It can be very easy in the aftermath of experiencing sexual betrayal to focus on the behaviors that you want to stop doing. For betrayed partners, that is certainly the first order of business as they want the pain to stop and assurance that they will not experience that level of devastation again in their relationship. For addicted individuals or individuals who have been unfaithful in some way the priority is also on stopping the behaviors, limiting the amount of damage and pain being caused, and bringing one’s sexuality into alignment with personal values. The emphasis on identifying the problematic behaviors and creating appropriate boundaries around sex is the first step in the process of recovery.
However, often that is where the emphasis remains and where the intentional action stops. It is easy for recovery to stay focused on what not to do rather than moving over and centering in on what to do. I would argue the majority of recovery should actually be focused on this later task: creating a sexual life that is meaningful, richly connected, erotically fulfilling and based on a whole body/mind/spirit integration of sexuality.
For couples in recovery, being asked to turn your attention to the process of building this kind of sexual life together can provoke serious fears. For the addicted individual they may wonder if they can turn their sexual spigot fully on and still stay sober. They may have limited experience with showing up for sex in a fully present, fully engaged manner and have fears about the feelings and emotions they may encounter when having sober sex or whether they will be able to perform adequately.
For partners, they may worry that allowing the erotic energy back into the relationship will cause their significant other to relapse. They may have fears about being compared to previous acting out partners or pornography and feel incapable of risking the level of vulnerability that opening to truly connected sex can require.
These are all very normal and typical concerns for couples who are recovering from sexual betrayal. The danger is allowing these fears and worries to keep you from engaging in the process of developing a healthy and dynamic sexuality, settling for the black and white muted version instead of a full color vibrant picture.
Our Clinical Team at CRR has been having an ongoing conversation about how to support our clients in this process in a more structured and intentional manner. As a step in this direction we will be offering a two-part Healthy Sexuality Workshop this fall. Educational experiences like the Healthy Sexuality Workshop provide a place to begin to learn and talk about sexual issues with one another in a safe environment. It can provide participants with new categories and ways of thinking about their sexual relationship and how to join together in pursuing healing and wholeness in this area.
For couples who do not have access to this type of workshop I encourage you to think about how to create a safe contained space where you can work on these issues. Being guided by a therapist who understands the dynamics of betrayal trauma and how to help couples address the very unique and specific concerns arising from sexual addiction and infidelity can be essential. Couples who participate in recovery programs together such as Recovering Couples Anonymous often find those programs to be a supportive safe place that helps them venture into riskier conversations and territory together. Books designed to help individuals and couples heal can be very helpful. We have a number of resources listed on the bookshelf of our website that can be explored.
In whatever way you choose to go forward my hope for you is that you will indeed go forward and press into this scary but well-worth it task of re-creating a new sexual life for yourself and your relationship. One built on security, safety, adventure and play all wrapped together in a one-of-a-kind package that only you and your partner can create.