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6 Ways to Rebuild Intimacy After Cheating, According to Therapists

Repairing your bond after a betrayal may feel difficult—but it is possible with these expert tips.

Trust is crucial for developing intimacy in a relationship—which begs the question, is it ever possible to rebuild that intimacy after cheating? According to experts, it is. However, restoring intimacy after infidelity can require a lot of time, patience, and mutual compassion.

Natalie Rosado, a licensed mental health counselor and founder/owner of Tampa Counseling Place, notes that intimacy requires a certain level of vulnerability—and oftentimes, it may take a while before the partner who's been cheated on can let their guard down again.

"After an affair, the betrayed partner may feel physically repelled, anxious, or disconnected from the unfaithful partner," she explains. "There may be fears about sexually transmitted infections, concerns about being compared to the affair partner, and an overall sense of discomfort and insecurity during physical interactions. The distrust resulting from cheating can lead to ongoing suspicion and jealousy."

"Rebuilding intimacy after cheating is possible, but it requires a significant amount of time, effort, and commitment from both partners," she continues. "Without these efforts, the damage to emotional and physical intimacy can be long-lasting and difficult to overcome."

Fortunately, there is hope for repairing the damage that's been done.

"I have witnessed many couples come out of an affair crisis with a more authentic and resilient relationship than the one they had before," shares Stephanie Manes, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and couples therapist.

Below, experts share some tried-and-true tips for slowly restoring the intimacy in your relationship.

RELATED: 8 Red Flags That Spell Cheating, Therapists Warn.

Devise a "healing plan."

couple sitting on the floor talking
SeventyFour / Shutterstock

A great first step on your journey to rebuilding intimacy is to create a "healing plan." Rosado recommends collaboratively outlining specific, actionable steps that both partners will take to rebuild the relationship.

For example, you and your partner may agree to spend 15 minutes each evening discussing your feelings, reading relationship books together, or attending couples' workshops to strengthen your bond. Or, you may commit to having a weekly date night or to participating in individual and/or couples therapy.

"This plan should include short-term and long-term goals and be revisited regularly to assess progress and make adjustments as needed," Rosado tells Best Life.

Get nostalgic.

couple looking through photo album over coffee

After a major betrayal that drives a wedge between you and your partner, it's easy to lose sight of what brought you together. That's why Tammy Nelson, PhD, a sex and relationship therapist and host of the podcast The Trouble with Sex, advises having a conversation about what initially attracted you to each other.

Find a time when you both can be relaxed and present, eliminate any distractions, and ask open-ended questions like: "What's the first thing you noticed about me?" "What do you remember best about the day we first met?" or "When and how did you know that I was 'the one'?"

This kind of discussion can help you to re-focus on why you love each other, thereby rekindling positive feelings of affection and appreciation.

RELATED: 7 Things Divorced People Wish They Had Done Differently in Their Marriage.

Ease back into physical touch.

Couple Cuddling on the Couch
Cameron Prins / Shutterstock

"Physical intimacy can be challenging to rebuild after cheating," notes Rosado.

That's why experts agree that it's important to re-establish a sense of emotional safety before jumping back into having sex. This may take quite a bit of time, but in the meantime, there are ways to gradually re-introduce physical touch.

"Begin with non-sexual physical touch to reestablish comfort and connection," Rosado advises. "Simple acts like holding hands, hugging, or cuddling can help reignite physical closeness without the pressure of sexual intimacy."

For example, Rosado says you might start by holding hands while watching a movie together or giving each other gentle massages before bedtime.

"Gradually, as comfort and trust increase, you can move towards more intimate physical expressions," she says.

Prioritize emotional validation.

female couple talking on the bed at home

Validating each other's emotions is important during any stage of a relationship. But it's particularly critical after cheating in order to start constructing a foundation for emotional intimacy, says licensed clinical psychologist Jephtha Tausig.

Emotional validation entails verbally acknowledging how the other person is feeling, which can help your partner feel seen, heard, and cared for.

For example, if you express to your partner that their betrayal took a toll on your self-esteem, they can validate your emotions by saying, "It makes sense that you feel that way—that sounds really difficult," or "Thank you for sharing that, I totally understand."

"The betraying partner needs to be ready to take in all of their partner's feelings, and not just once," adds Manes. "Most of the unfaithful partners I work with complain at some point about going over the same thing again and again; they want to move on faster. I tell them that if they deny their partner's feelings, leave them alone to deal with them, or rush them to get rid of them, the feelings will likely only get worse."

RELATED: 7 Body Language Signs That Mean Your Partner Is Cheating, According to Therapists.

Engage in joint goal-setting.

couple looking at a laptop while sitting at their kitchen counter

"Rebuilding intimacy involves looking forward to a shared future," says Rosado. "Setting joint goals can help both partners feel aligned and invested in the relationship."

These goals can be related to personal growth, spirituality, finances, hobbies, or other values. For example, Rosado suggests setting a goal to save for a vacation together or improving your health through joint workouts: "Working towards these goals reinforces the sense of partnership and shared purpose."

Consider working with a couples therapist.

mature couple at couples therapy

If you're having trouble rebuilding the intimacy in your relationship, a couples therapist can help.

According to Rosado, a licensed mental health provider, particularly one who specializes in working with couples, can:

  • Provide a neutral, safe space for expressing your feelings, concerns, and fears without worrying about judgment or escalation.
  • Help identify and address underlying issues that may have contributed to the infidelity, such as unmet needs, communication breakdowns, or personal insecurities.
  • Teach you new communication and conflict resolution skills.
  • Guide you through the process of rebuilding trust while setting realistic expectations and milestones for progress.
  • Support the betrayed in working towards the process of forgiveness.

"Therapists can guide conversations to ensure they are productive and respectful," she explains. "Both partners can work on individual issues that might have contributed to the affair. This can involve addressing past traumas, building self-esteem, or improving emotional regulation. The therapist may suggest specific exercises to rebuild both emotional and physical intimacy."

"Finally, therapy provides regular opportunities for the couple to check in on their progress, discuss challenges, and celebrate successes," she adds. "Having an ongoing therapeutic relationship ensures that the couple has continued support and guidance as they navigate the complex process of rebuilding their relationship."

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more