CAUGHT IN AN AFFAIR: CHOOSING BETWEEN YOUR SPOUSE AND YOUR AFFAIR PARTNER
May 27, 2020
The day your affair was discovered will be one of those days you aren’t likely to ever forget. With the secret you worked hard to hide now out in the open, your two worlds have collided, and you are left to deal with the great emotional damage you caused to those you care about most. It is an intensely painful time for everyone.
Evaluating Your Options
If you are still involved with your affair partner at the time of discovery, you’ve likely been given (or will soon get) an ultimatum from your spouse. In my experience with long-term affairs, I generally see clients fall into one of these three pools of thought:
A) You desperately want to save your marriage and family and know you must end the affair to do so.
B) You see no real hope for the future of your marriage and are ready to officially walk away.
C) You are torn. You aren’t sure you can give either one up.
Would it surprise you to know that most people find themselves torn between staying in the marriage or staying with the affair partner? Having an intimate relationship with two people simultaneously means you’ve likely become emotionally attached to both of them. Letting go of either one will bring about feelings of grief and loss.
I typically see this play out in ways that are destructive to all parties involved. You don’t want to say goodbye to either, so you make insincere promises to your spouse to cut things off, but you continue to sneak around to be with your affair partner. Your spouse, who is already reeling from the betrayal, becomes hypervigilant and begins keeping close tabs on you. When they find out you are still seeing or communicating with your affair partner, the damage is compounded. Meanwhile, your affair partner is also feeling yanked around by your empty promises.
Facing Your Reality
This may be hard for you to hear, but someone needs to tell you that trying to straddle both sides of the ‘fidelity fence’ is a very selfish move. Your fear of making the wrong decision – or lack of courage to make the choice you really want – is self-serving and it’s crushing two people. As my mom used to say, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
If this is where you are today, let me give you some advice.
Commit today to stop deceiving everyone. You’ve been caught and your lies exposed. It’s time to step into your higher self and start acting with integrity. If you aren’t sure which person to leave, leave both of them for a while.
This is one of the very few scenarios where I recommend temporarily moving out of your home and creating space away from your spouse as well as your affair partner. It’s the best way to ensure you have the clarity you need to make the best decision for the long-term. This is also the time to get into individual therapy with an experienced marriage counselor who can help you wade through the guilt, shame, anger, resentment, and a host of other strong emotions that will come and go during the coming weeks and months.
Tell both of your partners you are torn and confused and need time. This also gives each of them the choice to hang around and wait for you to decide, or to move on without you. Getting left by one or both may be a scary proposition, but it is the fairest for everyone involved.
Making a Choice
Assuming both your spouse and affair partner are willing to wait for you (and that is frequently the case), you now have a choice to make. How do you even go about making a decision? Your marriage probably feels like the safest option because it is the most familiar. Staying means less disruption to your finances, your extended family dynamics, and possibly your children’s lives. But safety isn’t very sexy and invigorating. Your affair partner brings excitement and passion like you haven’t experienced in years.
Here are some things to consider as you wrestle with this decision.
- The excitement you feel in any new relationship is temporary. It was true of your marriage and it will be true of your relationship with your affair partner as well. What will be left after the new wears off?
- Affairs are created in fantasy worlds where two people become obsessed with being together without the mundane getting in the way. What happens when the limerence fades?
- Be careful of trying to compare the two. It’s unfair. You know all of your spouse’s warts because you’ve lived with them. They know yours too. Your affair partner has warts (we all do), you’ve just not likely seen them all yet.
- It’s quite possible you are judging your spouse too harshly right now. Their flaws have probably expanded in your eyes. It’s one of the ways our human nature allows us to justify our infidelity.
- Stable and familiar seem pretty boring next to shiny and new but as the song says “not all that glitters is gold”.
- Statistics say that second marriages fail at much higher rates than first marriages.
Most people who leave a marriage express regret not trying harder to work on the relationship before divorcing.
Keeping it Real
If it seems like I’m leaning toward encouraging you to choose your spouse over your affair partner…let me assure you that is exactly what I’m suggesting. Marriage is hard. Really hard. It requires incredible commitment. If you aren’t willing or able to keep your commitments, you aren’t likely to be ready to be in a relationship with anyone.
Your affair isn’t about your spouse is difficult, boring, or unsexy (though every single one of those may be true).
You are cheating because you are pursuing self-gratification over your promise to love, honor, and cherish your spouse.
I don’t believe all marriages can, or even should, be saved. I do however believe – to my core – that most can and should be saved. And the ones that can’t, can be left honorably. If things aren’t going well in your marriage, stand up and say so. Get professional help. If you feel you need to leave your marriage, leave it with dignity.
IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING TO MAKE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WORK, WE OFFER ONLINE COACHING TO MEET YOUR VIRTUAL NEEDS.
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