Intimacy After an Affair

Broken heart

Photo credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

I have been asked how a wife can be open and giving in the bedroom after her husband has cheated on her. Honestly, I don’t know exactly how to answer.

My heart sinks when I hear of the damage caused by extramarital affairs. This scenario is not one I’ve been through, and my gut wrenches to even think of how I would react to my husband being intimate with another woman.

What I come up with when I receive the question of re-establishing sexual intimacy after an affair is primarily a huge dose of sympathy and prayer for the couple involved. There are two pieces of advice I have heard over and over for recovering from an affair. (One resource for the following is the Homeword with Jim Burns radio show, on which Dr. Burns has interviewed numerous authors and speakers on this and other-marriage related topics).

The offending spouse must be willing to be accountable. The person who had the affair will have to report on where he is going, where he has been, when he will return home, whom he has been in contact with, etc. His cell phone and computer are open to being checked by the spouse or an accountability partner. He must avoid contact with the affair partner, even changing jobs or gyms or whatever to ensure that.

Sometimes an offending spouse wants to just be done with the affair and move on. They want to confess, be forgiven, and have their reassurances that the affair is over result in trust. But it doesn’t work that way. If you break the covenant and the trust that came with it, you must work to regain it. I believe marriage is worth that effort.

The couple must address issues in their own relationship. Of course a spouse should never cheat. However, an affair usually (not always) occurs when needs are going unmet in the marriage. Like or it not, that’s an us problem, not a him problem. If only those problem areas had been addressed before the affair . . .

But you are where you are, and those who commit to improving their marriage often report experiencing the very best years of their relationship after the affair. Communicate, seek counseling, find good marriage resources, and discover together what will make you feel loved, secure, and intimate in your marriage.

Additionally, I suggest that all couples should talk about appropriate boundaries. I discussed my own boundaries in The Rule.

With regard to sexual intimacy, I suspect it’s like every other distraction, albeit a huge one. A wife may get to the bedroom with her husband, and her brain wanders to thoughts about him cheating. The hurt, resentment, and distrust cause her to tense and a wall to form. The best way to fight doubt and fear is to replace it with truth and love. If your spouse is doing what he should to reestablish trust and work on your relationship, you can remind yourself over and over that he chose you, that he wants you. Your truth will be that you are not sleeping with the guy with whom you had a bad marriage, the one who cheated on you. This is a new beginning, a new man, a new marriage — renewed by God. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones takes time, but it can be done.

Now I’m going to send you to a fabulous article on the website of fellow blogger, Julie Sibert at Intimacy in Marriage. One of her readers posted the story of how her marriage survived infidelity. At the end of the post, Julie provides links to stories and resources for those who have gone or are going through infidelity in a marriage.

If you have your own wisdom for getting past an affair, please share for others in the comments. You may help other marriages with your story of hardship or healing.

My prayers do indeed go out to those of you who have been hit with the pain of an affair. Thankfully, there are many couples who have recovered, and a couple committed to God can go on to experience their best years of marriage yet.

(Note: I used the husband cheating example here; I believe a majority of my readers are women and I typically aim my posts at them. I do appreciate my male readers. So if it was a wife who cheated, the pronouns can be changed.)

At the end of the post, Julie provides links to stories and resources for those who have gone or are going through infidelity in a marriage.

28 thoughts on “Intimacy After an Affair

  1. God saved my *future* marriage

    I was just about to ask you about the same issue!
    My fiancé and I have been together for about 2-3 years. 7 months ago, while my fiancé was away at college, we had a bad fight and at one point, it looked very bleak for us…. he thought it was over and slept with the nearest girl he could find… he felt guilty, left the college and came back where to our town… He told me what he did… I was soo hurt, my trust was shredded, i felt absolutely betrayed. It was the only thing I could think about when I thought of him. Thank God, I had amazing advice and was told the first thing I needed to do was forgive and start the healing process… that took about 5 months. Today, I say we are stronger than we were before and plan on getting married at the end of this year!! But I must admit, what he did still bothers me every now and then. My fear now is… and i feel kinda silly asking this but… Im afraid of him carrying those memories of what he did into our first time being intimate. Like, obviously, it isn’t going to be his first time but it will be mine. Again, i feel so silly asking that but it is something i kinda struggle with. Any advice?

    1. J

      I take heart in the fact that he fessed up on his own. Being able to confess the sin is a must first step. He obviously understood that what he had done would make you feel hurt and betrayed.

      Congrats on your upcoming marriage. God thankfully made men pretty single-track when it comes to sex. That means that most men aren’t comparing when they are engaged in intimacy with their wife. They are focused on that moment, that woman, the wife they chose. Moreover, sex within a covenant marriage takes on additional layers that are not involved in a casual encounter outside of marriage.

      My advice would be to start out your marriage being able to discuss your intimacy. You will want to be able to communicate well as you build a sex life together. As you approach your wedding night, tell your future husband that you are concerned about his sexual history entering his mind and that you want to work together to build an intimate life with him that makes anythine else pale in comparison. I’m pretty sure he’ll be 100% in favor of that plan. Explain that you may need additional assurance as you make love for the first time. He will need to go slow, savor the moment, and focus on the relational intimacy of being together physically, not simply sex as an act.

      Most hubbies get that and are willing to go the extra mile to have a happy wife in the bedroom. Kudos to you for reading this blog (and others?) to prepare for marriage and God’s blessing of intimacy. Best wishes to you and your beloved!

  2. tbright

    While the pronouns can be changed, I think the outcomes are very different when it’s the woman having the affair. First off, from what I’ve experienced both with the betrayal by my ex-wife and researching the apparently little known phenomenon of unfaithful wives, few of them will even get to step one. Usually it’s justification with #2 (double-entendre pun intended.) You know, “he’s my soul mate” “my husband didn’t get me” or some other such nonsense usually vomit inducing.

    Step #0 has to be admitting that the action was wrong. According to Dr Willard Harley, he finds very few unfaithful wives willing to admit that what they did was wrong.

    If they don’t think it was wrong, why would they stop and return to their marriages?

    What I’ve found is regardless who is unfaithful, man or woman, society is going to blame him. If she cheats, he’ll get the question my pastor asked me, “What did you do to cause your wife to have an affair?” If he cheats, obviously it’s his fault.

    1. J

      Obviously, you are still hurting, TBright, and my heart goes out to you. The tone of your comment supports the contention of how betrayed a spouse feels in this situation. My post assumes that both spouses wish to rebuild the relationship. If the offending spouse will not assume responsibility for breaking their vows, it’s going to be impossible to get to the two suggestions outlined here.

      I do believe that most marriages have relationship deficits prior to an affair occurring, and those must be addressed to ensure a stronger, affair-resistant marriage. But as I said, that’s an US problem.

    2. David S.

      While I think the generalizations in this post are pretty broad, I do think there is a shred of truth to them. I had an emotional affair and have had to contend with the wreckage that resulted (but also embrace the silver lining at getting to the root of some pain in my marriage, a true joy, honestly) and the OW was a married mother of three. (Yes, tragic.) To this day she is still active on social media trying to either rekindle things or to try to talk herself down from the cliff’s edge. It does truly seem that once a woman checks out of her marriage enough to open herself emotionally to another man, and then bonds with the fantasy she creates around that person, that it is very very hard for her to get the “mojo” back with the one she actually married.

    3. tbright

      I totally agree, it’s an US problem. The problem is when the wayward think it’s only a HIM problem.

      The way I see it, most betrayed spouses will own their part. It’s the wayward spouse who must own her part. As Dr Harley says, few wayward wives will own any part of what is described here as the “US problem.”

      David, it’s extremely hard to get the mojo back, if you don’t think you have to do any work, or that he should do all the work. When you get lines like, “If he loved me, he would just KNOW what to do…” (Bleech!)

      I could counter with if she loved me, she would KNOW she had to give very detailed instructions with lots of pictures, small words and act it out, preferably while naked 🙂

      But few waywards are willing to even read such a blog as they’ve already checked out and their entitlement mentality has them convinced it’s not an US problem, but a HIM problem.

  3. mamaofangels

    This is a tough issue but God can preveil! The best advice I can give is seek God. Often when affairs happen it is partly because we put expectations on the other person that they can not fulfil. Even if they try to they will not be able to because they are things only God can fill in us.
    Forgiveness is key. It is a must. But trusting is so hard. But loving and trusting are not the same. Trust has to be earned and takes time but love is a choice. We choose to give love and we choose to receive it. God commands us to love. He doesn’t command us to trust. We can still love the one who hurt us even if the trust isn’t there. Love is not just a feeling it is truly and action. Amazingly when we choose love and act lovingly we start to feel love. God tells us that Perfect Love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)Strive to Love by letting God show you that His love is perfect and endless. Let God’s love flow through you when you can’t find your own love.
    To Future Marriage… You can’t control what he does only how you behave. But I can tell you there is a difference between real intimacy and sex. Sex that is just sex is empty and unfulfilling. While the physical part may feel good at the moment it is terrible after. As he had learned if he ran back home and confessed. If he really loves and values you I’m quite sure that his other encounter will be far from his mind on your night. I pray the best for you both and urge you to really seek God in your decisions.

    1. J

      Great advice in every situation: Seek God! I do think women in particular are given to expecting the Prince Charming experience. When things become difficult in their marriage, some women can be tempted by another man who seems more charming than the guy at home. Can you say, “Big Mistake”?

      Thanks for your comment, mamaofangels!

  4. Anonymous

    As a husband I am doing all this (..report on where he is going, where he has been, when he will return home, whom he has been in contact with, etc. His cell phone and computer are open to being checked by the spouse or an accountability partner..) My wife can open all my emails, mail and everything that has my name on it. The same goes for me opening her email, mail etc. She can use my cellular phone and everything on it.
    We are suppose to become ONE when we enter marriage and there aren’t to be any secrets between us. We don’t have to wait till an affair occurs to be open to each other, that is not what God intended for the marriage when He said the two shall become ONE. One in every sense is the main issue. This openness has lead to me telling my wife that I have feeling for another woman and temptations, so that there wasn’t room for an affair to start.
    Openness in everything, how ugly it may be, is the key to a ONENESS in marriage.

    1. J

      Indeed! I was discussing with a friend today at lunch that this openness should occur in all marriages. My husband could sit down at this laptop and open every file I have. I have nothing to hide here. Same for him.

      I don’t stalk my husband by checking up on him every moment, but we check in with each other because we care and share. Great reminder about ONENESS in marriage!

  5. BetterChick

    Infidelity is such a difficult situation to overcome, but it IS possible. The best recommendation I could offer is to immediately seek help from a Christian couples therapist or sex therapist so that further damage isn’t done to the relationship. To find a Christian Sex Therapist, start by looking at the website sexualwholeness.com. There is a link to the American Board of Christian Sex Therapists (ABSCT), which has a button to find a therapist in your area. If none is listed, contact administrators at the website for referrals. If you simply cannot go to a therapist, try the book Shattered Vows, by Deb Laaser.

    1. J

      Thanks for sharing resources, BetterChick! I am familiar with the Sexual Wholeness folks, but haven’t read the book Shattered Vows. I will check it out.

  6. Anonymous

    I have a couple that goes to my church that are in their mid-late 30s. The husband had an affair about 4 years ago when his wife was about 8 months pregnant. I was not there for the healing work they did intimately and with the pastor, etc, however, I am witness to the fact that they are NOW the most loving and honest seeming couple I know. I recently got married myself, and for years I have looked at them as an example for what I wanted. The husband semi-publicly announced his fault, stepped down from all church leadership activities, etc, and then made it obvious that his goal was to reconcile with his wife. Before them, I wasn’t sure that a marriage could comeback from an affair…but after them, I am more confident than ever that a marriage can come back from anything, if the partners are willing to ask for forgiveness, work for forgiveness, and forgive.

    1. J

      Thanks for sharing their story. I also know a couple who came back from an affair stronger than ever. It is beautiful to see what God can redeem when hearts are willing.

  7. Anonymous

    My husband had an affair. My husband claims he “fell in love” with the other woman. He has promised it was over more than once. He has blocked her on his phone and on facebook, only to unblock her. They work in tandem professions and see each other at least a couple of times a month. Neither seems willing to change jobs, or at least locations. I used to have the password to his email, but he’s now changed that. He used to just open up new accounts without my knowledge. He gave me the passcode to his iphone, but he never leaves it unattended. He has gotten really good about deleting everything immediately anyway; there’d be nothing for me to find. He doesn’t seem to be willing to earn my trust again. He doesn’t see anything wrong with porn. In fact, I had surgery recently and was unable to participate in that department. His answer: a porn dvd borrowed from a friend.

    But… even though he has broken several of his marriage vows – and the Bible says I can divorce him for this, I don’t want a divorce. I have children to think about. I don’t want to be a single parent. I don’t want my homeschooled children to suffer changes of losing a parent, moving, and going to school as their mother has to return to work. Quite frankly, however selfish this sounds, I don’t want to start all over again. I don’t want my family to know how he has hurt me, and the children. I know there will be people who read this and will think I’m a fool or call me stupid. But starting over and hurting my children is NOT something I want to do. But then I think, how am I going to get through this? How am I actually going to do it?

    I bookmarked Julie’s post, so I can check out the resources that she lists. I am going to continue to seek God and pray. That’s all I can do right now.

    1. J

      You are certainly not alone in your position, as many women have put up with infidelity to keep their family intact. My impression is that you checking up on him isn’t going to work. My #1 suggestion above presumes that the offending spouse acknowledges the betrayal and wants to rectify it.

      I don’t think you are a fool or stupid, but I do wonder if you might find yourself alone at some point anyway. He can certainly leave if he chooses. I believe you need to pray, seek out resources, and get some quality counseling from a professional who can help you establish boundaries and prepare yourself for whatever may come.

      Another story that breaks my heart. Your pain is palatable. I certainly have much to pray about this week, and you will be on my list. Blessings.

  8. John Wilder

    Sadly, too many churches and parents teach little girls that sex is bad, dirty and wrong and that good girls don’t do it. This often negatively impacts a woman for life causing her to have real ambivalence over her sexuality.

    Perhaps you might want to read my post entitled: Sex and The Bible, Surprising Sex Positive Messages. It is after all one of the big 3 that couples fight about. I say less fighting and more sex.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  9. Anonymous

    I discovered that my husband was having an affair with one of my best friends in October. My first reaction was to end the marriage since I could not imagine having a normal relationship after such violation of trust, but after I thought about it I decided to give him a second chance…mostly because we have 2 children and I did not want our family torn apart.

    There are so many emotions I went through after I discovered the affair. I cried uncontrollably. I’m not sure how I drove straight when I left that night because I was sobbing so hard. I couldn’t sleep, but I was so exhausted from being so emotionally drained. I sweat and I shook from anxiety. I was in a fog, hoping it was just a nightmare. My world was crashing around me.

    It is still so fresh and raw to me, but he doesn’t understand why it is taking me “so long” to get over it. (It has only been 4 1/2 months!) He says the affair is over (and I believe him) and we need to leave the past in the past and move on to the future. The harsh pain of his affair has forever altered our lives, and we have a long, hard journey to reconcile our marriage. It is not something that can or will happen quickly for me. I need time to grieve the loss of our marriage as it was before the affair, and process my pain. I try not to dwell on the bad memories, but whenever they come to my mind, I often feel neglected and unattractive. The negative thoughts ruin my feeling of self-worth. Sometimes just being around him reminds me of the pain he caused me. I know the scars from this will always remain, but I have confidence that the pain will subside and the affair will no longer define me as a person. I just wish there was a way to have him understand the depth of how badly he hurt me so that maybe he can better understand why I’m not “over it” yet…

    1. J

      I strongly suggest that someone else talk to your husband about this situation. You need a pastor, a counselor, or a close friend to explain to him how hurtful his actions have been. I recognize that it is extremely painful to be reminded of your sin over and over; most people do indeed want to get forgiveness and move on. But while forgiveness can happen quickly, rebuilding trust takes longer. However, it is worth every bit of effort to have a fabulous marriage.

      You may also need to seek counsel as you grieve. I love your statement that “the scars from this will always remain, but I have confidence that the pain will subside and the affair will no longer define me as a person.” The affair should not define you or your marriage in the long term.

      One final note on counseling: Not all counselors are the same. Like an auto mechanic, a doctor, or a hair stylist, take some time to find someone who is good and fits your needs. If a pastor or counselor isn’t helping or isn’t using a biblical approach, find someone who will.

      My prayers for you.

  10. Anonymous

    Lord, my heart hurts for all these stories, I too am one. I never imagined in all my life my husband could cheat on me. It was almost a year ago I found evidence, and we have had our ups and downs, mostly downs, but I am leaning on my God who knew this would happen and.is there in the darkest days. All I can do is pray for my husband that he will open up and we can grow back together and be stronger than “before”. I hope to be one of “those couples,” we have too much love and history to give up. Neither of us have been thru this before, so I hope blogs like this can help. Thanks J!

    1. J

      Oh my goodness. Your stories represent yourselves and many others as well, I’m sure. Indeed, the betrayal of an affair bring such deep sorrow.

      I’ll be praying for your marriage as well! Leaning on God is a wonderful plan. One of my favorites verses is Isaiah 43:2 where God reassures us that He will walk with us through those tough times.

  11. Christy

    Oh how my heart hurts for those who have gone through this. Satan wants you so badly to harbor anger, self doubt, a feeling of worthlessness, etc. But God wants to restore and bless your marriage still. Satan wants you to be a statistic; God wants you to be an example, a light. Obedience in the midst of betrayal is so hard and almost feel smothering but God DOES NOT view this as the “cardinal sin.” He can and will restore your marriage. I know this is his desire is for us; to take back our marriages, our churches, our families. To survive and be survivors and then use all that energy that is sometimes misplaced to bless other marriages and raise up new ones in him.

  12. Paul Byerly

    J –
    Thanks for “However, an affair usually (not always) occurs when needs are going unmet in the marriage.”

    Statements like that take a lot of heat, but I think there is a great deal of truth in that. I won’t say it’s impossible, but people who are happy in their marriages just don’t have affairs. Being unhappy neither causes nor excuses an affair, but it does make an affair far more likely. This makes the affair the symptom, and if all you treat is the symptom, the problem is still there.

  13. Anonymous

    I have just come across this blog…and, oh man! My heart breaks at every story…but yet I am encouraged. It’s happened to me too.

    It’s a month ago that I found out that a year ago my husband was unfaithful – it has resulted in a child. My world shook violently and a ton of emotions has ensued. It fortunately was a one off event but still, the betrayal had happened.

    I immediately got us to counselling and started to look at myself and the things that I had done/not done to contribute to a marriage where he felt undervalued.

    We are both committed to our marriage and made the commitment to each other to do whatever it takes to make it better than ever and to be more deeply in love than before we got married. It’s been an eye opening journey of four short weeks..and it’s only just begun. Every day I have to choose to love him and find ways to express that love.

    Sex has been hard…I cried a lot the first few times. But for me, crying is a release which I need.

    Forgiveness is vital and I’ve asked God to heal the hurt and the memory…and slowly it’s not having the hold on me.

    I know my marriage is worth the effort, I know my husband is worth the effort. It’s a long road which we are walking together.

  14. Abby

    I kinda of agree with TBright (going to use a few of your words.)

    When Two Become One…

    God says that in marriage, two become one. I don’t think that is very true. I believe now-a-days, people are getting married for the wrongs reasons or better yet, reasons that don’t even exist yet in the engagement phase. There are so many reasons to get married: love, security, money (lol), sex, family, etc. Some women marry to not be alone and hope that the men they love will change eventually only to realize that being married DOES NOT make him change. Some men marry to not be alone and hope that the women they love will love, honor and cherish them for the rest of their lives and have sex anytime only to realize that being married does not secure that for your future.

    We are suppose to become ONE when we enter marriage and there are not suppose to be any secrets between the two. Why is then that we cannot tell our husbands what makes us feel good during sex? Why can’t we talk about the little things that make for a big marriage? Why are we still so insecure about ourselves that we keep that insecurity from our husbands and wives?

    I say again…

    We are suppose to become ONE when we enter marriage and there aren’t to be any secrets between us. Why then do we seem to all have to wait till an affair in the marriage occurs to be open to each other, that is not what God intended for the marriage when He said the two shall become ONE. One in every sense is the main issue. I have read so many stories, articles, books about affairs and why they happen and what to do about them. The same thing is written over and over again. A couples marriage gets better and spectacular after an affair occurs. Again I ask, why does it take an affair, to almost loosing your partner to another, for a husband and wife to be open, honest and extrememly loving to each other? This is a factor I will never understand.

    1. J

      Well put. I just want to clarify one thing: Most marriages DO NOT become “better and spectacular after an affair occurs.” Most of them fall apart entirely. It’s a scant percentage of marriages who can weather this storm and make it through, although I believe that nothing is impossible with God. And when you both start living out marriage as God intended, the relationship will get better. Thanks!

  15. Redeeming Love

    I was just on here looking for a way to contact you with this exact question! I came across your blog just a few weeks ago. This is such a difficult circumstance to find oneself in. My husband of 13 years had a month long affair just seven months ago. The day he confessed, God clearly told me to show him grace. We are working hard to find restoration. While I am not the perfect wife (because let’s face it, we are all imperfect people!), my husband says there was no reason for his affair, other than getting caught up in sin. He says he was happy in our marriage and loved me. We were (are) bi-vocational missionaries and were both serving in our church. He said he let his pride get in the way, quit reading his bible and praying, thus giving satan a prime opportunity. He confessed in front of our church and immediately quit his job and cut off all contact with her. We are working towards ministry again, as we still feel God wants to use us as full time overseas missionaries. But it is hard. Intimacy after his initial confession was easier than it is now, 7 months later. I think it’s important for both of us, though, to be intimate often, because it helps build that bond back. He assures me he does not think of her. I think we as women have such a difficult time understanding how he could not think of her during sex, but it’s because men and women are wired so differently. Men compartmentalize things and are only focused on what is happening at the exact moment in time. My advice would be for couples to try as best as you can to continue being intimate with one another (after checking for STDs), begin praying and reading your bible together if you don’t already. It’s not easy, but I believe by the grace of God He will restore and redeem all that satan tried to steal.

    1. J

      Bless you for sharing your story! I can’t imagine the hurt you felt at that revelation, but I am so pleased that you two are restoring your marriage and your intimacy. I am saying a prayer for your healing…right now. “Dear Lord…”

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