Leaving your marriage for your affair partner? First, here’s the unwelcome news: More than 75% of marriages that begin as affairs never get to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary.
And only a fraction (less than 5%) of affair partners ever marry in the first place.
At CTI we only do science-based couples therapy. Sometimes we find that we are working with a couple who began their relationship as affair partners. We often see these couples as early as 2 years from their wedding date.
Leaving your marriage for your affair partner? Here are 8 predictable issues that you will need to grapple with to increase your odds of success:
First, I will make my apologies to Dr. Phil who famously quipped “if they will do it with you, they will do it to you.”
The problem I have with Dr. Phil’s cogent little sound bite is that it’s offered up as a certainty.
This is as unkind as it is incurious.
It’s also judgmental and insulting to both partners. No, it’s not a certainty that they will do it to you… but Dr. Phil does have a point.
If you’re leaving your marriage for your affair partner, understand that issues of trust may eventually become front and center. Many people who leave their marriages for their affair partners have made great sacrifices, often enduring shame, resentment, and uncertainty. Issues of trust and integrity are a common theme in conducting couples therapy with now-married former affair partners.
Affairs are as exhausting as they are exciting. They burn hot because they often require secrecy. They survive more on what each partner extracts from the relationship rather than what they deposit.
Affair partners exist in an artificial bubble. The affair exists as an antidote to a bad marriage. Affairs are fueled by comparison. But once the bubble bursts and the comparison is rendered irrelevant, the new marriage has to stand on its own merits.
In the heat of passion, our kids often get overlooked. And new research tells us that adult children of divorce suffer greatly as well. There’s a lot of psycho-babble blather (some embarrassingly from divorced all-purpose therapists) about how we’re all “entitled to be happy”, and how “resilient” kids are.
Do all kids suffer from infidelity and divorce? No…not every last one. In fact, Gottman has written that parents who emotionally coach their children minimize the harmful impact of divorce.
But research is clear that most children experience significant emotional struggles and often feel compelled to take sides. Sometimes these parental alliances and alienations are life-long.
Then there’s your family, your ex’s family, your friends (who also feel uncomfortable and may take sides… or drop both of you). There’s a social cost to divorcing and marrying your affair partner. Often the full weight of this cost isn’t fully appreciated until the aftermath.
When you’re leaving your marriage for your affair partner there will be a deficit in your shared history.
I’m seen a number of these couples squirm with discomfort when discussing how they first met. An affair that broke up a family (or families) might be embarrassing for both spouses to discuss in couples therapy. The sad deficit of not having a happy and unencumbered shared early history only fully emerges over time.
The national average cost of a divorce is about $30,000 per couple.
This usually includes attorney’s fees, court costs, and the cost of hiring outside experts such as a tax consultant, real estate appraisal, or child custody professionals.
Finalizing a divorce takes anywhere from four months to a year. And if it goes to trial, it will cost more and take even longer.
Of course, the financial and emotional stress of the divorce inhabits the new marriage. You will typically have to redefine your finances as well as your social and parental bonds.
One partner may feel bitter that they have paid a disproportionate financial and/or emotional price to marry their affair partner.
When newly married affair partners are sitting on my couch, the most common emotional dynamic I see is the bitterness of dashed hopes and thwarted expectations. These couples have been through hell to be together, the resilience has already been worn thin. They do not take surprises well. Conflict with your ex can be absorbing. Once that conflict is resolved, and the dust settles, a pyrrhic victory may feel empty when similar conflicts emerge with your new spouse.
You may have battened down the hatches during your divorce. While divorcing, many of these couples retreat into their own world. They are insulated from the chaos and devastation that surrounds them. After the divorce is history, the now-married affair partners emerge from isolation, fully expecting to rejoin the world of the living.
However, many couples discover that their social world has been decimated, and they have to rebuild a new social identity.
I don’t think couples therapists talk enough about Love Addiction. Serial limerence or Love Addiction is a compulsive, chronic craving, and/or pursuit of romantic attachment in an effort to get our emotional needs met in an epic fashion. It’s estimated that at least 10% of affair couples marrying involve a spouse with Love Addiction.
Research suggests that the epidemic of Love Addiction may be due to inconsistent or neglectful parenting, low self-esteem, or an absence of positive role models for marital commitment in the family of origin. Personally, I suspect that our current fascination with polyamory is nothing more than an intellectually vapid apology for Love Addiction.
During the divorce, the soon to be ex-partner is a convenient villain. Comparisons may linger, as feelings of being rescued create a compelling narrative. But after several years in the new marriage, it’s quite amazing how your rescuer has come to resemble your ex-tormentor. You can divorce your partner… but you can not divorce yourself.
Leaving your marriage for your affair partner is problematic, but not a guarantee of failure.
Some affairs can evolve into durable long-term marriages. But according to research, these happy unions are relatively rare.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy. It just means you both may have some work to do. Leaving your marriage for your affair partner impacts and disrupts your entire social web. Be humble and cautious. Go slow… and carefully consider your options.
Divorce is tough on kids. Your kids deserve healthy, happy parents as role-models, and it is never good for children to witness their parents attacking each other.
Let’s be blunt. The odds are stacked against you. Humbly anticipate setbacks, misunderstandings, boundary violations, you name it. Resolve to stubbornly outlast your problems…and expect to have problems.
Kids can wreak havoc with your new life…probably because you already wreaked havoc with theirs. Discuss all of your post-divorce parental duties early and often.
Leaving your marriage for your affair partner means that you’ll have a lot more to manage. Set expectations and boundaries as early as possible, particularly around the kids and your ex.
Co-parenting continues a relationship with your ex. One of the biggest fears that I hear in my practice, is whether the new partner will return to their ex-spouse. Commitment and trust are two of the biggest challenges for these couples. Good couples therapy can help you get there.
Respect for my ex? Yup. Here’s why.
I often hear people speaking very badly about their ex-spouses in couples therapy. Then when I’m in a one-on-one session with their spouse who was once their affair partner, I hear a lot of anxiety that they will be disparaged as well when disagreements arise. This is where that deficit in your shared history comes back to bite you.
One of the ways I invite you to respect your ex is to refer to them by their first name in couples therapy.
She may be your ex-wife…or he may be your ex-husband… but you are still co-parenting with Marsha or Steve. The marriage is over…but the relationship isn’t. Respect the need to co-parent by respecting your ex. Model respect for your kids as well as your new partner.
Research shows that during an affair, much of the conversation between the affair partners are about their marital woes. Now that the talk track has run its course. Do you really know how to communicate about mundane wants, needs, and desires? Good couples therapy can teach you how.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.