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Sexual Recovery from an Extramarital Affair 1

Change occurs in the present and the future.

During the last 10 years, there has been a revolution in the understanding and treatment of extra-marital affairs driven by the seminal research and clinical work of Douglas Snyder, Donald Baucom, and Kristina Coop Gordon. Their book "Getting Past the Affair" is the gold standard of self-help books on this topic.

I want to address a seldom discussed difficulty: sexual recovery from an affair. The traditional therapy model emphasized a hierarchical approach to treating affairs:

  1. Understand what caused the affair
  2. Focus on the role of the "infidel" and effects on the "victim"
  3. Focus on feelings of betrayal
  4. Work to rebuild trust
  5. After a period of months or years explore couple intimacy

The new therapeutic model features a "both-and" approach of making meaning of the affair for the involved partner, the injured partner, and the marriage, as well as an immediate focus on rebuilding trust, intimacy, and sexuality. To make this process positive and integrative, a crucial component is building a new couple sexual style. You cannot compare marital sex with affair sex, it's "apples and oranges." The healthy comparison is couple sexuality after the affair as opposed to before the affair. The challenge is to build a stronger, more resilient sexual desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction.

I am not advocating affairs as a way to enhance couple sexuality. The joke among clinicians is that affairs are good for therapeutic practices, but not for the couple.

You cannot change or undo the past. You can process past attitudes, behaviors, and emotions and learn from them, but there are no do-overs. You can emotionally process lessons learned and "honor" the experience of the affair, but you don't need to feel personally or relationally controlled by the experience. Change occurs in the present and the future.

Why is developing a new couple sexual style with a stronger, more resilient sexual desire so important in healing from an extra-marital affair? Although individuals and couples are different (sexually, one size never fits all), focusing on couple sexuality gives you the opportunity to implement lessons from the affair so you become a resilient, vital emotional and sexual couple.

Rather than anguishing about betrayal and obsessing about affair sex, the involved and injured partners can join together for better integration of intimacy, pleasuring, eroticism, and satisfaction. The affair is best understood as a wake-up call and a challenge to be a more involved, intimate, and erotic couple. Many couples treat sexuality with benign neglect until the crisis of an affair. In sexually recovering from an affair, a vital component is the commitment to continue to put time and energy to maintain intimate, vital couple sexuality.


For more on this topic, tune in to Man-Up Radio ( on Saturday, May 7, when I'll be interviewed about cheating and its effects on a relationship.