Ugh. Sex after betrayal.
As if it's not enough that we feel as though our hearts have been plucked, still beating, from our chests and feasted on by the OW, we will sometimes sooner sometimes later be expected to bare our bodies to the person who betrayed us.
Even after the hysterical bonding has cooled down, perhaps after a period of sexual anorexia, eventually – hopefully – we will want to respond to a physical need for intimacy and an emotional need for connection.
For some of us, the healing that can follow betrayal will easily make its way into the bedroom. For others, like me, the healing that has followed betrayal screeches to a halt outside the bedroom door. But, I'm increasingly forced to admit, that's a huge sign that there's still much healing to be done. And it needs to be done largely within myself.
My therapist calls it "sexual trauma" and for a long time I resisted that label. It made me feel damaged. But betrayal does damage us. Not irreparably, not all of us anyway. But profoundly. Betrayal, for far too many of us, is confirmation that we're faulty. That we're not enough.
Our path to healing involves understanding, truly and deeply, that is a lie. The "faulty" or "not enough" script comes from long before our spouses cheated. It's rooted in childhood or adolescence. It's a message we got from our parents, or siblings, or teachers or schoolmates or the culture around us. And then, just when we thought we found that person who sees us, truly sees us, as whole and that maybe, just maybe we can begin to believe it too, we discover the betrayal. "See?" we say to the universe. "I knew it. I knew there was something wrong with me. Why else would he cheat?"
The answer, as those of us further along the path to healing know, is that there was something wrong with HIS thinking. The answer lies in the stories he was telling himself about his own worth, his own needs. But that's not your stuff. Your stuff is about about ensuring that you don't build such a hard shell around yourself that sex becomes little more than scratching an itch, or becomes such a frightening prospect that you ignore it altogether.
Which brings me back to the point of this post. Sex, post-betrayal, is scary. But so are a lot of things worth doing.
My therapist, who I've recently begun seeing again for the sole purpose of helping me get my groove back, said something recently that resonated with me. She often takes groups to Kenya. Some clients take the trip more than once, and to those clients she says, "see Kenya through Zen eyes." In other words, she explained, no matter how many times they've seen the same things, she urges them to look at it as if for the first time.
My husband and I need to come together as if for the first time. We need to banish the baggage of betrayal to the basement (how's that for alliteration?) and come together as if we know nothing about the other. To find out what each other likes. To learn what each other doesn't like. To look at each other as if we've never really seen each other before.
Which, post-betrayal, is a really great approach but no less scary. We are different. Far different than the couple who clung together on D-Day as if we were drowning in pain. Far different than the couple who slogged through that first, and then second, year, wondering if we had the strength, the patience, to rebuild a marriage that had revealed a lot of holes.
And now we've fallen into a comfortable pattern. We talk more, we share more, we love better and more deeply. But I, at one point, drew a line around sex and put up a whole lot of Do Not Cross police tape around it. I became terrified at the prospect, despite a lifetime of loving sex. I wept at the idea of being naked in front of my husband – I felt so incredibly vulnerable.
He couldn't understand. "Because I feel hideous," I managed to finally say. His face measured pain and surprise. "But you're gorgeous," he told me.
No matter. I might feel gorgeous when I'm fully clothed. But take that armour away and I'm a woman terrified that he'll see I'm "faulty" or "not enough."
That's the old story, I know. That's the narrative I've spent years trying to erase or rewrite.
Sex after betrayal is where our wounds are laid bare. It's the arena in which we feel, perhaps, more vulnerable than anywhere else.
I'm learning though that it's an arena worth entering. That my vulnerabilities are also where my power lies. My strength is in letting my husband see those vulnerabilities, confident that I have built a strong enough foundation that no matter what anyone else says or does, I can know that I am enough. That I am not faulty.
That I am gorgeous.