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When it comes to physical touch whether simply holding hands or of a more sexual nature, it is difficult (at best) for it to feel natural once trust has been broken. Physical touch is one way we open ourselves up to someone else to show that we care. However, once the trust has been broken, it doesn’t come as easy. We tend to put a guard about us and keep the person who hurt us out.
It’s not surprising that this is one of the questions we get often. It can come in different forms:
- How long before I will feel comfortable with physical touch again after my husband’s betrayal of trust?
- Will I ever want to be intimate with my husband again?
- How do I know my husband isn’t just wanting sex and telling me what I want to hear?
- Why do I feel put off by my husband? Why does him trying to hug me or hold my hand really grate my nerves?
This is an actual question from one wife really struggling with this physical touch thing:
I feel like I’m wrong when it comes to not doing as much physical touch as he would like. Am I wrong for feeling that way? Sometimes I want to be physical with him, but then it’s almost like it gets me in a bad mood sometimes, too.
It’s a real struggle. Do I? Don’t I? How am I supposed to feel if I do? What about if I don’t?
The short answer:
It can take a really long time to get back to feeling comfortable with physical touch and intimacy. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. And that’s okay. However, we can’t use physical touch and intimacy as a way to control our spouse.
The long answer:
We don’t know if the wife is necessarily talking about sex here since she just said physical touch. That could be sitting beside one another, holding hands, her hand on his leg, his hand at the small of her back, that kind of thing. Even that physical touch takes a while to be comfortable with again because you are very self-conscious about everything, and honest, as the offended spouse, you are repulsed by any physical interaction at all.
However, as you walk through the journey–the restoration process–and you’re having deep, meaningful conversations, and you’re working on building trust again, it does come. While it may happen slowly, it will begin to feel more natural, and as it happens you begin to feel less anxious about it. The truth is, we crave physical touch because God created us that way.
How long will it take for physical touch to feel normal again?
As for how long it takes, you can’t put a specific timetable on not having apprehension about physical touch. That said, if there have been several months since the confession and as a couple you have been working through all the big hurdles–communication, transparency, safeguards and boundaries, and forgiveness–yet there’s still apprehension, it’s possible that there are reasons for not trusting.
Reasons for not trusting
It could be that they’re warranted because you’ve seen some things that have thrown up red flags. Not wanting physical touch would be a natural reaction if there’s suspicion that your spouse is still viewing pornography. You may feel like you’re being compared, and you’re hurt all over again because there is still a breach of trust.
If there’s not that suspicion or good reason to believe that he’s gone back to that, then it may be seeds of unforgiveness within you that you haven’t let go of yet. Remember forgiveness is not pretending it didn’t happen. Forgiveness is choosing to move past and choosing to go on.
In our own experience, there was a long period of time where there was no physical interaction whatsoever. No hand holding, no sitting side by side, no gentle touch–nothing. We slept on opposite edges of the bed, and there surely wasn’t sex. However, as we began progressing through, communication and transparency were happening, trust was being built, and restoration began to take place.
“…it puts me in a bad mood….”
We’ve got to be honest with ourselves. If you find yourself in a bad mood when your spouse gives or solicits physical touch, you need to go a little farther. Ask, “Why is it triggering me?” “Why am I having this kind of reaction?”
If there are specific things that come to mind, then this is an opportunity to have an honest conversation. While many of us shy away from asking our spouse questions because we are fearful of the answer, we have to ask the questions. Asking the questions and listening to the answers is the only way couples are going to move past the roadblocks they find in their way. Being able to ask the hard questions, but also respect and loving one another enough to answer truthfully–full truth, not holding anything back–is the key. Strong, lasting relationships aren’t built on lies. And so even if the truth hurts, that’s what we have to do.
Once spouses get to the point that they can fully trust one another, that’s when intimacy begins again.
Why is it so hard to be intimate after broken trust?
From the wife’s (or offended) perspective:
- You feel ashamed of your body, so you are very self-conscious of flaws and any comparison by your spouse to other “perfect bodies.”
- Fear that you no longer measure up or are less desirable.
- You feel like it’s a duty, and you only do it because it’s expected (and even mandated in the Bible). Plus if you don’t, your spouse might turn to someone or something else.
- You feel distant and hurt. Talking is hard, much less physical touch and sex.
From the offender’s perspective:
- Always the fear that you’ve ruined it forever.
- You can’t seem to move past the feeling of “she’s going to think (or thinks) I’m still looking at porn or am again.”
The truth is this: there was a breach of trust in your marriage. When contracts are broken, there are consequences. Your marriage is no different. There are consequences to every action we take. That means that while, yes, there are consequences to the sin of pornography, there are also consequences (or benefits) to struggling together and fighting for you marriage.
The things you do right now–the pushing through, the hard conversations, the complete transparency–will also have consequences, but they will be lasting benefits for your marriage.
We encourage you to take your time sorting through the hurt, but continue to push forward knowing that with the rebuilding of trust, returns intimacy. And we promise that on this side of restoration, the intimacy will be sweeter than ever!
Join us over in The Marriage Restoration Roadmap! You’ll be glad for your marriage’s sake you did!