We have spent the past several weeks looking at how sexual betrayal impacts the betrayed partner’s sexuality. I hope these posts have been helpful and that as you have read through them you have recognized yourself in some of the topics and felt both validated and supported in your exploration of this issue. This week, rather than focusing on the problem, I want to discuss what you can do about it.
Recognizing the negative sexual impact of betrayal and understanding the dynamics that betrayal has created are only the first steps in the process. Below are some thoughts about how to move forward as you work to heal your sexual self.
Be Proactive in Pursuit of Your Own Healing
Because healing your sexual self can feel daunting, because it creates uncomfortable feelings of sadness, shame, blame, guilt, pain, and fear, because it involves risk, because it is a movement out of the familiar and into the unknown, you may be tempted to take a passive approach. Being passive is not intentional. It happens because it is the default option. It is easier to just keep going along as is because even though you are living with the negative impacts of sexual betrayal, it somehow feels safer to stay there than to strive for growth and health in an area where you feel so wounded.
The danger here is that humans are not by nature stagnant. We do not continually stand still (either physically or emotionally). Rather, we are continually developing, evolving, and changing. That is how we survive and thrive as individuals and as a species. And we cannot healthfully ignore this fact in our sexual lives.
If we do not take a proactive approach to healing the sexual wounds created by betrayal, these wounds will fester, becoming infected and causing ever-deeper problems for us. Rather than being temporary, the wounds will become chronic. In such cases, the negative impacts of sexual betrayal create patterns and habits and new ways of thinking and behaving that become ever more deeply etched into our sexual selves (and therefore more difficult to change). So we must act, and we must do so sooner rather than later.
The truth is that your sexuality will not heal itself. The wounds created by sexual betrayal are significant, shattering your previous understanding of who you are and altering your sense of self around your sexuality, and you must take conscious action to heal these wounds. Sexual betrayal is not a mere scratch. It will not simply heal on its own over time. Healing from sexual behavior requires that you intentionally focus on understanding how betrayal has impacted you and create a new understanding of your sexual self – reclaiming (or maybe claiming for the first time) your sexual voice and power.
Focus First on You
We talked in a previous post about how your cheating partner (particularly when the cheating stems from sexual addiction) can become the sexual center of your relationship. Your cheating partner’s sexual energy, needs, desires, and voice can take over, marginalizing your sexuality until you are significantly diminished. Often, you don’t even realize how thoroughly your sexuality has been sidelined because it happened gradually over time.
When this happens, you are more tuned in to the cheater’s sexuality than your own sexuality; you pay far more attention to what is happening for your partner than yourself. Discovery of infidelity often increases this attention, as your cheating partner’s sexuality might now feel threatening. You may find that you now vigilantly monitor your partner’s sexuality to try to stay safe.
A significant part of healing involves turning your attention away from your partner’s sexuality and toward your own sexuality. You must examine your sexual self with curiosity, compassion, and openness. Often, connecting or reconnecting to your sexual self is an exploratory adventure as you educate yourself, learn to listen to your body, identify your own sexual wiring, preferences, needs, and desires, and internally validate who you are sexually.
A client who recently participated in a group experience on women’s sexuality said at the end of the class, “I now know that who I am sexually is completely normal. I feel acceptance about myself and who I am sexually in a way that I have never experienced before. I feel freed and happy with myself, and it is an amazing feeling.”
Learning about who you are sexually, giving yourself permission to be who you are sexually, and bringing compassion, acceptance, and understanding to yourself in a new way is the key to healing the wounds created by sexual betrayal. To do this, you must focus on yourself, your body, your emotions, and your preferences, history, experiences, and desires, allowing them to teach you who you are and who you want to be as a sexual individual. Only then can you bring your whole sexual self to your relationship, engaging with your partner from a place of self-assurance and self-knowledge.
Expand Your Knowledge and Understanding
One of the biggest things you can do as you seek sexual healing is to learn about your sexuality through reading, listening to podcasts and audio-books, and attending workshops and intensives that help you learn more about sexual functioning, sexual desire, and sexual relationships. This is the knowledge you need to reclaim your sexual self.
Some books you may find helpful include:
- Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski
- Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston
- The Return of Desire by Gina Ogden
- Great Sex: A Man’s Guide to the Principles of Total-Body Sex by Michael Castleman
- She Comes First by Ian Kerner
- Erotic Intelligence by Alexandra Katehakis
- The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz
- Because It Feels Good by Debby Herbenick
Talk to Supportive Others
One of the biggest things you can do to help yourself heal sexually is to find a safe place to talk with others who have experiences similar to your own. Talking about your sexual experiences, understanding, confusion, and desires (or lack thereof) is not something most of us do with great ease. However, being able to share your experiences with others, asking questions, talking about the pain, confusion, and loss, and sharing about moments of joy, transcendence, and connection is vital to the process of healing.
Finding one or two individuals or a group where you can reveal your most authentic sexual self and process who you are and what you have experienced helps you to know that you are not alone. You are normal, others have experienced the same things, others have the same questions or confusions or self-doubts, others are angry the same way you are. You find out that you are not the only one who longs for a sexual relationship with yourself and your partner that is different than the one you have.
Just by having a safe place to put words (often for the very first time) to all the thoughts and feelings that are swirling around inside of you is a tremendous relief. It creates a crack in your sexual wall that lets in light and fresh air, reducing shame and illuminating a pathway you can travel as you forge a new understanding of and relationship with your sexual self.
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S will present Sexuality & Recovery via live video stream in two parts on October 16th and November 13th. Registrants will receive extended recording access.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life!