A few years ago I had a three-month-long affair that I truly regret. I told my partner about it back then after it ended, and we have since made a lot of progress in rebuilding trust. To talk it through, we even saw a therapist. We continue to be monogamous, and I feel so lucky to have a really great relationship. I am mostly at peace with things between my partner and me.
The only problem is that I can still feel haunted by how good the sex was with the guy with whom I had the affair. It was so intense and hot and was much more adventurous than what I have with my partner. With the other guy, I felt I could share my deep fantasies and take more uninhibited risks. Today I’m grateful for getting to keep a loving relationship yet feel as if the consolation prize is under-whelming sex.
How do I truly move on from the experience of the affair and let go of the constant comparisons?
One of the greatest challenges of an affair comes once it’s been concluded. There is the rebuilding of trust, and it sounds like you’ve both done quite nicely where that’s concerned. There’s also the grieving of the affair connection while in the context of another relationship, and this can prove particularly tricky.
Often the most damaging aspects of extracurricular action in a supposedly monogamous relationship is that comparisons get set up. They can be very difficult to shed. The connection to your everyday partner is likely incapable of matching the intensity of being with a shiny, brand new person. And all the sneaking around probably ramped up the sexy quotient even higher.
It sounds as if the affair helped you connect with a wilder side of your sexuality, and that ultimately could be a gift to you and your partner—but only if you find ways of incorporating that side of yourself into your real life rather than something reserved for the vacuum of a fling. There’s a good chance that you were only able to fully inhabit that part of yourself because the affair was fragmented off from your everyday life. When we connect with a new person, and especially in a secretive way, it can be oddly liberating in that we can, in a manner of speaking, start over and be whoever we want to be without the baggage of past roles, hurts and routines that can come with an LTR (long-term relationship).
What takes more bravery is having your long-term partner, who has smelled your bad breath and seen you whine when you have the stomach flu, witness this kinky part of you in a way that is integrated into your relationship. The only way your sexual connection will become more fulfilling is if you’re willing to introduce your partner to this more adventurous persona within to see if the sex with him can become more expansive. But as long as you are leaving your inner sex beast out in the hallway, sex will continue to feel stale. And you’ll be left with haunting memories of your wild (yet compartmentalized) sexual past.
Adam Segal, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health question at firstname.lastname@example.org.