It is not unusual for a woman’s sexual interest in her partner to wan when their relationship marriage begins to unravel. For many women this sexual disinterest can evolve into outright repugnance as the marriage further deteriorates.

       However, some women (and men) continue to feel great physical attraction for their ex-spouse (or soon to be ex) even when they are “done” with each other as partners. Janis disliked and disrespected Tom (for a number of reasons) yet found him sexually irresistible. They would openly flirt with each other and their dialogue was peppered with sexual innuendo. Carole found Harry lacking as a husband and did not respect his co-parenting style. She was furious at his infidelities; but the sexual chemistry was palpable. After meeting with their lawyers they would connect and have sex in her car. Both of these women continued to have torrid, secret liaisons with their ex right through their divorce proceedings and even after all the legal wrangling was over.

       These are only two examples of many women who find they are shocked and even appalled to discover their sexual desire is not dampened by their hurt, fury or betrayal. In fact, the opposite seems to have happened. They are wildly attracted and seemed unable to “stay away” from their ex. Marissa lamented, “It is as if I am completely under his spell.”

       Marissa is not wrong; she IS in some ways under his spell. The science of attraction is complicated and research shows sexual attraction can be very powerful.  Chemicals such as oxytocin are secreted into the body. These send powerful messages to the brain resulting in craving and desire that feel impossible to deny.

       It is difficult to disengage when the chemistry still feels so potent. The battles of breaking up can fuel the passion and the sparks ignited by arguing can explode into a steamy sexual liaison. In the HBO movie Dinner with Friends, the couple played by Greg Kinnear and Toni Colette shared this kind of marriage. It is clear from the outset that they had little in common, but their fighting served to ignite passion between them.

       Sometimes these liaisons even continue after one or both have moved on into new relationships. Now they find themselves cheating on their new partner with their ex partner. The woman who is embroiled in this situation knows intellectually she is setting herself up for lots of pain and hurt. She feels guilty and embarrassed and often let down and used. Yet, she seems unable to stay away- even when she promises herself she will.

       Staying away from him is not easy. She may not be able to stand him, but she can’t imagine being without the great sex. Setting those boundaries is difficult but critical, if she is to move on and have other healthy relationships. She also cannot grieve and heal from something she refuses to leave.

       If you are in this situation-consider what keeps you coming back. Sure, the chemistry is powerful but what are your underlying feelings about their liaisons?  Is it hope of reconciliation? A momentary illusion of closeness? The familiarity? Loneliness? Fear of letting go? There can be a million reasons, but in truth, none of them make this a healthy situation. Whatever emotional connection you are seeking in this sexual hook-up is not really there– it is only the illusion of something real. And when we pursue the impossible, we miss the possible.

      Like over-eating, over spending or smoking, indulging brings momentary pleasure and remorse later on. Remorse and regret lead directly to lowered self-esteem. Is that what you really want? Are you willing to trade a few minutes of pleasure for a healthy sense of self? Think of him as you would cigarettes: they are toxic for your body; he is toxic for your soul. Or think of it in terms of your finances– are those adorable shoes worth blowing your budget then not being able to pay your mortgage? Your emotional health is as important as your physical health or financial well being. Don’t squander your precious self for a few minutes of pleasure. In the long run it will not make you happy. Deprivation always stings but keep in mind, there is a “greater good” at stake here: your own self worth.

       Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. It is easy to romanticize your liaisons as something more than they are. Resist the urge to settle for a false representation of love; you deserve the real thing. Celebrate Valentine’s Day with the self-affirmation that you can treat yourself with dignity, respect and self love.

“Pleasure may come from illusion, but happiness can come only of reality.”
~Sebastien-Roch Nicolas De Chamfort~  

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  1. meg on the 06. Feb, 2012 remarked #

    Good to hear I am not a lone. Took me two years after my divorce to stop being with him. It was the hardest thing to do, but I am happier now.

  2. CJ Golden on the 06. Feb, 2012 remarked #

    And, it has taken me more than 20 years to get to a point of “sorta” friendship. But more than that? NEVER!
    Just nothing there between us for that to happen.

  3. anony on the 07. Feb, 2012 remarked #

    Important topic, I am sure. For some women, the choice is between sex with the ex and no sex, which makes it even more difficult to say “no.” And I’ve heard of relationships where the husband has a new wife who was formerly the mistress and wants the old wife to be the one on the side. Better to stick to the “do it yourself” mode and preserve a sense of self worth.

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