When Infidelity Leads to Sexual Dysfunction – Guest Post from Dr. Tammy Nelson

Many couples are choosing to stay in a marriage after an affair, for a variety of reasons.

A cheating partner may not have to mean the end of the relationship.   Getting over an affair can take time, insight and empathy.  But with negotiation of a new beginning and erotic recovery, couples can create a new future, together.

Post-Affair Recovery

The 3 Phases of Post-Affair Recovery

For these couples who want to make their marriage work, there are three phases of recovery. The first is the Crisis phase, where the focus is on establishing safety and addressing painful feelings. Sometimes you have great sex during this time and sometimes you need distance.  Either way, give yourself time to get through the crisis. This will pass.

The second phase of recovery is the Insight phase.  During this time, couples begin to talk about how the affair happened, start to find new common ground and may begin the process of erotic recovery.  Discussions about sexual issues from the past, new kinds of erotic connection, and fantasies that each might want to try going forward all start to happen during the Insight phase.  Sex begins to change.

There can be erotic challenges in the Insight Phase.  Sexual performance can suffer.  Some may experience erectile dysfunction, orgasmic difficulties, and sexual desire can go up and down, sometimes day to day.  You may feel unevenly matched in how much sex you each want or need.  You could be using sex as a way to feel closer, or to control your partner, to make sure they don’t leave you.

Hopefully you can find a way to talk about how you are feeling about your sex life and your sexual performance.  Don’t use sex as a competition, or as a way to manipulate your spouse.  Many times that only causes stress and an inability to perform.

The third phase of recovery is when you each, together, create a new Vision for your relationship.

Creating a new monogamy agreement you begin to negotiate a deeper and more satisfying marriage, perhaps even as a result of the affair.   Some couples say during this phase that the affair may be the best thing that could have happened to their sex lives.

Hurdles Many Couples Face

Yet the relationship can still be vulnerable to the stresses of the erotic trauma that an affair can leave behind.  The indiscretion of the unfaithful partner can live in between you, and if both spouses, regardless if the couple is male and female, are not able to shift into erotic recovery, some sexual dysfunction is bound to occur.

The number one reason that sexual dysfunction happens to any one is anxiety.  And anxiety can happen at any time. Anxiety is really fear; fear of something that has not happened yet or fear of something that has already happened that may be affecting you in the moment.  But anxiety is free floating – it wanders around in our imaginations until it finds something to latch itself onto – and when it does it can affect how we function physically – and sexually.

If anxiety comes between you and your partner in the bedroom, it could be manifesting as sexual dysfunction.  Erectile dysfunction effects over 40% of all men at some point and those numbers may be much higher in relationships when there has been an affair.

Your fears may be making you feel inadequate; perhaps you are comparing yourself to the outside affair partner.  Or maybe you are doubting your marriage, wondering if your partner still desires you.  Every fear a person can have is triggered after the disclosure or discovery of an affair.  This can lead to insecurity and sexual dysfunction in bed.  Insecurity can make it difficult to become aroused, or to achieve an orgasm, or simply lower desire for sex.

Moving Forward

If this happens, there are antidotes. Cognitive behavioral and sex therapy interventions for anxiety can decrease the patterns that create the stuck ideas that your mind creates, which lead to those dysfunctional behaviors.  Neurological pathways in your brain, like deer paths in the woods, can be re-written.  You can learn to change your fears and reduce your anxiety.

Anxiety is simply a fear in your mind based on a story you make up. The more anxious you are the worse the fear can become.  And that fear can hijack your sexuality.

The anxiety cycle of sexual dysfunction goes something like this:

“I am afraid because I can’t get an erection,” which then causes erectile dysfunction which then makes it difficult to get an erection, and then creates anxiety about the next time, etc.

Or,

“I won’t be able to reach orgasm; I am taking too long.”    And because I am afraid, it is difficult to relax during sex, which makes it physically impossible to have an orgasm.  And next time we have sex I am afraid it will happen again, which causes it to happen, etc.

Anxiety spirals are not failures.  They are momentary emotional states that are expressed through your sexual performance.

Instead of letting your anxiety control your sexual performance, anxiety could be a sign that you have been triggered by something that has thrown you– temporarily – back into the Crisis phase.  You won’t be back here forever. Remember, these phases of recovery are temporary.

Instead, look at this as a sign that it is time to talk with your partner about your feelings.   Let them know you are temporarily feeling unsettled, but that these feelings will pass, and you may need reassurance from them to help you get back on track so that you can work on your erotic recovery together.

A Real-Life Example

Recently, Rob and Sarah were in my office for a session.  Rob had cheated on Sarah for about three months with another woman.  When Sarah found out, she asked Rob to stop, and he ended the affair.  Sarah wanted to work on their sex life, which she admitted had been dull if not lifeless before Rob began the affair.  They planned a sex date once a week and began the reconnection process, meeting on their date to slowly revisit and practice a more connected, erotic life between them.

However, Sarah said it had not been going as planned. Every time she tried to make love to Rob, she felt herself stiffen and she would push him away.

“It’s like I have vaginismus,” she said.  Vaginismus is a dysfunction where the vagina tightens of its own volition to the point where nothing can be inserted without pain to the woman.  There can be painful spasms and contractions when there is any type of contact or pressure, and intercourse can be almost impossible.

I asked Sarah to share with Rob, the end of this sentence stem,

“My fear is….”

She said to Rob, “My fear is that you will make love to me and realize you don’t really love me, now that you have been with someone else.”

He was able to hear that this was a fear of hers and I asked him to share with her his fear and anxiety.

He said, “My fear is that I won’t be able to satisfy you sexually.  We are getting older, we married later in life, and maybe I won’t be hard enough or last long enough for you. And I just want to please you.”

She was surprised that this was his concern.  She had no idea that he was worried about sex and aging.

For many couples, the affair may not be the issue that creates the sexual dysfunction, but the sexual dysfunction may have been the reason for the affair.

Conclusion

Talking about your fears and anxiety and sharing with your partner how you feel when you are worried about how things are going in your erotic recovery can lead to a stronger, more connected relationship, regardless of an affair or where you are in your marriage.

Try some of the tips in this article, and read my book, The New Monogamy, for further tips on how to have a conversation to create a new monogamy agreement after infidelity and create a sexual and passionate marriage that works.

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Written by: Dr. Tammy Nelson

Tammy Nelson, PhD is a Certified and Licensed Sex and Relationship therapist specializing in marriage and monogamy issues, eroticism, as well as recovery from infidelity and affairs. She works with addiction, online affairs, divorce, and LGBTQ issues.She is the author of several books including, The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity, Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together and What's Eating You? A Workbook for Anorexia and Bulimia. Her eBooks include Six Weeks to Desire. Dr. Nelson has been a featured expert in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, RedBook, MSNBC, Shape, Men's Health, Woman's Day, Women's Health, Self, Glamour Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone Magazine and a source inTime Magazine. She is also on the Advisory Board for Men's Fitness Magazine. She writes forHuffington Post, YourTango, and Psychotherapy Networker.

12 comments

  1. Everybody tells us affair sex is the greatest. Sure a cheating spouse may say it was bad after their two year affair is discovered. They say that to not hurt their spouse. Who in their right mind would take back a wife after that? Your always going to be reminded your never going to be on their fantasy level. Your never going to be able to compete with her lust for the other man and how he made her scream. You want that eating at you for years? Face it, your always going to compete with her memories of that “greatest sex”. It’s best to cut and run. I didn’t. Four years later I still have flashbacks. Depression. I have electric shocks when I try and sleep. I read all her text messages where she said how great he was. Then she tells me he sucked. I’ve been lied to for years. Insecure? You bet. Humiliating? You bet. MC just made it worse. Counselor stuck up for her. Oh poor her. She was sucked in by a narcissist. What a load of BS. Cut and run. Save your mind and your life. Everyday I wake up and curse cause I didn’t die in my sleep. I hate my life.

    • I know is hard to be betrayed but you need to move on and don’t let your thoughts distroy who you are. Fight fo yourself . That’s so many ways to do sex and when there’s love involved there is nothing better

  2. This has just happened to me, last week I had a thought that my wife was cheating, I tracked her and found her, what I found disgusts me she was completely naked and straddled on top of him – him being a man that she met at the Gym, she said that she didn’t want him and was unsure that she would go around to see him, but after only 30mins she was all over him like a rash, I saw this through the window with curtains open in a downstairs flat. I banged on the window and they stopped. My wife came straight out and said that she did not want to hurt me. Then why!!! She had the choice she decided to take the wrong direction! I have asked many questions and she said that they never actually had sex, they kissed and explored each other bodies, If I did not show up they would have finished want they had started. It has left me feeling humiliated insecure and with erectile dysfunction. I still love my wife of 20 years but am so unsure about the future. Why do women cheat and think that its acceptable, why lie. I am showing a hard shell but am completely destroyed inside and for no other reason than a cheap fling. I wish my life had ended that night.

    • Men and women cheat for whatever reason, Could be selfishness, no efforts on someone part, could be illness, no communication, it also could be that one is only thinking about their needs and not their partner. She was wrong for lying about you on what she did with the guy, but let’s be honest you caught her cheating and when you ask her how was it with him, show knows you are hurt so by saying it wasn’t good or it was bad, etc she did it to not hurt your feelings even more and she not want to feel even worse. When a person cheats is more lust, excitement, etc. Sorry you are going through this.

    • How are y’all doing now

    • My husband has cheated on me and the only time he can get it up and have sex with me is when he is cheating, I feel like shit and depressed all the time, I still love him but how am I supposed to get over this when I feel like crap and I’m angry all the time, I have to play with myself and that is boring, I want a human touch, I know if I did what he has done just recently it would hurt him, but he wasn’t even thinking about me or how it would hurt me, sometimes I just feel like dying or running away and hiding forever

  3. acephanthom via gmail

    Do you know you can get proof of infidelity?
    Do you know you can get the peace of mind you deserve?

  4. I recently caught my husband of 30 years sexting with another woman. He genuinely seems sorry and says he wants us to work this out. But now he is having trouble keeping an erection with me. Before I found out about the seating we always had great sex and were having more than the normal amount in the last 5-6 months. I don’t understand why and he says he doesn’t either. This has never been a problem with him before.

    • Hi kelly, I discovered the same thing in feb and my husband now also can’t keep an erection. I’m guessing he’s not interested in me that way anymore.

  5. My husband had a sexual affair 23 years ago and I knew it and confronted him. I insisted I knew he was cheating at the time but he insisted he was not having the affair. He convinced me to let it go. So I did. The affair was with a coworker and was short lived as he quit his job. So the conversation stopped. I knew in my heart he lied but I forgave him and dropped it. 23 years later he told me that he had to confess and tell me that he slept with several women. I went into sexual goddess mode. He is mostly impotent and it is extremely difficult to get a rise out of him and we haven’t had vaginal sex since his confession. We have been married 43 years. I am extremely disappointed and feel strongly about consummating our marriage and we cant. I am not doing so well and feeling our marriage is doomed. I feel like there is more that he needs to confess. So with that I feel like our bed is filled with lies, secrets, unspoken truths and other women and that it is not my bed and it is too crowded now. Therefore I am sleeping in the guestroom. And he is not insisting that I sleep with him.

  6. Unfortunately, infidelity can permanently ruin many relationships. Your advice on how overcome the emotional and sexual problems. will be very beneficial to many couples.

  7. My wife of 16 years and been together 21 years just recently had a affair while I was away on business for three weeks. She told me that she was letting our friend and his pregnant wife stay with us who just became homeless and also had a friend with them too. I had told her that I didn’t want them in my house because they were drug addicts and she had a big problem with drugs previously that we had just overcome together and I didn’t want her tempted by them. It turned out that she had moved them in two days before she asked and had sex with the guy that was with her friends that she had just met. After I got home I met him and I didn’t know anything about what happened until one month later but during that period of time I could feel that something happened while I was away. We have a small house and have my mother staying with us so we live in the basement which is slightly larger than the rest of the house. So she had the pregnant girl and her boyfriend staying in our room along with their friend. It was weird we would party all together and he would fall asleep basically at the foot of my bed in a chair basically staring at me and my wife. I knew that something was wrong when my wife had a little too much one day and he completely freaked out while I knew she was fine he wanted to take her to the hospital. Then she started telling me how great of a guy he is and that he and I should be great friends and I should give him a chance. I felt funny about the whole thing and knew something had to be going on so I let them stay a another week and made them move out. After I started checking my wife’s phone and noticed texts being deleted and phone calls being deleted. Then after they were gone I over heard her on the phone saying that she missed him and needed to see him
    I caught and confronted her but she said he was just her friend. Then a week later she moved them all back into the house but over to the other side of the basement but still in our room ( turned out that they black mailed her into it). This was all during the month of December none the less. After he got to know me he felt guilty about what happened and kept trying to get her to tell me what happened and that he was in love with her also. So after them being here basically for three weeks more well three weeks before I came home then three more weeks. During that time she would start fights for no reason show little to no affection and very little sex (we usually have sex 3 to 4 times a week). Always on the phone or just ignoring me and deleting stuff. So after the first of the year we were all partying for a couple days and she started freaking out and slipped up. So I asked the pregnant girl if she had been cheating on me with this guy. The look on her face was proof enough for me what had happened when I was away. I confronted him about it and my wife from the top of the stairs started yelling at him to say that they didn’t have sex which was another tell. So we as in the pregnant girl her man and him all decided to leave because she was flipping out about it all. But after we had got to the store a few blocks away I had decided to go back home and talk. Well as I started back he came chasing me to come with me, I started talking to him about it and he denied that it had happened I told him that I didn’t care about it I just wanted to know. Because at the time the wife and I were in a bad place and I had been thinking about leaving her. I had told him this and still nothing, maybe he was scared of me physically or something to that extent. Upon returning home my wife was going ballistic about what happened and her being up and drinking and doing drugs for two days she thought that something was wrong with her physically and demanded that I take her to the hospital. While driving there she finally admitted to her sleeping with him. She got admitted for three days and during that time I had befriended him and the other guy. By the time she got home I had told them that they had to go now that they couldn’t black mail her anymore. I told her that he had told me everything that happened and she said that it was just the one time and that she was going to tell me about it but then they started black mailing her and she got scared. I told her that he told me everything and I wanted her version of it. It turned out that she had sex with him two days after she let them move in then 2 more times after that and that she had stripped for them and had him play with her on my bed and then masturbated in front of the other guy while his pregnant girlfriend slept a few feet away. When I had heard about all of what happened I completely freaked out and didn’t know what to say or do. We had been together for twenty years and never had any problems like this before. I forgave her and we started and are still working together on it as this just happened in December of 2019 and it’s now June of 2020. Mostly she said that she did it because she had thought that I was having sex with my twenty three year old neighbor who is very beautiful but I am forty one and am slightly overweight. But because she saw that she liked me and she had gone to her mother’s house for a month that past summer she assumed that I had started having sex with her. Because a few months before that she had told me about her having a affair with a coworker that was nineteen twelve years previously. She said that she had started to have feelings for him while he was in love with her so she had sex with him once and ended it. I had found texts at the time and she said that it was just internet talk so I let that go. So she thought that I was getting pay back for that, which I wasn’t honestly I don’t think that my neighbor would have done it unless she had some serious daddy issues. That and I couldn’t cheat on my wife anyway and have had more than one opportunity to do it I just couldn’t because of what I saw what happened with my parents and never wanted to put someone else through that. My wife and I started working on it after it happened, I guess you would call it the honeymoon phase, we had sex at least 50 of the next 60 days and it was all day and night events because we relapsed back on drugs and then we started having sex at least 5 days a week for the next 3 months and aren’t really slowing down. During that time though my penis has grown 3 inches in length and 1 and a half in girth. We don’t know why but she isn’t complaining about it. In some ways it was a good thing that it happened because we are closer than we have been in years. But also as much as I am in love with her I still feel betrayed and upset about how and why it happened because she is allergic to latex and didn’t use a condom at any point and she said that she had sex with him only once in the kitchen and twice in the bathroom. Because I wouldn’t be able to forgive her if she had sex in my bed I mean it’s bad enough he fingered her in my bed and stripped for him and the other guy. She also said that she almost slept with him also but the other guy being in love with her started crying and made him stop. But we are working together on this and we have more good days than bad days after this happened there are things that I should have not done like asking for more details about what and how they had sex because when I do some of the same things with her I wonder if he did it better or different. Apparently all the times that they had sex it totaled about 10 minutes because he’s a minute man, and they both told me that after the first time she told him that my penis was way bigger and I was better than he was and she was just doing it for spite of what she thought happened. But we are happily married and not planning on getting a divorce and hopefully I will get over all of this and keep having sex 4 to 5 times a week for now until we get to old to get to.

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