This primer is intended for betrayed spouses that have just arrived to the site looking for a quick-start guide of advice and what to do.
The first important thing to note is that there is no instant gratification, recovery, or magic bullet. Recovering from an affair takes hard work, sacrifice, patience, commitment, and time. Right now you are confused, in pain, and feeling helpless. Most of us have gone through the same.
This will likely be the worst experience in your life. You are a prime candidate for depression and should see a doctor (get checked for STDs) and counselor if you are having trouble coping and carefully monitor your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns to ensure that you are at your best.
An interesting fact is that most affairs resemble each other very closely. The words, actions, attitudes, and beliefs of the wayward partner come from a common script. This similarity allows for a general plan that can be modified according to the specifics of the situation.
It is important to realize that the wayward spouse has entered a realm of irrational thinking. They have done something that does not agree with their core belief and value system. What happens is that they enter a fantasy world and will repeatedly rationalize and justify what they are doing to avoid ownership and responsibility for their decisions. They will use many psychological self defense mechanisms to deny reality. Likely, they will shift the blame for their choices onto you or the marriage, rewrite the marital history, exaggerate trivial issues, and engage in lies and deceit to lessen their guilt and justify their actions. Right now, they are unreasonable and no amount of logic or explanation from you will sink in – in fact it will entrench them further in their irrational thinking. This is commonly referred to as ‘the fog’.
Don’t buy into you causing the affair. Both partners are 100% responsible for their part in the marriage. You may need to critically examine yourself to see what changes you need to make, but you are not responsible for your spouse’s decision.
It is also imperative to realize that you cannot control your spouse. You cannot control the circumstances that you will face. You can, however, exercise the power of discernment in these situations and control the situation that you allow yourself to be in and your contribution to it. You have the ability to apply motivating factors to your spouse by:
i) Making the marriage a good place to be
ii) Making the affair a bad place to be
iii) Making the marriage difficult to leave
The affair serves as a way to siphon off underlying tension and fear that they probably have from not really knowing what their needs are or how to get them met. Since they have quite a bit "invested" in both relationships and the impact of the consequences will hit hard, it's probably become difficult for them to make a decision. Your wayward spouse likely won't make a definitive decision and will waffle back and forth depending on their selfish desires as well as their true needs. This is fence-sitting and you'll spin your wheels and run over the same territory time and time again. So, address those polar pushes and pulls your wayward spouse is feeling and kick them off the fence.
The worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Your wayward spouse will see this as passive approval of what they're doing and it will embolden them to continue their behaviour. Worst of all though... it is giving up your power to chose. Realise that there is a very high risk to reward ratio with any forward action you take. Your wayward spouse is having an affair and most likely blaming you for this. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking a stand and not tolerating this behaviour.
From this stage forward you will want to bring a new approach to your communication and interaction with your wayward partner and anyone else that knows. You will still be connected to your partner but you want to have your feelings, thoughts, and actions under control. Speak the truth, directly and with quiet assertiveness and let your silence speak volumes. Be calm, steady, and in control with both your voice and your body. This technique carries power because it comes from your centre and illustrates your dignity and confidence.
Here is a summary of the general tactical plan:
Step 1) Gather intelligence on your spouse’s activities, even is your spouse has admitted to an affair (don’t be fooled into thinking it is over). Use a journal to record and document all suspicious behavior and keep it factual with times and dates and the activities. Consider reviewing cell phone records, internet history, etc to get as much evidence as possible. This is necessary research and if caught you will likely be accused of invading privacy to which the response would be “I was revealing your secrecy”. You will also want to have an informational visit with a lawyer to educate yourself about your rights so that you can make informed decisions.
Step 2) Confront your wayward spouse with the fact that you know about the affair and ask your spouse to stop. Do not give away all of your sources if possible – that will educate your spouse and allow them to hide the affair better in the future. They may not admit to it, and will likely deny and come up with wild explanations and minimize the relationship, but they need to know deep down they’ve been caught. You will be able to see it in their eyes.
Step 3) Lay out your boundaries to your wayward partner and let them know they are not open to debate. Healthy personal boundaries are a way to protect and take good care of ourselves. We all have a right and responsibility to protect our dignity and defend ourselves, and those boundaries let others know when their behaviour is not acceptable to us. Boundaries are about not allowing ourselves to be in a situation to be further hurt, not about manipulating another. You have to be willing to enforce them and the consequences. A simple boundary composition consists of “I want…”, “If you…”, “I will”. For example, “I want to be in a committed, open, and honest relationship. If you cannot respect me or my needs, then I will evaluate my desire to stay in this relationship.” Other vital boundaries include that the spouse has no contact with the affair partner, is willing to provide emails, passwords, cell-phone bills, etc to rebuild trust, as well as counseling or others depending on the situation. Make sure you don't take up a position but instead express your fundamental interests to your wayward partner. Positions become go or no-go points while expressing your interests allows you to come up with mutually acceptable alternatives. Make sure you are aware of which are needs and which are wants. We have to be able to judge that our own self worth is more important than the final outcome. Boundaries are a way to take ownership of our personal empowerment and avoid being a victim.
Step 4) Judicious Application of Reality:
If your wayward spouse has not broken off the affair and committed to the marriage then expose the affair to anyone who can apply pressure and influence to end it. If the other person involved is married inform the other betrayed spouse – they have a right to address the problems in their marriage as well. Also, if the affair is work related expose it to coworkers, supervisors, and the HR department. You may also decide to expose it to your and your spouse’s family and friends at your discretion or anyone else who can reasonably be expected to apply pressure. Be careful of the advice given by others and do not attempt to recruit your spouses family to your side - If they ask questions, answer honestly, but in the long run, do not expect their support. Exposure is a strong weapon to end the adultery. Affairs thrive on disrespect, deceit, and fantasy. Once they are revealed for what they are the fantasy world starts to crumble. Your wayward spouse will be furious and blame you because you’ve wrecked their little fairy-tale, but you are letting your spouse receive the consequences of their actions. Don’t try to bear the burden without exposure – that would be condoning the disrespect shown to you.
Consult a lawyer and find out where you stand. This will give you the information you need to start planning your contingencies. You may not want to walk that road now, but it makes sense to have it paved beforehand. Deactivate your wayward spouse and shut down their resource supply. Cancel their cell phone. Disconnect the internet. Consider emptying out half of the bank/retirement accounts (believe me that a wayward spouse is already thinking about this). Cancel joint credit cards. Make sure your insurance/retirement information is all up to date. Change your beneficiary to your children in trust of a relative on that and any other accounts you have. Draw up a new will, change the power of attorney to someone trusted. Get together all bank statements, statements of income, proof of the affair, etc so that it's readily available for the lawyer. Make certain that if you want to reconcile, you consistently explain to your wayward spouse that once they cut off contact with their affair partner and stick to it (and is transparent and honest so that you can verify compliance - handing over emails, passwords, etc), you are willing to resume your marriage and to recover without making them pay for their mistakes for the rest of their life. Show them a way back. Once your wayward spouse sees that the consequences of their actions will impact the quality of their life, there exists a chance that they may start to take responsibility for their choices.
Step 5) If the confrontation did not end the affair, it is time to make the marriage a good place to be and work on yourself. Read up on the 180 in the BS FAQ section of the Healing Library. It is a mechanism for you to retake control of your life, rebuild your self esteem, move forward with confidence, and show your partner that you respect yourself. Stay dignified and the class act the whole time. This is about personal empowerment through monitoring your thoughts, adjusting your attitude and nurturing yourself. This will also show your spouse that you can be an attractive partner in a revitalized marriage. Typically, this will last for 3 to 6 months depending before your next steps.
Step 6) If the previous steps have done nothing, then it is time to show to show your partner the reality of the situation and what they will be missing without you in their life. Tell them “Honey, I would prefer that the marriage would work and that’s what I’m willing to do, but I can see that it’s impossible now. Ending it is not what I want, but the present situation is something that I want less. So ending it, for me, is moving forward.” In this stage you cut off all communication with your wayward partner. This prevents the wayward partner from getting positive or negative emotional needs met from you. This will facilitate your spouse making a decision and also provide you with emotional detachment. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney to protect yourself, your children, and your assets - do not let your wayward partner know this as you want to get all of your ducks in a row - hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. This will protect you regardless of the outcome. This stage can last again anywhere from 3 to 12 months. Looking at the first 6 months though (steps 5 and 6) should give you enough information about where things stand with your WS.
Step 7) There is no guarantee – sometimes all that you can do will not result in your spouse returning and being a committed partner. Sometimes, regretfully, you will have to cut your losses, protect yourself and your children, and move forward and onto divorce. If this does happen though, you will have the comfort of knowing that you did everything possible to salvage your marriage.
Should the affair end and the wayward spouse return to the marriage, reconciliation will be a difficult road to travel. You will know that your spouse is committed when they:
- Take responsibility for their choices and actions (without blaming you).
- Recognise the pain you were made to suffer because of their choices and are remorseful and empathetic for you (not just feeling sorry for themselves).
- Set up plans to ensure that this doesn't happen again. This includes no contact with the affair partner or other potential partners and taking measures such as blocking them from phone/email access, constructing a No Contact Letter, commitment to finding another job if appropriate, and so forth.
- Are 100% honest and transparent and willing to answer any questions and provide any information to rebuild the trust. This includes giving you access to the tools of the affair such as emails, phone, etc in order to verify their compliance.
- Are actively trying to make amends to the marriage.
You will have both built up walls to protect yourselves. Those same walls will prevent you from connecting emotionally. They have to be taken down very carefully. Some tips for successful reconciliation include:
- Avoid spending too much time together to try and force recovery.
- Don’t just try to move forward and forget – this issue must be addressed although not the exclusion of everyday life.
- Avoid bringing up the affair repeatedly for anything not related to the affair, and do not belittle your spouse.
- Exhibit trust to the wayward partner only where trustworthiness has been shown. Continue to monitor the wayward partners activities to ensure the affair is over.
- Do spend more time together doing things that you both enjoy.
- Do seek professional counseling.
- Do ensure that you try to meet their emotional needs and not engage in destructive behaviours or habits.
Above all else, make sure that you keep faith in yourself and take care of you. That faith will nurture the natural honesty, compassion, and courage within you to carry you through. Stay true to the standards, morals, ethics, and beliefs that you hold yourself to. And know that you're gonna be okay.