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Sex File: I want to restart our sex life after 30 years together

My wife and I, after 30 years together, had both lost interest in our sex lives. We both had affairs — purely sexual — but have decided we want to stay together. I think we need to do something different and start our sex life from scratch, but I don’t know how.

Your affairs may have been purely sexual, but that ignores the emotional consequences that your mutual infidelity has had on your relationship with each other. Yes, perhaps your affairs were purely sexual, but in any romantic relationship, infidelity is a violation of trust. It is not quite as simple as the two affairs cancelling each other out. You have both destroyed part of your relationship and your past. This makes this a very complicated situation. That you and your wife had affairs does not simplify it. It simply means that one relationship has been damaged by two people, and it is not as simple as “starting from scratch”.

Most couples don’t recover from one infidelity, let alone two, so you are 100% correct about needing to try something different. There is, after all, absolutely no point in going back to what you had before because that clearly wasn’t working for either of you.

Did both affairs occur simultaneously? Or did one person cheat and the other respond with an affair of their own? If one was a revenge affair, that is even more complex because it would have been entered into with the express intent of both healing hurt and causing pain. Were you feeling ignored by each other?

The reason you don’t know how to start your sexual relationship from scratch again is because you can’t erase the 30-year sexual history that led to your affairs. Rather than putting the past behind you, you and your wife need to put your past under the microscope. The first thing you need is a good counsellor and the first thing they will do is to get you to work out what actually went wrong. 

 When Dylan Selterman at Johns Hopkins University conducted a study that explored why people have affairs, he identified eight key reasons: anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and situation or circumstance. Although infidelity is often motivated by problems in the primary relationship, the relationship-deficit model does not solely explain why people engage in affairs. Some people use affairs as a way of boosting their self-esteem. Others use drink and drugs and sex as a form of escape. Even though both of you have expressed a desire to remain in the marriage, you are unlikely to be able to start from scratch until you are honest about what it was that drove you apart.

If you genuinely believe that your affairs were motivated by the fact that you lost interest in having sex with each other, counselling may be able to help you to see each other through new eyes and that may be enough to rekindle the sexual spark. Couples who choose to heal the hurt and rebuild their relationships after infidelity often end up with a much stronger marriage than they had previously. It takes guts and requires more commitment than you can imagine, but it is still a lot easier than the alternative.

Send your questions to suzigodson@mac.com

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