Many betrayed partners who have chosen to stay in their relationship, feel confused about sex after betrayal. Because the betrayal is frequently sexual in nature there is a profound wound to the sexual relationship. However, the pain of betrayal does not automatically shut down your sexual desire. It can be confusing to find that you still want to be sexual with the person who betrayed you. It’s easy to think, “Shouldn’t I hate him and never want him to touch me again?”
Many betrayed partners experience a period where they are too hurt and the trust in the relationship is too damaged to sustain the vulnerability involved in being sexual. These partners feel safer emotionally with sex off the table for a while.
However, many other individuals find that despite the betrayal and lack of trust, they still have a desire to be sexually connected to their partner. For these partners, participating in the sexual relationship is part of staying close and connected to their spouse in spite of the pain, disappointment and conflict that are occurring.
These are both viable options for you. In fact, you may choose one for a time and then find that you need to switch and do the other for a while. Your task is to be honest with yourself and your partner about what you need as you heal.
As you navigate through your sexual feelings post-betrayal, here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you determine what is best for you right now.
Am I staying physically safe? If your partner has ‘gone live’ outside of the relationship by having sex with another individual, you will want to use condoms when being sexual until trust has been re-established or a period of sexual sobriety has been obtained.
Am I being sexual because I want to? You want your desire for sex to be grounded in your connection to your own sexuality, and your physical and emotional reality. If you engage in ‘duty-sex’ because you feel that it is your obligation, or if you engage in ‘fear-sex’ because you are afraid your partner will continue to cheat if you don’t, then you will eventually find your libido shutting down. Pressure kills sexual desire fast. Keeping your sexual desire alive is very much related to ensuring that you are engaging in sex from a place of personal freedom and desire.
Am I emotionally safe enough? One of the ways to tell if you are emotionally safe enough in the relationship to be sexual is to notice what happens after you have sex. If being sexual together draws you closer and you see the relationship remaining fairly stable afterward, that is a sign that you have operated within your emotional boundaries when being sexual and can tolerate the level of vulnerability required to engage sexually. If you notice that after you are sexual there is a rebound effect and you become fearful, triggered, or angry and you and your partner have conflict, that may be a sign that you didn’t feel safe enough to be sexual. As a result, having sex has triggered fear rather than safety because it required you to be more vulnerable then you were currently able to tolerate. If you notice this pattern, you may want to take a sexual break for a while and work on other types of individual and couples healing.
Each partner is unique in terms of how betrayal has impacted their sexuality and what they need or want regarding sex after betrayal. Give yourself permission to be honest with yourself and your partner about what you need. Be aware that your ability to be sexually engaged in the relationship may wax and wane for a while depending on where you are personally in your healing and where you are as a couple regarding restoration of the relationship. The more you and your partner can accept that healing is a non-linear process that has many different stages and phases, the better you will be able to weather the process together.