Affair by Spouse? How to Confront When You Want to Rebuild

You will have to confront your 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?

confronting spouse having an affair
Confronting your spouse for an affair can be the first step to an improved relationship

I recommend keeping the confrontation simple and short.  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 may be gratifying, but it also has the potential for things to get out of control.  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 message, specific to their situation, which is firm, but also loving.  The message must not close the door on their relationship, but also not offer instant forgiveness.  It retains power for the spouse who was cheated on.  It is not needy, and does not give power away. Whether you confront your spouse in writing, or face to face, these are the elements you should strive for.

What not to do in your confrontation

You may want to talk about all of your feelings, blame your partner, or make threats.  If you blame or threaten your partner, you will not get contrition, but defensiveness.  That can very quickly deteriorate into an argument.  And, it is too soon to talk to your spouse about your feelings of hurt or betrayal.  There is a time for that, but it is not in the middle of a confrontation when stress is high.  Also, talking about your feelings at this time is likely to make you vulnerable when you need to be strong. 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.

Confrontation for an affair should not include a rejection message

If you to give a message that you are definitely ending the relationship, when you would actually like to try to save it, you will create the following problems:  1) you will have to back down from it later, which will lose you more respect; 2) your partner may respond by rejecting you, putting you in a difficult position regarding reconnecting; and 3) 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.  An analogy would be that it is always wrong to steal, but understandable if one is stealing food because they are starving.  It could be that you contributed by not doing the 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, then it would still be better to leave, compose yourself, think out what outcome you want to have, and possibly consult with a professional before saying anything to your partner.  Not much good is going to come out of a bedroom confrontation. Although it may feel to you like you need to say something right away, you don’t.  It is not an emergency no matter how much it feels like one. 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 when you do  again make contact. Let him or her sweat for a while.

You need to have the right attitude toward your partner

It is important to 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.  In some way, they help the person who is having an affair to feel better, although losing more respect for himself or herself, and doing damage to his or her relationship.  Affairs are self-destructive, as well as other-destructive.  The affair may be the result of a character flaw (sometimes the case), or a symptom of an already failing relationship with you (often the case).  If you get stuck in thinking that your partner is a horrible person who needs to be punished, it will not give you the right mindset for making things better.  Try to see your partner as trying to cope with his or her problems and deficiencies, albeit in a damaging way.

“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.  It’s usually better just to get it over with because of what you will be going through in the meantime.  I do suggest that before you confront your spouse you make plans for:  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? 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? Although being quiet and patient may work for people who don’t really care if they have a relationship with their spouse, for others it would result in their losing their love for their cheating spouse. If you wait until you get to that point, there will be no relationship left to save.

“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 the 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. Rather than trying to find the specific words to say, I recommend you learn a constructive method for dealing with conflict.  When you do this, you turn every conflict area in your relationship into an opportunity for connection.  My book, Connecting Through Yes! includes many example of how to do this, including a chapter on confronting and connecting with a partner who is having an affair.

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