My Spouse Doesn’t Want To Have Sex While We’re Working It Out After His Affair

By: Katie Lersch: I sometimes hear from couples who disagree about when (or even if) to have sex when they are trying to recover from infidelity.  Sometimes, I hear from the faithful spouse who is confused and upset that the cheating spouse isn’t trying to have sex with them.  They will often wonder if this means that he is no longer sexually attracted to them and if this is the reason that he cheated in the first place.  Sometimes, the faithful spouse will confess that they suspect he’s not made any overtures because he might not be able to perform due to a lack of attraction.  I often hear comments like: “my husband told me about the affair and asked for my forgiveness.  I told him that I would try my best to recover from this and I intend to make good on that. But in the meantime, he doesn’t want to have sex with me.  This hurts me.  I asked him why he’s doing this and he says he doesn’t think we should add sex into the mix while we are trying to recover and that it would only confuse things.  But I worry that this is because he’s not turned on by me.”

On the other side of the coin, I sometimes hear from the cheating spouse who is frustrated that the faithful spouse doesn’t want to pick up their sex life where it left off.  I often hear comments like “my wife said she would try to get over my affair.  But she refuses to be intimate with me.  She says that she just has not yet reached the point where she would be comfortable with this.  She says that we need to restore our marriage first.  I disagree and think that sex is one way that we can bond and begin healing our marriage.  Who is right?” I’ll try to sort out this argument below.

Why Sex Is Sometimes The Central Issue After An Affair: Sex can be a serious point of contention after an affair.  In fact, it can sometimes be the main issue about which the couple just can’t disagree.  Being intimate again can cause all sorts of conflicting feelings and doubts.  After all, at the heart of an affair is the fact that the cheating spouse was having sex with someone else.  So it’s nearly impossible for both people not to have this in the back of their minds as they think about resuming their sex life.  There are all sorts of worries about whether the chemistry will be there, whether things will feel awkward, and whether the whole thing will just be a disaster that indicates that your marriage may never recover.  That’s why I tend to agree that it is best to wait for a little while.   I will go into this further below.

Why Sex Can Just Confuse Things, Especially In The Beginning:  This might surprise you, but it’s actually pretty common for a couple to have sex very soon after the affair is found out.  There are many theories about this but most agree that this happens because you want affirmation that there is still a chance for your marriage and it’s also possible that the affair has shown you just how vulnerable you are.

And some will admit afterward that surprisingly, the sex was actually quite good.  But sometimes, when the dust settles, there can be confusion or regret.  The cheating spouse might think that the sex meant that all has been forgiven and then he will be confused when suddenly the wife shows anger or sadness shortly afterward.  Or perhaps, the faithful spouse starts thinking about the betrayal and feels a little taken advantage of.  She may begin to ask herself what he’s done to deserve this intimacy when they haven’t even yet begun to rebuild.

So while it’s understandable to hope that sex can fix things, it usually becomes evident pretty quickly that it can’t.  Yes, it’s a nice way to reconnect and it can relieve some tension and affirm your attraction and connection, but you will still need to identify and then address the many issues that come up in your marriage when it is wracked by infidelity.  And yes, sex can confuse or even delay this process.  And that’s why when one spouse suggests that you wait to have sex until you make progress on your marriage, they are usually not making an excuse.  In fact, they are usually just looking out for your marriage because they don’t want to do anything that is going to make success less likely.

The Right Time To Start Having Sex Again Varies By The Couple: Some people actually tell me that they are easily able to separate their sex life from the health of their marriage.  In other words, they can have sex in the morning, hash out the issues that stem from the affair over dinner, and then be completely fine around each other by nightfall.  I envy these couples, but this wasn’t my reality. For many people, sex is tied in with your emotions and with feelings of being valued and feeling safe.  It’s difficult for many to have sex with their spouse when there are serious outstanding issues. If this is the case for you, I would suggest waiting until you make enough progress to feel comfortable.  Because you don’t want to add in any additional troubles when you already have enough on your plate.

I would also encourage any spouse who wants to have sex but who is being told to be patient to do just that.  You don’t want to force this on your reluctant spouse.  Instead, you want for it to be right.  My rule of thumb on this is often to try to wait until it’s obvious that the time is right and that you are both more than comfortable and willing.  Otherwise, it’s just not worth adding in yet another potential conflict or awkward situation when you still have some healing to do.

I am glad that my husband and I waited until we just couldn’t wait anymore.  This was a good indicator that the time was right and if we had rushed the process, I suspect that it would have been a disaster.  If it helps, you can read about our recovery on my blog

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