STEPS TO COMING OUT OF AN AFFAIR
1. No contact with OP. This step may sound pretty obvious–after all, you can’t build your marriage if your time and attention are on another person–but this step means that you take deliberate actions to make sure all contact is ended and you never, ever contact the OP again. This includes writing, emailing, IM-ing, being with them, seeing them, working with them, or hearing about them from the friends you two used to hang out with! This may very well require some fairly drastic changes to your life, such as quitting your job or moving! Now my guess is that you may think, “I can’t quit my job, are you crazy? The economy is bad right now, and if I quit and the marriage doesn’t work, I won’t be able to pay my own bills.” The truth, though, is that people change jobs all the time and are laid off all the time. Does a marriage survive a lay off and a period of being unemployed while looking for another job? YEP. It’s not easy and money can be tight, but THE MARRIAGE survives! Marriages also survive moving across the country, moving to be closer to family or further away from family, etc. So unless you plan to die in the house you’re in now, and unless you plan to stay at your current job until retirement, that means that you figured at some point you’d be moving (at least to another house) and you’d be ending this job and going to another. Why not NOW to save your marriage!? The very first thing that is non-negotiable is that you MUST end all contact with the OP and put up barriers and guards so that you never speak to them again FOREVER. We often suggest that you write your OP a “No Contact Letter” and then give that letter to your spouse so your spouse can do two things: mail the letter and contact the OP’s spouse to let them know about the affair. Your affair partner’s spouse deserves to know that they are with a person who is willing to betray them, hurt the children, and possibly bring home a life-ending disease. Believe me, nothing assists with ending contact like having your affair partner’s spouse know about what they’ve been doing!
2. Transparency. This is hard, isn’t it? The second step in recovering from the fog is being personally transparent with your spouse. I use that word “transparency” because it means “see through”–let your spouse see the REAL YOU! Let them in. Let them see the Real You and what you think and feel. Let them know what you struggle with. Be see through. Right now they will not trust your honesty, and for good reason! You’ve been lying and covering up who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re saying, and who you’re with! It is reasonable for them to not trust your honesty if you’ve been dishonest, isn’t it? So allow your spouse to verify your whereabouts and check up on you…so they can start to trust your honesty again. Offer each other your passwords, access to each others’ emails, let him/her see your cell phones and texts, and open your PC to your spouse. All the ways that you used to contact your OP–open those up to your spouse so that a) they can see what you’re doing and verify you are acting in an honest way, and b) it helps you to stay out of contact knowing that they are or may be checking! Show your spouse the Real Person you are and do your best to get to know the Real Person they are too!
3. Commit to actually doing the work on YOU and the work on the marriage. Boy this doesn’t get any easier, does it? Part of the problem up to this point is that both you and your spouse made mistakes in your marriage and the way you treated each other. I suspect this might be something that you can understand and even agree with! But even beyond those mistakes, there may also be issues that are your personal issues, that have nothing to do with your spouse, that you NEED to admit and work on. For example, maybe you were sexually abused as a kid and now you confuse sexual interest with love, or don’t feel loveable at all so you go everywhere looking for infatuation thinking it’s love. Maybe you were physically abused by your parents and don’t understand about boundaries, or don’t have any self-worth because you were just used by them. Maybe you were brought up with everything given to you by your parents and now you need to learn to work for things and realize you’re not entitled to “things” because you’re alive. Does that make sense? In a way you may be able to point out your spouse’s personal issues a whole lot easier than your own (like “he/she has anger issues or he/she has no self-esteem”) but the point of this step is to stop running away from yourself and your issues, look yourself honestly in the eye, admit to yourself “I need to work on this” or that you might need counseling for it, and then COMMIT TO ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK!! Lots of people say they’ll go to counseling, go five or six times, and right about the time it starts to be about *them* doing some work, they “forget” to do the homework and then stop coming (or say “This counselor is no good!”). So make the commitment–deliberately dedicate yourself–to being responsible to do the work on your own self, and on your marriage. Not “Oh I’ll try but it’s just so hard…..” NO!! Work!! HARD!!!! “There is no try only do.”
4. Gather Evidence of Love to get through withdrawal. When you end all contact with the OP, part of what will happen is that so much of your time and day was spent with them, thinking of them, writing to them, etc. that you won’t know what to do with yourself. Also you’ll hurt and miss them and wonder if they’re okay. I liken this feeling to the withdrawal that an addict goes through when they first stop their addiction, and this is one time that you are very, very vulnerable to re-connecting and starting up the affair again. So gather evidence around you of your spouse’s love. Keep old photos handy that show you and your spouse “in the good old days” when you were happy and in love. Keep old love letters from your spouse at hand so when you feel lonely or think of your OP, you can pull out a love letter from your spouse and remember THAT love. You don’t want to just “put off” the affair behavior here–you want to also “put on” new behavior so print out your wedding vows and frame them, when you would have sent a poem to the OP, send one to your spouse instead, and purposely train your mind to think of your spouse instead of OP.
5. Go to your spouse directly–spend time together. This is very important! For the longest time now, being with your spouse has had a negative association. After all, when you are with your spouse, they yell at you, find fault, argue, criticize, keep score, make demands, ignore you, treat you with disrespect–it’s awful! On the other hand, being with the OP has had a positive association–it felt good, they liked you, and they showered you with love. But “back in the day” you and your spouse used to share everything, stayed up all night talking, admired each other, and were best friends. In order to really come out of your affair, you need to not only “put off” the old behavior of talking to your OP all the time, and “put on” the new behavior of thinking of your spouse instead–but you need to also start to associate some positive with time spent with your spouse. So we usually suggest to DS’s that you give your spouse the chance to be your friend again and treat them like you would a best friend. Do fun things together that you both enjoy. Start a new hobby. As an example, Dear Hubby and I enjoy MMORP gaming together, traveling, car shows, reading, and certain sci fi shows. It’s not always deep, emotional talk but we can talk about the new talent builds, remember a trip we made together, drool over a muscle car, read stories to each other, and talk about the “tweest” in the storyline of our favorite show….and those are positive associations! So stop trying to be spouses and parents and just try to have some fun together.
6. Find one accountability mentor, make amends. This step is all about taking responsibility for your actions NOW and your actions during the affair. Again this may not be a welcome topic but it is vital in coming out of an affair and rebuilding a happy, loving marriage. Part of the reason this got out of hand and became unfaithfulness is that you kept it a secret, and if you did tell someone it was people who would be supportive of infidelity. Thus if you went to come OUT of infidelity, it is helpful to have a support network that would be support of FIDELITY! Find one mentor with whom you can be honest, who’s wise and will help you with suggestions if you’re hurting, and who can help you find your footing and stay on track. Obviously we think Affaircare coaches are an excellent choice! But some other ideas would be a parent, a pastor or person in your church whom you respect who’s your same sex, a boss or professor, or maybe just someone who you consider your “wise council.” Be honest with that person and let them encourage you in your pursuit of staying married and rebuilding a loving marriage. The second part of this step is related to taking personal responsibility, and that’s making amends for the damage made by your choices during the affair. You may feel very guilty for what you’ve done and how you behaved, but nothing will soothe guilt and reknit broken relationships with family like going to them directly and apologizing for what you did–then asking for their forgiveness. It may not be “fun” to hear, but your children, your parents and siblings and coworkers and friends may have been hurt as well as your spouse’s parents and siblings and coworkers and friends. Remember how lame it was when President Clinton denied his affair with Monica L. and we all thought, “Dude if you’d just admit it and say you’re sorry we could get past it”? Yeah–same here. Covering it up and pretending it didn’t happen rarely “fixes” the problem; whereas, when you admit you made a mistake, people are very often able to forgive and move forward.
7. Re-start Love Kindlers/End Love Extinguishers. We talked before about how the Love Kindlers ended on both sides of the marriage, and how Love Extinguishers became more and more frequent. Both of you have dwindled down on the kindlers and piled on the extinguishers, but you can not control your spouse–you can only control yourself. So is that the kind of person you want to be? If not, we recommend that you begin laying the groundwork to falling in love with your spouse, by being who you WANT to be. Very often as you go to couples’ counseling or marriage therapy you’ll hear some advice to restart the things that kindled love, like “start dating again” or “be romantic” but rather than concentrating on those concepts, which I bet you understand, let me be practical. If you have done step five and started to have some fun with your spouse again, but just don’t yet feel that “magic” for them–if you want to feel love but just don’t quite feel romantic and you find yourself stuck for ideas–we recommend the Romance Calendar at LovingYou.com. It’s not that I’m not romantic but some days I just can’t think of what to do! After all, it can be hard to be creative and unique year after year. So use the Romance Calendar as a tool to give you one good “kindler” idea every day that spans every love language.
But even more important that the Love Kindlers, it is VITAL that you end all your own Love Extinguishers. Yes, I do realize it’s unfair that you have to work on ending your Love Extinguishers when maybe your spouse isn’t stopping, but life is unfair sometimes. If you do not stop your Love Extinguishers, it will be a lot like adding wood to a fire that has a colander over it that someone is pouring water into. What happens? You pour and pour and pour and the water just leaks all over, putting the fire out! It never, EVER blazes because it keeps being put out! It feels like you’re spinning your wheels getting nowhere–enough is never enough! But if you end the extinguishers first you plug the holes in the colander and the water never hits the fire. Then what happens? Gradually it can build up and get hotter. Likewise if you end your Love Extinguishers first, then when you do the Love Kindlers your spouse will be able to see them and gradually their love for you will grow. The hope is that they would also be working with you to build a happy, loving marriage, and when THEY end their extinguishers … then they’ll be able to add kindlers and the flame of love will grow.