Most statistics I’ve seen indicate that about half of marriages suffer some form of infidelity at some point. This means that, if you’re married, the odds are likely even that it could happen to you. Believe me, I truly hope that it doesn’t, but if you find yourself suddenly confronted with an adulterous spouse, here’s some advice:
- Confront your spouse with your knowledge of the affair. Although you’ll likely want to do it, don’t. It will just make matters worse. You’ll drive your spouse and their adulterous partner closer together, and likely drive the affair further underground. It may take longer for the affair to end, and there may be complications in reconciling your marriage as a result.
- Talk to friends, neighbors, co-workers, family, or anyone, with the exception of a professional marriage counselor. None of these people (except for a counselor) is in the position to give you good advice. If you want to destroy your marriage, then go ahead and seek their advice, as they’ll likely tell you to get an attorney and file for divorce.
- Go hire an attorney. Now is not the time even to consider divorce. Your emotions will be too unstable, you’ll be mad, hurt, feel violated, and so on. You need to actually do some serious introspection first to see if you want to save your marriage.
- Air your dirty laundry to the world. There are some marriage “professionals” who advise publicly exposing the affair as widely and to as many people as possible. This is more or less going nuclear on the situation. This might be effective short term in bringing the affair to an end, but long term you’ll have serious problems reconciling your marriage. If you do take this approach, know in advance that you are destroying your spouse’s entire life.
- Blame yourself. Don’t misunderstand me: you did have a role to play in the affair happening. You, along with your spouse, contributed to the conditions that allowed you marriage to crumble to the point where your spouse felt that s/he had to go outside the marriage to get needs met. But, the ultimate fault lies with the wayward spouse, who did have the choice to make as to whether or not to be unfaithful.
- Snoop on your spouse. You’ll gain in information what you lose in peace of mind. Do you really need to know all the sordid details of the affair? Worse yet, if your spouse finds out, they will be justified in feeling that their privacy has been betrayed. (Sure, you’ve been betrayed as well, but two wrongs do not make a right.)
- Move out or ask your spouse to move out. This will only make matters worse. You will be giving your spouse the opportunity to detach from you emotionally and to attach further to the affair partner.
- Avoid any and all talk of the affair. Do not ask any questions. Do not even allow your spouse to bring it up — just shut that conversation down and tell them not to go there, ever. In most cases, your spouse will hide it from you and lie continuously about his/her behavior. As awful as this seems, this is exactly what you want to happen. The affair will be weakened by the continuous lies and deception as this will weigh on your spouse’s conscience.
- Seek expert advice. You cannot successfully negotiate this alone. Traditional marriage counseling has, at best, mixed success; only about 20-30% of couples going this route end up successfully reconciling. I’ll post recommendations below for programs that have successful track records.
- Work on yourself. Now is the time for critical self-evaluation. Are you really the best that you can be? What aspects of yourself or your personality need improvement? This is actually the most critical component in this situation: you did have a role to play in your spouse looking for satisfaction outside the marriage, so try to see the ways in which you could better yourself.
- Allow yourself the time and space to grieve. Being the victim of an extra-marital affair is one of the most soul-shattering experiences a human could suffer.
- Protect your spouse’s privacy. If friends ask what’s going on, just tell them that your marriage is a private situation and that it’s simply not appropriate to discuss it with anyone else.
- Maintain hope. Reconciliation is possible in the vast majority of cases of spousal infidelity. Not only that, but very often such marriages go on to be much stronger and far superior to where they had been before. A wayward spouse is actually not more likely to cheat a second time, but rather has a huge incentive never to do so again if the marriage is successfully reconciled.
- Know that the affair will end. As dispiriting as it may seem knowing that your spouse is with someone else, and despite anything you may hear about the affair, know that it will die its own natural death. There is no actual “love” between affair partners, no matter what they say. Love requires trust and honesty, and these do not exist within the context of an affair. Both partners must continuously lie and deceive their own partners, friends, family, and even each other in order for the affair to continue. The affair my drag on for a number of months, but it will end. There is virtually no chance for it continuing into a long-term relationship of any kind — including a marriage — and this is especially true if you take the right steps toward reconciling your marriage.
Now for some good advice — you know, the kind that friends and family won’t give you. Here are some programs that are useful and can be very effective in reconciling a marriage that has fallen victim to adultery:
Disclaimer: I don’t profess to offer any professional advice, nor do I have any financial incentive to promote any of the programs above. I have looked at all of these, and they all contain very useful information that could be used stand-alone, or in combination with one another. I personally have been working with the Marriage Fitness program, and have also consulted ideas from Save the Marriage and Break Free from the Affair. There are other options available as well, but the most important thing is that you actually do some research and find what will be best for your situation.