6 Approaches to Rebuilding Intimacy After Infidelity

A woman lounges in bed in sexy sleepwear while her partner scrolls through his phone in a couple that needs to rebuild intimacy after infidelity

Trust is understandably damaged after cheating, but there are ways for couples to rebuild intimacy after infidelity

Key takeaways:

  • Betrayal in a relationship can spark all sorts of feelings, including grief, anger, sadness, and anxiety.

  • Following an affair, a couple will be faced with the difficult decision of moving forward together or now.

  • Discernment counseling can help you make healthy relationship decisions, including whether or not to stay together.

  • Intimacy can be recovered after infidelity, but it takes time and commitment from both partners.

  • It’s okay to ask questions about the affair, and your partner should respond with honesty and transparency.

  • Erotic recovery, a three-step process outlined by Dr. Tammy Nelson, is a practice that can help couples recover from an affair.

  • Commit to spending time doing enjoyable activities together to start rebuilding trust and safety.

  • Don’t rush forgiveness, so that once it’s extended, you aren’t tempted to take it back later.

An affair is devastating for many reasons. The betrayal it causes can spark all sorts of feelings, including grief, anger, sadness, and anxiety. The trust that you and your partner worked so hard to build is now destroyed. It may feel like it’s impossible to get it back. Well-meaning friends and family may urge you to leave the relationship, and spout platitudes like “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”

Following an affair, it’s important to decide if you want to continue to work on the relationship. Discernment counseling can help you (and your partner) make healthy decisions about whether or not to stay together. Ambiguity only hinders the healing process, so it’s important to be an active participant in deciding to stay or go.

If you decide to stay in the relationship, it’s important to know that intimacy can be recovered after infidelity. Healing the relationship will take commitment and dedication from both partners, though. Here are six ways to recover intimacy after infidelity.

Don’t blame yourself

The news of an affair can lead to you experiencing painful thoughts about yourself and your role in your partner’s life. You may even begin to blame yourself for their infidelity and question your attractiveness or worth. Recognize that you are not responsible for how your partner chooses to show up – or not show up –the relationship.

Your feelings are valid

Recognize that your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid. You’re entitled to feel hurt, angry, and sad. Avoid labeling your emotions as negative or “bad.” It’s okay to explore them on a deeper level. Don’t feel pressure to resolve them immediately; instead, approach them with gentle curiosity.

Ask questions; be honest

You probably have many questions about the affair, and there are some that you’ll need to know the answer to right away, such as if it was physical/sexual, if there’s a risk of pregnancy, how long the relationship lasted, and if there was a significant financial investment. Your partner needs to be honest and transparent, especially if you two are trying to move forward. It’s not a good idea to bombard your partner with questions continually but having open, honest conversations where you get the answers you deserve is key.

The three phases of erotic recovery

Sex and intimacy can become understandably complex after a deep betrayal. Dr. Tammy Nelson says that erotic recovery is a three-stage process. It’s a transformative practice that examines the emotional, physical, and intimate needs of your relationship. Trust, safety, and comfort are prioritized in this process. The phases include:

  1. The crisis phase: Most people operate from the crisis phase in the early stages of discovering an affair. You may feel emotionally volatile and have intrusive thoughts about the affair. You might want to demand details of it constantly. Conflict and arguments may be frequent at this stage. It’s also not uncommon for partners in crisis to experience a heightened sexual attraction to each other during this time, which can be further confusing. This is a normal response that is known as “mate guarding” in the animal kingdom. Others may disconnect sexually, finding the thought of intimacy absolutely unbearable due to the amount of overwhelming anger and sadness they feel.

  2. The insight phase: In the insight phase, you move away from obsessing over the details and placing blame, instead becoming curious about why and how this happened. Couples therapy is highly recommended in this phase – a therapist can help couples explore the reasons behind infidelity. Having empathy can help couples better understand each other and their behaviors. In this phase, you may begin to have hope that your relationship can be salvaged.

  3. The vision phase: During the vision phase, it’s time to envision what your new future will look like. Ignoring the erotic part of your relationship and focusing only on conflict avoidance and management will ultimately leave you dissatisfied and sexually frustrated with each other.

The process of erotic recovery takes a lot of work and is something that is actively practiced. Choosing to commit to erotic recovery is a decision that you will need to make daily.

Commit to date nights – and sex, when you’re ready

As you and your partner begin to rebuild the relationship, it’s important to commit to spending time together doing enjoyable activities. Date nights are encouraged and so is sex, when you feel ready for it. Your partner should recognize that it may take time for you to want to engage sexually and to accept this and center your comfort and safety during any sexual encounters. Work your way up to sex by kissing, touching, and holding, which help to start slowly building physical safety again.

Finding forgiveness

Moving toward forgiveness is usually a non-linear process. It’s best if you don’t pressure yourself to forgive your partner before you’re truly ready, as doing so might cause you to take it back when you’re feeling threatened or powerless. Therapy can help you explore the process of forgiveness. Being intentional about extending it can help you truly mean it and move on.

Get support from a qualified, supportive therapist in the Miami area

Experiencing infidelity is painful and confusing. Having care from the right professionals can create a huge shift. Individual or joint therapy can help you and your partner heal your relationship following infidelity.

The team at Love Discovery is ready to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help facilitate healing within yourself and your interpersonal relationships, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling hesitant about how we can help? Call 786.571.4636 for a free 20-minute consultation.

We are here to help you improve your mental health and relationships and support you through this tough time.

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