Please note that ideas and actions can work differently for different couples. The steps to end an affair given here are not absolutely right or wrong. They are steps based on experts’ recommendations and much discussion among former wayward spouses (FWSs) and betrayed spouses (BSs) on this and other marriage forums. How you, your spouse, and your marriage respond to these recommendations may vary.
Please be aware that while recovering from an affair is quite feasible, it takes time for you and your spouse to work through the infidelity while wrapped in confusion, pain, shame, anger, and many other emotions that accompany the process. And while the time and effort may be well worth it, it may be a difficult road.
Before implementing anything suggested here, examine all possible outcomes of each action first to determine if the suggestion will be helpful or hurtful to recovering the M.
And remember… You cannot change your past, but you can change who you are today, and going forward.
Listen to and validate the feelings of your spouse, especially when it is difficult. You will likely see expressions of deep pain, which may be expressed as anger and criticism. Accept their feelings unconditionally and let them know that you understand and accept them. This will also help strengthen a skill that will prove very useful in the relationship in other circumstances.
Apologize to Your Spouse
When you are sorry about anything (not just affair related), apologize to your spouse. Adding a “but” is NOT allowed. Sometimes “I’m sorry” is all that’s needed. But most times you will need to identify what you’re sorry for so your spouse knows why you are apologizing, which makes it more sincere. For example, “I’m so sorry for lying to you about taking our son to the park when I was going to see the affair partner instead. I apologize for deceiving you and for using our child in that deception. It was wrong.”
Comfort Your Spouse
Comfort your spouse when s/he wants it from you. There may be times when your spouse does not want to be around you, and other times s/he may want you right at his/her side. Be ready whenever your spouse needs you to lean on, talk with, or simply wants you to hold him/her.
Meet Your Spouse’s Emotional Needs
Some professionals believe that people are tempted to have an affair when they feel their spouse isn’t meeting their emotional needs while someone else is. (You may have experienced feelings like this during your own affair, thinking your affair partner fulfilled needs that your spouse couldn’t or wouldn’t.)
You should show your spouse you want to be their partner and you can fulfill his/her needs. S/he needs to see you as his/her spouse who will do whatever you can to protect and care for him/her. Show you have learned from your betrayal and you are no longer selfishly caring only about what you want, which along with entitlement and disrespect, is what an affair can convey to the spouse. Your spouse has to see you not only as wanting to help him/her work through the current crisis, but also as the person who will do what’s necessary to create a new and recovered marriage.
Create Emotional Safety
Remove all LoveBusters (LBs). LBs is a Marriage Builders term from Dr. Willard Harley, explained on the Marriage Builders website here. LBs are behaviors that make your spouse feel disrespected, angry, and/or annoyed, which make him/her want to stay away from you. Get rid of the LBs and keep them out of your M forever. You need to do what you can to help your spouse feel comfortable and safe around you.
Create a Supportive Environment
Allow for an environment that’s conducive for your spouse to sort through what has happened. This may mean letting him/her go to a family member’s house for a while. You may need to move your bedroom items into another room of the house. (Do not move out if you want to stay married!) Your spouse may feel a need to journal or post on a marriage support website without you reading their words. They may call you three times while you’re at the grocery store, or call your mother after you’ve had lunch with her to confirm the meeting. You are trying to earn back trust, so understand your spouse may reach out, process, and do what s/he thinks will help make that possible again.
Never Tell Your Spouse to “Get Over It”
Neither s/he nor you will ever forget your infidelity. Don’t expect him/her to. Your partner will hopefully move through the devastation and learn how to deal with the triggers from your affair – including those triggers that may last a lifetime. But they will never forget. Do not ever – not today or tomorrow – dismiss how your spouse feels about the affair.
Respect Differences in Timeline
Your timeline for working through the affair may be different than your spouse’s. Some betrayed spouses may feel they’ve worked through their spouse’s infidelity and have a handle on things in a matter of several months. For others it takes several years. People process differently and your spouse may be similar to, or nothing like, other betrayed spouses. Keep this in mind if you want to impose a timeline for recovery.
Consider Your Spouse When Making Decisions
Take your spouse into account whenever you do anything or go anywhere. If it’s not something your spouse would approve of, don’t do it. Your actions, much more than your words, will be what your spouse goes by in measuring your commitment to recover your marriage.
The Way Station forum on MA (for registered MA members only) is a safe place for WSs to get support for ending affairs, developing boundaries, and turning their lives around.