MJ Denis, APSATS certified Trauma Specialist
When women experience betrayal and the emotional abuse that accompanies it, they may wonder if they will ever be able to enjoy sexual contact again.
MJ Denis, APSATS certified Trauma Specialist, explains that safety is the most important foundation for every victim’s journey to healing, including sexual healing. Read the full transcript below or listen to the free BTR Podcast to hear the entire interview.
Emotional Abuse and Betrayal Damage Women’s Confidence in Their Own Sexuality
Every woman that I have counseled who has experienced betrayal has woundedness around her self esteem, her self concept, her looks, her character, who she is as a sexual being…The betrayal really causes her to wonder if she is less than, not good enough, broken.
MJ Denis, APSATS certified Trauma Specialist
When men betray and abuse women, the effects are far reaching. One devastating effect is a woman’s inability to connect with her sexual being. Abuse destroys the human spirit. The loss of one’s sexual identity can be shameful and heart wrenching as victims begin to process the trauma of relational abuse.
Healthy Sex is Only Possible When a Woman is Safe
At BTR, safety comes first for every woman. Safety means that a woman is not being abused and betrayed by her partner. This may mean that she has ended the relationship permanently, decided on separation, or is staying in the relationship with protective boundaries to separate herself from abuse.
What Is Healthy Sex For Trauma Survivors?
Healthy sex is only possible when a woman feels completely safe: this includes physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and sexual safety. The five components for healthy sex are: safety, communication, respect, playfulness and joy.
MJ Denis, APSATS certified Trauma Specialist
When a woman has established a baseline of true safety in every facet of her life, and is ready to begin a sexual relationship with a safe person (this means someone who is not betraying or abusing her, and has proven trustworthiness over a steady period of time), she can use the five components of healthy sex as a guide post in her journey.
The Five Components of Healthy Sex For Victims of Emotional Abuse
The key for achieving these five components in a sexual relationship is that both members of the partnership are safe people. This means that there is a strong foundation of trust without betrayal and abuse.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Emotional Abuse and Betrayal Trauma
At BTR, we understand the complexities of processing trauma and working toward healing. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone; join today and receive the support that you deserve.
Tune in to the free BTR podcast for empowerment and education about trauma and abuse as you begin your healing journey.
Is Healthy Sex Possible After My Husband Cheated On Me?
Anne: If you’re wondering who I am and why I do this, I am a woman who has experienced betrayal. My ex-husband is a sex addict and he exhibited lying, gaslighting, and emotional abuse when he lived in the home. He is still exhibiting these behaviors; he is still a sex addict who exhibits lying, gaslighting, emotional abuse, and narcissistic traits. I am here podcasting through my own recovery process. We have MJ Denis here with us again this week. She is a licensed counselor, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate, a certified sex therapist, and she is a certified APSATS coach as a clinical partner trauma specialist. She works in Austin, Texas, in private practice at Crossroads Counseling Associates where she counsels individuals and couples who have experienced or been affected by sex addiction. Welcome back, MJ.
MJ: Hi, thank you for having me. It’s good to be back.
Healthy Sex After Sexual Betrayal
Anne: Today we are going to talk about healthy sexuality after sexual betrayal. Last week we talked about how a person has the right to say no, that they can say no, that saying no may be in a person’s best interest in helping to establish safety. Today we are going to talk about the other side of this. How couples get from D-Day to healthy sexuality with someone who has betrayed them, especially if the betrayal involved chronic compulsive behaviors.
Safety & Stability
MJ: The first step is to create safety and stability. In order to get from discovery to healthy sexuality a couple must have safety and stability in their relationship. Sometimes we start by making sure the betrayed spouse has food, clothing, and shelter, that her basic safety needs are met. The next step is to make sure there is no more cheating, no more betrayal, no more active acting out.
Safety Must Come First
It’s very important in this first stage of moving from D-Day to healthy sexuality that a safety plan is in place where boundaries are discussed to keep both parties safe so the couple knows about communication, about visitation, about topics they can talk about so everyone is on the same page.
Anne: As we talked about last week, part of the establishing safety process is making sure the emotional abuse has ended as well, although this is a long process. I think the D-Day to the healthy sexuality is like, “Fasten your seat belts! This is going to be a process and going to take awhile. It is not going to happen in three weeks.” Someone in my group recently stated that they have made a goal to be emotionally healthy by October.
Checking Boxes Doesn’t Equal Safety
I laughed because I thought how we are all working towards emotional health. I think addicts must look at it this way: I’m going to go into this recovery process and I am going to check off the 12 steps, be sober for 6 weeks, and then we can have sex again… however, the process is not linear nor is it something to check off a list. Learning to determine our safety is part of the process.
At the beginning, at least with me, I didn’t really know what this meant. So part of my process was to determine how I felt being honest with myself and then to figure out what I really needed to do to feel safe. MJ, what gets in the way of healthy sexuality after betrayal in terms of the betrayed spouse?
What Gets In The Way Of Healthy Sexuality
MJ: There is a list of things that get in the way of healthy sexuality. One thing that comes to mind are triggers. After betrayal, so many ladies become triggered or overwhelmed or are reminded of their spouse’s betrayal. When they get hit with these reminders and they experience fear that more betrayal will happen, it can take them back down to their knees and cause them to experience “ground zero”. This certainly can get in the way of healthy sexuality. Ruminating thoughts will impact healthy sexuality. In the aftermath of betrayal, triggers and ruminating thoughts are expected. This is a normal response to betrayal so I don’t want to pathologize or judge someone for having triggers or ruminating thoughts. That makes sense. This is expected.
Shame & Insecurity
Something else that gets in the way of healthy sexuality is shame and insecurities from the betrayal. Every woman that I have counseled who has experienced betrayal has woundedness around her self esteem, her self concept, her looks, her character, who she is as a sexual being. The betrayal really causes her to wonder if she is less than, not good enough, broken. This certainly will get in the way of showing up in healthy sexuality. Another thing that gets in the way is really not knowing how to create physical intimacy with a partner who has an intimacy disorder.
Anne: That’s a big one! Especially since it takes two to tango! Even you saying this puts some of the responsibility of his disorder onto her, which is unfortunate.
Victims Are Not Responsible For The Relationship
MJ: Well, so many times partners will do everything in their power to try to have a healthy relationship. She will do as many actions or behaviors to try to have a healthy relationship. She will read books, listen to podcast, try to learn how to have healthy communication; she’ll do many things to try to have a happy, healthy relationship, sexual and non-sexual and she is only going to be able to get so far because someone has an intimacy disorder is in this relationship, and they have to learn how to be intimate.
Anne: And there is nothing she can do about that. I’m just thinking about the question I asked, what gets in the way of healthy sexuality after betrayal and the answer is, “Someone who is emotionally and sexually unhealthy.” One of the major things here is the health of your partner! There is nothing that a woman can do about this. I think so many times a woman gets shamed around this by thinking things like, “Your D-Day was three years ago; what is the problem now?” Well, it’s because he is still exhibiting these behaviors.
Gaslighting Ruins Healthy Sex
I had Barb Stephens on the podcast a few weeks ago. She talked about how she gave a speech regarding when spouses and partners are not getting better and the reason usually is they are still involved in gaslighting and emotional abuse. The addicted spouse is still not fully in recovery and not exhibiting healthy behaviors. In this way, it is almost like the trauma is a gift to us. Sometimes we blame our trauma and think we are being crazy.
But in some ways I think it is a gift that helps us know if we are safe or not. Sometimes the trauma is there for a reason. Sometimes the triggers are triggers because we are actually not safe or sometimes the shame or insecurities are happening because gaslighting is still happening. What gets in the way of healthy sexuality after betrayal? Many things: abuse, sexual addiction. We know what gets in the way. What does healthy sexuality look like for partners after they have had sexual betrayal?
4 Components of Healthy Sexuality
MJ: There are four components of healthy sexuality while in relationship with someone with a sex addiction. I would like to name them and then go back and talk a little bit about each one.
The four components of healthy sexuality while in relationship with someone with a sex addiction are: safety, communication, respect, playfulness and joy.
In thinking about safety, for women who have experienced chronic betrayal, healthy is often synonymous with “safe.”
Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group
Anne: Thanks so much for coming on the podcast today, MJ.
Please remember that the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is here for you. We’d love to see you in a session today.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.
Thank you for talking about healthy sexual intimacy! This is so needed.