How to Confront a Cheating Spouse and Rebuild
You will have to confront your cheating spouse with your knowledge of his or her affair if you hope to save your relationship. But, what is the best way to do that?
Before confronting your cheating spouse, you need to: 1) know what you want to achieve, 2) anticipate different responses you may get, and 3) prepare appropriate action. This article will help you to prepare, be effective, and avoid conflict.
Don’t turn your confrontation into a discussion
Keep the confrontation simple and short. This is not the time for working on your relationship or getting your feelings out. It is not a discussion, negotiation, lecture,or interview. And, it definitely should not be an argument. A simple and effective way to do it is in writing rather than face to face.
Face to face confrontations are not a good choice. When a bear is trapped in a corner, it will turn to fight, as will a mouse. Let your partner collect his or thoughts and calm down before giving you his or her response, if any. With my coaching clients, I help them to draft a written message. The message should be short, specific, and loving but not needy.
The message must not close the door nor offer instant forgiveness. Offering forgiveness while your spouse is still cheating is harmful. It actually encourages your spouse to continue cheating. It lacks any incentive for your spouse to stop. Your spouse will need to end the affair before forgiveness can be given.
What not to do in your confrontation
Don’t talk about your feelings, blame your spouse, or make threats. If you blame or threaten, you will not get contrition, but defensiveness. Also, talking about your feelings at this time is likely to make you vulnerable when you need to be strong.
Don’t get drawn into a discussion. The confrontation is not a discussion, but is you giving specific information to your spouse. It’s purpose is to get your partner’s respect, express your desire for restoring your relationship, and to give your spouse a forced choice with no other options. It is a vital first step along the path of reconciling when there is an affair.
Be sure you don’t reject your spouse if you want to reconcile
If you say you are definitely ending the relationship, you will create the following problems:
- you will have to back down from it later, which will lose you more respect;
- your partner may respond by rejecting you, putting you in a difficult position regarding reconnecting; and
- you are less likely to find out why your partner is having an affair.
Don’t assume you understand the reason for the affair. All you know at this point is that your partner is having an affair. Although an affair is always wrong, it can be more or less understandable, depending on the reason. Although it is always wrong to steal, it is understandable is one is starving. It could be that you starved your spouse by not doing important things that show love to your spouse.
Don’t confront at the moment you catch your spouse in an affair
If you catch your partner in the act, whether in the back seat of your car or in your bed, leave immediately. You need time to compose yourself, make a plan, and possibly get a consultation with a professional. Not much good is going to come out of a bedroom or even cell phone confrontation.
Use careful, deliberate action, not panicked reaction. You didn’t walk into the beginning of their relationship. The time that you take to compose yourself, pray, and talk to a friend, will be well spent. Walk out right away and let your spouse worry about what you are going to say. Don’t take his or her calls. Let him or her sweat for a while.
Have the right attitude toward your spouse
Avoid seeing your spouse as evil. I recommend seeing your spouse much the same as if he or she had a drug or alcohol addiction. For sure, affairs and addictions are not the same thing, but usually serve a similar purpose. They feel good at the time, are damaging, and are hard to stop on one’s own.
Affairs are self-destructive, as well as other-destructive. The affair may be the result of a character flaw. Or it could be a symptom of an already failing relationship. Lovingly wanting to help is better than angrily wanting to hurt your spouse. You have to be tough in order to help, not hurt, your spouse.
Try not to take the affair personally. Your spouse’s affair is an attempt for your spouse to feel loved, have fun, and be important. It is not your spouse’s attempt to hurt you. Although cheating is destructive, wanting to feel loved and important are understandable.
“When is the best time for me to confront my spouse about his or her affair?”
Like pulling a tooth, there never is an easy time. Acting before you’re ready is not good, but neither is letting things go on. I do suggest that before you confront your spouse you make plans for:
- separating, should your spouse not immediately end the affair,
- having supportive people you can count on, even if you only have a counselor or coach, and
- knowing proper boundaries to not let your spouse re-connect with you too soon
Your trust must be earned back. When forgiveness and re-connection come to easily, affair are very likely to recur. You will have taught your spouse that cheating on you has no serious consequences.
1) being safe; 2) getting social support; and 3) having a place to go temporarily, if necessary. You don’t want to be in the position where you give your spouse a choice between you and the other person and then find you have no recourse when your spouse just continues the affair.
“Shouldn’t I just wait for the affair to die out on it’s own, without confronting my spouse?”
Can you remain loving day after day with a spouse who is giving his or her love to someone else rather than you? If you can’t, and you start to become distant and cold, that will only push your spouse more toward his or her affair partner.
If you do allow it and keep quiet, what does your spouse learn from the experience? Love demands taking actions which your spouse won’t like, in order to save your relationship. And, the longer you delay action, the less likely you are to reconcile.
“I feel hurt and rejected, like my partner has intentionally done this to me or like my partner doesn’t care about our relationship any more.”
There is a possibility that your spouse has rejected you and has been preparing to leave your relationship. This is sometimes the case. If so, then feeling hurt and rejected is appropriate and you need to see this for what it is–a relationship issue rather than an affair issue. In an affair, the person having the affair attempts to get something from the affair while also maintaining his or her marriage or committed relationship. That’s the reason for the secrecy.
It’s not so much a matter of rejecting you as it is poor coping. Your spouse may love you, and not want to lose you, but have a hard time living without something that the affair is providing. There are some good ways you can check to see how much hope is left for your marriage. God can use all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28) and it just could be that this affair has created the crisis needed to get your relationship back on track.
“Do you have any examples of what to say to my spouse?”
Each situation is unique, and what works well for one person may not be suited for another. There are some common elements, however:
- I know about your cheating,
- I love you and want the relationship to work,
- That can’t happen while you are cheating,
- So, either you end all contact, or we separate/divorce.
There are other choices and other messages you could make, but this is the most common structure. If you were my client, I would help you to prepare and practice for different responses. My book, Connecting Through Yes! includes many examples of how to do this with a cheating spouse.