Partial and edited excerpt from The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity
So your spouse cheated. Ask yourself, what was going on in the bedroom prior to the affair? Although a lackluster sex life in no way justifies infidelity, exploring what was present in your erotic life prior to the affair can neutralize blame. If both of you felt trapped in a boring or routine sex life, it was the responsibility of both of you to change it. The one who cheats can't blame her partner for lack of passion. This is an excuse and a way to avoid taking responsibility. What was really happening in your love life before the affair even began?
Ask your partner some of the following questions. Of course, one or both of you may not be thrilled about sitting down to talk about these difficult feelings, but it's important to set aside some time when you won't be disturbed and simply focus on one another.
- What did I long for in our sex life before the affair?
- What did I want more of in our sex life before the affair?
- One way I kept us stuck in our sex life was?
After both of you have shared, you should have some valuable (and possibly painful) information about how each of you felt prior to the affair. If communication was an issue, you are already improving your communication skills simply by sharing and empathizing, and you have already powerfully shifted your relationship dynamic.
These conversations can be emotionally overwhelming, so you want to continue them but make sure that neither of you becomes too drained. You run the risk of derailing back into conflict if you get too wiped out from the emotional struggle. However, don't avoid them just because they are hard. Try not to let more than a couple of days go by before you continue the conversation.
One way to continue an important conversation is to think back and try and identify what the two of you may have been avoiding talking about or dealing with just prior to the affair. Perhaps you weren't talking about the lack of emotional connection with one another during sex or that your sex life was becoming more like maintenance sex. Or maybe you were completely avoiding talking about your developing feelings for someone outside of the relationship.
The following are some questions to ask yourself. Sit down and journal about them, then bring your answers to your partner. Maybe one answer per conversation is all you can deal with at a time. You may want to use each question as a topic for a therapy session with a trusted marriage therapist or infidelity specialist.
- Were you a good partner in your marriage? Why or why not?
- Did you feel that your sex life was boring?
- Were you angry or resentful and couldn't tell your partner?
- Did you feel lonely in your relationship?
Bring what you've learned from these exercises into your daily life by doing a daily check-in with your partner. Ask each other three things every day:
"How are you?"
"How am I?"
"How are we?"
Mirror each other, validate, and empathize if you can. This communication strategy will change the way you relate to each other. It can take 15 minutes a day and shouldn't be an invitation to argue or rehash the affair every evening. If this happens, back off and say three things you appreciate about each other every evening instead.
All of these exercises will help you to reconnect with one another and explore what was happening prior to your affair.
Dr. Tammy Nelson is a world renowned sex and relationship expert and the author of The New Monogamy and Getting the Sex You Want. She can be found at www.drtammynelson.com. For more information on creating your new monogamy agreement go to https://www.drtammynelson.com/products-page/book/newmonogamyautographed/