Relationship Connection: Why are the sexual needs of betrayed women often minimized?

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Question

I have noticed in several articles, podcasts and forums that when talking about sexual betrayal, there is a bias that comes across that women who have been betrayed don’t seem to have a need for physical intimacy during these challenging times. The stereotypical idea that sex isn’t as important to women and that we only need the “emotional connection.” It is frustrating me to no end.

I discovered my husband’s sexual betrayals 13 years ago. We went to therapy for a year, but he quit trying, so I continued forward and our marriage is almost to its end. My heart is broken. I have spent the last several years with near negligible amounts of sex. It’s so painful because I loved having sex with my husband.

Of course, I would love to have an emotional connection with my husband, but I also want a physical one. I don’t want either/or. I want both. And I don’t want to just take care of myself, if you know what I mean. That just leaves me feeling lonely.

Clearly there are issues with his betrayals that make it unhealthy and inappropriate for me to have sex with him, but my desires don’t just disappear after I’ve been betrayed. Going without sexual intimacy is debilitating and draining. It affects me emotionally and physically. I’m just frustrated with the reality that there are many women who are trapped needing that same connection but aren’t safe to get it from their betrayed marriages.

Answer

I’m so glad you’re speaking up about this very real struggle for women who have been impacted by sexual betrayal in their marriage. Even though many sexually betrayed women in the aftermath of discovery can’t tolerate sexual (or even nonsexual) touch from their unfaithful husbands, there is still a loss of physical intimacy that often gets overlooked. Betrayal puts the injured spouse in the difficult position of having to choose between their safety and their need for comfort.

Marriage is designed to be the harbor in the storm. It’s supposed to be the safe place we seek when danger presents itself in its many forms. A safe marriage offers comfort through shared commitments, presence, familiarity, touch, sexual intimacy, eye contact, reassuring words, encouragement and thousands of other transcendent realities. Tragically, when a spouse discovers infidelity, they also discover that danger is now inside the marriage. So where is a betrayed spouse supposed to go for comfort?

It’s challenging because the betrayed spouse is experiencing agonizing pain and has a natural reflex to turn toward their spouse as a source of comfort. They also have an equally strong reflex to turn away from their unfaithful spouse because they’ve now become a source of pain. This is an agonizing emotional tug-of-war that no spouse should ever have to endure.

You are asking for validation and understanding about this dilemma of desiring healthy sexual connection while living in a relationship that doesn’t provide a bridge to any form of healthy connection. You want to live with integrity and honor the reality that you’re still married, while still reconciling physical desires that don’t disappear just because your husband hurt you.

I remember one betrayed woman telling me that she wanted to make love – just not to her husband. It felt so unfair to her that this part of her life was taken away from her because her husband created conditions where she couldn’t safely express these sexual desires with him anymore. Please know that you’re not alone in these feelings. In fact, many women feel these longings even more powerful in the aftermath of betrayal because they are seeking the comfort and reassurance that sexual intimacy can offer.

Even though I want to share some thoughts about how to cope with the pain of these unfulfilled longings, please know that I don’t minimize the entirety of the arduous journey you’ve been on for over a decade. We are designed to be bonded to another physical human being, and you’ve been starved of that physical, emotional and sexual connection for too long.

You mentioned that you’re transitioning out of this marriage. Your vulnerability of desiring this type of sexual connection will make you highly vulnerable to overattaching to another person. Please make sure you are cautious and careful to not end up in another relationship that will only provide more heartbreak and loneliness. The kind of relationship you long for will be built on a foundation of stability and trust – not just passionate connection. Give yourself the time and support to heal as you prepare for a healthier relationship.

Even though you want to only experience sexual expression in a safe marriage, the need to feel heard, seen and touched by others is something you can experience with loved ones and friends. I’m sure you’re getting support from others, so continue to feel the loving attention and warm embraces of those who are helping support you.

You can also soothe your body with rest, exercise, therapeutic massage and other types of physical self-care. Your pain is multidimensional, and your healing will need to include a variety of intentional actions to help you feel the comfort and relief you seek. Mindfulness and meditation will help you learn to tolerate the painful present without becoming reactive and making choices that undermine your values. I hope you can access all of the support that’s available to you as move forward in your recovery process.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages Relationship Connection: Why are the sexual needs of betrayed women’s often minimized?of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

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