Few things can damage a committed relationship more than infidelity. The closeness that a couple cultivates can be shattered through an affair, regardless of the length of that affair or whether it was an emotional or a physical one. One of the main areas that is affected in the relationship is the couple’s intimacy. Their emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy can suffer damage, and it takes a lot of work to rebuild that broken trust.

Why intimacy after infidelity is hard.

Physical intimacy with someone, particularly sex, requires vulnerability. One spouse puts themselves out there by initiating and expressing their desire, and they must do this knowing that such advances can be rejected.

Apart from this, physical coupling requires the two to let their guard down to allow them to unite in the most vulnerable and intimate manner possible. That vulnerability and openness, which God designed from the beginning (Genesis 2:24-25), is difficult to maintain when the people in it are not on the same page due to emotional distance or relational conflict.

When an affair happens, it creates and cements emotional distance between the couple, and being able to hold one another, let alone being able to have sex again can be a huge obstacle the couple finds hard to overcome. Being intimate with one another after an affair comes to light can trigger PTSD in the partner who was betrayed, and they can experience feelings such as:

  • Intense feelings of grief.
  • Shame.
  • Anxiety.
  • Anger.
  • Sadness.
  • Intrusive thoughts or images about the infidelity.

Both partners may experience these feelings, making the act of making love somewhat traumatic for one or both of them. The trust in the relationship is eroded through infidelity, and vulnerability requires you to trust the other person and be comfortable around them. This is one reason why sex stops happening in a relationship once infidelity comes to light.

Another reason why sex and other forms of physical intimacy stop happening upon the discovery of an affair is that it may seem or feel as if resuming physical intimacy sends the mistaken signal to their partner that everything is okay, and the relationship is back to normal.

To avoid sending that signal, the spouse who was betrayed will often withhold physical intimacy. It may take a long time for a couple to overcome this mental and emotional block, so couples need to take it slowly to normalize their physical intimacy.

One of the unexpected results of infidelity on physical intimacy is that a couple may actually increase the amount of sex in their relationship, and this can happen for several reasons. One of the main reasons for this is that it is driven by insecurity about the relationship.

Whether through fear that their partner will cheat again or to reassure themselves that their relationship will be okay, a couple can find themselves trying to connect, have better sex, or even try experimenting with sex more.

The betrayed partner may find themselves feeling the strong need to provide ‘better’ sex to their counterpart to head off other betrayals, which introduces an element of deep fear into what is meant to be a vulnerable and joyful act. This can damage the couple’s intimacy in the long run, and it also does not support the long-term mental and emotional well-being of the couple that engages in physical intimacy while laboring under the fear of future betrayals.

Restoring the safe space in your relationship.

Infidelity violates the sense of safety that existed in your relationship. Being vulnerable with someone is hard enough, but doing so when they’ve hurt you is magnitudes of difficulty beyond that.

Voices from friends or family may be loud in proclaiming that you should leave the relationship because there’s no hope of fixing things, or because once someone cheats they will always be a cheater, but that’s not strictly true. The truth is that there are ways for couples to rebuild intimacy in their relationship after infidelity, and to restore the trust that has been shattered by the affair.

Physical intimacy in a relationship can be restored, even after infidelity. Doing so, however, requires that the couple both be committed to the process of rebuilding their relationship on a stronger foundation. This will be demanding, but that hard work can pay off. With the Lord’s enabling and guidance, a couple can rebuild their relationship stronger than before.

One of the crucial decisions that a couple must make upon discovery of the infidelity is to decide whether they want to maintain and rebuild their relationship, or whether they would rather part ways.

One of the tools that a couple can make use of is called discernment counseling, which can help the couple make healthy and informed choices about the future of their relationship. Both spouses need to be invested in that process and actively participate so that they can make clear decisions about what comes next in their relationship.

Discernment counseling and other counseling that the couple receives may help the couple work through several issues, and it will help them along the way to keep a few things in mind, including the following:

Be open and honest.

Infidelity shatters trust, and rebuilding it requires the restoration of openness and transparency. Part of that transparency is your spouse knowing what happened. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to divulge physical details of the affair and the intimate acts that occurred, as that can lead to further trauma and intrusive images plaguing the betrayed spouse.

However, you can answer the questions your spouse may have about what happened, such as when the affair started, who it was with, where it happened, and how long the affair lasted.

Acknowledge what happened.

Be sure to consistently check in on your spouse’s emotions, discuss how your partner is doing, and apologize and repent for past actions. It may be tempting to ignore your spouse’s hurt emotions and simply not talk about it, but taking the route of sweeping everything that happened under the rug is not the answer to your problems as a couple.

Take the pressure off of sex.

Whether the aftermath of the infidelity resulted in increased sex or no sex at all in the relationship, know that the situation will not last forever, as things shift in relationships. Give one another space to process what’s happened, heal, and put in the work on rebuilding trust. Don’t force things in the bedroom. Physical intimacy will resume in due time as you work on rebuilding trust and reconnecting.

Restoring trust.

This can take a while, and there’s no easy or standard timeframe in which this will happen. Part of what needs to happen to restore trust is to allow for transparency through monitoring and verification of your activity. The cheating spouse may have boundaries about privacy, but because of the infidelity, that boundary needs to be renegotiated.

After infidelity, the betrayed spouse has high anxiety and low trust toward their spouse, so it’s helpful for passwords and access to phones, text messages, social media accounts, bank accounts, and so on to be available for the betrayed spouse to access at leisure.

Being transparent in this manner helps lower anxiety and creates room to eventually rebuild trust. Love is a verb, and for the betrayed partner, seeing change and being given free access for the sake of accountability helps them to see intentionality and tangible proof of being cared for.

Infidelity can break a relationship in various ways, and one of those areas is a couple’s physical intimacy. You and your partner can work with a counselor to discern what you want to do with the relationship after the affair. If you decide that you want to work on your relationship, you can walk with your counselor to recover from the affair and begin the hard work of rebuilding your relationship.

Infidelity’s impacts on a couple, including their physical intimacy, can be difficult to navigate. You and your partner can seek the support of a counselor who can help create a safe space for you to walk through a process of repair and rebuilding in your marriage.

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