Rebuilding Sexual Intimacy After Sexual Betrayal
There are few hurts deeper than sexual betrayal. Sex is supposed to be a space of deep vulnerability and intimacy, a place of joyful self-giving. No wonder the Bible calls marriage a “one-flesh” union, where physical nakedness is a profound image of intimacy, of total knowing and complete trust between a wife and husband.
When that trust is broken, a husband and wife will struggle to believe that their sexual intimacy can ever be restored. For those who stay together (and sadly, sometimes that will not be possible), they will need a way forward to become vulnerable and again. It will not be easy, but a focus on the gospel gives real hope and practical help.
To understand how to rebuild trust, it helps to see God’s intention for sexual intimacy within marriage. As Dave White says in his blog, “Just What is Godly Sex?” sexual expression is “analogous to a deeper, eternal reality—a husband and wife are to be devoted to one another, forsaking all others, as a reflection of Jesus’ desire that we be utterly devoted to him, forsaking worship of all others.”
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness. Whether the betrayal is mental, emotional, or physical (or all three), the sins of pornography, sexual fantasy, masturbation, and adultery are ways a spouse breaks from devotion to Christ and their spouse, for worship of self and pleasure.
It is crucial for relational trust and spiritual togetherness to grow between two spouses before they attempt to restore sexual intimacy. If you are already actively pursuing healing in your marriage after the disclosure of sexual unfaithfulness, then consider the following four steps which can bring the kind of healing that makes the renewal of sexual intimacy a reality. If you are a friend, counselor, or pastor, these steps can enable you to help.
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness.
1. Pray and commit for Jesus to have the first place in your heart. Colossians 1:16-17 describes Jesus as Lord and Creator over all, which means he is to be first in all things. This includes your marriage and your sex life! Ask God to show how this failed to happen in your marriage, and in repentance begin learning what a biblical view of sex within marriage is and how Jesus helps you love your spouse.
2. Turn towards your spouse. Firm and strong choices to turn from all things that led to sexual sin must be another initial step. That means cutting off people, places, and situations that are sources of temptation. Trust cannot grow if the offending spouse is not actively seeking to flee from sin. However, fleeing is not enough! It is just as important for both to choose to turn towards the other sexually. This means making your marriage relationship a priority, as well as learning what cultivates an atmosphere of trust and safety for sexual intimacy, before, during, and after being together.
To move in that direction, pray for God to give you renewed emotional, mental, and sexual desire for your spouse alone. In other words, ask God to make you spousal-sexual: radically oriented and devoted to your husband or wife. God delights to respond to this prayer! After all, godly sex is his idea.
3. Cultivate honest communication about sex. God will use the exposure of sexual sin to open up communication on many topics, but the one that will require major focus will be your sexual relationship. Rebuilding trust will require an openness to share feelings, thoughts, and desires in this area. You need to learn what the other enjoys, what brings pleasure, what is uncomfortable, what communicates being used rather than being delighted in. These are extremely vulnerable topics; go slowly, and remember to continually/actively build up your emotional trust with each other. For some, fasting from sexual activity can enable a couple to communicate honestly without the pressure (and fear) of engaging sexually.
4. Pursue and receive your spouse with patient love. Restoring your sexual relationship will take time. Expressing non-sexual affection is a way to express love for the ‘whole person’ of your spouse. Remember that pain and hurt don’t go away quickly, so be patient with yourself and your spouse as you learn new ways of relating. Patience and perseverance are the key words!