Building intimacy after infidelity is a bumpy road.
So much has been lost, so much has been broken. Thinking about trusting your spouse again seems terrifying. Which makes sense by their actions in the past.
I have seen many women jump to having sex with their husbands post-infidelity with the belief that, surely, this will fix things. While, it does put an extremely temporary bandaid on the situation, jumping into bed as the first step to rebuilding intimacy usually lands us in more trauma and hurt.
There is something called the Relationship Attachment Model. It is a tool that I use in my counseling office.
Essentially, the Relationship Attachment Model or R.A.M. lays out the way in which a relationship builds in a healthy way and I think we can all learn from it, even after a betrayal.
There are five portions to this model: know, trust, rely, commit, and sexual intimacy. The second one listed builds off of the first one and so on. Meaning that sexual intimacy in a healthy relationship is the LAST way to connect with one another, not the first.
If one of the portions has not completely happened before the next, there will be issues moving forward.
Getting to know someone is the very first step in any relationship. This creates a bond and helps us to capture the character of the person we are getting to know.
If we jump ahead of this step (sleeping together on the first date for example), we are throwing out the foundation of which any healthy relationship needs to have.
Now, I know this stage is not an easy one after betrayal. That said, it can be done!
When there hasn’t been betrayal, trust builds as you get to know one another on deeper and deeper levels, but once again not quite yet at sexual intimacy.
When there has been betrayal, trust gets built back up by the betrayer. The betrayed spouse NEEDS to look at actions in this phase, not words. At this point, the words coming from the person that committed the infidelity don’t really mean too much unless there is tangible action to back them up.
Also, I want to note that the betrayed spouse in this stage is going to ask questions, wonder about actions, and want to see tangible evidence of truth because their brains have been through trauma and now are seeking the safety that allows their brains and bodies to have some relief from hypervigilance.
After trust is built, or rebuilt (which can take quite a while after betrayal), reliance upon one another grows too! This is done through meeting the needs of one another.
I want to make sure you don’t misunderstand me here, I am not saying that a spouse needs to have all the sex to meet the “needs” of someone struggling with sexual addiction. That is like giving more beer to an alcoholic.
What I am saying is that, as both partners become healthy, meeting each other’s needs outside of the bedroom is a vital piece to building intimacy in the relationship. Intimacy meaning emotional and spiritual intimacy.
Now, as a married couple, this should have already been happening. However, after infidelity, this needs to be readdressed.
Feeling belonging in a relationship allows us to have a deep level of commitment to one another. AGAIN, don’t misunderstand this. The betrayed spouse is NEVER responsible for the actions of the betrayer.
What this stage means after betrayal is that both partners, while becoming healthy, can come to a place of recommitment, of feeling like they belong to one another in marriage.
5. SEXUAL INTIMACY
After all of the other stages are doing well (also realizing that it takes quite a while after betrayal to be able to say that), sexual intimacy is the icing on the cake.
I have seen, in general, that when couples are at the point of wanting to become healthier in their sexual encounters with one another, they don’t really know what that looks like because they have been relating sex with their partner to porn or some other unhealthy modeling.
If that is the case, there is a great exercise called Sensate Focused Therapy.
It is a useful tool that lays out steps week by week to slowly reintegrate sexual intimacy in the marriage. It teaches the couple to talk to one another, to be vulnerable, and to share in various ways of being touched and held.
If you have an interest in that therapy, please ask your counselor as they can help you through that process. There are so many ways to be intimate with your partner outside of the bedroom that enable you to have a healthier inside-the-bedroom experience.
Overall, the aftermath of infidelity is horrific and incredibly tough. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is possible to rebuild and have an even better marriage than you could have ever imagined!
I lived it, it is possible.