Balance good boundaries and loving communication to end your spouse’s affair and be close again
You can build your relationship, even while your spouse is having an affair. But, you will need to use good boundaries. Otherwise, your spouse will enjoy you and the affair partner.
The more damaged your marriage has become, the more it must be built. Your spouse will have no reason to give up someone great for someone not so great. You can’t just build without boundaries, however.
Even relationships without affairs require boundaries. Boundaries develop trust and enhance attraction. A person who is too easy to be manipulated will not be loved. That person will become a backup when there is nothing better to do.
People who are attractive and hard to get have the best relationships. Many of my clients started out that way, but then became unattractive and easy. Then, they lost their spouse.
The initial confrontation of your spouse’s affair
There are several ways to deal with affairs, depending on your goals, security level, and situation. If your relationship is strong and you are secure, you would typically use the following two steps:
When you discover the affair, you will need to give your spouse a choice between continuing a relationship with the other person or with you. That is a boundary. If you were working in coaching, you would practice just what to say for your situation.
Your basic message will be that you love your spouse and hope that he or she would choose to build a great relationship with you. You would also clarify that it would not work for the both of you to continue together if the affair continues.
This approach contains two messages. One is a loving message (that you love your spouse). The other is a strong boundary (we can’t continue if the affair does). Be sure you understand the essential principles for using boundaries before you do this.
“My spouse has chosen the other person. Now what?”
This is the most common scenario and is to be expected, not feared. It will create further opportunities for connection, if handled properly. Immediately becoming angry or needy will make it less likely that you will reconcile.
Cooperatively work to put separation boundaries in place. This will prevent your spouse from having his or her cake and eating it, too. If you use good connection skills while you do this, your relationship will start to grow. If you pursue or fight, it will not grow.
People who pursue or fight are trying to reconcile a poor relationship too quickly. That can’t be done. You must start from a cooperative and secure stance. That is your best chance for reconnecting.
Just like a new relationship, there are several stages of relationship development. Imagine if you were single and trying to get someone to marry you when they were not even interested in you. That wouldn’t work.
You would first have to help that person relax with you. Then, you would gradually need to develop a connection to that person while also being attractive. Many people get coaching to help with that, as counseling does not teach those skills.
“My spouse has chosen me. Now what?”
At first, just listen to your spouse’s story, without responding. Don’t simply listen and respond immediately. If you do that, you will either fight or be manipulated. Fighting will disconnect. Manipulation will lose you respect.
Listen and think now, respond later. That habit will prevent fighting, help you be empathetic, and build your relationship. It will also help to prevent you from being manipulated. Thinking things through or getting consultation helps prevent manipulation.
A two minute good conversation is better than a 2 hour bad one. One key to better communication is not trying to get too much done, too fast.
“I tend to emotionally overreact and cause damage”
One way to do prevent this is to separate listening from responding.
Another way to prevent overreacting is to limit the communication to texting or emails. That will allow you to review your response before you send it. My clients will sometimes want my feedback before they respond. Remember that once said, things can’t be unsaid.
Don’t feel pressured to respond immediately to texts. You can tell your spouse that you will think before responding and won’t be responding to any other messages in the meantime. That is a boundary.
An example of dealing with your spouse’s reaction to the confrontation:
Partner: “What are you going to do?”
You: “I’m just going to listen to whatever you have to say. Then, I will get back to you when I have something more to say.”
Partner: “Why can’t you just talk to me now?”
You: “I need time to think so I don’t overreact to whatever you have to say.”
Partner: “Why can’t you just talk to me now?”
You: “I will get back to you later” (Walk away or don’t respond again, no matter what your spouse says).
(This boundary, used consistently will build respect and improve your relationship).
The goal is not to please your spouse at this time. The goal is also not to create immediate solutions. The goal is to be loving while having good boundaries. Your spouse will not like it. Good boundaries will never be liked by other people, but you can’t build respect without them.
Maintain a serious, but non-hostile tone. The less reactive you are, the more power you will have to make changes. The more reactive you are, the more empowered your spouse will be. You are the one who has to have the power in order to end the affair.
Example of listening to your partner’s confession
The hardest part of listening is not thinking about a dozen things while your spouse is talking. You can think later because you won’t be responding right away. Taking notes will help you to stay focused on listening. Ask your spouse to repeat something if you blank out.
Spouse: “I started talking to X about 6 months ago. I had no idea that we would get as involved as we did. I felt lonely and X made me feel special. I know what I did was terribly wrong. I don’t blame you if you can’t forgive me.”
You: “I see. Anything else?”
Spouse: “As I said, it was wrong. It is wrong. I don’t want to lose you. There is nothing I can say that can make it right, I know that.”
You: “Is there more you want to say?”
Spouse: “No, I think that’s about it.”
You: “Ok, I will get back to you when I can.”
It may seem mean, but it is not. What is mean is immediately forgiving easily. That would make it too easy for your spouse and lead to the affair continuing. It would also mean to immediately attack your spouse.
As long as you are focused on listening, there won’t be an argument. Although you will want to ask a lot of questions, confrontation time is NOT the time to do that. It is the time to listen. By yourself or with someone else is the time to think. Later will be the time to reply.
Don’t try to build your relationship at the same time you confront. We must balance loving behaviors with boundaries, but we can’t do both at the same time. That will just weaken both.
Next steps: Starting the reconnection process with agreement
Where there is no agreement, there is no connection. As I detail in my book, Connecting through “Yes!” you will need to find something to agree with to start the connection process. You will not be agreeing with the affair. You can probably agree that your relationship had problems even before the affair. It doesn’t make the affair okay, but it does help to get the reconnection going.
Marriage counseling may not be helpful
Marriage counseling tends to focus on problems rather than relationship improvement. This creates more distance in the relationship. As a result, couple’s are more likely to divorce as a result of marriage counseling.
Most young counselors now are not pro-family, due to an emphasis on the individual over the family. If you do get counseling, be sure to look for people who are pro-life, pro-family, and Christian. Even if you are not Christian, you will get more of an emphasis on reconciling.
Coaching or marriage retreats are better for rebuilding, since they focus on skills for reconnecting and re-attracting. My coaching packages use a no conflict, no pursuit method to re-attract and re-connect. They also don’t require getting your spouse to participate. After all, your spouse be attracted and connected to you has to do with what you do, not with what your spouse does.
“What if I don’t know if I can forgive my spouse?”
Just because you feel that way now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way. You may need your anger now to be strong. But, as your relationship improves you will have less need for it. Our feelings change in order to protect us and take care of us.
No one who has just discovered an affair is going to have just one emotion. You will have to have a way to express them with someone other than your spouse.
Counselors wrongly say to express all of your thoughts and feelings to your spouse. That is destructive and will work against your relationship. Saying whatever you think and feel doesn’t work with friends. It doesn’t work with kids. It doesn’t work at work. And, it won’t work with your spouse.
An affair doesn’t mean it’s over
Many affairs happen after a marriage has become an unhappy one for both people. As stressful as an affair is, it is also an opportunity for starting over. Many of my clients have expressed that if their spouse did not have an affair, they never would have been able to make their relationship better. The affair was just a symptom of a relationship that was not enjoyable for either of them.
Before re-building can begin, a loving message, good boundaries, and a choice must happen. Although a scary process, there really are no alternatives that result in reconciling.
You don’t need to go it alone. You can get help from a secure friend with family values. Or you can get coaching for ending an affair. That will take you you through the steps and train you.
If you have been trying to end your spouse’s affair without boundaries, you will need to have a plan B. Otherwise you will become resentful, bitter, frustrated, and give up. You are not in a hopeless situation. You have just been missing a key ingredient.