was their outside affair partner attracted to that perhaps you hadn't seen in them? You thought you knew everything about your partner, but now they are almost a stranger in some ways. This feeling, although painful, can also bring back a new sense of allure, a new longing and a sexual attraction that is emotionally loaded for both of you.

Many times this new attraction is short lived. Sexual intimacy can be a way to reenter each other in the most intimate physical way, but it also reaches across an emotional boundary and can challenge some of the intense feelings that leave you both vulnerable.

This is why it can be so difficult to reconnect erotically, at first. You may find that after the initial rush of sexual connection, you are unable to let yourself be vulnerable enough to touch each other intimately or make love in ways that you used to.

Most likely one of you will be more ready than the other to rebuild your sexual connection. You may feel pressure to do it anyway, either as a way to hold on to your spouse or prevent them from going back to their affair partner. It's normal to worry about being able to hold on to your partner after an affair. You may wonder if your partner still finds you sexually attractive. You may worry that you aren't having sex often enough. It's fine to push yourself past some discomfort.

But give yourself some space and time to find the intimacy that will help you to come together in ways that work for both of you.

Talk to your partner directly about your feelings.Share with them if you don't feel ready to have sex. Maybe you are okay with some intimate physical time together, like holding each other in bed, or showering together. Be honest. This might sound like: "Right now, I'm still nervous about having sex, but I do want to _____________." Intercourse doesn't have to be the goal of erotic recovery right away. Erotic connection can mean taking your time and finding other ways to be intimate as a way to move toward erotic recovery.

After your partner cheats, it may take time to recover your own self-esteem in bed and to feel sexy and confident again. One way to do that is to find a way to slow down the process and reconnect to each other without the pressure of performance.

A couple working toward a healthier and more connected sex life after infidelity can benefit from slowing down the process by focusing on being in the moment and working together to make intimacy feel positive and healthy. This can help both partners feel more comfortable and trusting. Close physical time increases intimacy, especially after the ambivalence and insecure feelings that come up after one of you has had an affair.

Even if you aren't ready to have sex with your partner, commit to erotic recovery now. Talk daily about your feelings about sex, find a therapist to process your issues around your self esteem and trust. Focus less on intercourse and more on touching and holding. And find some space and time to reconnect in ways that make you each remember why you got together in the first place.

A good sex life is a practice, just like yoga or meditation, or even playing the piano. Engaging erotically with each other on a regular basis means you are committing to the ongoing practice of an intimate relationship. The more you invest in this practice, the greater the chance that your relationship can move on after an affair. And maybe even be better than ever.

Dr Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship expert and the author of "The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship after Infidelity."