What To Do When Your Partner Tells You They Had An Affair

Your partner just admitted to you that they had an affair.  Whether you found out by accident or they came to you to confess, you are reeling with many emotions from shock and anger to fear and jealousy.  Your world has been turned upside down and now you are wondering how to put the pieces back together. Do you stay or do you go? Do you tell your partner to leave?  

The best thing you can do is slow down.  Don’t make any decisions about leaving yet.  

The first decision is for the involved partner to end the relationship with the affair partner.  Block phone numbers and make it clear that the relationship is over. If they won’t do this, it is time to see a therapist.  If they won’t see a therapist, it may be time to separate. If they are willing to end the affair relationship and want to work on your relationship then you will need to start a conversation.  

You will have many questions. It will take time to get all your answers and you will have many conversations.   Let your questions be intentional by following these guidelines.

  • Every word that either of you say to the other is likely to be remembered. At the least, treat each other as nicely as you would treat a stranger.

  • The questions about the affair will need to be answered but they don’t all have to be answered immediately.  Knowing that the questions will be answered later is important. Understanding that they need to be answered in a controlled way is essential.

  • Set aside a time each day to talk and listen.  Make this your time to talk about how you are feeling and to ask questions that come up for you.  Try to avoid midnight talks.

  • Avoid escalating arguments that could result in physical or verbal abuse.  Take time-outs if emotions erupt.

  • “It is a challenge to construct a disclosure process that unfolds rather than explodes.  Traumatic reactions will make it hard for the injured partner to act rationally and with self- control.  Fear of consequences will make it hard for the involved partner to be open. Even at this early stage, respectful (albeit angry) questions and thoughtful answers make the road to full understanding easier and more complete.”  (Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass)

Questions to discuss right away:  

Who is the affair partner?

What happened?

Where did you meet?

When did you meet?  

How long has this been going on?

When did it start?

Where did you meet when you had sex?

When you said you were going to meet with your boss, were you really with your lover?  Who else knows?

Do the people at work know?  

When was the last time you were together?

It is important that questions are answered honestly.  

Some questions can wait- questions about motivations and meanings are better left until later.  Answering complex questions requires thoughtfulness and receptivity from both people - qualities that are absent at this moment.  

Questions that can be tabled for later-

Why did you get involved with someone else?  

Did you think about my feelings when you did this?  

What’s wrong with our marriage?

What did I do wrong?  

What does your betrayal say about what kind of person you are?

These questions are best addressed when you’ve established a sense of safety and commitment to work on the issues.  

The intimate details of sex in the affair may satisfy an immediate need to know, but they should be left until later to discuss, if they are shared at all.  The reason not to share sexual details in the beginning is that later they can become intrusive and interfere with your ability to be sexual with each other.  

Take care of yourself with exercise, massage and plenty of rest.

If your reactions are extreme (suicidal,violent) or you cannot sleep or eat, talk to your Dr. and a therapist.

If you decide to stay together and work on this relationship, you will be working towards forgiveness each and every day.  Forgiveness is a process that takes a long time for the injured partner. Even if you decide to separate, you will need to work on forgiveness for your own peace.

Rebuilding trust by doing what you say you will do and telling the truth is the daily work of the involved partner. The involved partner needs to take on the role of healing, being able to listen to the injured partner scream and cry, question and accuse.  The involved partner needs to be able to hold the space for the injured partner and all the emotions that come with that. This is not easy and therapy is necessary to help in this process.

Holly Tickle