Restoring Sexual Intimacy After an Affair, Part 3 — Setbacks and Hurts

Couples who are rebuilding physical and emotional intimacy after an affair deserve a lot of respect for the courageous work they are doing each and every day, towards individual healing and healing the relationship. The Story of Us now has some very pain-filled chapters. Setbacks and hurts can seem to undo all of the good that the couple is doing. The frustration, hurt and other painful, forceful emotions caused by setbacks and hurts can put one or both partners into a fight-or-flight response, or even create a stunned “deer in the headlights” reaction. But individuals and marriages do have the ability to recover from follow-up setbacks. The following are some typical setbacks to healing after an affair. All of them can affect the desire, arousal and climax phases of emotional intimacy. 1. You want to go to couples therapy, but your spouse refuses to go. The spouse who had the affair might refuse on the grounds that the therapist will take sides against him/her. Another reason can be that a partner is holding a secret about money, work, substances, or a lie that has been told. The spouse who didn’t have the affair might be feeling like a “loser”, or “ugly”, is worried that the therapist will want her to talk about what he/she might have done to contribute to the affair happening. Refusing to go to couples therapy could be about power and control, it could be about revenge, or it could be about not being in love any more. As important as couples therapy is at a time like this, it is vastly more important to get to know your partner’s heart better. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, try asking your partner how she/he felt inside when you suggested going to couples therapy. If they are willing to explain, then listen to their whole answer and thank them for being willing to talk about it. A list of emotion words, available at

statement/, accessible on any mobile device, could be helpful for your partner. Go to therapy on your own, and invite your spouse to join you. 2. You and your spouse have warped perceptions. What is beautiful, such as your body, might seem ugly. What was joyful, such as being together sexually, now feels sad, or stressful. A marriage that was once full of exciting possibilities, now feels like a trap or a jail. Warped perceptions are often the result of trauma. The trauma of learning about the affair, or the shock of being suddenly exposed in an affair, can even touch on childhood traumas. Couples therapy, particularly Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, can be a very effective treatment for trauma, and for rebuilding your marriage after an affair. The book “Hold Me Tight”, by Susan Johnson, describes how EFT works. 3. Recurring thoughts about the intruder. You can’t stop imagining your spouse and the intruder doing things together. You imagine them sharing an elegant meal at a restaurant, having sex, or enjoying long intimate conversations. The partner who had the affair may be thinking about the things they did together, but may try to hide in these thoughts. Both partners can feel very shut out. Reach out to your partner with touch or words when you think about the intruder. You don’t have to talk about the thoughts unless you want to; you can talk about any topic, or simply reach out with touch. It is healthy to process these thoughts with a therapist. 4 . Forgiveness seems far, far away, even impossible. The hurt just seems too big to ever get past, and too much about your marriage has been damaged by the affair. The pressure to forgive quickly is a symptom of our high-speed post-modern age. We would like to microwave everything!

Forgiveness is a process, and can’t be rushed. Use this time to get resourced on the subject of forgiveness. Books such as “How Can I Forgive You?” and “After the Affair”, by Janis Abrams Spring can help you to organize your thoughts around forgiveness. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, without judgment. Emotion is a teacher. Forgiveness accesses the spiritual part of a person, allowing you to regain a sense of personal meaning. Nurture your spiritual life at this time, by reading wisdom literature, engaging in prayer, meditation, and yoga, and by consulting with a spiritual mentor if you have one. The healing of sexual intimacy is tied in with these setbacks, but in a different way for each couple, and each person. The body, heart and meaning all work together in the process of recovering from the affair. About the author Judith B. Fujimura, M.A., received her B.A. with a major in Psychology and a minor in Sociology from Bucknell University in 1983. She received her M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy and Human Development from the University of Connecticut in 1985. Judy has her office in Princeton, NJ 08540. To know more about Judy, visit her website,

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