He said he would. Why won’t my husband end his affair?
I seem to have been receiving an epidemic of phone calls from wives whose husbands have promised to break off their affairs but continue to engage with their affair partner on the sly. They spy on their husband’s phone and other technology and confront them with their rage and pain.
I agree that hurt wives do need to establish boundaries. But it should not be a boundary that puts their partner on the defensive 24/7. It is understandable that many wives present their cheating husbands with firm ultimatums. “Either break this affair off, or I’m filing for divorce.” This brinksmanship approach is problematic in a number of ways. First, do you really mean it? Or is this your pain talking? His reaction is likely to be defensive and disingenuous. His entitlement is galling, but ruminating on that will not help you get through this tough time.
Here is what is better to say. “You’re a big boy. You know what you want out of life. You gotta do what you gotta do. I’m not going to stand in your way to prevent you from getting what you want. But please pay attention. Listen carefully. I don’t want to deal with this situation. It’s just too painful. It violates everything I believe in. Please remember this conversation. So if you decide to keep this going, I will __________ (fill in the blank… but don’t ever bluff. Will you file for divorce? Move out? Separate? Be accurate and authentic here.) I need to protect myself and rebuild my life. What happens next is up to you.”
Don’t spy on him anymore. In fact, make it clear that you are not willing to work on the marriage until such time as the affair is absolutely over. Make sure that you are totally committed to the course of action that you claim you will take, and that you have thought through all of the possible consequences.
Tell him that’s it. End of discussion. Don’t spy. Don’t berate. It’s OK to describe emotions, but be careful not to ruminate and obsess indefinitely, or hold a perpetually aggressive stance. Use the emotional judo of knowing that most affairs burn out, and decide for yourself how long you will wait before you are completely comfortable taking the decisive action that you described if he fails to end his affair within your comfort zone.
According to couples therapist Terry Real, some wives also use an “in-house” divorce approach. They withdraw a certain degree of availability and services. This can be risky, but is sometimes effective strategy as well. I offer it as a way of conveying your displeasure in a non-combative way, but certainly, this is an approach you should weigh carefully. Your mileage may vary.
The last thing you want to do is behave in such a way that drives your husband closer to his affair partner. This is a time for differentiation, but also for strategic moves. If you want to restore your marriage back to health, you need a carefully thought out stance. Play a thoughtfully considered “long game.”
Clearly, this is also another “your mileage may vary” situation. But I can offer some social science here. About half of all affairs last for more than a month but sputter out in less than a year. Yeah, I know this probably doesn’t help much. You’re looking at anywhere from 5 weeks to almost 12 months or any point in between. Unfortunately, I’m also telling you that it’s not unusual for an affair to last for months on end.
Research also tells us that 40 percent of affairs can last two years or longer. So what’s that last 10% about? These are the one-night stands, and brief flings that burn out in well under a month.
It’s important to look at this math, and decide on your comfort zone before you follow through on the action you announced that you would take. Dopamine is flooding your husband’s brain, but trust me, the novelty of this affair partner will start to wear off. When the dopamine fog lifts he may ask himself “Is this woman worth my marriage? Half my wealth? My reputation?” When your husband decides to end his affair, it’s better for you if he ends it for his own solid reasons rather than because you badgered or threatened him.
While you’re waiting to see if your husband will end his affair, you will benefit from being strategic, and play as long a game as you are comfortably willing to play. But what can do you do while you’re waiting for your husband to decide?
You can engage in meticulous self-care.
Feed your soul and your self-esteem. Art, music, being with friends and family, take a class, perhaps go back to school. Whatever you have previously put on the shelf because you put your partner first, put it back in your life. It’s time for you to enter a “selfish period,” to perhaps even build a new you from the ground up. Be selfish regarding self-care, but not by selfishly vindictive or spiteful behavior. Vengeance won’t help him end his affair.
You need support, but who you tell may require a careful balancing act. As long as you are holding on to hope that you will ultimately stay together, keep family and friends who will be wholesale critical of your partner out of the loop.
You want a few patient friends who offer “marriage friendly” support. Not well-meaning friends and family who are perhaps modulating their own relationship anxiety by agitating you with misguided “divorce the bum” rhetoric. Also, consider getting a therapist who has some clinical experience with the emotional struggles of hurt partners.
Call us for more information 844-926-8753 to reach me, Daniel Dashnaw, or his assistant Nicole and use option 2.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.