Hi Dr. Emily,
My wife had a full-blown affair with another man. She has since cut it off and we are both working hard to create the connection that was lacking and partially led to the affair. I love her and love having sex with her, but I can’t seem to keep from wondering if I’m enough. Am I good enough in bed? Am I big enough? Did he spoil her for me? She says no to all of these things but I keep wondering. To be clear, there is not an orgasm gap between us, in fact, she usually has multiple orgasms every time we have sex. Obviously, the affair sex was exciting and risky and something that’s hard to recreate with someone you’ve been together with for 15 years. How do I move forward?
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First of all, I want to thank you for being so brave, in reaching out for support. That is exactly the first step I would recommend to anyone in this situation, to turn to the people you know can help you. So well done, Logan: you’re already off to a healthy start when it comes to your healing.
Now then, about that healing.
I’m going to be totally honest: I would recommend couples’ counseling, as soon as possible. This is an investment in your relationship because trauma has now occurred. Even if she’s cut it off with the other person, this is the trauma you have to heal together – and you may in fact already be doing so, since you mentioned you’re working hard to create the connection that was lacking. That’s beautiful, and it will be more productive with a guide. So if you’re not already in counseling, start. You won’t regret it.
Next, I want to tell you something that I think you’ll find reassuring…especially since I already see hints of it in your letter. I read a quote recently by marriage and family therapist Amanda D. Mahoney, who said that patients who successfully stay together after someone cheats have one main thing in common: “There’s a willingness to process the potential symptoms that may have contributed to the affair versus focusing solely on the act of the affair itself,” she says. So you and your wife now have an opportunity to be incredibly honest with one another and lay things out on the table: those thorny issues underlying your relationship pre-affair. Issues that were probably left unsaid.
In our culture, we have a tendency to vilify the cheaters, and sympathize with the cheated-on…and that’s not entirely unjustified, because what your wife did was not OK. It was an enormous breach of trust, and now, you’re hurting Logan. Of course, you are…you love your wife, and you’re grieving the relationship you had before this pain. (More on that in a moment.) But I’m willing to bet her actions have nothing to do with how good you are in bed, or how big your penis is. She’s having multiple orgasms, so I think your performance is just fine. Still, I can see why your mind would latch onto those possible reasons because we’ve been told a very simplistic story over the years about affairs and why they happen. “There must be something wrong with me,” the cheated-on partner says to themselves. “I must not be enough.”
But, what if after 15 years, your wife craved novelty, and was too scared to talk about it with you? What if you’re amazing, exactly the way you are, and she loves and wants you – but also wanted an adventure? I’m not validating her approach. The thing I’m saying though is this: those questions will keep nagging you until you know why she did it. And I have a hunch that her “why” is complex – nothing so simple as the size of one of your body parts. So once you process the symptoms that led to the affair, I think you’re going to feel like a team again. You’re going to take an honest look at what wasn’t working, and you’re both going to put in the effort to change it.
Which brings me to my last point: your old marriage is now over. But don’t be scared: this is your chance to create a new and better one, together. And you get to decide the rules too: what do you want this new marriage to look like? What does quality connection mean to each of you? If she wanted risk and excitement, how can each of you bring those qualities into your current partnership? If you want to trust her and feel secure in your connection, what do you need from her? You’ve opened the door to very deep intimacy, which yes, involves pain at times. But you won’t be in pain forever. When I read your letter, I hear someone who is loving, thoughtful, an excellent lover, and – strong. Incredibly strong. I don’t think this affair is going to break you, or your relationship. I think you’re going to find the answers you need as you heal together, and I commend you again for reaching out. Pursue your healing, go to counseling, and start a new marriage.