I get emails almost every day from readers all over the world — to praise my blog, to vent about their situations, but more often than not, to ask for my perspective and help in their personal situations related to infidelity. I often hear from spouses who have tried various approaches to get their husband or wife to end their affair. And yet, nothing has worked. Either the spouse has refused to end the affair, has begged for more time to make up their mind, or has continued to see the Affair Partner despite promises they would not, or moved out entirely and now lives with the Affair Partner. So they ask me, “What should I do to get my husband (or wife) to come back to the marriage?”
Is there anything you can do if your husband or wife is having an affair but doesn’t want to end it? In short, there are things you can do to make it more likely that your spouse will end their affair and givw your marriage an honest attempt at reconciliation. It may not work — your Wayward Spouse may have already made up their mind long ago that they no longer wish to be married to you and the affair was just the instrument to get them out of their unsatisfying existence — but it at least gives you a chance. A strategy to at least attempt to fix things that are so shattered.
Typical scenario. Let’s have the husband be the cheater in this case, although I get letters often from husbands whose wives have had an affair and left them and yet still want them back. Letters to me from Betrayed Wives often sound like this: Thehusband had admitted to having an affair with someone, has stated that he was sorry for being unfaithful, and that he took all responsibility for his actions and reassured her that he still loved her and the kids. But….he was unwilling to end the affair saying that he “wanted to see where things went” because he was feeling conflicted and confused at the moment. Or worse. He actually up and goes out the door and has moved in with this Other Woman. Or he may ping-pong between wife and lover and try and figure out what he really wants. The wife in this scenario is in a tough spot: She doesn’t want to press him too much or show too much anger, thereby pushing into the arms of the Other Woman. Despite the affair, she still wants the marriage and wants to fix things. On the other hand, she is faced with someone who has done a terrible thing to her and is not showing real remorse by cutting off things with the Other Woman and coming home, going to counseling, etc. So she has to suffer alone, essentially, and swallow her anger and depleted sense of self-worth.
Why would a spouse, after affair discovery, not break off the affair completely? Well some have already made up their minds. They are in love with their Affair Partner and that’s that!! (See my post about “Affair Love vs. Authentic Love). And they want “out” of their marriage. But this is not most of them. I think for most, after an affair is discovered, other things are predominating within them: Confusion. Fear. They are not in a good place mentally right now. If they had wanted a divorce for certain, they probably would have already left you before the affair, but yet are unhappy in their marital existence. Now the affair has been discovered, and they may be torn. They aren’t now at all sure what they want. Their brains are a churning stew of emotions, conflicts, facts and presumptions. Not everybody involved in an affair wants a divorce. In fact, they may be incredibly conflicted over whether or not they want to be with the person they’re having the affair with or their spouse. They are asking themselves, ‘Do I want to lose my marriage, lose my family, lose my life as it is, in order to be with this person?’ Because remember at some point, the partner, the lover becomes a person that they have problems with, too. And since he or she has still somewhat chosen to stay married, that tells me that he or she understands the amount of time and effort he or she has invested in the marriage and may not yet be willing to give it up. They want to keep both “options” open while they try and sort out their head which is swimming with too many thoughts and emotions. I have written about this extensively in several posts, especially “How Many Men Feel After the Affair” (parts 1 and 2)
The best way to end the affair and get your spouse back is a strategy designed both to entice your spouse “back to the table” (“the carrot”) while at the same time showing them the consequences of not coming “back to the table” — what life would be like without you! This is “the stick”.
The following steps aren’t necessary sequential. Most are simulataneous, but represent both carrot and stick as a strategy.
1. Expose the Affair to End the Affair. (Stick) First, you have to end the affair if you can. It’s much easier if your spouse’s Affair Partner is married. While I’m not an advocate of exposure of the affair for reasons born out of anger and a need for revenge, I am an advocate when it comes to ending an affair that’s still going on if a marriage has any chance of true reconciliation.
So if the lover is married, you need to contact their spouse. If your spouse and their Affair Partner works together, you need to expose to the employer as a way to pressure the affair and end it. However, I would be careful doing this. Realize you might get your spouse fired and that could have huge implications both for their motivation to come back to you and your financial future. I would caution strongly on taking this step. Don’t take steps that will increase your spouse’s resentment!!
The idea behind exposure is not to drag your disloyal spouse’s name and reputation through the mud but rather to refuse to keep the affair a “secret” and to bring the ugly truth of the unfaithfulness to the light of day. The focus and main concern here is to contact those who may be harmed by the affair (especially the spouse of the Affair Partner), give the facts, and ask them either to support the loyal or talk to the disloyal and tell them to return to the marriage. Yes, in this case, you contact the other person’s spouse and ask, “Are you aware that my spouse is having an affair with your spouse? I have evidence…” Nothing ends an affair faster than the Affair Partner’s spouse screaming and putting their foot down and forcing their spouse out of the affair!
2. Be the Steady and Stable Partner. (Carrot) Affairs thrive on drama. Do not get caught up in the situation. Be the steady, secure partner. Eventually the drama surrounding the affair will get old and your spouse will long for the normalcy of their marriage.
3. Be Agreeable and not Argumentative. (Carrot) Try to find the nugget of truth in what your spouse is saying and agree with it whenever possible. Don’t fight. Don’t badger them. Don’t beat them so into a pulp verbally that you push them into the arms of the Affair Partner further. Listen to what they are saying. Acknowledge it. Acknowledge their feelings. Their grievances. Their confusion in this mess. For instance, if he/she says, “I don’t love you anymore.” Then you would respond with something like, “It certainly seems that way. Thank you for being honest.” Or, if he/she says, “I’m not sure what I want.” Then you would respond, “I’m sure it must be confusing for you.” If he/she says, “I’m thinking of moving out.” Then your response would be something like, “Do you have an idea of when you’re going to do that? Knowing would help me plan for my activities.”
By agreeing, or not telling your spouse how he/she should feel, you are putting your relationship on even ground. Your spouse will not feel threatened by your responses therefore would be more open to listen to what you have to say. It is similar to dealing with a teenager; the more you tell them not to do something the more inclined they are to do it anyways.
4. Make Yourself and the Marriage Enticing Again to Your Spouse. (Carrot) Work on yourself by eliminating the things that extinguished love between you two (like judging, lack of affection, angry explosions, indifference, neglect, or abuse of any kind) and by re-starting the things that kindled love between you two (the romantic, fun things. Treating each other like they were the only person on earth, etc). Improve your wardrobe. Get back in shape. Be HAPPY, like you were when you were dating. Be as cheerful as possible. Be positive. Put on this behavior when you have contact with your spouse. Prepare yourself to act this way. Practice if need be. Be an actor/actress if need be. Fake it, if you must. Fake it until you truly do get to the point where you experience your life as positive.
You need to do BOTH (positive love steps and eliminating love extinguishers), but eliminating love extinguishers is the most important of the two. You should know that this step is not “long term” because no one can give and give and give forever when an affair is being rubbed in their face. Eventually the time would come for you to say, “I’ve done what I could to win you over and now I need to move to the next step before I lose all love for you.”
Yes, absolutely, invite them to return. Periodically let your Wayward Spouse know that you would love to have them back to work on the marriage. Then create an environment where they will feel loved and wanted, and where honesty, forgiveness and reconciliation is possible!! Sometimes a spouse will not want to return because they feel they will be punished too much and for too long. That you will never forgive them. That you will hold this over their heads forever. They may love you and not want to face the consequences — so give them a reason not fear coming back. Become their “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” again. Although this step is predicated on them ending the affair completely and permanently (see below).
But do not beg!! Don’t become their doormat. Their back-up option. If you call or write, pleading with them to come home, they will see you as a doormat. Easily manipulated. And may use your desperation to control the situation. Yes, entice them, but keep your dignity. Show them what their life could be like without you without resorting to high drama.
5. Show Them What Life Would be Like Without You – Consequences!! (Stick) While leaving the door open, it’s also important that you take a stand and let him or her know that what he is doing is unacceptable and that the marriage is not something to be taken lightly or something that he can slip in and out of at his leisure. In this step, some suggest that you write your spouse a letter and explain that you love them, admit the things you did to contribute to the affair, indicate what you’re doing to end those things, and then say that unless they end ALL contact with the OP and never, EVER contacts the OP again, you need to end all contact with them. The idea behind this step is to give them a more realistic taste of what divorce could be like–to not have you in their life to meet ANY needs! They also can no longer depend on you for those little household chores, blame you for the day’s events, nothing.
Say or write something like the following to them:
“I love you and I don’t want a divorce. I’m not sure if I can forgive what you’ve done but I’m willing to try if you end the relationship. But if you do not, you have got to move out or I am leaving until you tell me that you have ended the relationship. You’re going to have to choose. you’re not going to get the lover and me. This is going to cause you some pain. There’s going to be a price. You’re going to have people find out. You’re going to lose your marriage. If you have children, you’re going to be separated from those kids at least part of the time. We’re going to split assets. We are going to go through divorce. And I can live without you. I prefer to be with you, but if that doesn’t happen, I will make it without you. Either way, I want you to know that I will make it. Once the affair is completely over and you have cut off all contact with her (or him), then we can talk about our marriage. But until then, I just can’t engage with you in that way. Once you’ve decided that you want to participate in our marriage completely faithfully again, then we can discuss this further. It’s now up to you.”
Keep your conversations with them brief. To the point. Business-like. Talk only about the solutions to specific problems that need to be addressed, such as bills, household or other family issues. Let silence prevail if he/she sucks you into his/her melodrama. Politely but firmly end such conversations. If they wish to discuss coming back, tell you them you are open to it, but the affair must end first. Tell them you are hurt beyond words, but you are willing to forgive and improve your marriage. But keep it unemotional. Not nasty. No threats. Just to the point.
6. Legal Separation. (Stick). The above steps are not soon bearing fruit, it’s time to serve them with papers. One final step before divorce – Legal Separation. Again, this is more “stick” but necessary. Thus, as a tactic that will both stall the legal process of divorce and protect both the family assets and the loyal spouse and children, and again make the consequences of them being in the affair more real to them. Many recommend a minimum of one year legal separation. This make shake them back to reality of what divorce will be like.
7. Move On Yourself (Neither Carrot nor Stick). You need to disengage somewhat from the situation, not as Carrot or Stick, but to improve your mental health. Expand your social relationships (NOT dating…and revenge affairs are about the worst thing you can do). Expand your hobbies. Show yourself (and him or her) that you can live without them. And thrive. Happily.
Conclusion: a mixture of carrot and stick is necessary, all the while making it clear you cannot continue to have a marital relationship with your spouse while they have an affair. Because that is allowing him or her to pursue two relationships while you turn a blind eye to the situation. I have to wonder what incentive he has to end the affair while you sit by and allow it to happen, even if the situation certainly isn’t your fault.
That’s why I think that if you’re going to take this approach, you have to make it very clear that you are out of the romantic picture while he’s continuing on with the affair. In other words, if he chooses to pursue that, then he can’t continue to pursue your marriage (or you) at the same time. So, you’re allowing the affair to run its course (because he hasn’t given you much choice,) but you are setting very clear boundaries. And because of these boundaries, he or she may well have an incentive to end the affair sooner rather than later. And all the while making yourself and your marriage seem enticing. Keeping the door open while showing tough love.
But I caution you: Don’t beg. Don’t plead and don’t waiver from your stance. Don’t make him any promises about what was going to happen if he or she comes home (this is not a free pass – there will be significant work to be done by both parties, but especially by the Cheater). But be direct and clear: If he or she is going to go ahead and continue on with the affair, then he or she cannot have the marriage at the same time. In this way, you are giving him a little space and a little (but not indefinite) to end the affair, but until the affair does in fact end, he or she is not going to have the benefit of the marriage either. And then increasingly show them what life will be like without you.
It’s my belief that your husband or wife has to have some incentive to choose fidelity and rehabilitation. And it’s unacceptable to continue an affair if you want to save your marriage. As long as they have both of you, your spouse is not very motivated to do much about the situation. They are having their cake, and keeping you as a “back-up plan.” Why should they end either? If you are allowing him or her to have the affair and the marriage at the same time, then he or she really does not have that incentive.
In the end, it may still not work. Some people have “exit affairs” — they have already given up on their marriage and the affair was the last act in their marital drama. They are gone and nothing you do will make any difference. But I do believe taking these steps will give you the best chance you can to make a marital reconciliation possible.