The surprising benefits of celibacy

I know you’re seeing the title and thinking “BW has lost her damn mind.” I haven’t, I assure you. I have, however, done something I initially mocked as ridiculous and found it to be a very worthwhile, if challenging, experience.

Before Handsome headed off to see Dr. M a few months ago, I was in touch with Kat from Try Not to Cry On My Rainbow, and she was getting me up to speed on the likely post-intensive after-care that might be recommended for Handsome. Among other things, Kat mentioned a period of celibacy. I was aghast. Neither Dr. M nor Handsome had made any mention of such a thing. Was anyone going to bother to consult the wife? (I was completely pissed at what I perceived to be more decisions that affected me being made without my input.) I thought, if a betrayed wife was actually willing to be intimate with her husband, why would you put an end to that? Why interfere in that aspect of the relationship? It seemed silly, short sighted, and frankly a bit patriarchal to me.

Handsome went to the intensive, came home, and began implementing all of Dr. M’s recommendations… except that one. We, together, avoided that one like a hot potato. We joked about it, actually. Then I had my post-intensive follow up call with Dr. M.  He had recommended that Handsome not just stay sexually sober for three months after the intensive (which does not require that one abstain from sexual intimacy with their spouse), but that he actually maintain complete celibacy during that time. I was fully prepared to grill him on that, but when I asked him to explain his reasoning he stated very simply, “Because Handsome has to learn to cope with emotions and day-to-day existence without relying on sexual conduct, even if that conduct is with you.” Oh. Well, yeah, that made a ton of sense. It was so obvious and so simple, yet I had missed the point entirely.

We did not, to be fair, immediately get on the celibacy bandwagon. We talked a lot about how beneficial the intensive was and how helpful to Handsome’s recovery other recommendations seemed to be … and then we bargained for another weekend or a few more days of togetherness. Finally, we ripped off the band-aid and went cold turkey.

We have a few final weeks to go on the recommended three months. Has it been easy? No. In fact, for me the whole process is somewhat triggering because it reminds me on occasion of the months Handsome chose not to pursue any kind of intimacy with me while he was acting out with others. I tell myself that at least now this is a choice we are making together.

Has it made any difference? Much to my surprise, yes! I can say emphatically that it has been beneficial for Handsome and for me.  How so?

-I can see Handsome struggle with feelings, really experiencing them and not shoving them aside. He is learning to actually process them. He has, at times, been overwhelmed by his emotions, and yet he has used his non-sexual coping mechanisms and made it through just fine. (For someone who relied on masturbation as a release/ self-soothing tool for decades, long before we ever met, this is a HUGE deal.)

-He is more emotionally connected to me and to our young kids. Our kids have noticed this and commented on it.

-He is more self-aware. (Not ideally so, yet, but far better than he was.)

-It has helped Handsome realize that he can have physical contact and tenderness with me without it leading to intercourse. This has been an issue for us as I once told him in frustration “You know you can give me more than a peck on the cheek even when we don’t have the time or energy to have sex,” to which he replied “What’s the point?” We now have hugs, hand holding, kisses, and touches throughout the day just because we can, not because sex is expected or anticipated in return.

-Any purely gratuitous sexual behavior has mostly stopped. (No more untimely and inappropriate boob grabs or the like.) More specifically, it is so obvious now that we can both call it out for what it is as soon as it’s apparent. His overall behavior has normalized.

-Seeing him vulnerable and working hard on himself serves as a reminder to me that this is a person I love and that although he did horrible, offensive things, he is more than those actions. He is more than the worst things he ever did. (So are we all.)

Have we been perfect in this endeavor. Nope. I admit we fell off the wagon once. It was during our couple’s intensive weekend and while it was lovely, in retrospect, I think we both wish that we had held out. Am I looking forward to the day when this exercise concludes?  Yes, but I’m really glad we went through this experience. I think it helped Handsome move further down the path to his own recovery and it has helped me to see him in a different, more vulnerable, light as well. Celibacy always seemed like such a draconian concept to me, and I thought this was going to be punitive, but in this case it has been well worth a few weeks of our time and a couple of brisk showers.

2 thoughts on “The surprising benefits of celibacy”

  1. I’m glad you have found benefits to being celibate and not just frustration with following that recommended healing path. And that you continued to use the time to grow and heal and not withdraw from each other. Recovery is hard, and takes effort and sacrifice, but you are doing it! And doing it together!!

    This is where our stories are pretty much complete opposites. Because our marriage was celibate for so many years, our therapist was pushing, although not pressuring, us to resume physical intimacy. And because our intimacy was increasing in other areas, we began being sexually intimate before I think we were ready. Our emotions hadn’t caught up yet to our bodies. In hindsight, I believe being celibate for a few more months while my husband practiced non sexual coping mechanisms would have been beneficial to us. In some ways, he just switched from porn to me. Although he had been sexually sober for almost four months, only two of them were in official recovery. I never felt used or objectified by him, but still it seemed more like we were acting like two horny teenagers…..

    1. Hi Cynthia. I am really glad we did this. In the scheme of things, it’s three months. Even if we got nothing out of it, it isn’t the end of the world. That there have been benefits makes it all the more worthwhile.

      I can honestly say that I don’t think that I ever felt used or objectified by Handsome pre-DDay. I’ve thought long and hard about that, pondering the signs to all of this that I might have missed (a futile effort, I know, and one I’ve mostly stopped engaging in). I did think he was one of the less partner-oriented lovers in my life (a bit selfish, maybe), but he generally seemed to be a present and agreeable mutual participant. It’s only post DDay that there have been a very few times (2 or 3) where I got a very clear glimpse of the addict behind the curtain. Like I said though, it’s so blatantly obvious now – because it is completely contrary to his normal behavior – that it can easily be called out. And on those occasions where I have called it out, he has been able to acknowledge it as well.

      I will say that Handsome isn’t necessarily in agreement with me that all of these benefits are caused by the period of celibacy. I think he agrees that each of my identified benefits exists, but he attributes them more to his overall recovery efforts. That’s fine. For him, I think it’s simply a much bigger deal that he can exist in a sober and celibate state for three months (less one tumble off the wagon). He tells me often that he just never thought he could do it. As a non-addict (and the person who dealt with his withholding of intimacy for long stretches of the last few years) it seems like no big deal to me, but it is clearly a much bigger, more meaningful event to him.

      We are working towards recovery. Slowly, but surely, and yes… most definitely together! 🙂

Please share if you've had a similar (or totally different!) experience on your journey.