After discovering your partner’s affair, it is perfectly natural to be torn in two. One half of you hopes that the marriage can be saved (and commits to working to find out what went wrong and trying to sort things out) and the other half wants to get the hell out of there.
- So how do you balance these two instincts?
- When does trying to understand your partner become ignoring his or her abusive behaviour?
- Perhaps the most important question of all is – when to give up trying to save a marriage?
A Reader Writes…
I wanted to give you another update on my situation. Finally, after 4 years post discovery and 2 years since coming to the realisation that I have been in an emotionally abusive relationship. After this realisation, I’ve come to an active decision to want to divorce. I have signed papers as of last week and the divorce is final. Things are surprisingly good, at least for now. Contact is minimal with my ex, but cordial and cooperative so far, regarding visitation with our daughter. We’ll see how things go.
Hindsight is 20/20. I’d like to share what I see. Kind of as a post mortem, a written exit session to our correspondence, if you will.
Hope sometimes clouds judgement and we cannot discern whether we are in a terrible situation that can be remedied, or an abusive one from which we should extricate ourselves, especially when we are the abused.
I am in a positive place now where I have found employment, a supportive network of friends and family to rebuild, and back in therapy with a therapist I trust. I’ve told her I want to work on self-worth issues, and coping techniques for anxiety through CBT. Now, with time, I can honestly say that the affair has released me from the grips of the abusive relationship. In the end, I believe it was an Exit Affair. In perhaps an odd way, I am grateful for the series of emotionally violent events, I certainly do not agree with how everything progressed, but I know had it not been as violent, I would probably still be sitting on the fence and saying how when you’re married for this long, shit happens and it’s not about how good or how bad things are, but how we deal with breakdown or success that creates or defines the quality of life. We’ll get through this. We did get through it. I survived. The whole how we deal with… is often true in many cases, but not when we are in abusive situations. In the future, it may be helpful to have an assessment tool to see whether we might be in abusive situation, within the context of the affair landscape for which your clients seek your help.
After deciding to disentangle from this unhealthy relationship, I created boundaries. I’ve taken action to disengage in abusive behavior. Just because the ball is thrown our way doesn’t mean we have to catch it. It’s almost a reflex. I did that for many years, not realising we don’t have to be part of the dance. We are bullied into it. I’ve realized to my surprise, that we can calmly say, I’m not speaking with you until you can address me without shouting, and speak together in a calm tone of voice. Then if it doesn’t abate, to just hang up. It’s so many of the things I’ve been afraid of doing. It works, and in my case, I think it stunned him. That he couldn’t get to me. Things stopped escalating, because he couldn’t get to me. Nothing can escalate if there is no effect to amplify, there is no effect, nor feelings of control or gratification to amplify.
It took many years. But I feel well now. I wanted to thank you for the valuable coping tools in those initial dark days. And to get me to see the situation as it is, taking the focus off of the blame, and onto the dysfunction, get about to being constructive. And compassionate towards ourselves and to our partners. To see things not as the cheater and the betrayed, but contexualizing it, using the framework of *discovery*, rather than on the affair. There is too much to deal with and sort through to attach judgement to the situation and to each person’s position, And affairs are extremely complex things, I now see. I am really in favor of pro-marriage counseling. And though I’ve chosen not to stay in my marriage, I don’t see it as a failure. That’s important. I think it’s important for people who are pro-marriage to understand this when they go through what we go through. Even if we are pro-marriage, and we decide to divorce, it is not failure. Success is defined not by the longevity or the continuity of a marriage, but actively taking the choice to give both individuals the possibility to continue to grow. At least that’s how I see it. After all, who want a marriage to survive, if the people in it feel dead and deadened by each other and the semblance of a life that they’re making together?
In the end, I believe how we respond to, or how we use the discovery of an affair (or whatever difficulty in relationships we might be facing) makes a difference in how we live. I believe there is a difference between the discovery of an affair, and not the affair itself. The discovery can be a springboard, an opportunity for stocktaking, a catalyst for change, a step away from dysfunction towards something more positive and constructive. Or, we can use it as blame for our problems, justification for self pity, loathing, a crutch or an excuse to solicit sympathy. It’s up to each person to decide what they are going to do with this difficulty. I never thought I’d be saying this, but this experience has made me a better person. A more honest parent and person, And perhaps a more patient, communicative, openly imperfect but totally present partner. I aspire to be one, at least. I’m learning so much about myself, myself in the context of people and relationships, and the human condition. It is an amazing service you are giving to people, and society.
Thank you for your gift of sharing, listening, and teaching us how to see, and navigate from murky to clear, open waters.
With warm regards and gratitude,
My ex-partner of ten years broke up with me a couple of months ago. I have no proof, only a gut feeling that she was/is having an emotional affair with her boss. Of course, it’s not my place to ask her about it now since we’ve broken up. This is not the only emotional affair she’s had and I have a lot of anger towards her right now – I HATE that she’s talked to other people (including her suitors) about our relationship problems. But I still love her, and I’m trying to understand her point of view. I accept responsibility for the destructive behaviors I took part in that may have driven her to seek out a confidant. I don’t want to pressure her into coming back to me anymore by making promises or constantly declaring my love (like I foolishly did for the first month after the break up when we were still living together). I want to show her that my love for her is real by giving her the space she needs to sort out her feelings and keeping things light when she chooses to contact me.
I still have enough love to give without her giving much of anything in return. I realize that a lot of the anger is ego-based. But at what point am I just letting her take me for granted? I have so many questions and no answers about this possible affair and no way of obtaining them without violating her privacy (which I won’t do anymore than I already have). At what point is my still pursuing her despite the possibility that she violated my trust considered a lack of respect for myself?
Andrew G. Marshall says
I would be surprised if she wasn’t having sort of affair – whether emotional or physical when she broke up with you. So let’s just take it for granted and she’s not going to make a full confession (at the moment) because it will make her feel guilty and ashamed (and who wants to feel that!). What I want to challenge is the idea ‘she is taking you for granted’. I have heard this many times before but I don’t know what it means. Think about what the phrase means to you and why it makes you so mad? I would question whether you are pursuing her or just ‘keeping the door open’. I think you can still talk to someone and have self respect…. I suppose what I’m saying is that everything in your message is full of judgement about your own behaviour. It’s almost like you feel that you have to be ‘strong’ and the only way you can do that is by cutting her off – even though it’s not what you want. I think it is also ‘strong’ to look at your own behaviour and see what you want to change (ie ego based behaviour) and to still have enough love to be open to hearing her (even if she says painful things).
Are my comments still awaiting moderation?
Andrew G. Marshall says
I reply and moderate the comments once a week. Sorry it takes time but there is only me and I have books to write, clients to see and all the general stuff of life. However, I will get round it soon. Don’t worry.
Thank you for your response and clarification. I had not considered how busy your schedule might be when I made my follow-up comments. For that, I apologize.
Your response has actually helped me realize that I’ve been telling myself one thing (that I’m pursuing her by reaching out or trying to do thoughtful things with the intent of mending the relationship) while trying to convey another to her (that I’m just leaving the door open by not mentioning the relationship at all) I suppose this mixed messaging comes from my desire not to smother her and my fear that if I stop reaching out, we will cease to have contact altogether. This might also be the root of my frustration when my gestures don’t elicit the response I want. In other words, I feel ‘taken for granted’ because I perceive myself as putting forth all this effort that goes unnoticed or under appreciated. But that’s not her fault.
At the moment, I honestly don’t know whether pursuing her or just leaving the door open would give me the best chances of winning her back. But more importantly, I’m starting to see that that’s not where my focus should lie – which is why I will now order “Wake Up and Change Your Life.”
Thank you for reminding me that there are more ways to be strong than just burning bridges
I had been with my husband for 22 years, married for 9. I found out in July 2017 he was having an affair for a couple of months. He apologised begged to come back but I found out in Sept he had continued to see her. He left 12 months ago now. I was devestated and still am. He quickly moved his girlfriend in then out again2 days later as he said he was still in love with me! She messaged me saying the same but it seems she didn’t actually leave and still lives there with him although he lied for months about it. He has for the last year manipulated me, he constantly sends mixed signals and continues to say I can see why you don’t think it is, but this is so hard for me (he seems to love playing the victim) I have tried several times to discuss sorting out the house, finances etc but he will not discuss it. All I get is this is so hard for me, I’m busy or he ignores me. He seems quite happy to carry on paying all of the bills whilst living the single life with his girlfriend. He still won’t tell our son about her I think it’s time he was told before he finds out from somebody else. He keeps saying he will but doesn’t? He makes her go out when he has our son. He has not introduced her to his family and doesn’t even talk about her, basically she is still his dirty little secret. I told him a couple of weeks ago I want a divorce his response “I thought we were going to talk about it? Argh!!!! He then walked in the house kissed our son and left without a word. Then went on holiday for a week. He comes back and acts like nothing has been said. I am at the end of my teather with all of this. I am trying to get on with my life keeping busy and getting out making plans but I really do still miss him. I didnt want this but am sick of being stuck in this limbo hell. He clearly doesn’t want to be here yet he won’t let me go. I have seen a solicitor as he clearly isn’t going to but haven’t filed yet as trying to get the funds together to pay for it! Why is he doing this to me?
Andrew G. Marshall says
Why is he doing this? Because he is in a dark place and everything he does to cope or feel a little better – just drags him further into the slough of despond. You would think he would stop, understand how he got into this mess and begin to address the problems. Sadly men are told from childhood to be self sufficient, ignore their problems and carry on. Guess what he’s doing now. Sadly, there is nothing you can do to help him understand this. You need to focus on your life and getting the support you need. You might like to join my group https://andrewgmarshall.com/andrew-g-marshalls-infidelity-survival-training-and-support-group-launch/
Andrea DiDonato says
Dear Andrew, my situation is that my b/f of 21 years has broken up with me and is with another woman. we currently own a home together that we are going to fix up and sell in the spring. I am a realtor so I can do this. he no longer sleeps at home, I see him everyonce in a while when he comes home to get mail and clothing, on a few occassions we had sex but he will not stay afterwards and will not tell me if she knows about me, I know this is dumb on my part but I must say I really still love him very much and I am getting depressed, I sleep badly and have lost 19 lbs in the last t2 months. I dont eat full meals,
i read your book and it was informative, I want him back, i am not sure if he will come back,, the thing I am most curious about is that when he is with me it is kind and tender and loving,
he has not said if he is in love with her. I want this to be saved. all of my friends have advised me to move on but I am so heart broken, he is even very friendly when we talk on the phone.
why does he feel it is ok to cheat on her with me?
Andrew G. Marshall says
Believe me, he knows it is wrong to cheat but he is so mixed up he doesn’t know if he is coming or going. So he lives from minute to minute hoping that somehow he will get his head together and KNOW what to do. Sadly, men are not brought up to think, reflect and talk to others about their problems… but to act. If you want support and help with this difficult situation, you might like to consider my group