I can’t get over his one-night stand

Q. My husband recently broke down and admitted he had a one-night stand with another woman. I trust him when he says it was a horrible mistake. We have talked it all through and mentally I feel I can move on. However, I have since found it very difficult to be turned on by him. How can I get the attraction back?

I can’t get over his one-night stand

A. One-night stands are often opportunistic, but even so it requires a considerable cognitive shift to get from a monogamous mindset to one where it is OK to have sex with someone else. Whether a person blames drugs, alcohol or unhappiness, cheating is a choice, and although your husband claims to have told you everything, brace yourself for the possibility there is another chapter to this story.

Ordinarily, a man who genuinely wants to stay married would conclude that the cost of confessing a single misdemeanour grossly outweighs the benefit.

In my (humble) experience, the only reason married men ever voluntarily reveal their sexual indiscretions is because there is more to them and they are afraid that if they don’t, someone else will.

There is a difference between a one-night stand and a long-term affair, but as you can attest, it sure doesn’t feel like it when you are on the receiving end of a confession.

Your husband may dismiss his misdemeanour as a “horrible mistake”, but sexual betrayal, in any shape or form, is always traumatic for the innocent party.

You have clearly tried to respond to his confession in a rational way — after all it doesn’t make sense to throw away years of marital investment over a single transgression — but emotions are not rational, and if you love someone, infidelity triggers an incredibly visceral response.

Initially, the revelation of sexual deceit feels like a slap in the face. You reel with shock and you act out your anger, but the real damage happens beneath the skin.

Betrayal shatters your confidence. It makes you doubt your self-worth. It makes you question your appearance, your intelligence, your personality and your intuition.

It reminds you that you are vulnerable and essentially alone, and although you hate the person you love because they have hurt you, you are simultaneously terrified they will abandon you.

This tumult of hurt, fear, anger, paranoia and jealousy cannot simply be swilled around the mouth and spat out. Such bitter emotions need to be chewed over, tasted, swallowed, digested and only gradually, over time, can they be excreted.

You may believe that you have processed the situation, but your inability to respond sexually is your body’s way of telling you you have not forgiven, or forgotten, and you have a lot of work to do before you can physically reconnect with your husband.

When a woman’s confidence is at rock bottom she may feel if she doesn’t engage in sex her partner will cheat on her again, but authentic physical connection only happens when two people feel safe with each other. Basically there is no lust without trust.

Research shows the strongest predictor of female sexual distress, or satisfaction, is the quality of a woman’s emotional relationship with her partner.

It is never easy to heal the erotic injuries that result from infidelity. In fact, only about a third of marriages survive it, and it is still the biggest trigger for divorce.

However, the fact that everything (or most of it, at least) is now out in the open increases the chance you will be able to put this behind you. For example, divorce rates for couples in counselling are 80% higher when one, or both, partners keeps their infidelity secret.

Nothing will change, however, until you and your husband stop pretending everything is OK.

The first step is to find yourselves a good attachment-focused couples counsellor. The hardest part of counselling is acknowledging you probably bear some responsibility for your husband’s diminished commitment because it generally takes two people to damage a marriage.

The therapeutic process takes time, but if you are prepared to immerse yourselves in it, it can be an unimaginably disarming experience. It forces couples to be honest and transparent with each other, often for the very first time, and that mutual vulnerability is the foundation for a new and very different relationship.

When you get to the point where you can understand, and empathise, with each other’s version of your marriage story, you have made the most significant breakthrough.

More often than not, heightened awareness and greater sensitivity to each other’s needs also triggers a seismic sexual shift.

You don’t just get the lust back.

Your renewed sexual connection reinforces the emotional bond between you and you emerge from the crisis that nearly tore you apart with a much deeper, more intimate and more meaningful attachment.

Email your questions to suzigodson@mac.com

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