Ending Your Affair With Integrity

Having an affair may seem like a good idea at the time, and a really bad idea once it becomes too complicated to manage a double life, and the guilt too difficult to bear.
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a couple lying in bed
a couple lying in bed

How do you end an affair?

We all make mistakes. If we are really honest with ourselves, sometimes staying married to the same person for ten, twenty or even thirty years can be an incredibly difficult challenge. For some people, having an affair may seem like a good idea at the time and a really bad idea once it becomes too complicated to manage a double life and the guilt becomes too difficult to bear.

Most affairs last less than three years, which means that cheating is not a long-term solution to marriage problems, including boredom. Infidelity often causes more problems. In fact, the added burden of dishonesty, deceit and fear creates more issues for many couples than there were prior to the indiscretion.

So, what if you are currently having an affair and realize you made a mistake, and want out? If you are in a sexual or emotional relationship (or both), then you may owe your cheating partner more than just a "sorry, I made a mistake."

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did you promise your affair partner a life outside of your marriage?
  • Did you lead your affair partner on to believe that you had feelings for them when in fact you may have been swept up in the excitement of the affair?
  • Did you create a relationship with your affair partner by texting them, emailing them and/or calling them every day or on a regular basis?
  • Did you have sex with this person more than once and was there an expectation that this would happen again?
  • Did you tell your affair partner that you loved them?
  • Did you share with your affair partner negative stories about your marriage, maybe even comparing them to your wife or husband?
  • Did you ever, even once, hint that you would leave your marriage for your affair partner?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, it's time to end your affair with integrity. If you are ready to walk away and you feel it's time to end it, take the time to do it right. Don't underestimate the impact you have had on someone else's life. Your affair partner deserves to be treated with respect. You were involved in their life and got them involved in yours. The first step is to end things in a mature, healthy way. You don't want to cut off the affair in a way that doesn't clearly define that you are ending the relationship. Why?

  • If you don't end it well, the affair could come back later and jeopardize the new monogamy you are working on in your marriage.
  • If you don't do this with integrity and respect, you could potentially hurt your affair partner's feelings, which could mean they will want better closure and the affair could drag on until they get emotional satisfaction from you, which you may be unequipped to provide.
  • Some affair partners who feel used or disrespected may seek revenge by contacting your spouse, your boss or even your family and friends in order to create the same chaos in your life that they feel you have created in theirs.

If you end the relationship, make sure you are clear about what you will and will not continue to do. One suggestion might be that you let them know that you will continue to care about them, but that you can no longer speak on the phone or answer their emails. If you are having an affair with someone at work, you may need to establish new boundaries for your new office behaviors. You might tell your affair partner that you will try to maintain a "light and polite" relationship, but that you can't have personal discussions or share feelings at work.

Tell them you are sorry for hurting them, leading them on, or getting them into this mess in the first place. Show empathy by trying to relate to how they are feeling, and take responsibility for your part in the affair. Make it clear to them that you have to end the relationship, although you may have regrets and even ambivalence. It is okay to thank them for all that they have shared with you. And then let them know that you are working on your marriage and that your relationship with your spouse is your priority.

Depending on your new monogamy with your spouse, and how transparent you are about your affair, you might share the experience with them. Your spouse may trust you even more if they understand how you ended the affair, and that you did it with integrity. For instance, if you just write your affair partner an email and say, "I can never see you again," your spouse might not ever trust that the affair is really over, or that you really ended the relationship and are recommitting to your marriage. Show your spouse that you are working on being a grown up and taking responsibility for the consequences of your mistakes.

Sometimes it's not easy to end a relationship. Maybe you had a fantasy that an affair would work out better than it did. You actually have to grieve that possibility. Endings can be complicated. It can hurt to let that go. And, at the same time, the guilt and remorse over hurting your spouse may also be very intense. Ending an outside relationship with integrity and bringing all of yourself back into your marriage is actually the best way to end the affair and move on with your future.

If you want to stay married to your current spouse and make things work, sit down and talk about what you each want for your new monogamy together, and what it will take to make it work. You may have each gained some insight into your own needs and wants through this process.

If you each put new energy into your marriage, you may find that can both create a new marriage and a new, sustainable monogamy, for a lifetime.

Dr. Tammy Nelson is a world renowned expert in relationships, a psychotherapist in private practice and a trainer and seminar leader worldwide. She is the author of several books including Getting The Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together and the upcoming The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. She can be found at drtammynelson.com and her Facebook page Getting the Sex You Want.

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