Acting on impulse is not the best strategy when you want to reconcile. Follow non-destructive principles until you become more stable.
How do you feel? What do you want? These are hard questions to answer when your relationship has been turned upside down by an affair. Your answers to these questions may change from day to day, and if you just follow your feelings, you will reject your partner one minute and be needy the next. You need to follow some guiding principles until you can have emotional stability. You need to leave the door open for reconciling, while also protecting yourself and the future of your relationship with reasonable boundaries.
1. “Why should I work on my relationship after my partner had an affair? It’s not fair.”
I agree with you (are you surprised?). There is nothing fair about an affair. Something tragic and terrible was done to you and to your relationship. If you want out, I can’t blame you and I wouldn’t try to talk you out of it. Before you pass judgement on your spouse, however, it is worth your time to consider a few questions. Did you contribute in any way to the distance in your relationship before your spouse had an affair? Did your spouse do this to intentionally hurt you or was it just poor coping on his or her part? Have you ever desired to be with someone else? If you must judge and walk away, don’t do it with a righteous attitude. All of us are sinners and would be lost except for the grace of God. But, if you want to save your relationship, you must make love a higher priority than your desire for justice.
Your spouse still has consequences
When you use good boundaries there will be some consequences for your spouse even though there won’t be any revenge. Your partner will experience a loss of either you or the other person. The more loving you can be, while still maintaining good boundaries, the more your spouse will lose if he or she gives you up for the other person. If you treat your spouse badly, you just make it easier for him or her to feel better about losing you. As long as you are not allowing your spouse to have his or her cake and eat it, too, your spouse will experience real emotional loss–just as you have.
You don’t have to rush to make up with your spouse
If you are too upset, take care of yourself first. Get help from your friends or family, or from a counselor. You need to be able to have good boundaries and still be loving. Anything that will get in the way of you having good boundaries has to be dealt with first or any relationship work you do won’t work. The most important boundary of all is that you must not continue to live with your spouse if your spouse continues to have contact with the other person. Separate, deal with your feelings, establish separation boundaries, and build your relationship–in that order. Take your time and do it right.
2. “My spouse has done this before. Is there something different that I should do, some modifications I need to make?”
It is really important that you have a professional helping you to figure out what is contributing to the repeat affairs. You need to know if it is a character issue or mainly a relationship issue. The more it is a character issue, the more important it will be for you to protect yourself and also consider divorce. The more it is a relationship issue, the more you will need help with changing what is going on in your relationship.
3. “I also had an affair that my spouse knows about. Does this make us even?”
It’s quite cliché, but two wrongs don’t make a right. It is a definite sign that although you both want to be together, you are both having a hard time getting your needs met with each other. Having had an affair yourself might make you more sensitive to some of the reasons your partner has now had one. It doesn’t change what you need to do, but it underscores your need to create a deeper, more committed relationship with your spouse.
4. “I’m afraid that if I set good boundaries my partner will leave me.”
If you don’t set good boundaries, you become codependent for your spouse’s cheating. This will increase the likelihood of repeat affairs, even if the current one ends. Your spouse will have even less respect for you than before, and it will be really difficult to become close. Love alone will not build a relationship if respect is missing. Good boundaries are necessary to get your spouse to the point of emotional commitment to you. Without that, he or she will only let you get so close, and no closer.
Boundaries are not enough to build a relationship
If you only set good boundaries and leave out the loving messages, your relationship improvement won’t last. When we are only tough, without being loving also, what we will get is resentful compliance. At first it will seem good, but when that resentment builds to another peak, you will get some other kind of acting out (perhaps another affair or even divorce). When we are both tough and loving, resentment does not build. The reason is that we don’t feel resentful when we do things out of love.
5. “My partner is demanding that I show the proof for his or her affair. Should I?”
This is bound to happen in the process of confronting your spouse for having an affair. As long as you have proof, don’t show it to him or her. Your partner not knowing will help him or her to resist the temptation to have another affair, rather than focus on ways to better cover his or her tracks. Also, your spouse may become angry at the way you got the information. If your partner denies having an affair because it hasn’t been proven to him or her, don’t fall for that silly game. Just continue as though your partner is refusing to give up the affair.
6. “I’m undecided about whether to divorce or not. Time is passing. What should I do?”
Your difficulty deciding what to do indicates mixed feelings. It isn’t something you have to figure out all at once. Better is to have a strategy for dealing with those feelings. I recommend putting all of your effort into making your relationship work. Then you will be able to walk away with a clear conscience if you are rejected. If you don’t put your effort into reconciling, you will never know what might have been. That will make it much more difficult to walk away if you are rejected. If you don’t know what to do to try to make your relationship work, then you can get guidance from a relationship coach.