You’ve suspected for a while that something is not right between you and your spouse. Maybe they were spending lots of extra hours “at work” but there was no overtime on their paycheck. Maybe they completely changed their music, hairstyle, or clothing choices to something appropriate for someone decades younger. Maybe they were chatting or texting all the time and then deleted everything so you couldn’t see it.
Whatever the reasons, you had a sneaking suspicion something wasn’t right…
If you suspect your spouse is having an affair or is being emotionally unfaithful, do not despair. An affair does not have to mean the end of your marriage. In fact, consider this:
- Approximately 20% of affairs last less than two months
- Approximately 50% of affairs last more than one month, but less than a year.
- The remaining 30% last more than a year
- Very few last more than four years
- Around 3% result in marriage
There are seven specific steps you can take if you have reason to believe your spouse may be unfaithful. There is no guarantee your marriage will recover, but these steps will give you the best opportunity to recover after the affair ends.
Step 1) Gather evidence. Just to be clear, it is very typical for the disloyal spouse to deny they are having an affair, even if you walk in and catch them “in the act.” They jump up and as they’re putting their clothes on they’ll say “It’s not what it looks like!” So this step is not so much to use as proof to make the disloyal spouse confess, so much as it is proof to the loyal spouse that they are not making a mountain out of a molehill…something REALLY IS going on. So if you suspect, keep an open mind and gather evidence to either prove or disprove your theory. In some states it is illegal to tape someone without their knowledge, so you may want to check your state’s laws on electronic surveillance. In general some typical “evidence” could be looking at emails if the disloyal leaves their email open (print them!), looking at the cell phone pictures and texts if their phone is left unlocked, or logging onto your joint cell phone bill online and looking for 2000 minutes to the same phone number.
Step 2) Confront. Once the loyal spouse is convinced that there is an emotional or physical affair and it’s not just all in their mind, the next step is to go to the disloyal directly and tell them to their face that you know about the affair and have evidence in a safe place that proves it’s real irrefutably. Don’t tell them where it is or what it is necessarily, just make the statement that you know about it. Then state right out loud that in order for the marriage to work there can not be infidelity and ask them point blank to end the affair.
Ending the affair means that they can never, EVER contact the other person ever again, and they agree to be accountable for their time by sharing passwords to their accounts (facebook, all email accounts, cell phones…etc.). On the occasion there is a disloyal spouse who will fall apart just upon being discovered and who have been looking for a way to get out of it but didn’t know how. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!! If it is not, move to step 3.
Step 3) Disclose. When you have confronted your disloyal spouse about the affair and asked them to end it, and they either refuse to do so or have not done so (maybe they took it more “underground”), the next step is to disclose the affair to ONE very respected authority whom the disloyal is likely to look up to and listen to…someone who is likely to be pro-marriage and tell the disloyal that having an affair is not acceptable…that they should end it and work on the issues in their marriage. This one person is possibly one of the disloyal spouse’s parents, a pastor or religious leader, a teacher or boss. Meet with the one person in confidence; explain to them you expect them to keep it confidential but that you need help; and then explain that your spouse is having an affair and give them the facts. If you can, show them the evidence. Then ask the respected person to help you and give you any support they can offer to encourage your disloyal spouse to “come home.” The idea here to keep this to ONE specific person who is pro-marriage, wise, and trusted by both of you so that any potential for embarrassment is minimized and so your disloyal has the opportunity to “do the right thing.” On the occasion a disloyal spouse will listen to the person they trust and respect, and end the affair. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!! If it is not, move to step 4.
Step 4) Exposure. When someone that your disloyal spouse respects has spoken to them about the affair and encouraged them to end it, but they have hardened their heart and refuse to end it, the next step is to expose the affair to those who will likely be affected by a potential divorce. The idea behind exposure is not to drag your disloyal spouse’s name and reputation through the mud (their ACTIONS are doing that!) but rather to refuse to keep the affair a “secret” and to bring the ugly truth of the unfaithfulness to the light of day. In many ways an affair is like an addiction, and in the disloyal’s mind they may be thinking something like, “Oh yes we might be disrupting four people’s lives, but don’t I deserve some happiness too?” What they DON’T realize is that a divorce will not affect four people –it will be a like the ever-widening wake of a nuclear bomb, affecting possibly hundreds of people!
For this step though, there will be a focus to the exposure.The loyal spouse should contact their own family (parents and siblings), the disloyal’s parents and siblings, their church or place of worship, the loyal spouse’s employer, the disloyal spouse’s employer, and the other person’s spouse and inform them that the disloyal spouse is having an affair, that it is serious, that the marriage is in trouble, and ask for help. The focus and main concern here is to contact those who may be harmed by the affair, give the facts, and ask them either to support the loyal or talk to the disloyal and tell them to return to the marriage.
And by the way–YES you speak to your employer so they know why you seem distracted, cry at work, and aren’t as productive–and you contact the disloyal’s employer because they are seriously in jeopardy of a sexual harrassment lawsuit! Their property, time, and resources are being used for unwanted sexual contact (you, as the spouse, do not want it) and they need to address it or they could be sued. And YES you contact the other person’s spouse and ask, “Are you aware that my spouse is having an affair with your spouse? I have evidence… ” Nothing ends an affair faster than the OP’s spouse screaming and putting their foot down!
Now, your disloyal is likely to be pretty upset with you for exposing their affair. A) Affairs are much more “fun” when they are a clandestine romantic rendezvous and not brought to the truth of being adultery! And B) you are trying to cut them off from the drug they are “addicted” to the affair. But just like you sometimes have to endure the fury of an addicted friend in an intervention–it’s for their own good and the hope is that once the addiction is broken, they will see and appreciate what you did. Your marriage can survive your disloyal spouse’s anger–it can not survive ongoing adultery. On the occasion is a disloyal spouse who realizes that everyone knows about their affair–and the OP’s spouse screams and puts a stop to it–and the affair is killed. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!! If it is not, move to step 5.
Step 5) Carrot & Stick In this phase you focus on two things: work on yourself to be the person you once were who attracted your spouse again AND simultaneously allowing your disloyal to experience the natural consequences of their choices.
You work on yourself by eliminating the things that extinguished love between you two (like judging, angry explosions, enough is never enough) and by re-starting the things that kindled love between you two (like romantic doo-dads). You need to do BOTH…but eliminating love extinguishers is the most important of the two. The idea here is that the disloyal is getting some of their needs met by the Other Person but you want them to see that you do “get it” and that you are an attractive alternative able to meet their needs.
The second part is about NATURAL consequences. This doesn’t mean that you punish the disloyal, but rather, nope–you are not leaving the house so they can move their lover in. If the disloyal wants to be with their lover, they’ll need to move out and nope the kids do not go with them. There is no reason for the children to leave their home, their bed, their neighborhood, their friends, their school because the disloyal is with the OP–so a natural consequence there is that the disloyal loses some time with their children. That’s the cost of choosing to have an affair and what WILL happen if they choose to divorce. Allow them to experience that hurt because it will teach them faster that affairs HURT and cost A LOT!!
You should know that this step is not “long term” because no one can give and give and give forever when an affair is being rubbed in their face. Eventually the time would come for you to say, “I’ve done what I could to win you over and now I need to move to the next step before I lose all love for you.” Sometimes a disloyal spouse sort of sits on the fence in this step because they are getting needs met by two folks. On the occasion there are disloyal spouses whose affair just die a natural death–like the Other Person just gets sick of it and leaves them–or they begin to see the good of staying and how much leaving would hurt…and they think maybe that too much water has passed under the bridge. Periodically let your disloyal know that you would love to have them back and work on the marriage. Invite them to return. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!! If it is not, move to step 6.
Step 6) Consequences. In this step you write the disloyal a letter and explain that you love them, admit the things you did to contribute to the affair, indicate what you’re doing to end those things, and then say that unless they end ALL contact with the OP and never, EVER contacts the OP again, you need to end all contact with the disloyal. The idea behind this step is to give them a more realistic taste of what divorce could be like–to not have you in their life to meet ANY needs! They also can no longer depend on you for those little household chores, blame you for the day’s events, nothing. Here are some Sample Consequences Letters. For some practicalities, if you have children one of the common things a female disloyal will pull is wanting the loyal to do things “…for the children” when really it’s to meet one of her needs. In the Consequences Step, it is already set up ahead of time that there is an intermediary or buffer between the disloyal and loyal spouse. This can be a person who agrees to do it…this can be a notebook that the children carry in their backpack when they go between houses… but by no means is the loyal spouse to accept phone calls or read IM’s or emails.
If the disloyal calls the loyal should say something like, “Are you calling because you’re ready to end the affair? Oh, you’re not? Then please respect my wished for no contact until you’re ready to do that. Goodbye” and hang up. All email attempts, just forward to the intermediary. Keep the focus on ending the affair and recovering marriage. Don’t get caught up in arguing over secondary or trivial issues.
Undoubtedly by this point life is not going great for the disloyal as they persist in doing what they know is wrong, and so they need to have someone in their life whom they can blame for everything that’s going wrong. If the loyal spouse is the one getting the blame a) that extinguishes a lot of love for the loyal spouse and b) that give the disloyal spouse somewhere to displace the blame rather than looking at themselves and their own choices! So it is necessary for this time of no contact in order to maintain what little bit of love the loyal spouse may still have and allow the disloyal to take personal responsibility for their choices as soon as possible.
Again, in this stage there are occasionally disloyal spouses whose affair just die a natural death–the OP just gets sick of it and leaves them–or they begin to realize that a divorce would be VERY painful to them…and they think maybe that too much water has passed under the bridge. Periodically let your disloyal know that you would be willing to have them back and work on the marriage. but that at this point some substantial damage has been done. Invite them to return. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!!If it is not, move to step 7.
Step 7) Legal Separation. The final step that we’d recommend before divorce is a legal separation. To be blunt, many affairs die a natural death within two years, so if a loyal spouse can stall for that amount of time, there is a good chance that the disloyal spouse would at least consider returning. Thus, as a tactic that will both stall the legal process of divorce and protect both the family assets and the loyal spouse and children, we would recommend a legal separation and suggest a minimum of one year legal separation. During the legal separation, the loyal spouse should continue to work on eliminating love extinguishers and once again reclaiming love kindlers–but they can also suggest marriage counseling or begin to date the disloyal again. The disloyal spouse may push for a “quickie” divorce in an attempt to legitimize their affair partner, but if nothing else, a legal separation will give all parties involved a chance to recover from the emotional rollercoaster and a likely chance of ending the affair. Once the affair is actually OVER–then it’s conceivable the disloyal may still decide they would rather stay apart, but at that point with all good conscience the loyal spouse will have literally done all they could to save their marriage.
Once the affair is over, there is still more work to be done to recover the marriage…but that is another topic!