Lauren, I'm at my wits end. I discovered my husband's affair three months ago. He vowed to end it, said he did so, and said he'd go to couple's counseling. But some of his shady behaviors remained, and after some snooping I found out he was still seeing his affair partner. What do I do to stop this? There's no hope for us if he doesn't cut things off with her.
- Scorned and scared wife
Scored and scared wife, I feel your pain. Your life as you knew it ended the minute you discovered your husband's affair, and your only hope in getting that back is to get HIM back. If he's not back, if he won't end things, where does that leave you? It's terrifying and impossible.
What should you do? The answer has more to do with what you shouldn't. First, ask yourself, how committed are you to doing your part to save the marriage? If you are committed to saving the marriage, know that it takes two people to be committed to saving the marriage, but you can get clear about YOUR part in the commitment so at least you'll know you did what you could.
If you are committed to saving the marriage, you need to be clear with your husband about this priority, then stay consistent. What he does or doesn't do in response to your commitment isn't up to you (unfortunately).
Now first let me talk about what is not going to help. What's not going to help is controlling the situation by reaching out to the affair partner and telling her to stay away from your husband. That will only make you look crazy and make him angry. Don't reach out to the affair partner's spouse. Stay in your lane. Your focus needs to be YOU, your wellness, and your own marriage.
What I also see as a normal response to pull your husband back to your marriage and family includes proving to him what a happy couple and family you are. You'll want to pull out your wedding album, every Valentine's and Anniversary card he's ever written to you, point your finger in them and say "SEE? YOU LOVED ME, AND THIS IS PROOF." You'll want to put new photos of you all on the wall, make everything he's lost his way from crystal clear to him and in his face. I'm not going to tell you not to do this. But in my experience it's not going to move the needle.
You may also come up with a five point plan to save your marriage. You will sit him down with your PowerPoint presentation because you've figured it all out. This is what we need to do! We are going to be okay and here's how! But is he showing up with the five point plan? Or is he listening but not collaborating? This is a sign that he's still ambivalent and you're doing all the hard work when he isn't even in the arena or capable of playing ball.
You may give him an ultimatum. "End the affair or I'm done!" The trouble with ultimatums is that you should only make them when you are certain you will follow through. Otherwise, your husband will learn its empty threats ,you aren't going anywhere, and it only serves to further break down your connection. So what CAN you do? You can't do anything to end the affair. That's his job. If he isn't doing it, you can either keep your head down and continue living your life to the best of your ability, or you can get clear with yourself about what you're willing to live with and what you won't; what you'll tolerate and what you won't, and what you'll do if your boundaries aren't met and how long you're willing to give to the process.
At the same time, you will want to be consistent, calm and clear about your desire to work out the marriage and stay together. Simply state it as a fact. It's his to take or leave. His choice to make. But you are unwavering in your intention.
Once you've gotten personally clear about your boundaries, you can also share those with him or keep them to yourself. For example, you may decide that you can give it one more month, or three more months, whatever your right amount of time is, to end his old affair behaviors. Be specific with yourself about what you need to see. If his behaviors don't change measurably after that time, you may then decide you need to change something about your own focus, living situation, or commitment to the marriage in response to that.
If you don't have clear boundaries, rest assured your husband will continue to benefit from that. As they say, 'the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.' This is 100% true in affairs. Do something different FOR YOU, commit to that, and that's the only chance you'll get different results.
But you can't force an outcome. This is the hardest part. To accept the uncertainty. To let go control. To relax the hold of your fingers in the finger trap. To take relentless care of yourself, keep your head up, your integrity high, and know that whatever happens you WILL be okay.
Lauren provides boots-on-the-ground lived experience combined with invaluable professional expertise working with infidelity. She is committed to helping individuals and couples deal with and heal from marital affairs in a highly effective, yet warm and judgment-free style.
Lauren's articles help share much-needed information, and reduce the stigma and shame around the common experience of infidelity. Contact Lauren at email@example.com to learn more about working together.