A reader struggling in her marriage asked our sex and relationship columnist Cara Sullivan a really awesome, really honest question. Cara went straight to the best sex and relationship expert she knows, the incredible Laura Berman, LCSW, PhD., an assistant clinical professor of OB/GYN & Psychiatry at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and the host of Uncovered Radio with Dr. Laura Berman.
Check out her show if you’re into this kind of thing, because let us just tell you, she goes there (if you need proof, click over to drlauraberman.com to peep her line of sex toys for men and women).
Here’s our brave reader’s question:
Q: “Four years ago, my husband revealed that he’d been cheating on me for months with someone from work. It was devastating, but we made the conscious decision to stay together and have been in therapy ever since. It’s been a long road, but things are, for the most part, better than ever — except for the sex. Before his affair, I never had an anxious thought during sex; I was completely confident and comfortable and content. But now I’m constantly anxious: I wonder if her body is better than mine, if he preferred the way she did certain things, if his orgasms were more intense … the list goes on and on. We talk about it a lot — in therapy and at home — and no matter how much he tries to reassure me that none of that matters and it’s all in the past, I can’t seem to shake the thoughts and get to a more confident place with him in the bedroom. Our therapist says these things take time, but come on — it’s been four years!”
Here’s Dr. Berman’s thoughtful take on the situation:
A: “Your therapist is right, it definitely does take time. The devastation caused by infidelity can damage us to our core, which is why these betrayals are so poisonous to relationships. However, you CAN heal from this. Right now, you are stuck in a place of blame, guilt, and anger, and as long as you are there, you are never going to be free from this affair. It sounds like you’re doing all the right stuff, going to therapy, communicating openly, and working together in a conscious and committed way to repair your marriage. But, you might need to get even deeper. In my latest book, “Quantum Love,” I write about how our energy and our internal world can impact our relationships and our external world. In your case, it sounds like your energy is vibrating at a very low frequency. You feel less than and not good enough, and you’re transmitting that energy on a daily basis to everyone around you, including your partner. He can’t make you feel sexy and adored because you are sending out messages that say ‘I am not sexy’ and ‘I am not attractive enough.’ Even though he desperately wants to fix these internal feelings, only you can do that work. So what I would advise for you is that you start shifting your focus from healing your relationship to healing yourself. You need to reconnect with that hurting little girl inside of you who has been so triggered and wounded by this great betrayal. This could mean a lot of different things. Maybe it means committing to a new spiritual or exercise practice or taking a solo vacation or spending time each day meditating and journaling. Working on your marriage is wonderful, but you also have internal work to do that can only be accomplished via courageous self-exploration. In time, you might find that all of this pain you have endured has actually had a deep purpose, and that it has helped you to fully become the powerful and passionate woman you truly are inside.”
We are such a fan of this advice. (A solo vacation prescribed by an actual doctor? Yes, yes please.) Seriously though, go ahead and book that trip you’ve always wanted to take to that place you’ve always wanted to visit. Sign up for that class you’ve been putting off for no good reason. Get that ballsy haircut you’ve been ogling on Pinterest for the last six months. Trite? Maybe — but it sounds like the takeaway here is to spend less time worrying about how much he loves you, and more time falling back in love with yourself and doing what makes you happy. Mama always told you that in order to love someone else, you’ve got to love yourself first (and this time, she’s right).
More from Make It Better:
- Things Women Should Know About Their Guy’s Parts
- Long-Distance Marriage: How These Couples Make It Work
- 7 Out-of-the-Box Ideas for a Memorable Chicago Date Night
Cara Sullivan is Make It Better’s Executive Editor. She has held positions at Cosmopolitan, Allure, and Martha Stewart Weddings magazines, and writes for many national and local publications. Sullivan lives in Ravenswood Gardens with her husband and two young daughters, and is a passionate supporter of Indivisible Chicago, a grassroots organization that focuses on direct actions that small, local groups can take to influence their representatives in Washington.