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 you to "own" this letter and truly feel and believe what you’re writing. The letter should be short and clear, but not emotional in any way toward the affair partner.
Now, what if you feel you already told the affair partner that it’s over and there’s no need to send a letter? Please write the letter anyway. The reason for this is that your hurt partner didn’t get to hear that conversation and they have no idea how it ended. So we need to give them the opportunity to participate in bringing the affair to a close and have the peace of mind that it’s actually over. This letter is for the benefit of the hurt partner more than anyone else.
To help you formulate your own letter, I’ve created a sample for you. You may edit or modify this in any way that feels right to you both. I would just give you two recommendations: (1) the less emotion or compassion you show toward the affair partner, the better, and (2) keep the letter short and direct, no need to go into big explanations.
SAMPLE BREAKUP LETTER
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.
Please note a couple of deliberate choices:
- I didn't say "Dear Amanda," 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.
- I repeat the phrase "end our relationship" twice so that it's very clear what the goal is here.
- 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.
- 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 debated using the word "Sincerely" in the closing of the letter, but I think it's okay. Leave it out if you prefer.
Over the years, a couple of people have reached out to me and told me that this letter is too mean. I agree—it is not a nice, friendly letter. It is direct and pretty harsh. If the two of you feel that softening it up a little bit is better, that is absolutely fine.
A softer letter makes sense if the straying partner will still be working with the affair partner in the future. It’s a good idea not to alienate and hurt them unnecessarily, because then they may do something to retaliate. Another possibility is that the affair partner was completely innocent and had no idea their new friend was married or in a committed relationship. If that’s so, let’s be gentle with them too, I am sure they’re suffering as well. The bottom line is: our goal is to be firm and bring the affair to a definite end. How you choose to convey that is up to you.
Let’s think about this for a minute now:
- What do you think the tone (harsh, friendly or something in between) for this letter should be?
- How do you feel about sending this letter?
- What does this letter mean to you?
- Are there any other specifics you’d like included in the letter?
Now let’s talk about actually sending the letter. I recommend that you physically mail it or email it.
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 one knowing.
If you choose to mail the letter: address it, seal it and go mail it together. This may seem a little formal, but it's a significant moment showing that you are both putting an end to this affair together.
I've had a few clients over the years try to do a breakup 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 partner got into where the hurt partner ended up mad that the straying partner didn't defend them.
These calls can be highly volatile, messy, and cause further trauma to everyone involved, so for these reasons, I no longer recommend phone break-ups.
That said, trust your instincts, if it’s very important for the two of you to do this via phone, that’s fine with me. Just discuss how you will handle any tricky situations that might come up in advance.
Important note: if you are in the public eye, own a business, are a celebrity, hold a public office, or are in any circumstance where your situation needs special consideration, be sure to chat with an attorney before sending any letters. There may be legal ramifications for you that the everyday person does not face. If your counsel determines that a letter is not appropriate, please brainstorm with your partner about the best way to achieve the goal without sending a letter. In your case, a phone call may be better.
Please take some time now to think about all of the above, then discuss with your partner and make a plan for writing the letter and sending it. There’s no rush, take the time you need to do it well.
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