An Affair Is Not the Beginning of the End

troubled couple sitting on betYou’ve recently discovered that your partner is having an affair. You find yourself shocked, in disbelief, perhaps enraged, or having an out-of-body experience. You wonder if it is really happening to you. You wonder if you read the email wrong or misunderstood the text message from the “friend” of your spouse. You begin to wonder if your life together has been a lie, and if you really know your partner.

What should you do? What should you not do? As a licensed clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist, I encounter couples and individuals in this situation frequently. I am often contacted by a new client in a crisis, having just learned about the affair, and feeling conflicted and confused about what to do or where to turn.

The longer I do this work, the more I believe that relationships can survive and overcome an affair. I have heard many individuals in a relationship state their deeply held belief that an affair would end their relationship, that they could not tolerate or live with such a betrayal. But after an affair is exposed, and the partners find themselves in this situation, perspectives can, and quite often do, change; a different type of relationship assessment takes place where the costs and benefits of staying or going are weighed.

Your Feelings Are Normal

Even though it may not feel like it at the time of the affair exposure, your relationship may be able to weather the storm of a partner’s betrayal. Frequently, an affair occurs because the couple’s relationship became strained, unfulfilling, or unrewarding; and in turn an emotional space had been created for another to walk into. Repairing a relationship after an affair is not easy, but it is very possible.

It is not unusual for a betrayed partner to feel a little unbalanced, or for his or her mood to shift from anger to sadness to fear to self-blame and back to anger all in the space of a couple of minutes. All of these feelings are normal and can be expected if a person finds that his or her partner has been unfaithful. It is a very confusing time for both partners in the relationship. Although you may be tempted to take action, to strike first, and do something that would allow you stop feeling so powerless, it is best to not make significant decisions in the hours, days, or even weeks immediately following the affair exposure. The exception is seeking distance and safety if you believe that either you or your partner is at risk of physical harm.

You may find yourself completely shocked by the revelation, or perhaps not shocked at all because your intuition was telling you something wasn’t quite right in your relationship. In the time immediately following the exposure, both partners are usually in a panic, but for different reasons. The hurt partner can feel as though their life has been completely turned upside down, that the person they trusted the most has betrayed them. The unfaithful partner is attempting to calm the angry and hurt partner, while also trying to manage the fallout of the situation. It can be very tempting for the hurt partner to want to strike back and hurt the unfaithful partner as they have just been hurt.

The hurt partner may feel as though he or she needs to make some rather extreme decisions to send a message and to gain control of the situation. The hurt partner might feel that the unfaithful partner should leave the home temporarily or move out permanently. The hurt partner may want to immediately contact an attorney, transfer funds from a joint account, to tell family, friends, neighbors, or even employers about the affair. The hurt partner may want to declare their desire for a divorce.

What to Do If You’ve Been Hurt

While these emotional reactions are understandable in the immediate aftermath of the affair exposure, with adequate time and space you might feel differently in a week, and you will most definitely feel differently in a month. You don’t want to make impulsive decisions that may feel right in the moment, but that will only serve to further damage your relationship.

The best response in the initial aftermath of the exposure is to pause and not make any significant decisions about the status or future of your relationship for at least three months. Determining what you want and how best to proceed can be achieved only through creating the time and space for understanding and emotional processing.

In order to remain resilient and stable during the days and weeks after the exposure, I recommend doing the following:

  1. Contact and make an appointment with a qualified and licensed therapist.
  2. Confide in a friend who you know is loyal and loving to both you and your partner. Avoid over-confiding in family (parents, siblings) as it may be challenging for them to forgive your partner or accept your relationship if you decide to continue it.
  3. Engage in self-care aimed at reducing your stress: yoga, massage, leisurely walks in the sunshine, time spent with some of your favorite people.
  4. Get outside and walk, run, or cycle—move and get some exercise.
  5. Try to maintain as normal and as usual a routine for your children; at this point they do not need to know, and should not know, about infidelity in their parents’ relationship.
  6. Try to accept and tolerate your mood swings; they are normal given the circumstances and will gradually subside.
  7. You may not feel hungry, but it is important to eat and remain well nourished.
  8. Try to stay socially engaged with friends, work, and social activities.
  9. Be aware of how much alcohol you are consuming and try not to allow it to become your means of self-soothing.
  10. If you are a religious or spiritual person, pray for wisdom and patience.

An affair does not have to mean the end to a relationship. Like any other long-term commitment, partners in a relationship affected by an affair should carefully and thoughtfully weigh and consider all of their options before choosing how to proceed.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anne Brennan Malec, PsyD, LMFT, therapist in Chicago, Illinois

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • miriam

    miriam

    June 18th, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    I will be honest by saying that I was one of those clueless wives who had no true idea that there was anything wrong in my marriage until I discovered that my husband was cheating on me. It really took him doing that for me to see that what I thought was just fine wasn’t so just fine at all.

    He had been trying to tell me in subtle ways throughout the years I suppose that he wasn’t happy and I chose not to listen or hear him. I guess that he finally felt like the only way that I would listen and get it that he wasn’t happy was by acting out and cheating.

    I am not excusing what he did because we are all still going through the process of dealing with the pain and counseling to help regain what we have both lost. But it was a real eye opener for me and I think that we are actually becoming stronger as a couple than ever before. I still don’t know what the end result for us will be, but I am hopeful that we will make it through this intact as a family.

  • Dalton

    Dalton

    June 18th, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    You are very brave to share your story Miriam. I know that there are a lot of men and women alike who never recover from this sort of betrayal and who never accept any sort of responsibility when their partner cheats. Marriage is a two way street and we can choose to either turn and go the other direction from the spouse or we can choose to learn and grow via the hand that we’ve been dealt. It sounds like you have chosen the latter path and I think that there are a lot of people reading who may not understand your choice but who applaud you for at least being brave enough to try.

  • Stella

    Stella

    June 19th, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    I feel so guilty because I have been the cause of a marriage to end and for what? I wanted someone and had to have him knowing that he was married with a family but that didn’t matter to me at all. I am so ashamed of what I did because now we are not even together anymore but he also lost his family as a result of the actions that we took.

    He made the decision to do it too and I know that he still feels so responsible and maybe he and his ex would have worked things out if I had even thought for one second about needs other than my own, but I didn’t, it was only about me and my own selfishness. I am not sure that I will ever get past that guilt or if I should even be allowed to at this point.

  • Paul J Dousi, PhD, LMFT

    Paul J Dousi, PhD, LMFT

    June 22nd, 2014 at 6:13 AM

    Stella,
    What you are going through is unfortunately common. You are right you were wrong. That said God has made provision for you. This is why Jesus came because we are all sinners. To wallow in your guilt will only lead to selfish pity. Yet while we are all sinners we are declared white as snow when we give all efforts to seek righteous through our good works or our self pity. The Bible says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. How does that happen? Simply trust that Jesus died for YOUR SINS, was buried, resurrected and lives for us today. Think about it. What if what I said is true? Here is room for true hope and ground for new direction as you follow Him and not your selfish desires for happiness which only leads to more of the misery you have already had and given. Instead learn to be content with what you already have. Check out Philippians 4:10-12, Romans 8:1.
    May God Bless you richly!

  • ELVIN

    ELVIN

    June 20th, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    It’s not the beginning of the end because to me if it gets to this stage then this marriage is already at the end. You don’t go doing something like this if you are happy

  • John

    John

    June 20th, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Here’s a pithy little saying for you:

    It’s not the Beginning of the End, but it’s the End of the Beginning.

  • Sara

    Sara

    June 20th, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    After 35 years of marriage my husband had an affair with a married woman half his age. That was 8 years ago. We are still together, but not for the noble reasons. I am near retirement. He makes 3 times the money I do. We live together, spend time together. The trust is gone. He has proven what he is capable of. Too long a story to lay out here. I believe we are at an unspoken understanding. He was my best friend. I loved him more than life. I trusted him with my soul. I won’t make that mistake again.

  • Veronica

    Veronica

    June 20th, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    I’m coming up to my 35 anniversary and I have gone thru the same for the last ten years . I have been drained to nothing. ! I have just one extra problem he’s an alcoholic . I’m to the point that I have lived this life for so long I don’t know how to get out of it . We argue ,fight , don’t talk for weeks. , then it’s friends again , it’s like he won’t except our marriage is over . But every night he goes to the bar , drinks and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as I’m home ! I am so unhappy , so depressed and just want to get out . I tell him how unhappy I am and he don’t seem to hear me . I just don’t know how to get out . I know people just say walk , but there’s so much involved so much to loose after you have built over 35 years .

  • Lydia

    Lydia

    June 21st, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    Sara- I am so sorry to read about your story although I think that it is one that many women can relate to. We find out that our husband is having an affair but we have been in the relationship so long and are so comfortable in our lifestyles that the thought of having to give all of that up is daunting. But so is the thought of forgiving this man who has hurt and wounded us so deeply. It is never too late for the two of you to go to counseling and work though this because you cannot happily live in a marriage that is no longer built on any sort of trust. I can hear the pain still in what you write and I know that you have to be bitter too, I know that I would be if I were in your shoes. You deserve the rest of your life to be so much better than this and to not to have to be dependent on his financial handouts.

  • Hope

    Hope

    June 23rd, 2014 at 4:20 AM

    How ndo you ever get past that sort of betrayal?
    I am not sure that I ever could because I think that I am constantly thinking that he is telling me some grand lie even when we are in therapy.

  • browneyes924

    browneyes924

    July 14th, 2014 at 7:04 AM

    I don’t know where to begin, but I’m gonna try- after about 30 years of marriage (mostly good years), not we are barely speaking to each other. We are separated but still in the same house, mostly on different floors. A few years ago, he started talking down to me, and in front of people- I would be the punch line of his jokes… He had like a double personality all of a sudden. I was like, who is this guy? Then he would be nice again. Over and Over, but then more the negative to me than nice. I dread coming home from work. As I never knew what would tick him off. He asked for a divorce, then left, coming back hours later, with apology. I believe then, is when I lost in my heart how I always felt about him. I lost the love I had for him. We get on each other’s nerves most of the time. Now, I see he is chating with old friend (female) of whom all the years we were married, he never spoke too. This chick liked him 30 years ago, but he never gave her the time. Now she is the one he is on FB with and her number is in his phone, as he toss his phone down one day and I see her name in speed dial. He admitted to have seen her too when I asked about it. I feel like I wasted 30 years, except for our 2 grown kids, that I thank God for constantly. So that is my story?

  • Jennifer

    Jennifer

    July 17th, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    Hi my name is Jennifer & I have a boyfriend for almost 3yrs. I’ve done everything for this man. Gave him a place to stay etc. He’s hit me, choked me, busted my lip open, told me he’s gonna kill me. He’s disrespected my home, broke my stuff, calls me names, tries to get me to have 3 some’s w/him & I wnt do it. He’s humiliated me in public in front of strangers, i caught him txtin other women. He has a woman that he knws that sent him naked pictures on his personal message on fb n told me he jacked off to it. He’s controlling, he’s excluded me from all my friends, hes talked bad about me to people we both knw. I never experienced such a dirt bag in my life. I want to leave but it’s hard when u have emotions involved. Tired of trying to meet a gd man. Because I him I have a hard time trusting people. I need advice & help. I’m scared he’s gonna stalk me or hurt me if I try to leave. Just dnt knw what to do.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    July 18th, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Jennifer. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Vivienne

    Vivienne

    August 23rd, 2014 at 2:38 AM

    It has been almost a year since I discovered my husbands emotional affair and I am still trying to get passed the affair. My situation is a little unique and it’s been difficult to find any literature to read to help me get through it. My husband has always traveled a great deal for work, first with the military and then later as a military consultant. Most of our friends and coworkers have often commented on the fact that I am not a jealous wife and that I trusted him explicitly. When we met, we both felt like we were soul mates, best friends, and really the loves of each other’s lifes. All of our friends at some time have stated that we had the perfect relationship. I’m not saying that is true by a long shot, but my husband has always put me on a pedestal and treated me like a princess. Likewise, I have always considered him my hero. My husband met the other woman over 10 years ago–she was someone he worked with–while working out of state. I met her, I liked her, and we laughed over some of his other coworkers commenting about them being too friendly. After he worked a consulting job that she was doing for about six weeks, they went their sepeerate ways. Over the past ten years, he has kept in touch with her via telephone, unfortunately he kept that contact a secret from me. Last August, he received a text message from her and I saw it by accident. There was nothing sexual in it, but it showed up on his phone as just a number and the number was from St. Louis. We live elsewhere. When I showed it to him, I asked who it could be and he lied and pretended that he didn’t know and called the number right in front of me. Her voice mail came on and when she said her name, I asked what she could possibly want. You see, I didn’t realize that he had been contacting her. With that phone call and with his bizarre reaction to it, I decided to pull our phone records and discovered that he was having an emotional affair for over 2 years. He confessed that he was friends with her, but swears that there was never any sexual, or romantic between them–that he just enjoyed talking to her. I know that most women would be happy to hear that and I do believe him–although it was months and several counseling sessions before I believed him, but what was more devastating to me is that he had a relationship with her at all. I almost feel like I would rather it had been a one night stand. Via the phone records, I saw how often they talked and it just tears me apart that he spent so much of his time talking with someone else. He travels 75 percent of the time for work and so a lot of our time is spent talking over the phone and to see that he called me and talked to me for 15 minutes and then immediately called her and talked to her for over an hour is just heartbreaking. And that went on night after night. He insists that they were just friends, but he kept it a complete secret. The weird thing is that I am the least jealous person I know. I feel like if he had told me about her phone calls, I wouldn’t have gotten upset, but on the other hand, if I knew about them, he wouldn’t have been free to talk to her as much. I feel like he kept it a secret so that he could talk to her as much and as often as he liked and probably keeping it a secret was a little thrill for him. Through therapy he finally understands how, even though there was no sex or sexting, it was still an affair and I feel like he is truly sorry, but I’m still incredibly hurt and I really have no one to talk to. My friends and family think that I should be fine because it wasn’t sex and it wasn’t romantic and pretty much that is what the therapist stated. No one seems to understand that I feel like my best friend was stolen and my trust, which has always been so strong for him is all but gone. It has been over a year since I found out and he immediately severed all contact with her. He has been extremely attentive and I feel like he thinks that this has brought us closer, and while we have been closer and more attentive, I’m still extremely hurt. Sometimes a song or something will happen to remind me of it and I cannot even breath. I have read a lot of different books on emotional affairs, but they all seem to have some sort of romantic or sexual basis. Please, if you have any advice, please offer it up.

  • Anthony

    Anthony

    September 20th, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    Vivienne- I understand what you are going through. My GF has been texting some guy from out of state. He knows about me, but he is lonely and as long as my GF responds, he feels she okay with disrespecting our relationship. In many ways, a one night stand would feel better. Knowing that they text and likely talk on the phone, sharing their day and personal details, feels like more of a betrayal of our intimacy than a sexual encounter would. This guy is supposed to be a secret from me and I have not let on that I know. I COMPLETELY understand how your situation does not feel better just because sex wasn’t involved. There are things you husband should share with only you, including his desire for companionship. The sad fact is that personal therapy helps to an extent, but some if it is letting time heal you and accepting your feelings as normal and justified. There is no quick cure. Be well.

  • Makayla

    Makayla

    September 22nd, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    We recently became engaged and had shared the wonderful news with my family. We had met while going to school in San Diego through a mutual friend. The first six months of our relationship was chaotic: I knew that I loved him and could see a future with him, as did he. But in those first months, he had an affair, and said it was because he felt insecure and that he did not deserve me. We rebuilt from that and spent a lot of time listening to one another and slowly I began to trust him again. When he moved to Texas for grad school, shortly after getting engaged, I told him that it was likely that a female peer would develop a crush on him ( there are 15 females in his program, and he is one of 5), and to be mindful of that. He assured me that everyone knew of his fiance, and since being there, sends me lots of things letting me know how much he loves me and how he will wait for me.

    My fiance just informed me that he had a one night stand with a classmate. And yet, he informed me that while drunk one night at a house party, everyone left, and his classmate told him that she liked him, straddled him and jumped on him. He reminded her that he was engaged, she knew of his recent proposal, but she proceeded to force herself and he consented. I do not even know her and I am furious that she knowingly ruined things, and her excuse to me is ” I’m sorry, I was drunk and couldn’t control myself.” I called her to speak to her, was polite as I could be, but reminded her that her behaviors have consequences, and that from one woman to another, her selfishness has caused significant damage. But in the end, it takes two. Yes she literally threw herself at him. But he consented

    I am appalled. I am ashamed. I am hurt. I am angry. I’m shocked. I know that he was depressed when I first met him more than 3 years ago, but since then, I know he has been in a better space. He says he is committed to me, that he will change, that he will fly to CA every month to make this work, or that he will move. He says he will go to therapy. Give up alcohol. I understand that people make mistakes. We are human, but infidelity, when you say you love someone so much? Alcohol, loneliness, and hormones do not make an excuse for not being able to control one’s self. I know that he is a beautiful human being on this inside. He has the most beautiful soul I’ve ever known, and I love him with all my heart. We were able to work past the first time because of his patience with my distrust, and need to talk, along with really figuring out WHY it happened the first time. But again? And seemingly out of no where? He says he was drunk and lonely, and could not stop himself. I’m not sure how much I can tolerate. I can’t really envision my life with anyone but him, however, I will also not let myself be made a fool.

    I’m not sure what to do, other than give it time for now.

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