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Why Can't I End My Affair?

Once an affair begins its usually extremely difficult to end. Even when one or the other person involved wants to shut down the relationship, affairs rarely end all at once. Why does an extra-marital affair have multiple stops and starts before it is over for good? We'll take a look at the reasons this distressing cycle can feel impossible to break.

  1. Both people are not in agreement about ending the affair at the same time: In my experience as a therapist and counselor, infidelity is a rollercoaster. The two people having an affair often reach the low points of the rollercoaster at different times. One person reaches a breaking point and end it, but the other is blind-sighted. Because they weren't ready, they do two things: they push-back and challenge the ending, and they pull their affair partner back in with persuasive reminders of the special nature of their connection. One of my clients in Westchester was trying to end his affair with a woman he'd met at his Cross-Fit gym. When he told her over the phone he needed to end things, she began crying, explaining that she hadn't seen it coming and how could he walk away from the type of love and physical intimacy they'd found with each other? She had a point, he said to me during our next session, head in his hands. He'd been so certain he needed to end things, and now he was confused and unsure again.

  2. The person ending the affair uses uncertain language: When you finally muster up the courage and determination to end the affair, you use language that suggests to your affair partner that you aren't so confident it is over for good. Phrases such as: "I've got to take a break from this" "I can't talk to you or see you for a while" "I need to step away from things right now" All of this phrasing leaves openings for it not being completely over. You are leaving yourself an opening because perhaps you are also torn at closing the door and walking away, and your affair partner most certainly will notice any crack it is left open as an opportunity to negotiate your boundaries and remain hopeful or in the picture. Soft boundaries are a sure-fire way to keep the embers of the fire warm enough to re-start.

  3. You continue to talk to or see your affair partner to help them through their feelings about the break-up: Your affair partner is a person. They do deserve to be treated with human decency at the end of your relationship. This includes you explaining to them why you're ending it and you taking any appropriate responsibility for your choices both in the past and the present. Once you have done this, though, nobody can move on after a breakup if you stay in contact to keep processing the hurt and pain. Yes, your affair parter is distraught. They are losing someone they are bonded to and have a strong connection to; and so are you. But staying in touch will prevent you both from acclimating properly to life without each other and beginning the process of healing and moving on. While the pain might seem impossible to withstand, trust me, it gets better faster if you crash and burn completely, rather than have a slow, drawn out crash. The recovery can only start once the loss is complete. "When David* ended things with me I was devastated. I couldn't eat, sleep, or do anything without bursting into tears. I felt lost, like life would be impossible without the love we had. He was who I wanted to be with. In many ways, he still is." explained one of my clients, Maura, a divorced single mother in Philadelphia who'd gotten involved with a married colleague over the past year. "But I realized that when we stayed in touch it was only keeping us both hooked. When he got a new job and we cut off all contact I finally sobered. up and reconnected to myself and my life fully again. I miss David so much, but feel better than I have in a long time." Maura's experience is a common one in breakups -- especially affair breakups that are impossible to let go of when they have such a powerful draw. *name changed for privacy

  4. Emotions win over logic: Logic is telling you to end your affair. The sneaking around, the lying, the risk of it is all unsustainable. You tell yourself 'this has to stop.' And that is factually true. It either has to stop by your choice, or it will stop without it being your choice because it will be discovered and you'll have a big mess to clean up. But emotionally, you still want all of the wonderful things your affair provides you. Emotionally, you aren't one hundred percent solid on it. Your feelings trump the facts. Your feelings keep you coming back. Your feelings keep the door open a crack . Your feelings keep you negotiating with your own boundaries. Your feelings keep you justifying the behaviors and choices that you know are factually destructive. And this swinging back and forth is exactly what keeps the affair humming on. Unless you're committing to one side or the other, you'll remain in the balance -- tortured by the facts and kept stuck by the feelings.

affairs are hard to end
Emotion fights logic and keeps you stuck

The truth is that affairs are hard to end because, as I mentioned above, they have a powerful pull on us. For married people, an affair is an escape, a place they can feel feelings they haven't felt in a long time. Who wants to give that up? Logically, a married person in an affair may know they have to give it up because they ultimately choose their marriage, their family, or their life stability. But emotionally, they don't WANT to give it up. Similarly, an unmarried person in an affair maintains the fantasy that they will end up with their affair partner. They may have found someone they feel a greater level of intimacy with than anyone they've been with before. That's extremely difficult to walk away from.

Sex is bonding, the nature of secrecy in an an affair cues the reward systems in the brain, and our desire to convince ourselves that somehow we can negotiate an impossible relationship into becoming a possible one is highly persuasive. You are not alone if you're struggling to end your affair. If you need help resolving your ambivalence about ending your affair, therapy and coaching can help support you through this extremely difficult decision so that you can bring your life back into alignment and restore your own sanity and peace.

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 to learn more about working together.

Lauren, Affair Specialist

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