There’s plenty of advice out there focused on affair recovery and what married couples can do to rebuild trust after infidelity. There’s considerably less information available on how to move forward from an affair if you’re the other man or woman. How do you convince yourself it’s over ― and what do you tell the married person you’ve been seeing?
Below, therapists from around the country share the advice they give affair partners looking to disengage from an unhealthy relationship and move on with their lives for good.
1. Pay attention to your affair partner’s actions, not their words.
When your partner tells you they intend to leave their marriage, you want to believe them; it’s easy to fall for false promises or half truths when you’re deeply invested in a relationship, said Alicia H. Clark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C. It’s a lot harder to recognize that your partner likely hasn’t made any real attempts to break free from their primary relationship, she said.
“An affair derives romance and passion from ‘what-could-be’ but that’s generally not sustainable,” Clark told HuffPost. “Avoiding reality only hurts you and the future you deserve with someone who can fully love you. Facing reality and your understandable disappointment is the first step in making yourself available for true love.”
2. Recognize that there’s a whole different side of your S.O. you’re not exposed to.
Affairs are intoxicating because they’re built on brief, heady encounters, and they’re entirely free from the day-to-day demands primary relationships face, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling for men. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself: What’s my affair partner like when they go home to their spouse and kids ― and how have I idealized them in this on-the-side relationship?
“Affairs are built on fantasy, not real life,” he said. “No kids, no household to run. When you’re with someone who’s still married you’re also only getting part of them because they’re not fully available, which means you’re usually only seeing their better side.”
3. Remind yourself that you’re worthy of someone’s full attention.
Your may savor the time you do spend together ― but ultimately, you’re selling yourself short if you don’t have their full attention, Clark said. There’s even a possibility that carrying on the affair in secret has taken a toll on your self-esteem, leading you to believe you’re not worthy of love or a trusting relationship.
“Remember, just because you’ve become accustomed to waiting your turn, thinking about your partner’s needs first or keeping shameful secrets doesn’t mean this is who you are,” she said. “You deserve to be in a mutual relationship, where you can get your needs met without shame.
4. Break it off in person, not through text.
Ghosting is no way to end any relationship, let alone one as fraught and complicated as an affair. To avoid messy emotional entanglements later on and gain some closure, end the relationship in person, said Megan Fleming, a New York City-based psychologist and sex therapist.
“It might be tempting to send a ‘Dear John’ text or or cut off the connection cold turkey but you owe it to yourself to say goodbye to what drew you to this person and what will never be,” she said. “It needs to end properly so that the relationship you truly desire can come into your life.”
5. Don’t use vague terms when ending it.
You may be tempted to couch your breakup language in vague statements to lessen the blow ― “maybe one day this will work out” or “I’ll always have feelings for you” ― but doing so isn’t helpful to either of you, said Sheri Meyers, a marriage and family therapist and the author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.
“You can be compassionate and considerate, but do not backpedal; give no mixed messages of hope,” she said. “Say goodbye and that you can’t see them anymore ― period, no exceptions. You’ve got to close the open emotional door between you and cut off all contact.”
6. Then, resist any attempts on their part to get back in touch.
Once you’ve ended it unequivocally, don’t allow your ex to re-enter your life, said Caroline Madden, a marriage therapist and the author of After A Good Man Cheats: How to Rebuild Trust & Intimacy With Your Wife.
“They may still call you and try to see you in person so they can convince you to stay,” she said. “Fight the urge to see them again. Think of all the times you tried to contact them in the past, but they were too busy with their actual partner. Then, remember that ultimately, you are breaking free from an unhealthy relationship.”