Affair relapse is a common thing, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
I’ve never really kept track of the numbers, but I’m guessing that well over 50% of the mentoring ‘cases’ I’ve been involved with experience an affair relapse.
Here’s a typical scenario…
“I caught my wife cheating on me 6 weeks ago. She stopped the affair immediately, telling me that she loves me and wants to work on our marriage. Since then I have found out she has been lying and has resumed the affair with him again. I know she does want to quit but is having a hard time.”
I hear this sort of story on a daily basis. Usually it’s from the standpoint of the betrayed spouse, but often it’s the unfaithful person too.
In a past post I addressed the 5 phases that an unfaithful person goes through once the affair is discovered, and I offered my opinion that it most often occurs in Phase Two:
“Phase Two: The ‘I Need a Fix’ Phase – More commonly referred to as the withdrawal stage. This is where the affair has ended by some means and the cheater is in a funk. They are missing their affair partner and are feeling the effects of being cut off from the ‘high’ that the AP provided. I believe this is the phase where most relapses occur. In this phase the cheater may experience the following:
- Easily shuts down during discussions and/or arguments
- Emotionally withdrawing/distancing
- Missing/longing for their affair partner. They feel they need to contact the AP.
- Quiet – not talkative”
Indeed, affair relapse is a common thing, but it is inevitable?
Well, obviously not all situations and people are the same, so it’s impossible to really know for sure. But here are a few things that the unfaithful could do to perhaps lessen the possibility of an affair relapse. (Note: I’m not referring to serial cheating.)
4 Ways to Help Ensure There Isn’t an Affair Relapse
Don’t Just Wing It. You need an affair recovery plan. And a good starting place for that plan in my opinion is to really know why you are doing it. Why is affair recovery and/or saving your marriage so important to you (or your spouse)? If you do not know the Why’s, you may not be (remain) motivated enough and will tend to slip back into old habits and tendencies. You need at least one compelling, motivating reason why you want to go through this.
It’s like trying to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight so that you look better in a suit or a dress, you might not be motivated enough to follow through with your weight loss program. However, if your motivations for losing weight are that you will have a heart attack and die if you don’t, then that might be the motivation you need to follow through.
The same goes for preventing an affair relapse. You have to know why you are going through the affair recovery process. You need to look at yourself and really determine your motivations. Are they strong enough to keep you going? I believe that it has to be more specific than “so I can save my marriage.” And your reasons may change over time – which is not a bad thing, by the way.
In addition to knowing your affair recovery motivations, your recovery plan should be specific to infidelity and include strategies that address such things as introspection and self-discovery to understand why the affair happened, individual and couples therapy when the time is appropriate, putting in place certain boundaries and guidelines so that an affair doesn’t happen again in the future, and an agreement with the betrayed spouse on what to do in case of unintended contact with the ex-affair partner.
Having a plan is great and all, but it also requires that the unfaithful follow through and actually work the plan as diligently as possible.
Remove the Temptation and Opportunity. An alcoholic can’t go into a bar without being tempted to drink. So, why would it make sense for an unfaithful person to feel that they can “still be friends” with their affair partner, or that they will not be tempted if they continue to work with that person?
Likewise, you (or your spouse) cannot carry on in such a way that provides you ample opportunity, which is an often overlooked and underestimated risk factor for an affair relapse.
Lynn Margolies, PhD says that…
No Contact. Forever. Period. I could have included this under the temptation heading but I wanted to make it separate so as to emphasize it more.
Lynn Margolies says, “An affair that is suddenly exposed or ends poses a particular risk situation for a vulnerable marriage with an unfaithful spouse. Feelings of loss, conflict and pressure can make it difficult to let go of the illicit relationship, compounding the lure that led to the affair in the first place.
Effectively establishing closure with the affair partner — including ceasing all contact — helps guard against relapse and is an important beginning gesture toward restoring trust in the marriage. This is not the time to rely on good intentions and discipline alone.”
As I’ve stated in the past…When I ended my affair, I did so cold-turkey and have not had any sort of contact whatsoever since. I sincerely believe it was a vital element for me to quickly move through the withdrawal phase and toward commitment to the recovery process.
But I realize that others may struggle with doing it this way. The person with an addictive personality will struggle. Those who were in a long-term affair will probably struggle. Those who had their affair end abruptly will probably struggle.
But I can tell you, no contact – whether direct or indirect – is a must.
So, it should go without saying that there can be no texting, calling, WhatsApp-ing, Facebook messaging, etc. But also, no reading old letters, texts or emails. Stop staring at his/her picture or stalking the person on social media. Toss out any gifts or anything else that can remind you of your affair partner. Any reluctance to do so will only keep you mired in a funk and keep the affair fantasy alive.
Cold turkey, one day at a time. It works.
Get Support. One of the things I truly wished I would have done when we were going through this was to talk to a trusted friend, expert or another person going through the same thing. It would have been nice to have their objective advice on direction, for accountability and to bounce thoughts and ideas off of, among other things. I feel it would have made things so much less uncertain and chaotic, and would have stopped me from screwing up as much.
To think that you can depend on your own ability to figure things out and help yourself, your spouse, and your marriage at the same time – is kind of crazy. Most of the unfaithful people who have just ended their affair are of no mind to help heal their partner or marriage – at least not right away.
Though we (as the unfaithful) did create this whole shit-storm, usually we are unable to figure it out or fix it on our own. We need to be able to understand ourselves and the situation better. We need vastly more knowledge on a variety of relationship issues. We need to know what the hell to do. We need help. To think otherwise is not realistic – to put it mildly.
And down the road, you may find yourself falling back into bad habits, slacking off on your recovery plan and other relationship patterns that could possibly lead you to an affair relapse. It’s a typical struggle for anyone. But it’s at those times when you need to dig deep and utilize any ammo in your arsenal that can help prevent you from relapsing. That can include talking to your spouse, your therapist and your support/accountability person – among other things.
As they say, “It takes a village.”
Please share your thoughts on this and whether there were certain things that helped – or didn’t help – you or your spouse from having an affair relapse. Thanks!