If your spouse just found out about your affair, I imagine your world has turned upside down. You're probably feeling very scared and confused.
You might also feel incredible anguish and shame, especially when you see the look of pain on your spouse's face. You can tell what a huge impact your affair has had, that dark days are ahead. Maybe you're now wondering if it's even possible to save your marriage...
I understand how upset you are. This is indeed an incredibly tough spot to be in. I hear from someone everyday who is in the same spot you are: they've been leading a double life for a long time or they made a serious mistake just one time with a co-worker. Their spouse found some evidence on their iPad or phone and now they're on an emotional roller coaster filled with unrelenting ups and downs. It often feels like life as they knew it is over.
Let me give you some hope: it won't always be this way. It will get better, most marriages don't end because of an affair and yours doesn't have to end either.
BUT... we have to recognize what has happened and come up with a smart, strategic plan for fixing it.
The first thing for you to know is that you are not a terrible person who is morally bankrupt and damaged. You did something very hurtful and you made a very poor choice. Your behavior was "bad", you are not "bad." None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, and the most noble and important thing you can do after you've made a mistake is to take responsibility for it and fix it.
You see, you are uniquely qualified to heal your spouse from this trauma. You know your spouse better than anyone else, you are closer to them than anyone else, and your decision to stand by them through this fight and make things better will mean more than anything else.
Helping your spouse through their excruciating hurt will heal you too. All the guilt and shame you feel will be replaced by gratitude and pride as you transition from betrayer to healer. It's hard work, but so worth it.
Let me tell you exactly what you need to do....
During the initial conversation about the affair:
1. Offer to talk, but don't push. Your spouse may or may not want to talk. Don't push, allow them to do what feels right to them. If they want to yell and scream, that is ok, but hitting and any physical violence is not. If physical violence is happening, tell your spouse that you want to help, but can't be in a dangerous place, so you will be going out for a little while and will be back in a couple of hours. If necessary, take any children or pets with you. Physical violence like this is not the norm, but just in case, I want to make sure you know what to do.
2. Be very soft, gentle and apologetic. Focus on listening and let your spouse vent their frustration, anger, and hurt. Where you can, be soft, apologetic, genuine, and empathetic. Say things like, "I can only imagine how hurt you are," or "It makes sense that you'd feel that way." Your spouse is craving validation and support, give that to them. Now is not the time to explain why you did what you did or what it meant to you. It's all about your spouse at first.
3. Take frequent breaks, but don't leave. If things are getting very heated, ask for a break, but don't leave the house. Leaving sends the message that when the going gets tough, you get going. Your spouse needs to know that's not what you will do, they need to know you're going to stay with them, even when it's hard.
During the next few days....
4. Become as transparent as possible. Once the initial shock has passed, you can start to offer more information to your spouse. I'd like you to become an open book, where you become as transparent as you possibly can. Share your email, your passwords, your Facebook account, twitter, linked in, your phone, anything and everything you use to communicate. This may seem like an invasion of privacy, and candidly, it is. If you acted in a way that broke the trust in the relationship, you must take some drastic steps to show that there are no more secrets and that you're willing to do whatever it takes to be trusted again.
5. Volunteer to do things that show you’re being honest. Please understand that having an affair is like dropping a nuclear bomb on a relationship. Once an affair is revealed, there is no trust between the partners. I’d like you to volunteer to do things that show you’re being honest. For example, you can put a GPS tracker on your car to show you are where you say you are. You can put a GPS application on your phone. You can use Skype or FaceTime to show your spouse where you are and what you’re doing. Really knock yourself out to show that you are where you say you are and that you’re doing what you say you’re doing. Yes, it’s a lot of work and maybe annoying to do all of this, but it will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes your spouse to heal from the affair.
6. Encourage questions. Encourage your spouse to sit down and write out as many questions as they have for you. Some people want to know every detail of the affair, some want less detail. Please let your spouse ask you every question they have. Answer those questions as painfully honestly as you can. Holding anything back will create major problems in the future. You may think you're protecting your spouse by sparing a painful detail, but what usually happens is that the truth will come out later and your spouse will assign tremendous value to the details, so please, don't skip or whitewash anything. The only exception is that I’d like you to NOT share any sexual details of what happened. These details can further traumatize your spouse. If you don't know what to say, it's ok to say you don't know, but do try to offer a rough idea. If the conversation is getting too hard or too much, ask for a break and agree on a time when you'll come back and continue.
Dr. K's NEW Book on Infidelity Recovery
The Courage to Stay - How To Heal From an Affair & Save Your Marriage
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