How to Talk to Your Partner about Your Affair

Unhappy young female sitting with her husband in the backgroundThe initial aftermath of affair exposure is a critical time in the life of an intimate relationship. What you say or don’t say can make a big difference in the outcome of your partnership.

Let’s start with what you shouldn’t say. You should not say your affair “didn’t mean anything.” Do not yell, get angry, raise your voice, play the victim, blame your partner, blame your affair partner, or blame your kids. The only person you should blame is yourself. The goal is to take responsibility and be accountable for your actions in a way that is genuine, respectful, and remorseful.

There is a story to your affair which your partner will very likely want to hear. She or he may want to know everything. If so, you should go slowly in the unfolding of the story. Watch for his or her reaction when you talk about the affair; every detail may not be necessary in order to communicate the key elements of the infidelity. Be considerate and watchful of providing details that will only hurt your partner more. Emotional sensitivity is required even if your partner claims he or she wants to hear everything. Use your best judgment. Remember, this is a person you love and hope to love in the future.

Even though you are feeling shocked, exposed, and ashamed, don’t shut down and go silent. You probably don’t know what to say to help soothe and calm your partner. But it is important that your partner not have to drag information out of you. Before you begin the process of telling your story, check with your partner to determine if it is a good time. You may need to postpone the discussion depending on her or his mood and emotional reactivity. Your partner’s world has come unraveled, and you need to begin the process of cleanup. Your need to be proactive cannot be overstated. Some assumptions you can make about the situation: your partner is very angry, hurt, and lost. In addition to some other questions he or she may want answered, your partner wants to know why, how, and for how long. He or she may ask questions such as,“How could you hurt me like this, where did you meet, who initiated the relationship, who else knew about it, when did it start, and is it still going on?”

You need to be proactive and get this discussion going. You may not want to create an emotional storm and begin sharing all the information you went to great lengths to hide, but you must. Your partner is in pain, and the only one who can address the suffering is you. You should not answer any question with, “I don’t know.” Whenever I hear someone say this in response to a question about the affair, I push them to think harder about the reasons behind the betrayal. “I don’t know” is the intellectually dishonest and emotionally safe response. Of course you know why, but chances are you have never had to answer that question and are afraid telling your partner may hurt him or her. The thinking behind the “I don’t know” answer is really “I don’t want to tell you,” “I don’t want to think about it,” or “I’m afraid to tell you because I may incriminate myself further.” From your partner’s perspective, if you made a decision that put your relationship at risk, you had better have a good reason for doing so. Being drunk, bored, or angry is not a good reason to have an affair.

As the unfaithful partner, you will need to spend some time thinking hard about why you engaged in the hurtful behavior. The explanations and reasons for the affair are likely many, and will require serious reflection to determine how you strayed so badly off course. If your partner wants answers immediately and you don’t feel adequately prepared to provide them, give him or her a time and a place when you will be ready to tell the story. The sooner you are honest and forthright with your partner, the sooner you can begin the process of repair.

If you need help in putting your story together, contact a mental health professional for assistance.

© 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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  • Tina

    Tina

    October 22nd, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    When I learned about my husband and his affair, I felt so pulled in millions of directions because there was a part of me that wanted to know everything but then I knew that hearing about it would also make me sick so then I would fluctuate between wanting to know everything to wanting to know nothing. It can be hard to hear it but what helped me was actually getting him to talk to me not about the intimate details of the affair becasue I knew that that was probably more than I could take, but actually talking to me about the why it happened. I came to see that it was not my fault but that I did have a contributing role and that I had to be willing to take a little bit of ownership of that if there was any way that we would get through this. It has taken a very long time and there are still times when the trust level ebbs and flows but for the most part e have worked through it. The fear is still there as I think that it always will be that he could do this to me again, but that is a chance that I made the decisions to be willing to take once we decided to work on the marriage and to stay together.

  • doug a

    doug a

    October 22nd, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    I played the victime and she saw right through that. I really did it to get back at her for her own affair, but she acted like she was justified in her actions and that I was all wrong. So I played that card that I would have never done wrong unless she hadn’t already done that. We aren’t together anymore which is probably the right thing anyway.

  • Makayla

    Makayla

    October 23rd, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    I want to talk about what happened but he is so closed up that I don’t want to have to pull it out of him either.

    I sort of feel like he owes me at least this much, some sort of explanation, but he thinks that if I took him back then that should be the end of it and that moving back in was his signal that it could be forgotten.

    I am not sure that I can ever forget what he bdid, but I would be a whole lot more likely to at least forgive and move on if we could have some conversation about it and I could get some closure.

  • Les

    Les

    October 23rd, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    As much as both partners may want to this is not the time to bury your head in the sand and try to pretend that this did not happen. Ignoring the situation will only make things worse for everyone, as you are not addressing the reasons why this happened and are not talking about the repairs that need to be made to the fissures in the marriage. If you cannot confront with openness and honesty what happened and why, then there is a greater likelihood that at some point down the line the same thing could end up happening all over again.

  • bev a

    bev a

    October 24th, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    There will be a time and a place for the discussion but my thoughts are that this would be better to sit down and do with a therapist especially when the wounds are fresh and raw. This will be someone who will know how to facillitate a positive conversation and who will have the experience of leading you through this.

  • Cord

    Cord

    October 24th, 2014 at 2:15 PM

    I am not really sure that my wife even wats to acknowledge the fact that I had an affair and she sure doesn’t want to know the reasons why. I am not sure if she is afraid that I will say something about this being her fault or that she made me do it, but whatever the reasons, even if I do want to have a conversation about it, for her she thinks it is easier to pretend like it never evn happened.
    I am not really knowing what to do at this point because veen that feels strange to me, like she is ready to be compltely oblivious because of… well, I don’t know what exactly.

  • carol

    carol

    October 25th, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    Horrible conversation that I never want to have to have!

  • Leigh

    Leigh

    October 26th, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    @ carol- I did not want to have to talk about it either but my husband made some choices that made it impossible for me not to talk to him about it. Believe me when I tell you that listening to him talk about those choices was so hard. He helped me understand what he did, and not to be used as an excuse, but I also saw that what we had together was worth saving. I guess for me it became a whole lot like I didn’t fully understand what we had together until I almost had ot all talen away from me, and somehow that loss left me feeling much more appreciative of what we had built and grown together over the years. The repair work is ongoing and hard, but I think that with time we will build something even stronger than what we had together before.

  • carol

    carol

    October 27th, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    So sorry for your pain Leigh

  • tz

    tz

    October 28th, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    @cord talk to your wife have you flat out told her the truth that you had an affair? It’s your job man to start that convo not hers. She probly thinks the marriage is over if she brings it up so tell her its not her fault, it’s YoUR fault and that you won’t divorce her/leave her hanging.

  • Jamie

    Jamie

    July 1st, 2019 at 6:50 PM

    With all these talks about affairs, I wonder what it says about marriages that are happily open. Isn’t possible to be happily married to someone and have feelings for someone else? Some people/couples are actually ok with that sort of thing and have an understanding about it. They don’t consider it to be a reflection of an unhappy union, just a natural part of being human. Hasn’t anyone here heard of open relationships? There are several configurations, sexually open (with rules) as well as polyamory (with rules). How come therapy discounts this possibility? Some people are ok with this. I’m not saying that everyone should be, but to claim that there is always something wrong with a relationship because outside forces penetrated the marriage is a bit one dimensional thinking.

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