Contact with the Affair Partner After an Affair Ends
Should he have any contact with the affair partner now that the affair is over? Shouldn’t she cut her affair partner out of his life and stop talking to him altogether? How can I get him to stop talking to her?
After an affair, the couple is in crisis. They’re struggling to adapt to their new reality now that the affair has been exposed.
The hurt partner is reeling from this world-shattering news. She’s often traumatized and angry, while also struggling with the desire to scour phone records, check his phone, and other responses intended to help her feel safe after a massive betrayal.
The partner participating in the affair is often remorseful and desperate to save the relationship.
In instances like this, it’s a matter of course that the affair is over, that contact with the affair partner will not continue, and that both partners are all in the save the relationship.
But this is not always the case.
Should she have contact with the affair partner after the affair is ended? This common question comes up when the affair partner is ambivalent about the marriage relationship. In that ambivalence, the participating partner may be reluctant to give up contact with the affair partner, even if the relationship is no longer or has never been sexual. And it’s often true as well that that hurt partner is on the fence about recommitting to the relationship.
There is no single, black-and-white answer to this complex question, and ultimately, couples need to determine for themselves what’s best for them. But there are a new considerations that may be helpful in addressing this question.
Working with Ambivalence
First of all, if you’re struggling after an affair, whether you’re the partner who had the affair or it was your spouse, it’s completely normal to have mixed feelings about deciding to work on the relationship.
If you’re the hurt partner, this is a particularly difficult time for you. You may be trying to figure out if you want to stay in the relationship. You’re angry and hurt. You’re feeling betrayed and, all of the sudden, deeply mistrustful of your partner. You probably feel like you don’t even know who you’re married to anymore.
If you’re the participating partner, you’re stuck in between two worlds. On the one hand, you probably care for your spouse, or you wouldn’t even be reading this. Your love for your spouse means, though, that you feel guilty and ashamed about what you’ve done and for your continued thoughts about and longings to be with your affair partner. This may also be true for you if your affair is a part of a larger pattern of problematic sexual behaviors that have been out of control; you may be ambivalent about stopping those behaviors.
You both have a decision to make: Even if you’re not sure about the relationship, can you decide to engage with and work on your ambivalence?
Working through this ambivalence is crucial for both of you; without doing this, there’s no way to tell if the relationship has a future.
Also, since working through this painful ambivalence is important to healing regardless of that future, it’s a good idea to face it and avoid running away from it by prematurely ending the relationship.
What This Means for Contact with the Affair Partner
Often, I encourage couples at this stage of healing to agree to a period of at least 6 months to commit to staying in the relationship while we work with each one’s ambivalence, mine the meaning of the affair, and use that shared understanding to help them decide whether they want to rebuild the relationship.
During this period, both partners agree to discontinue contact with the affair partner, and here’s why.
Continued contact with the affair partner is not going to help the participating partner honestly self-reflect and consider their feelings for their partner. Contact with the affair partner usually means that the participating partner is going to continue to be swept up in the affair.
There are times when, even if both partners agree, this informal agreement to discontinue contact for 6 months or more is severely tested. The identity of the affair partner and nature of the relationship may mean that discontinuing contact entirely is not possible, which complicates healing.
In these cases, it’s often helpful for the couple to actively agree upon boundaries for how the couple (not the participating partner only) relates to this person. These situations are very challenging and requires a great deal of honesty from the participating partner.
Finally, some affairs can be so intense that they can result in constant, almost obsessive thoughts, intense feelings of longing, sadness, and grief, and unbearable emotional pain when they end. These relationships are often labeled as products of “love addiction” or “relationship addiction,” though I’m not crazy about these terms. These instances might be a whole other blog post someday as they’re especially challenging for each partner, but suffice it to say here that the same considerations for continued contact with the affair partner apply.
Taking the Risk to Engage Each Other
Right now, if you’re reading this, engaging your partner may be the last thing you want to do. Asking hard questions, “going there” for each of you is painful, and many couples avoid each other by putting up walls.
In order to work through your ambivalence together, to determine if the relationship can not just make it through this but be transformed by it, you need to risk being vulnerable.
Therapy can help you be in this space together. It’s not going to be easy. Doing the work in therapy never is. And I know how hard it is to see the other side, much less believe that there is one.
But you can get through this. You can heal. You can also come to a place to make an honest, informed choice about moving forward with the relationship and why whatever choice you make is important for you.
Affairs can help us become our best, most authentic selves, as crazy as that sounds, because they have the unique power to reveal what we could not allow ourselves to see in ourselves and in our partners before.
It’s tough work, but if you need support and are ready to roll up your sleeves and dig in, I’m here for you. Let’s talk.
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