what to do after an affair

If you’re looking for what to do after an affair and you want to save your marriage, then this is for you.

If you know anyone whose marriage has been affected by an extramarital affair, raise your hand. Present that question to any group of adults. What percentage do you guess would raise their hands?

My guess is 100%.

It’s a fact of life of the modern world. Of course, surveys differ as to the exact percentage. But I think my friend Bill Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs, is on target when he states that 60% of American marriages are affected by an extramarital affair.

It may be the husband, wife, or both, but many marriages face it eventually. So I sorted them into three large categories with several subcategories to better understand extramarital affairs.


The Three Types Of Affairs

The Short-Lived Affair lasts from one night to several months and is primarily about sex. Subcategories included Revenge Affairs, Affairs of Opportunity (at the right place at the right time to do the wrong thing), Self-Esteem Booster Affairs, and more.

The Permission Affair has become more prevalent with the graying of morality. Once called Swinging, it later became Wife-Swapping, and now its participants call it “The Lifestyle.”

The most difficult to overcome is the Relationship Affair. It typically starts as a friendship that evolves into shared emotions and eventually shared bodies. It is tougher to overcome because those in Relationship Affairs usually are in love with each other. Madly in love.

That’s why so many of these affairs lead to divorce, no matter how strongly you tell the person that s/he is sinning and no matter how hard the offended spouse tries to save the marriage.

If you’ve ever tried to help a person madly in love with someone other than their spouse, you know the frustration. But, of course, because of such passages as Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, churches usually grant the offended spouse the right to start over with a new mate. Few blame them for moving on with life after being cheated on by their spouse.

May I offer another possibility?


Save Your Marriage After An Affair

It’s true that the cheated spouse may divorce the cheating spouse and find a different path for the future.

However, wouldn’t it be better for everyone – cheated, cheater, children, church, and community – if there were a way to rescue the straying spouse, heal the hurts, and guide husband and wife back to a marriage of love and commitment?

Though we in the “marriage business” usually don’t proclaim this little jewel from the rooftops, if a marriage survives an affair, it will be stronger and more loving than before. (We tend to keep that to ourselves so that some idiot doesn’t think, “Hey, I know how to make my marriage better…”)

However, salvaging a marriage when one spouse is in love with someone else usually isn’t accomplished by pointing the adulterer to scripture, logic, or consequences. If I had space, I’d explain why. 

The short version is that they feel driven by solid and compelling emotions that they believe you have no way of understanding. Therefore, you are dismissed, along with your reasoning. Often, they’ll even tell you that God sent the lover to them. So what do you do to save ta marriage after an affair?

What Do You Do After An Affair?

Based on my experience (and over 70% success rate in saving these marriages over the last decade or so), I suggest the following to both the offended spouse and to all attempting to help:

  1. Believe that an affair–even a powerful Relationship/Love Affair–is not necessarily the end of a marriage. It may well be, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t give up. Keep doing the right things, no matter how hopeless it may seem at the moment.
  2. Don’t beg, persuade, or attempt to manipulate the cheating spouse. They are already emotionally on edge; emotional actions from you exacerbate the situation. Be firm and calm. (This is especially important for the offended spouse NOT to do.)
  3. Don’t try to convince them that the lover is a bad person or primarily responsible for the affair. That might work in a Short-Lived Affair. It always causes a person in a Relationship Affair to develop an “us against the world” union with the lover.
  4. Drag out any divorce proceedings as long as possible. The intense emotions involved with being “madly in love” usually last anywhere from six to thirty-six months. Though the straying spouse may become angry and try to manipulate the offended spouse into divorce (“I’ll make things tougher for you if you don’t go along with me…”), the abandoned spouse should be firm, endure the other’s wrath, and drag it out as long as possible. There is a real possibility that the abandoning spouse will eventually lose the intensity of desire to be with the lover.
  5. The abandoned spouse should demonstrate their ability to not only survive but prosper without the abandoning spouse. They must concentrate on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. That work accomplishes two things: The abandoned spouse needs this for themself. And, the abandoned spouse becomes more attractive when strong and self-sufficient.
  6. The abandoned spouse needs an attorney to protect their rights, finances, and the like. Though this may sound vengeful, this attorney should make the divorce as painful as possible–financially and otherwise–for the abandoning spouse. Expect that spouse to react with anger. However, establishing negative consequences is the right thing to do.
  7. Practice intervention. If you need more information on doing this, see this Intervention material.
  8. Convince the straying spouse to take one last action before ending the marriage. Sometimes the abandoned spouse does this by offering a concession such as “I’ll give on this point in the divorce if you do this.” Sometimes a friend, church leader, or even the person’s child may convince them that for conscience’s sake, they should do one more thing to see if there is any hope.

In our Couples Turnaround Workshop for marriages in crisis, we have many couples come because someone convinced the spouse having an affair to attend for conscience’s sake or to get some concession.

Over nearly a decade, we’ve witnessed one seemingly hopeless marriage after another turnaround during that weekend. It’s an incredible thing to witness.

Whether you use our services or not, DO NOT give up on your marriage because you think that your spouse is beyond rescuing. 

In words said to be made by Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.”


We Can Help

If your marriage is in danger of separation or divorce, call us at (866) 903-0990 to speak with someone or fill out the form here to request more information about our Marriage Helper workshop for troubled marriages. We can help you save your marriage even in cases of infidelity, loss of trust, anger, sexual problems, and other issues. (If you think your spouse would never come, contact us and we’ll tell you what others who felt the same way did to get their spouses there.) We will keep everything you tell us completely confidential. Our motivation is to help you determine if this workshop is right for your particular situation.

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