The first step in healing from an affair is ending the affair.
It's truly impossible to start making a relationship better while an affair is ongoing, so we have to stop the affair first.
To end the affair, I suggest that you and your partner sit down and write a letter together to the other person (affair partner).
The letter should mostly be written by the person who had the affair, because it's critical that he/she starts to take responsibility for the choices that were made.
I also want the straying partner to "own" this letter and truly feel what he/she is writing. The letter should be short and clear, but not emotional in any way towards the affair partner.
Here's a sample break-up letter that I recommend you send (via mail or email) to the affair partner...
Out of respect for my wife, my children, and my marriage, I need to end our relationship immediately. I can no longer have any communication with you in any form. I realize that our affair was a very selfish choice and my family deserves to be treated with love and respect. While I cannot undo the choices I've made or the pain I have caused to my family, I can work diligently to make amends for my behavior. I love my family deeply and I will no longer do anything to risk their happiness. I will not be contacting you further and I ask that you do the same. I do not want to see you or hear from you. Please respect my decision to end our relationship and have no further communication.
You are welcome to copy this letter and personalize it in any way that makes sense to you. Please note a couple of deliberate choices...
(1) I didn't say "Dear Jessica," because I don't want to convey any affection or emotion. This might give the affair partner some false hope and we don't want that.
(2) I repeat the phrase "end our relationship" twice so that it's very clear what the goal is here.
(3) I specifically ask for no further contact and then say "I do not want to see you or hear from you." This should make it crystal clear that no further communication is wanted.
(BTW, if you are the one who strayed, make sure to get your Affair Repair Kit so you can get more tools to handle breaking off contact.)
(4) I resist the temptation to say anything nice or empathetic, like "I know this is painful for you too" or "I know this will hurt you" or "I am sorry I hurt you," etc.
Even though those things may be true and would be nice to say, we need to stop all emotional contact with the affair partner.
Saying something empathetic only keeps the emotional connection alive. I even debate using the word "Sincerely" in the closing of the letter, but I think it's ok. Leave it out if you prefer.
If you choose to email this letter, both of you should be in the room when it is sent so that nothing more can be added or taken away without the other spouse knowing.
If you choose to mail the letter, address it, seal it and go mail it together.
This may seem a little silly, but it's a significant moment showing that you are both putting an end to this affair together.
(...And if you need help coping with your partner's affair, make sure to get your free copy of our Affair Repair Kit. It will help you know how to handle all the ups and downs.)
After sending or mailing the letter, take steps to stop any further communication from the affair partner. Change phone numbers, block emails, block texts, block numbers, etc.
Do anything and everything you can think of to prevent the affair partner from reaching out.
The reason for this is that an affair is like an addiction. The first couple of days after going "cold turkey," we have great resolve and great commitment to our goals. Then pain sets in.
We can tolerate pain for a while, but if our marriage is still fragile, we're probably not getting all the support we need there, so if the affair partner chimes in, it will be hard to resist responding and get some "medicine" for our pain.
We need to avoid this at all costs.
I've had a few clients over the years try to do a break-up conversation via phone. The results were mixed and when the calls went bad, they went REALLY bad. I can recall a few verbal battles that the affair partner and the hurt spouse got into, then the hurt spouse was mad that the straying spouse didn't defend them.
So for this reason, I no longer recommend phone break-ups.
I recently received a really thoughtful note from a woman who feels the above letter is too mean. She explained that affair partners deserve compassion and care, especially if they were innocent in the affair and had no idea their lover was married. This is a very fair point!
So here's the thing... the purpose of a break up letter is to end the relationship AND make it very clear to everyone involved that the affair is over.
Many injured spouses are very upset about the affair and incredibly angry at the affair partner. The injured spouse is usually very comforted by a harsh letter and often wishes it could be harsher!
That said, I think we must balance two things with such a letter....
Taking care of our hurt spouse and being kind to the affair partner.
I'll admit that I am usually so concerned about saving the marriage that I don't think a whole lot about the affair partner, but as a human being who loves people, of course I care.
So with this in mind, please modify the letter about to meet your needs. I certainly don't think you need to be any harsher or more direct than we are above, but you could be kinder.
And if you will still be working with the affair partner in the future, it makes sense to be as gentle as you can be.
An affair partner who feels used and discarded may want to take revenge by telling HR, an employer, or anyone else so that they can inflict pain on you.
So do be gentle and kind, but firm... the affair is over!
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