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Recovering those "loving feelings" after an affair
by Peggy Vaughan

Part of the difficulty of dealing with an affair is the "fantasy" kind of romantic love involved as compared to the deeper, more "real" love that comes from a life lived fully together. In defense of this deeper love, here's an excerpt from our book, "Making Love Stay:"

    "Romantic love is just the first stage of love, and it either evolves into a deeper, richer love or it withers. It's necessary to move beyond the initial romantic stage of love to achieve the richness that's possible in a loving relationship. Lasting love is not a less desirable state; it's just different. It has its own unique form of intensity and excitement, both of which emerge from a deeper knowledge of yourself and your partner."
An issue that frequently arises between couples after the discovery of an affair is the impact on feelings of passion, interest in sex, and general "loving feelings." Sexual feelings flow best when people feel "safe" enough to allow their natural expression. Since an affair usually undermines feelings of safety, it also undermines sexual feelings and passion. This can affect either party. Neither the one who had the affair nor their partner feels "safe" anymore. The overall atmosphere is often one of anxiety, awkwardness, uneasiness—which isn't conducive to sexual or loving feelings.

It's normal for there to be problems like this. In a "new" relationship, the sheer excitement of it may give rise to sexual feelings. In a long-term relationship, sexual feelings are often an outgrowth of loving feelings. If someone doesn't have "loving feelings" at this point, they also may not feel like having sex; or if they do have sex, they may not be very passionate.

There are a couple of things that might help recover the loving feelings. (I don't think sexy tricks and gimmicks help at all.) But each person can try to be aware of any spontaneous positive feeling (however slight) toward each other, and act on it immediately. This doesn't mean jumping in bed or even being sexual. But even in the midst of such strain, there are moments when a little thing will trigger a positive feeling. If either of you just says something or does something or looks a certain way, or smells a certain way--or anything that triggers memories of more loving times, don't hold back. Let yourselves touch, or hug, or just say something nice.

The strain between you won't just magically go away one day. Loving or sexual or passionate feelings need to be nurtured. Just waiting for them to return isn't likely to happen. You need to help them by noticing even the tiniest flutter of feeling. This reminds me of one other thing that I think matters. In one of our books, I don't remember where, I describe the importance of having been physically attracted to your spouse earlier (before an affair happens). If you had already lost the ability to have your heart flutter when you get back together after an absence (from a trip or something), then the spark may have already been so dead that it's hard to find it again. I feel fortunate that I had always continued to feel that spark with James, so it made "loving" him easier even after the affair. If that spark is gone even before an affair is discovered, I think it's much less likely that loving feelings can return.

One other important factor, of course, with a person feeling sexual is determined by how they feel about themselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we're more likely to feel sexual. When we feel bad, we don't feel sexual. It should help to work on self-esteem. (Both partners might read the parts of "The Monogamy Myth" that talk about "Personal Blame" and how defeating that is to recovery.) Also, others tend to see us in the way we see ourselves, so thinking better of ourselves may impact on our partner's opinion as well.

Finally, physical activity helps a person's general feelings, their sexual feelings, and their "generous" feelings (which are connected to feeling loving). Of course, it's very common to feel lethargic and disinterested in any kind of physical activity at times like this, but that's precisely what's needed to help you feel more "alive."

While there are no magic formulas or prescriptions for recovering the loving feelings between two people following an affair, these ideas might be helpful in the ongoing process of healing and rebuilding a relationship based on a deeper kind of love and commitment than the fantasy attraction that is inherent in affairs.

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