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Question

I have noticed in several articles, podcasts, and forums that when talking about the pornography addiction recovery process, there is a bias that comes across that women don’t seem to have a need for physical intimacy during these challenging times. The stereotypical idea that sex isn’t as important to women and that we only need the “emotional connection.” It is frustrating me to no end. I discovered my husband’s addiction 13 years ago. We went to therapy for a year, but he quit trying, so I continued forward and our marriage is almost to its end. My heart is broken. I have spent the last several years with near negligible amounts of sex. It’s so painful because I loved having sex with my husband. Of course, I would love to have an emotional connection with my husband, but I also want a physical one. I don’t want either/or. I want both. Clearly there are issues with his addiction that make it unhealthy and inappropriate for me to have sex with him, but my desires don’t just disappear after I’ve been betrayed. Going without sexual intimacy is debilitating and draining. It affects me emotionally and physically. The biological yearning is very real.

Why does the commentary I hear so often fail to recognize that for women to not engage with their husbands, during active addiction, which is good advice, seem to not be a big deal for these women? As a woman, I just feel so looked over regarding the base biological aspect of this. Women have that desire too.

Addiction takes away the relationship on an emotional and spiritual level, interferes with a sense of security, and messes around with self-perception compared to the world’s messed up expectation. But it doesn’t take away the biological part of our human experience that is driven by hormones that just don’t shut down when you have been wronged. 

I’m just frustrated with the strong theme that addicted men have to patiently wait for sexual intimacy to return when, in fact, there are many women who are trapped needing that same connection but aren’t safe to get it from their betrayed marriages.

Answer

I’m so glad you’re speaking up about this very real struggle for women who have been impacted by sexual betrayal in their marriage. Even though many sexually betrayed women in the aftermath of discovery can’t tolerate sexual (or even non-sexual) touch from their unfaithful husbands, there is still a loss of physical intimacy that often gets overlooked. Betrayal puts the injured spouse in the difficult position of having to choose between their safety and their need for comfort.

Marriage is designed to be the harbor in the storm. It’s supposed to be the safe place we seek when danger presents itself in its many forms. A safe marriage offers comfort through shared covenants, presence, familiarity, touch, sexual intimacy, eye contact, reassuring words, encouragement, and thousands of other transcendent realities. Tragically, when a spouse discovers infidelity, they also discover that danger is now inside the marriage. So, where is a betrayed spouse supposed to go for comfort?

It’s challenging because the betrayed spouse is experiencing agonizing pain and has a natural reflex to turn toward their spouse as a source of comfort. They also have an equally strong reflex to turn away from their unfaithful spouse because they’ve now become a source of pain. This is an agonizing emotional tug-of-war that no spouse should ever have to endure.

You are asking for validation and understanding about this dilemma of desiring healthy sexual connection while living in a relationship that doesn’t provide a bridge to any form of healthy connection. You want to live with integrity and honor the reality of your painful marital situation but still reconcile the powerful physical desires that don’t disappear just because your husband hurt you.

I remember one betrayed woman telling me that she wanted to make love….just not to her husband. It felt so unfair to her that this part of her life was taken away from her because her husband created conditions where she couldn’t safely express these sexual desires with him anymore. Please know that you’re not alone in these feelings. In fact, many women feel these longings even more powerful in the aftermath of betrayal because they are seeking for the comfort and reassurance that sexual intimacy offers.

You are choosing to have sexual integrity and not act on these desires outside of the covenant of marriage. Even though these desires are natural and healthy, you already know the pain and suffering that befalls us when used outside of their intended context. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described our sexual longings as the “highest of all physical gratifications [we] were designed and created to enjoy.” He said these desires are “as natural as [they are] appealing”, and that they were “given of God to make us like God.”[i] Your longing to experience sexual connection is an essential part of your eternal journey and, as you identified, doesn’t necessarily disappear in the aftermath of betrayal.

Even though I want to share some thoughts about how to cope with the pain of these unfulfilled longings, please know that I don’t minimize the entirety of the arduous journey you’ve been on for over a decade. We are designed to be bonded to another physical human being and you’ve been starved of that physical connection for way too long.

Your situation brings to mind a story Elder David A. Bednar shared about two men who stayed behind in Wyoming to safeguard the possessions of the rescued handcart pioneers. These men had run out of food and prayed that their stomachs would adapt to the few pieces of inedible cow rawhide that remained. Miraculously, their bodies were adapted to their circumstances and they were able to survive the remaining time until additional supplies arrived. Elder Bednar commented that their leader, Daniel Jones, “did not pray that his circumstances would be changed. He prayed that he would be strengthened to deal with his circumstances.” He then taught that, “the enabling power of the Atonement of Christ strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own.”[ii]

You are starving and have no way to express these desires in your marriage under the current circumstances. No doubt you have begged God to change your circumstances so you can experience a healthy marriage. Perhaps you can find some encouragement and inspiration to ask God to help your physical body adapt to your circumstances until that time when you can fully express your sexual desires. You need something your husband chooses not to provide, but your Father in Heaven knows you need this and more.[iii]

In the Book of Mormon, Alma and his people experienced physical relief from the burdens that were placed upon their backs during a trying period of oppression. Spiritual relief isn’t just felt in our hearts and minds.[iv] We can literally feel changes in our bodies through God’s power.

You are a physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual being who has experienced a series of great losses. Even though sexual expression is reserved for marriage, the need to feel heard, seen, and touched by others is something you can experience with loved ones and friends. I’m sure you’re getting support from others, so continue to feel the loving attention and warm embraces of those who are helping you carry this difficult cross. You can also soothe your physical body with rest, exercise, massages, and warm baths. And, as I already mentioned, your spirit needs soothing and comfort, which is available to you night and day. Your pain is multidimensional and your healing will need to include a variety of intentional actions to help you feel the comfort and relief you seek. I hope you can access all of the support that’s available to you as move forward in your recovery process.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

If you or a loved one are struggling with the devastating impact of pornography issues, sexual betrayal, and relationship trauma, I have created a 6-part audio program to help married couples strengthen their recoveries. You can purchase the 6-hour audio program here for a limited time at the reduced price of $29 – https://geoff-steurer.mykajabi.com/marriage-recovery

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT


[i] https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-and-patricia-t-holland_inconvenient-messiah/

[ii] https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/david-a-bednar_strength-lord

[iii] Matthew 6:8

[iv] Mosiah 24:13-15