Your partner has found out about your affair or you’ve confessed and the full impact of your behaviour is starting to hit home. Your wife or your husband is traumatised: angry, constantly in tears and maybe even throwing up in the toilet. You want to offer comfort but you’re the person who caused the pain in the first place.So what can you do?
The answer is a A LOT but in your panic and attempts to cope with the overwhelming shame, it is highly likely that you’re going to make mistakes which will compound your original betrayal, undermine both of your recoveries and increase the chance of a messy and damaging divorce.
If you’re in either of these situations:
- My wife has discovered my affair
- My husband has discovered my affair
then let me lay out the options…
Five possible outcomes for my affair has been discovered
You don’t know what you want. You’re not certain if your marriage can be saved or whether your partner will give you a second chance. You could also have ‘feelings’ for your Affair Partner (or AP).
So I want to give you some clarity—gained from thirty years working with couples after infidelity—there are only five possible outcomes. The choices that you make at this point will have a huge impact on your wife or husband’s decision and the chances of saving your marriage. So what could you do?
1. Leave for your affair partner
Your feelings are so strong, you believe that you’re got to give this relationship a chance.
- There is the possibility of what some of my clients call a ‘soft landing’—in other words, there will be a lot of pain and heartache but you and your lover can support each other.
- You will find out if you are truly right for each other.
- This is the worst outcome for your partner and your children. I know you are not “leaving” your children (only your marriage) but this is not how your children will see it.
- You are setting yourself up for a bitter divorce with the impact lasting for years – possibly decades. (I know because I’ve also spent thirty years helping adults cope with the fall out from their parent’s divorce when they were children).
- Your children will blame your AP for your divorce and their mother or father’s unhappiness. At best, you can hope for a polite but grudging acceptance of your new partner. This will have a HUGE impact on your new relationship and be the source of endless rows. (Step parenting is hard enough even if the new partner was not on the scene when your marriage ended).
- Affairs are conducted in a bubble of fantasy and until it is tested in the real world, you can’t truly know each other. So it might seems like a soft landing today but it is setting up years of hard work.
2. Quit both your affair and your marriage
The affair has shown up fundamental problems in your relationship but your AP was truly just a catalyst to leaving rather than the solution to your unhappiness.
- Affairs are normally born out of the lovers mutual unhappiness and this is seldom a good foundation for an enduring relationship.
- You won’t leap out of the frying pan into the fire.
- You will have time to get your head together and decide what you really want.
- Your children are more likely to be forgiving and in time come to understand and accept your reasons for leaving.
- Your wife or husband will make a better recovery.
- You are more likely to learn from your mistakes and less likely take the problems of one relationship into the next.
- More options. With time to get your head together, you might look at your marriage through fresh eyes and be genuinely open to trying again (rather than going for option four below).
- This option rarely happens.
- You are likely to feel lonely, your AP will bomb you with ‘love’ or distress calls. You will stay in contact, meet up to talk and, in effect continue the affair (which makes it option one).
- You need a good support system. Sadly many men outsource their emotional welfare to women—first their mother, then their wife and then their affair partner or yet another woman. (If you hook up with someone new within weeks or a month or two of leaving, you will lose the respect from your partner that comes from truly following this option.)
3. Let other people decide
You’re so conflicted that you can’t fully make your mind up and try to keep your options open. You swear to your wife or husband that you want to save the marriage (and often believe your promises) but keep your lover in play by keeping in contact either openly or in secret.
- You can tell yourself fate decided the outcome and therefore feel a little less guilty.
- Most people who’ve had affairs don’t consciously decide to take this option, but drift into it by default.
- If you don’t know what you want, you’ll be direction less.
- Other people will decide what is right for them and that might not be right for you.
- Your wife or husband will divorce you.
- Everybody will be angry with you – including your children.
- You will learn nothing from this painful situation.
- There is a danger of self-medicating to cope with the underlying pain and hopelessness (and drinking too much, binge eating, street drugs, becoming addicted to porn etc).
4. Make a half-hearted attempt to save your marriage
You want to save your marriage and protect your children but there are limits to how far you’re prepared to go or how much you can cope with emotionally—especially if your partner keeps “going over the same old ground” or “harking on about the past”.
- It shows a certain strength of character that you’re prepared to face the some of the consequences of your affair.
- The impact on your children will be less than with the previous options.
- You’re doing the best that you can.
- You will have learnt something useful about yourself, your partner and relationships in general.
- Your partner will not feel truly loved (however much you tell them you do).
- There is a danger of getting stuck in attempted normality (where on the surface everything looks OK but the pain is lurking under the surface).
- Your partner could decide that you don’t truly “get” her or his pain and divorce is the only option.
- Worse still, your partner will seal off his or her pain and carry on for financial security or the sake of the children and you will end up in a Zombie Marriage (which looks alive to outsiders alive but for one or both of you something has died inside).
- There is a high probability that one or other of you will have an affair in the future.
- Once again this is seldom the conscious choice of anyone post-affair but where many people end up.
5. Commit whole-heartedly to making a full recovery
Even when things are tough, you are determined to help your partner heal, to learn about yourself and not make the same mistakes again.
- Instead of being the cause of your partner’s pain, you can be part of the healing process.
- Affairs expose the fault lines of your relationship and offer the chance to sort them out, once and for all, so you could not just save your marriage but build a better, more connected and stronger one.
- It will protect your children from the fall-out (or significantly lessen the impact).
- You will learn a lot about yourself and how to communicate more effectively.
- If your partner does decide to end your marriage, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did your best to make amends.
- Facing up to your mistakes is character building.
- Your affair partner will get the message that the affair is truly over and start to get on with the rest of his or her life.
- It will take time.
- It involves a lot of hard work.
- You cannot know the outcome ahead of time.
If you’re in the position of my affair has been discovered and you are unclear of how to move forward, torn between your partner and children and your affair partner or need advice, why not book an appointment with one of my team?
We offer counselling in London and Sussex and by Skype to the rest of the UK and the wider world.