Making healthy choices when it comes to boundaries with an unfaithful partner who may be uncertain and/or uncooperative.

boundaries with an unfaithful partner

by Tim Tedder, LMHC, NCC

Few things are more confusing than a relationship in which you thought there was a mutual commitment, only to eventually discover that your partner is uncertain or maybe even heading off in a new direction; perhaps alone, or perhaps with someone else.

So what do you do? Do you wait and hope they come back? Chase after them and try to turn them around? Do you just let go?

I hope the following insights will offer some perspective on making healthy choices. This article is intended for people who still hope for their relationship when their partner seems to be giving up.


This article is an overview of a section of the online course “Affair Healing for Betrayed Partners” which addresses the many needs of injured partners with over 100 lessons, exercises, and additional resources. Preview it for free at: www.mychange.courses.


Ineffective Focus: Managing Your Partner

If your partner is telling you they’re not sure they want to be with you anymore, you may feel fearful and frantic. You may want to do anything to save the relationship but if you are not careful your acts of desperation may actually push your partner further away. The harder you try, the more you hear, “I’m not sure I want to be in this relationship anymore.”

These acts of desperation include any of the following:

  • Telling your partner that nothing they do matters; you will continue to love them no matter what.
  • Assuming responsibility for the problems in the relationship and promising to change.
  • Constantly pleading for your partner to stay.
  • Insisting that your partner goes to counseling even though they have no interest in it and put no effort into the process.
  • Continuously blaming your partner; trying to guilt them into doing what you want.
  • Threatening your partner. When panic leads you to either appeasement or control, your attempts to manage your partner are likely to have the opposite effect of what you desire.

Your efforts will push your partner away from you, not toward you, as they attempt to escape from your “neediness” or control. They may pity you and wish things were different, but can rarely return to loving again under those circumstances. They will likely feel trapped and inwardly struggle against any sense of obligation to fix the relationship.

So what should you do if your partner remains distant and uncommitted? What actions are more likely to alter their retreat? Start by refusing to play the role of desperation any longer. Instead, take control of what you can manage: yourself.

 

Doug and Tim do a deep dive into the topic of boundaries with an unfaithful partner in this audio…

 

 

Effective Focus: Managing Yourself

Here are the 3 steps you should start making right now. These are healthy choices. If there is any chance that your partner is going to return to a committed relationship, these steps will encourage a quicker return, even though they may seem counter-intuitive.

Step #1: Let Go

Tell your partner you still want to be in a relationship with them, but you know you cannot work on it until they are certain about their commitment to do the same. If you’ve been trying to control them, admit it. Apologize for trying to do something that wasn’t your job to do. Let them know that from this point on you will no longer attempt to control. They are free to make their own choices. Let them go.

This will result in a radical shift in your relationship. You will feel very vulnerable because there is certainly a chance that your partner will exercise this freedom by moving farther away from you. You have to be willing to let that happen. Before you take this step, make sure you are prepared in these two ways:

  • Be honestly committed to letting them go. Your partner may actually take you up on the offer and will be out of your reach, at least for a while. If you give this “letting go speech” as a manipulative ploy to get them back quickly, they will see right through your insincerity. If you have been checking up on them to see if they are getting involved with someone else, you must be willing to stop all of your investigative patterns at this point (no more checking up on where they are, checking emails, demanding answers, etc.). This isn’t something you can control, so stop trying.
  • Be ready to give this some time, even if your partner immediately tells you they don’t want you to do it. Some people resist this kind of change because they realize they’re losing power in the relationship. They may become angry and accuse you of making things worse (see Q&A section below). Or they may immediately break down and promise to give you everything you’ve been asking for. Your caution should be on high alert. If you give in too quickly, you’ll likely experience a moment of blissful hope followed by your partner’s swift return to the old pattern of non-commitment. If your partner says they truly are committed to working on this, let them know that you need time to feel confident about their decision. Make sure they back up their commitment with a plan of action (counseling, for example).

How far do you let them go?

If you know your partner is in another relationship, you need to separate from them. I’ve watched many relationships caught in the “Ping-Pong Effect” of bouncing back and forth between partner and lover. This can go on for a very long time, but the pattern will lose its momentum if you remove yourself from the equation. The extent of relationship separation depends on your situation, but some type of physical separation is recommended. If you’ve been living together, you should insist on a change that allows you to stay in separate places. If there is no affair, you may first focus on emotional separation (see Step 2 below).

How long should you let them go?

That’s up to you. You’ll probably want to seek help from a counselor or trusted person as you try to figure out how long you will wait, but one thing I encourage is this: Have an end date in mind. You can always adjust your deadline, but you should have some sense of how much time you are willing to give your partner.

Save Your Marriage by Saving Yourself

Step #2: Limit Your Availability

This choice is a very important one. Your partner needs to experience your shift in the relationship. Up to this point, you’ve been easily available to them, but they do not value this and may have lost respect for you. So back off. You need to create some distance between you and your partner, not out of anger or revenge or manipulation, but out of a need to focus more on yourself and less on them. You need to limit your availability in these ways: give less tenderness, less talk, and less time.

Less Tenderness

If you think your partner is starting another relationship, you need to stop all affectionate behavior. This is not a competition between you and the other person; it’s something your partner has to figure out for him/herself. As long as affection is being given to someone else, respect yourself enough to stop all romantic or sexual behaviors. (Your partner may argue about this, but stop contributing to their bad behavior.) If your partner is not another relationship, you may still have moments when affection is expressed, maybe even sexually, but it’s important that you not be the primary initiator. In fact, being a bit aloof is actually more enticing than always being ready-and-willing. Your partner should definitely get the sense that you don’t need to be with them.

Less Talk

Up to this point, you probably have been talking too much. You need to limit the amount of communication (talking, texting, emailing, phone calls, etc.) you have with your partner. Keep away from emotional conversations. If your partner invites you to talk about how you feel, give an honest answer, but keep it brief. You should focus on business-of-life communication (if you have any joint responsibilities) and avoid bringing up relationship issues. The key here is to focus on communication that allows you to remain confident, calm, and in control.

Less Time

You should be less available to your partner. I don’t mean that you should selfishly refuse to do anything with them, but you need to be more attentive to what you can do without them. You are capable of finding meaning and enjoyment in life apart from your partner; they need to experience that.

Step #3: Focus on Growth

You’ve been focused on changing your partner, now it’s time to focus on changing YOU. Your contentment in life should not be bound to the whims of your partner or the circumstances of your relationship. Of course, these both affect you deeply, but they should not control your contentment. Rather, your satisfaction in life should be firmly rooted in your contentedness with who you are and who you are becoming.

Who do you want to be? What is your understanding of the design or purpose for your life? What does God want for you? What in you gets in the way of realizing those things? What are your passions? What do you enjoy that you haven’t done in a long time? What have you always wanted to do? What new things get you excited or make you want to learn?

Stop trying to get your partner to a better place. You can’t control them. The only person you control is you, so start being intentional about doing those things that help you grow.


Tim Tedder, LMHC, NCC

Tim is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Nationally Certified Counselor with a passion for helping couples in crisis. He is the founder of the website, AffairHealing.com. Tim has also created several courses to help people recover and heal from infidelity. You can preview them for free here. 

 

    7 replies to "Boundaries with an Uncertain or Uncooperative Partner: 3 Steps You Should Take Right Now"

    • RDTH

      What a helpful article! Thank you Tim! I’m experiencing this right now. My wife of 10 years has been unfaithful and just can’t let her AP go. As a result, we’ve separated. I’ve done numerous things in this article (good and bad). I’ve been focusing on my well being…. making myself less available… less talking but before that… I was trying to “reason” with her to the point where she has told me that I’m pushing her away. (seems so nonsensical to me) I’m now realizing how pointless me trying to reason and talk with her was given her state of mind. She can’t help me at all at this point in her “fog”. I have to help myself as much as I can and I need to take complete control of this situation.

      • Jenny

        How is it going with your situation? My husband moved out about a month and a half ago. I haven’t been great with the above but need to start. Has there been any progress for you?

        • RDTH

          Hi Jenny…. not great. My wife was living with her parents…. she has now decided to get herself an apartment. She’s taken the ring off full-time and spends the nights (when they both don’t have their kids) with the AP. This is the worst case scenario outcome that one has to be ready for when they separate. Do what you can to pull-back from your husband and put your focus on yourself. It’s really tough…. but necessary to help yourself heal and move on. Don’t wallow in self-pity, don’t wait for him to come around and don’t beg your husband to come back. During separation, my wife lied to me about ending the affair and that she wanted to go to couples counseling. I asked her some important questions and quickly realized her motivation for going to counseling was to get her parents off her back (not to be with me)…. and that she had only put the affair on hold. (didn’t end it completely with zero contact). I told her I wasn’t interested in going to couples counseling if she wasn’t ready to be single-minded and take responsibility for her choice to be unfaithful. She then used that against me… “See… I was willing to go to counseling… but you were being rigid and unreasonable”. No…. not true at all.

          You can’t change your spouse and force him to be remorseful, empathetic, honest, forthcoming. He has to get to those places on his own. In my situation, my wife hasn’t shown any of the qualities necessary for reconciliation and I’ve decided to file for divorce. Not the outcome I wanted… but an outcome I was (mostly) prepared for. It’s a bit like everything is happening again … similar to D-day. I’m better prepared for it this time.

          Some great advice that I’d like to pass on…. Don’t try to make sense of what your husband has done or said about his affair. There is no making sense of it. (I spent too much time trying to reason with my wife … and then trying to analyze much of it on my own time) It’s absolutely pointless and will drive you crazy. Also…. anytime he answers you with “I don’t know”, “I can’t answer that question right now”, “I don’t have an answer to that question”. “I have to get going now” or any other “excuse”… in reality, that is simply an avoidance technique because he either can’t or doesn’t want to…. tell the truth. It’s so frustrating to deal with but it just shows how the choice he made doesn’t make any sense and can’t be explained. It’s a choice he made….. and in no way shape or form are you to blame for that.

    • BrokenToPieces

      Is there anyone who has a success story that involves the relationship mending? My relationship was as close to perfect as you can expect… then he decided to step out after getting caught up with this woman who was making eyes at him for months at work. It went on back and forth between me and her for 5 months. It’s a big long story that I cannot relive at the moment. Fast forward a year later from when he stepped out, to today, he says that when he was getting attached to her, he was detaching from me. And now that he is fully detached from her, he feels like he’s completely detached from me and everything as well. He finds no joy in anything and regrets it all. He admits that he messed up our perfect (with some flaws, but nothing serious) relationship and he wishes things could go back to the way they were before he stepped out. But that now, after 6 months of trying to get over her and rekindle with me, he doesn’t feel attached to me and is thinking he wants to get divorced and be alone and free to date or whatever to find something that will make him feel something again. I used to be the person that he longed to see at the end of the day. Even after 12 years together, the connection was still strong. But then after this woman came into the picture and essentially broke his heart, everything is gone. Like someone snapped their fingers. He was trying to make things work with me and get over her for the past 8 months… and now it seems as soon as he is finally over the b*tch, he gives up on me too. I don’t know what to do. I want to hold on, but I need hope. I need someone to tell me that there’s a chance he’s just depressed or something…. like he’s in a stage of recovery… and that he should come to his senses soon. I cannot just let go of 12 years of a beautiful love story because of 1 year of utter and absolute hell on earth. I’m devastated. I don’t know how we got here. I never in a million years thought this would be us, it was just not seemingly possible. There was such strong love there. We are best friends. Please, someone tell me something hopeful. I feel like I’m drowning.

      • Kathern

        BrokentoPieces, your story hit me hard, and brought tears to my eyes. I used to think that affairs happened only in bad relationships but I was wrong. I have been married for 14 years. Similar to your story, we were best friends, as everyone called “ultimate couple”. People would say they envy us. We cared for each other deeply, unconditionally loved and supported for many years. He would always tell me that he cannot live without me. 6 months after I was diagnosed with cancer, he found himself a co-worker. Leaving me with confusion, depression as he did great in hiding it from me for months. Depressed? Yes, he does look depressed for sure. I let him go but he came back saying he cannot live without me, but he never stopped the affair. I think we need to make some decisions at this point. I realised that the more I focused on him the more he felt powerful and comfortable. Same for you, if he feels he is the center of attention, he will not change. Betrayed people like you and me care a lot about our spouses. But unless it is mutual, we will be manipulated for ever.. If your spouse has depression, no one can help him but himself. He needs to be willing to change and get out of it. One thing I read over and over again, if they ever come to their senses, it happens during absolute No Contact. I have a friend that kicked her husband out of their house after his affair, and blocked him from all sorts of communication. After a while he came to his senses, but my friend refused to have him back, he broke down and almost became suicidal. Then he wanted to change for good. Sometimes they have to go through that pain to change. But not everyone is strong enough to do it. We have focus on ourselves. One day I am good with it, and the next day I lose hope. Why are we attach to these people who hurt us so much? Perhaps we have to think about these questions. This blog is great help. Have you heard of the blog called chump lady? I don’t read it always, but I feel good after reading. I hope we will gain strength from everything we experienced.

        • BrokenToPieces

          This is insane… after you get cancer?! Are you doing okay? I will send virtual hugs at least. How does this happen????

          So, did you let him go for good? Or are you still together working on things?

          I think I’m a coward. Because I feel like if I leave, he’s going to get even more depressed. And I do love him so much. Or at least, I love who he was a year ago. I’m not sure I know this person I’m living with right now. There are only so many times you can listen to a person say they don’t think they want to be with you before you just believe them. That’s the most dangerous thing right now… me losing hope. I know myself. Once I feel the love is not reciprocated, I start to lose mine. I’m trying to hold on so that if he comes to his senses I’ll still be there with open arms. But not knowing when or if that’s gonna happen… oh man… I’m just not patient. I’m trying not to fall into victim mode because I’ve lost enough self respect this year. Ugh…. I just want to hear those success stories! Where are you?!?! Where are you people I read about who have been in this stage and made it out with your relationship intact!?!? I need hope!

    • Kathern

      Hi BrokenToPieces,
      I am doing well thank you. I actually found out that during a hardship such as a serious sickness, the true character of our spouses emerge. Also to my surprise, I see that many people experience this, so they have to deal with a scary diagnosis and the trauma of their partner’s infidelity at the same time. These people need incredible strength to go through those emotions.
      I don’t have a success story, as in my case I came to understand that my health had priority and despite the stress I was going through he wouldn’t stop the affair. So I asked him to get out of the house, he reluctantly did, but came back. I am now telling him to leave for good. You know these people are called cake eaters. They cannot stand consequences.
      I think you might see some success stories at the surviving infidelity blog. It is also a helpful page where you may ask questions to members as well. But I am almost certain that they will tell you to take care of yourself first, and if your husband wants help he should not rely on you at this point. It is not healthy to tell our spouses that no matter what they do to us, we will love and protect them. We really have to take care of ourselves first.

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