If you have discovered that your partner has had an affair, you are probably in shock and feel as if the floor has opened up under you. This guide is here to help you through these troubled and painful times. Before reading this second part of the article series, we recommend that you have read A Betrayed Spouse’s Guide to Responding to Marital Infidelity – Part I, which covers initial self-care and protection steps you can take.
It’s time to move on to your next steps to reclaim your balance, confidence, calm, and life.
Now What About A Plan For The Marriage?
You may be wondering why it takes some time to start addressing the actual marriage. The reason for this is only after you have taken care of you, and the important stuff, can you address the marriage. Dr. Frank Gunzburg points out that there are three separate phases to heal a broken relationship, including recovering from infidelity:
- Healing of the Self
- Healing of the Relationship
- Healing of the Marriage
Have I messed up?
It’s an amazing person indeed who didn’t react negatively even a little bit on D-day.
For the Betrayed Spouse who comes here several weeks/months after D-Day or is simply looking to know “how to put things right”:
You may have swung between crying uncontrollably and wanting to physically hurt your spouse. You aren’t crazy. You are whirling, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense within your value system. It could be that you spent this time love busting/acting crazy/being a doormat. The good news is that often at this stage of the affair the Wayward Spouse is so engrossed in the affair, much of what you have done probably has not registered. Even if the Wayward Spouse attempts use this “shock response” as rationale for their own behaviour or a reason not to return, there are steps and measures that can be taken to minimise the long-term fall out. From this point on, your goal is to project the best “you” that you can. This is not entirely for potentially attracting the Wayward Spouse back; it’s also to reduce the accusations and impressions of being “just a crazy betrayed spouse.” Additionally, many of these changes will help you regain control of your life, make you a better person, and help you make a better life for yourself with or without your Wayward Spouse.
Regaining Control of Yourself and Your Life
So, how to get from messed up to in control of yourself again?
The more you know about affairs, how they start and why they happen, and the more you know about the one that entered through the door of your life uninvited, the more knowledge you have, and the better decisions you can make. The less you know, the worse your decision process will be and the more flawed and self destructive your life is likely to become.
2. Change Your Attitude
Stop crying in front of your Wayward Spouse. The Wayward Fog means they no longer have any real emotional connection to you, and they will not care. In fact, they only see it as a sign of weakness. If a tiny part of them still has some concern for your well being, sheer guilt will ensure they squash it quite quickly. You can still cry, and will often feel the urge for a few weeks. Take a walk, go for a drive, lock yourself in the bathroom and silently scream at the mirror. Anything that works for you.
Pull your tattered dignity back together. If you had an inappropriate emotional outburst to the Wayward Spouse or affair partner on or near D-day, you can apologise if it is weighing heavily on you. However, apologise only for losing control. NEVER apologise for speaking the truth.
Take everything the Wayward Spouse says with a pinch of salt. When they say words to the effect of: “You were a crazy person that day, screaming, throwing my things. Why should I come home to that? This is why we cannot be together. I know you will never forgive me. You will throw this in my face for the rest of our lives…”, what they are really doing is looking for ammunition and justification for their own behaviour.
3. Look Good, Feel Good
Have you ever heard the saying, “Clothes maketh the man?” (or woman, for that matter)? Take a good long look in the mirror. What are you wearing? If it resembles track pants, ripped/paint-splattered/college T-shirt and trainers THROW IT OUT. When you started dating your spouse, you made an extraordinary effort to present yourself in the most appealing way you could. You wore your best clothing, shaved daily, and wore perfume/cologne. Over time, the daily grind of marriage made that seem superfluous, yet that extra care and attention to detail is being made by the affair partner for your Wayward Spouse. Let’s be honest, if you had to chose between someone who looks unkempt and slightly dingy and someone who has obviously taken an effort just for you, which of them would be more appealing?
No one really wants to be a ratty dresser, it just becomes habitual. If you have lost a lot of weight due to the “Betrayed Spouse diet,” it’s probably baggy as well, adding insult to injury. A new haircut won’t be wasted, either. A little effort can go a long way.
Ladies - 5 minutes with the make up can dramatically improve your look AND the way you feel.
Men – Learn to love your razor, shower, and deodorant.
Both genders – Find and appreciate a good perfume/cologne. By the way, may I say “lingerie”? A sexy pair of undies can do wonders for your self-esteem, whether you are male or female. You are probably in the best body shape you have been in years thanks to your recent weight loss. Get that well fitting bra! Wear those snug little briefs! If it boosts your ego, it is a good thing. There is something curiously empowering about knowing that under your clothing, you look good!
4. Get A Life
What rut are you in? Do you stay at home because going out is too much bother? When was the last time you invited some friends over for dinner? Do you habitually say “no” to suggestions of getting out of the house? GET A LIFE! Find new hobbies and interests. Get involved. Take charge of your life. You may find a new activity you love, and meet new people to boot. People with interests are interesting. GAL, as it is sometimes written, is not primarily a technique to attract back a Wayward Spouse. You dont “get a life” to get your spouse back. You Get A Life, to get a life.
5. Project Strength
Learn and set your boundaries, with the most important one being a respectful, yet firm stance: “I will not share my spouse.” Respectful means do not make this request with an implication of punishment — as in “do this or I will make you suffer.” Simply state that this is too painful an experience to endure, and if the affair is not ended, you will seek either a separation or divorce.
“Wayward Spouse, you have two choices:”
1. “End the affair instantly and work with me towards restoring our marriage, or 2. “I will file, as I will not be in a marriage where there is a third party. I love you and I love our children and I would prefer option 1, but know that I will vigorously pursue option 2 if you don’t terminate the relationship with your affair partner immediately.”
While the actual emotional and sexual relationship with the affair partner must cease for recovery to have any chance at all, instant no contact can be a little tricky. Occasionally the Wayward Spouse needs to take a few days to organise around factors, such as when the affair is a colleague or safety threat. However, this would only be temporary, and require much effort on the part of the Wayward Spouse regarding issues such as transparency, extraordinary precautions, and care and consideration of the Betrayed Spouse at all times.
As a Betrayed Spouse, do what you can to make option 1 the more appealing option in the interim. A faithful spouse can do a lot to make the marriage a very attractive and appealing choice. On the flip side, they can make it very undesirable, particularly when it affirms the unfaithful spouse’s foggy thought.
If the Wayward Spouse refuses to end the affair, you must follow through. Filing, or even divorcing does not necessarily mean there is no hope for reconciliation. It does, however, mean terminating the Wayward Spouse’s expectation that you will accept the affair and choices they have made without regard to you, on their terms.
Snooping is a fairly controversial tool in the Betrayed Spouse armament. Fortunately, you often do not need to do much of it in order to get as much proof as is necessary for the next step — exposure. The primary purpose of snooping is to gain enough information to counteract any gaslighting by the Wayward Spouse trying to convince you that there is no affair, which can often make the Betrayed Spouse feel as if s/he’s going insane. This evidence is also very useful should a large scale exposure be necessary, to counter the claims of the Wayward Spouse to others that you are crazy, vindictive, or worse.
The various means available for the Betrayed Spouse are substantial, and rather than listing them here in full, I suggest you take the time to look over the dedicated “‘Spying 201″ thread linked at the bottom.
A short list of ways and means would include checking the cell phone usage, noting behavioural changes such as fragrance wearing or excessive showering, shutting down of the computer when you enter a room, unaccounted-for absences, a change in sexual intimacy frequency, and a general gut feeling that something is off.
Caveat: Once you have enough information to prove the affair, STOP. There is no delete button in your brain and the things you see will more than likely hurt you very much. The only time you would consider continuing past this point would be if your attorney or lawyer felt there was a need for more information than that already obtained.
7. Expose The Affair
This can be a very good tool for fighting against the affair, and how the Wayward Spouse portrays it.
To Expose or Not To Expose the Affair?
If the Wayward Spouse is remorseful and the affair has been over for some time, it may be unnecessary to expose. Some Wayward Spouses do choose to confess even in this circumstance to a select group for accountability reasons or in order to apologise for and explain an absence.
Exposure is exactly what it sounds like. You tell a select group of people with influence about the ongoing affair — exposing the secret to the light. You do this in order to expose the covert nature of the affair, making it more difficult to sustain as the fantasy aspect of the affair is substantially reduced, if not destroyed completely. While exposure by itself does not often trigger reconciliation, it does help identify and enlist supporters and friends of the marriage.
Exposure is best used to fit the circumstances. In some situations, the mere threat of exposure is all that is necessary for no contact to be established. For others, it may require exposure to parents, a boss, a good friend, or a pastor. For yet others, a much wider net needs to be cast.
Exposure is NOT to punish, or make the Wayward Spouse come/stay home. It is to make it harder for the Wayward Spouse to lie and run a demonising smear campaign about the Betrayed Spouse and/or the marriage. Exposure empowers the Betrayed Spouse, by saying “I will not allow the person who is hurting my family to run it down as well.”
The biggest benefit of exposure is that it puts a crimp in the hope the Wayward Spouse and affair partner have of passing the affair partner off as a supportive “friend.” Often this “friend” is presented as someone met after the demise of the marriage. Prior to this presentation, the Wayward Spouse will often make attempts to present the Betrayed Spouse as the bad guy — controlling, crazy, manipulative and abusive. This helps them justify the affair when it comes out, and after the separation when they suddenly “meet” this new person who is “supporting them” through the difficult times they are facing.
It is best to take the time to write out a list of possible exposure targets, and work out exactly what information you wish to share with them. Take care not to present the information as idle gossip, getting even, revenge, or airing dirty laundry. Exposure can be one of the toughest things you ever have to do, but the potential benefits are too great to ignore.
Exposure is not necessarily the first thing a Betrayed Spouse does, as a period of “doing nothing” is required in order to process, collect proof, get their head around their recently imploded universe, and find a plan and the support to move forward.
There are two ways to expose. One is the “nuclear/scorched earth” way, and the other is more “surgical.” Marriage Advocates does not generally promote immediate nuclear exposure, as the fallout is often extremely detrimental to recovery. Nuclear exposure would generally be used only when there is zero remorse from the Wayward Spouse, the surgical exposure hasn’t provided the expected gains, or there are no signs of the A dying and separation and/or divorce are in process.
One of the most important people to expose to is the Betrayed Spouse of the affair partner. They are able to put as much pressure on the affair partner as you are on the Wayward Spouse. From there it should spread in a concentric fashion to those most likely to either support you in your efforts to save the marriage, or to pressure the wayward spouse to end the affair. That basically includes anyone who might care enough to tell them that what they are doing is wrong. The next step would be wider exposure to more people in the sphere of influence of either affair partner, with ever-widening exposure as long as the affair continues.
The Wayward Spouse is rarely happy about exposure. S/he will probably be angry and make statements like:
“I was going to work on it until you…”
“I will never trust you again.”
“You’re hurting everyone else with this.”
“It’s nobody’s business.”
…and a myriad of other very similar comments.
They ALL do it. However, they get over it in a day or two in almost every single case. The best response to this is to just keep repeating some variation of “I am fighting for my marriage/I am fighting for my family/ I know we can fix this.”
Steps For Exposing the Affair
- Gather information to confirm the affair. Make several copies. Make sure that you have some in different safe places. Keep one copy somewhere easy obtainable, but not easily found by the Wayward Spouse.
- EXPOSE the affair to your spouse. Yes, they already know about it, but it’s this initial confrontation that puts the affair on the clock. At this time, you should be ready to start executing whatever plan you have in place.
- Wait on any further exposure immediately after step 3. This means not telling the kids. Not the parents and family. Not the friends, neighbours, workplaces, affair partner’s spouse, Oprah, or anyone else. You need to allow time to let this situation sink into the Wayward Spouse’s mind. There’s always the chance that the Wayward Spouse will immediately flip, end the affair, and start reconciliation. If you’ve told the immediate 1.5 million people around you, you’re going to have a big mess to deal with.
- Assuming that the Wayward Spouse declines to end the affair, part of the plan would be more surgical exposure. There are pros and cons to stating this up front — such as part of a boundary or consequence to the Wayward Spouse continuing the affair. For example, if you tip your hand, they may try to counter with misinformation.
- When you’re going to head to separation, expose more widely. Family and immediate friends probably need to know this information. Children may need to know, depending on the ages.
- We do not favour workplace exposure unless you’re talking about a workplace affair. The more exposure that happens, the more likely the Wayward Spouse sees it as a punishment (retribution) and the less likely they are to return to the marriage.
There are very good, thoughtful exceptions, such as when there is a possibility of abusive, violent spouses or AP’s involved. Exposure may not be appropriate and could possibly be harmful if there is a history of violence or abuse in any of the parties. If you as a Betrayed Spouse fear violence from your Wayward Spouse or the affair partner, safeguard yourself by having supportive people around for the first few days. In worst-case scenarios you may need to consider moving to a shelter.
If the Betrayed Spouse’s goal is attempting recovery, s/he should refrain from exposing to his/her own family. The Wayward Spouse’s family will be able to get past the actions of the Wayward Spouse, but the Betrayed Spouse’s family often struggles. Recovery is difficult enough without a civil war between your family and Wayward Spouse. If, however, family support is a given, then they should be told.