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.
Affairs Don’t Fix Marriages
Regardless of what the marital problems are, infidelity does not fix them. Once the affair is over, those problems still exist, only now they are buried under the affair and its aftermath. All of the concepts and recommendations in this series are for the marriage, and there are things you and your spouse can work on together as you consider pursuing marital recovery.
Spend Time with Your Spouse
Dr. Willard Harley of Marriage Builders recommends spending a minimum of 15-hours a week together to keep a marriage healthy. He calls this The Policy of Undivided Attention, because you spend time together giving each other your full attention without distractions. If you’re trying to recover from infidelity, he recommends you increase from 15 to 25 hours per week.
Make yourself available for undivided attention (UA) time with your spouse. In order to fall in love with or strengthen your feelings for someone, you need to spend time with him/her without distractions, where your focus is on each other. This may be time spent playing a card game or dancing. Perhaps it’s reading a book together or having dinner together. So call the baby-sitter, arrange a camping trip, spend time in the garden, buy the ingredients for a special dinner, or do whatever you need to do to make that time happen.
Participate in a Professional or Organized Recovery Plan
Participate in a marriage-focused recovery plan such as marriage counseling (MC), attending a marriage seminar, and/or enrolling in a married couples program. While you cannot make your spouse do anything, including participating in marriage counseling or a program, both of you working the same plan can make recovery smoother and quicker. If you wish to pursue third-party assistance and your spouse is hesitant, one way to present it is: “I deeply regret my actions and I am determined to do everything possible to make sure this never happens again. I need to work a marriage recovery program with you if we are to survive. Here is a list of suggested programs; could you check it out and tell me which one you would like to do with me, or find another, by this weekend?”
Some think including an outside source isn’t necessary, but many who helped develop this guide think outside intervention can serve multiple purposes. For example:
- A marriage counselor can inject the occasional note of hope, which could encourage you to hang in there during those especially low times.
- A marriage counselor might be able to periodically provide much needed relief from the anxiety you and/or your spouse may be feeling.
- A third-party can also provide a measure of safety to keep the conversations honest and on-track, as well as provide objective translating for each of you to ensure words are correctly heard.
Be Honest, Transparent and Forthcoming
Remember, part of working through the affair and toward recovery is transparent honesty. This includes being honest with your spouse about where s/he is falling short in drawing you toward him/her. This is not about justifying your infidelity or blaming your affair on your spouse. It’s about letting your partner know what s/he may be doing that is causing you to feel disconnected from him/her or disengaged in the recovery efforts. Not sharing your true feelings about how your spouse’s actions affect you likely played a big role in letting your guard down and allowing feelings to develop for another. The best way to prevent that vulnerability from returning is for both of you to communicate with each other how the other is doing in keeping you feeling protected, cared for, and wanted.
Use “I” messages and not “you” accusations when sharing your feelings.
“I feel hurt when you go somewhere without telling me where you’re going and you’re gone for hours. I believe you may never return, and I become very sad when I think you may have left me. Going forward, how do you feel about telling me when you’re leaving the house and when you think you’ll be back?”
“You make me mad when you leave and don’t tell me where you’re going. You’re selfish, thinking you can come and go as you please. You don’t even care how I feel. You should tell me what you’re doing because I have a right to know.”
Choose Carefully Whom to Tell
You and your spouse may choose to tell many, few or no one about the affair. While you can’t stop your spouse from telling anyone (you can’t control others), ask if s/he’s open to agreeing who will be told about it.
In order to attempt recovery, you will likely need support for your marriage from sources that nurture the marriage and reduce its vulnerability. You both may also need outside, personal support from those who will have the greatest influence on your personal healing. Talk about whether or not certain people should be told, based on whether they can help personal and/or marital recovery, and be clear and honest with yourself and each other about why you want to talk to someone about the infidelity.
Decide If – and What – to Tell Children
If you have children, carefully decide what — if anything — to tell them about the infidelity. Whether or not to tell your children is a matter of great debate. Some say to tell the kids regardless of their ages. Others say telling depends on the length of the affair, who the affair partner was, and/or the children’s ages. Still others say do not tell and keep it a matter between the spouses. Whatever is decided needs to be agreed to by both of you.
If recovery is under consideration and it’s agreed to tell your children, both of you should be there together when the kids are told in order to show them you are working as a team to get through what has happened.
Make amends with others who were hurt by the affair. Addressing those who were also affected by the infidelity will allow you to put those issues aside and focus on your marriage.
If the affair partner is married, apologize to his/her spouse. It’s recommended this be done in writing because hearing your voice may be too much for the affair partner’s spouse, and s/he may not listen to what you say. A letter or email allows the affair partner’s betrayed spouse to read it if/when he/she is ready – on his/her terms and not yours. It also allows him/her to re-read it if he/she wishes.
Be clear about why and for what you’re apologizing, and have your spouse send it for you.
Also consider apologizing to your spouse’s family, his/her friends, and your own family and friends.
Be Conscious of Triggers
Be aware of triggers – both yours and your spouse’s. Be supportive and non-judgmental of your spouse’s and do not discount them. Consider sharing yours with your spouse only if s/he asks you to explain what is happening. If you do share, discuss but do not dwell on what you’re experiencing. Do what you can to remove triggers from your lives. If you can’t remove some, do your best to avoid them as much as possible.
Be Aware of Critical Dates, Dawning Awareness and Resentment
Betrayed spouses commonly become very angry around 6 – 8 months after the day they discovered the affair (this is called Discovery Day, or D-Day), as the reality of what happened becomes clearer. Show your resolve to work through this by remaining committed to transparent honesty, undivided attention, meeting his/her emotional needs, providing safety (by avoiding Love Busters), and taking complete responsibility for your infidelity. You may have to carry most of the load through this extreme time, which can last between a few days and a few weeks.
Remember that Processing and Healing Take Time
According to Dr. Harley, recovery can take 2 – 5 years from the day when the decision to reconcile is made – not from the day when the affair was exposed. Most of the distance on this long road will be covered in the first year. (Calendar-related triggers tend to be much worse the first time through.) Keep in mind that this time frame differs for every couple depending on attitude, effort, commitment, and other factors.
Remember also that recovery has many parts. Just working through the infidelity issues alone can take time. Then, you’ll likely need to address the pre-affair issues, and make plans for marriage goals and more. Forming a new marriage takes analysis, understanding, learning new skills, implementing new skills, practice, and…time.
A Final Word
Hopefully this guide helps you make the decisions that are best for your family, your spouse, and for you. If you have any questions, or if you just want to “talk” through things, consider starting a thread in “The Lighthouse” on the Marriage Advocates Discussion Forum, and people here will help. If you have questions you’re not comfortable asking publicly at this time, hit the “notify” button on any post and ask one of the moderators for direction on how you might get started.
You’ve taken a big first step in changing your life by coming to MA. You can take the next one too.
You can do it.
“How do you identify a good marriage counselor” by AntigoneRisen
“Selecting a Marriage Counselor” by Larry
The Way Station forum on MA (for registered MA members only) is a safe place for wayward spouses to get support for ending affairs, developing boundaries, and turning their lives around.