In my previous post, we discussed the fact that as women we sexually objectify ourselves and other women just as much as men do. We live in a highly sexualized culture – advertisements, movies, TV, magazines, etc. – and that has conditioned us to measure our own value and the value of other women based on our ability to be ‘good sexual objects.’ Thus, we continually compare ourselves to other women, one body part at a time.
This is especially likely after we’ve experienced sexual betrayal. Inevitably, we want to know, “Is she hotter than I am? Is that why he cheated?” And pretty soon, every woman we see is viewed through this lens, seen as a potential threat to our relationship.
Unfortunately, because we live in a culture that is so terribly distorted around this issue, trying to change our internalization of objectification and live from a more authentic and humane belief and value system can feel like trying to army crawl on your belly up Mount Everest. It is hard.
Nevertheless, an essential task of healing for betrayed partners (and perhaps for women in general) is to arrest the slide into humanity-reducing objectification and to instead remember that healthy sex is a whole-person activity. Healthy sexuality is relational and is grounded in the context of the person who you are being sexual with – their sense of humor, their intelligence, their spirituality, their playfulness, their personality, and, yes, their body. Rather than joining in on a reductionist view of sex as body parts by objectifying ourselves and others, we need to claim our right to sexuality that honors all of us and all of our partner. To do this, we will have to quit seeing ourselves as sexual objects, and we will have to stop valuing ourselves and others based on our and their ability to be a good sexual object.
We will also need to understand that sexual betrayal is usually about far more than just objectification. Objectification often plays a role, and with some behaviors a starring role, and that must be addressed and worked through as part of the cheater’s recovery. But just as often, cheating is about things outside the realm of objectification, things that have more to do with the whole person who is cheating and the whole person they are cheating with. This can be much more complicated to grapple with, primarily because we tend to assume that cheating is about the other woman being prettier or thinner or younger – a less complex and in some ways less emotionally challenging way of thinking about the betrayal.
If you have been struggling with feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, or self-loathing since discovering the cheating in your relationship, I hope you will take some time to sit down and really think about what the betrayal triggered for you around your self-perception and self-esteem. Sometimes, experiencing a crisis like sexual betrayal creates an opening for us to examine and change old beliefs and assumptions that we didn’t even know were there.
I hope you will do some pondering about where your value comes from, how our culture’s obsession with objectification has been internalized by you and shaped you without you knowing it. I hope you will also allow yourself to imagine what it might be like to free yourself from the idea that your worth and value is tied to your ability to be a good sexual object. Imagine how your perception of other women might change if you no longer saw them as competing sexual objects. Imagine how much easier it will be to heal yourself and your relationship if you don’t feel threatened by the sexuality of every other woman. Imagine how much stronger your friendships might be if you stop objectifying and comparing yourself to the women around you.
My friends, if we all did this, it just might change the world.
About the Author:
Michelle D. 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!