There is often a misconception with a victim of infidelity that “If I love them enough, they will come back to me.” This often leads to clingy behavior from the betrayed spouse, which in turn can cause the cheater to move further away. There can be a distance that nothing seems to be able to bridge.  What’s often needed instead is “tough love.”

The other day I came across the following statement that was made by a poster on a popular forum:

“I think ‘tough love’ is also at the basis for every good method of dealing with all of this. You have to be tough – to hold your spouse accountable and maintain the line of self respect. However, you also have to be loving: anything you do that is mean, vindictive, or out of anger and lashing out is counter-productive. Finding the balance is HARD at times! Someone once called it being a ‘quiet warrior.’ I like that term. If you follow the plan and get good advice, it helps you find that balance.

If you are dealing with infidelity, you simply CANNOT save your marriage with the other person in it! You must get rid of that person in order to begin recovery of any sorts. Thus, you may have to let go, set your spouse free, and by all means, expose the affair if it will do any good in your situation to end it. (I say the ‘if’ part in that last sentence because this HAS to be done in the right way.) I was very fortunate to have someone lead me through this process step by step and others holding my hand while I did so.”

Tough love often means separating the cheating from the cheater. You have no tolerance for the behavior, yet love the cheater enough to set firm limits and do what is needed.  By giving the cheater the opposite response from what they are expecting is counter-intuitive, yet it works, when done in love.

See also  Discussion – Acting Crazy After the Affair

The attitude behind which you do things is critical. “Tough love” has both the toughness and the love. It seeks what is best for the person and the relationship rather than being some new form of punishment.

Tough love is not about leaving your spouse. It’s about letting go of your expectations of what you want your spouse to do. Show them that you can go on without them. That is the compass. Keep them informed. You are telling them you won’t be a doormat for their behavior anymore. They need to get on board as the train is leaving the station.

Looking back, I can see how I actually did offer Doug tough love, but took way too long to do so.  Once I told Doug that he was free to go, I noticed that his apparent desire to be in his emotional affair with Tanya started to reverse.

Our discussion topics for today are…

If you are the betrayed…have you implemented a plan for “tough love” with your spouse?

If so, how did it work for you?  How did your spouse respond? (Please provide as much detail as possible.)

If not, was there any particular reason for not doing so?

If you are the cheater…If your spouse dished out some “tough love” to you, how did you respond?  What did you do?  How did it affect your relationship and the status of your affair?

If your spouse did not give you “tough love,” do you feel that if he/she would have it would have made a difference?  Please explain why.

Please respond to one another in the comment section below.

See also  What Stops You From Leaving (Or Kicking the Cheater Out)?


Note:  There is an excellent book on the subject by James C. Dobson that you might want to check out called “Love Must be Tough.”

Linda & Doug



    23 replies to "Discussion – Have You Dished Out Any Tough Love?"

    • chiffchaff

      I found the same. I took far too long to do it, but after he’d pushed me too far and I told my H he was free to lead his ‘perfect life’ with the OW he changed his mind and stopped fantasising about it.
      It’s perverse as well as counter-intuitive.

    • Disappointed

      I have not been tough enough. When I confronted my H his only concern was protecting the OW. He threatened I would never see him again and that he would destroy our nonprofit if I hurt her or her family (married mom of two). He moved out 4 days later, his choice not mine. He and the OW have been NC since 2 days post D-day. He has been out of the house over 10 months. At first it was like I had to remind him that our marriage was not all bad@ He completely rewrote our history. He has not fully accepted responsibility. He says he is sorry he hurt me and that I did not deserve the betrayal, but that he is not sorry she awakened him. Many people on this site and the few people that know what has happened think I have been too much of a doormat. He is at our home 3-4 nights a week and we talk/text every day, just not the 100 texts they used to exchange. In a strange twist he is suspicious of a friendship I have with one of our friends and even checked up on me last nigh. Very soon I will have to switch tactics so he finally feels what it would be like to lose ME. I just am not sure if he will finally snap out of it or if I will find it really is over, that he doesnt want to love me or need me or have me in his life as his partner and wife. I have told him I do not want and cannot be only his friend.

    • Hopeful

      Yep, tough love was important for us. Initially, after Dday, everything was so scary and a fuzzy blur of lies. I guess what it was even before discovery and was right, but he was telling me all sorts of bull above how it was a slight flirtation and email tone issues (he erased all of them except for the couple I read after I found the first). So, with no evidence, I resorted to wanting to reconnect and be close and be understanding and get through everything.

      My entire body knew that I was being lied to, and there started the investigations through papers and internet searches on his computer. My discoveries of his chronicling his obvious attraction to her and a couple more emails to her after dday that were not declarations of love but made clear this thing was not what he said and that he was showing me one tiny glint into what it was…was the tipping point of our recovering. It was also the point of no contact which led to a major snake like recoil of beyotch energy from the rejected OW which showed her true colors to him. IT was the moment I said, f you. I am done being lied to. I am over it. I think you did and felt X. I need you to think about it, answer my questions (which I wrote out) and write me the truth. We’ll read it and I am committed to moving on. I am prepared to hear the even worse. If you are committed we’ll see what happens but I am done been lied to. I know you are telling me only a fraction of the truth. Maybe 85% of it, but I need to know what you are hiding.

      I found out more from this process. And it felt like our turning point. We began couples work and he began individual work.

      I had to go through 2 or 3 more rounds of discovery past this and by the end I was at the end of my rope with him and seriously began looking into divorce. I told him this.

      I announced everything I needed from him from his help in healing to the truth to him changing lifestyle things to whatever and I really don’t think we could’ve gone on if he wasn’t willing ot really do the work he needed to do to face his shit.

      It was a horrible 10 months past Dday, and the worse happened at the end. But then, though still difficult at times, everything began changing.

      So, it was me finding my footing (which for me also meant self-healing, finding concrete evidence that preventing him from denying my feelings and reality, and being strong enough to ask for what I and needed to move on in an open way without knowing I’d get it). I knew that just moving on would not work. There would be a wedge between us and I didn’t want that. I had to feel comfortable loving him openly which meant and means transparency, airing harming truths, and dealing with the traumatic responses and flashbacks of infidelity and all the crap it implicates.

      Tough love was the only way.

      My road was not as hard as some whose CS do not come around and are not really committed. Though his head was up his bum for a long while, my H was always onboard from the get go for saving the marriage and recovering.

      • Natalia

        As I read this post, again I have to say that it’s like reading my own experience with my H’s EAs. In my case D-day started the day he opened his mouth to say that he had found an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. When I heard her name I almost chocked him! At that moment realized I did not have to take his crap anymore. So many years of putting up with (what I just recently discovered) his narcissistic personality and his gaslighting me to the point where I didn’t recognized who I was anymore. Our kids were now older and I didn’t have to pretend or cover up for their father’s behavior. I confronted him with my suspicions and to my surprise he took full responsibility and acknowledged how wrong it had been for him to contact that woman.
        The first few days everything felt wonderful until I asked for his passwords to his FB and all email accounts. That’s when his demeanor changed and I knew he was hiding something BIG. I was right. I discovered he had been having EAs with dozens of women. Worst of all most of them knew me!
        This is when I applied tough love. He was either going to come clean or it was over. I told him that the mere thought of leaving him at this point and not having to look at him or hearing his voice made me feel so relieved that I was not going to think twice about it if he didn’t fix the mess he had created of our marriage.
        It’s been 2.5 years and things have settled into a new routine which suits us fine. There’s respect and love between us now. Triggers come and go but never stay long enough to hurt me. He’s been wonderful to me and a tell him so. I’m glad I was tough and fought hard because the man I fell in love with and married came back to me.

    • ChangedForever

      With children involved, everything I WANTED to do following DDay, became secondary. At least that’s my opinion as a BS. As a planner, the surprise of an infidelity discovery is completely overwhelming, i just didnt have a ‘plan B’ for that one. Who could? Not me. And i can pull a ‘plan B’ from almost every situation…but not that time.
      What i WANTED to do, what i THOUGHT was logical … I couldnt do because i had the 3 kids’ lives to consider.
      Therefore, it wasnt until i had 2 of the 3 of them driving, and 1 out of the house at college, that i moved out. I’ve always groomed my children to be independent and, as they became so, and the lies continued, i then became ‘free to leave.’ it was truly freeing and the spousal response was pretty significant…worth the major inconvenience it was to me and showed me i CAN be on my own and CAN take care of myself. When H and i were incurring setbacks over the many months, i did let the kids know that i would always let them know if i planned to leave …. That i would never just ‘leave’ without notice. After all they’d been thru after finding out this ‘person’ that their father had introduced them to as his friend, taken to their sports events and brought to our home, was the OW, they didnt need any more ‘surprises.’
      Unfortunately though, (for both of us,) my H may very well be a lifelong chronic liar.
      As much as i see him ‘trying,’ he deals with his own demons…i see that. I know he keeps things from me (now that following my gut feelings should have been what i SHOULD have been doing all along, since discovery.) i always find out the truths…sooner or later.
      Tough Love worked for me, but had to be prioritized. My children came first, back then. Even if it meant more suffering for me.
      This is where ‘faith’ comes in…and mine has been strengthened to levels i never thought possible.
      …almost 24 months past DDay#1
      And looking forward to reading this book now that i’ve downloaded it onto my Kindle…

    • Patsy50

      “you have no tolerance for the behavior, yet love the cheater enough to set firm limits and do what is needed”
      I did just that. I asked questions about the EA. Do you love me?, Have you ever loved me? Do you want to stay in this marriage of then 38 yrs. and do all that is asked of you to help me and.the relationship move on. Husbands answer was always yes. So boundaries were set in place and the healing began. He knew if at anytime I felt he was not supporting me in this recovery such as being truthful, honest and showing his love for me, it would be the end of our marriage and I was totally prepared for that in my heart and mind. It either works out or it doesn’t.
      I am glad to say it is working out after almost 2 yrs. past D-day. I still hit some bumps in the road and will never forget nor trust blindly but I have forgiven him and he has forgiven himself and so we keep moving forward.

      • Natalia

        Patsy50: I’m glad everything is working out for you and your husband. My situation is a bit different; even though I will also never forget or trust blindly, I’m taking my time forgiving him. I think he needs to forgive himself first before I can feel free to forgive him. But I feel we’re getting there. He’s cooperated in every way possible and has made tremendous changes in his lifestyle and behavior. He’s a smart man and deep down a very good one.

    • JoeIsTrying

      Ahh! I’m shaking as I type this, just sent off the toughest of love emails to date. I haven’t posted in a while, as I gave up all hope. My D-day was 11 mos ago and we have been separated over 9mos, most of which she was still seeing the OM. She has claimed they have broke up, but I still see so much behavior in her that makes me think they are just laying low. We have a young child and have to maintain weekly contact.
      Last month the paperwork and listing of the house was put on hold by her. She was open to talking, yet she just never could fit us into her busy schedule. I don’t know why she is stalling or why she can’t come to the discussion table. I meanwhile continue to tell her that I believe we can resurrect our marriage and have told her my grand illusions. Her eyes gloss over.
      She broke an appt again for tonight, so I just sent the paperwork to attorney and realtor(which is me) to list house.
      The last time I tried tough love she didn’t bite and I melted like an ice cream cone. This time I feel more resolve to proceed and am 99% sure there will be no more stalls on her part.
      The biggest shame – our problems were so small, we didn’t fight, there was no abuse, we are both community involved loving parents. We got lazy and forgot about our marriage while raising a wonderful child and now guilt, denial and pride keep her from righting a wrong. This process tests so much including one’s capacity.
      What a waste.

      • Doug

        JoelsTrying, I”m sorry that you’re going through this, but good for you for showing a strong hand. I hope that she comes to her senses and that you are able to resurrect your marriage. Let us know how it comes out. Best of luck!

    • solost

      My dday was today. I am feeling so confused. I confronted my H about an emotional affair and his very recent strange behavior. My H did blame most of the failures in our marriage on me and defend the supposedly “close friend”. He stated he needed space but still wanted to live in the house. He continued the relationship with the “close friend” and I finally told him last night that I couldn’t be second to this relationship and it was bothering me and I wanted it to end or for him to leave. So he is packing and leaving as I type this. I am feeling very guilty and heartbroke.

      • Blue

        Solost, I wish I knew what to say to make you feel comfort. You are not alone.

        Your husband, by blaming you for most failures in your marriage is in the throes of playing by the cheaters playbook. He’s copping out from the vows he made to you, he’s not giving you a chance- and that in itself shows what kind of man he is (right now)

        What you have going for you is you stated your needs (not being second woman in your marriage) This is a valid request.

        Cyber Hug to you.

      • Doug

        solost, Do not feel guilty. The affair had nothing to do with you and you did nothing wrong. For right now you have to take care of yourself – eat, sleep, etc. If you can, find some support with friends and/or family who have your best interests in mind and who can be there to listen. Be strong and don’t let him walk all over you. Hang in there!

    • solost

      Blue and Doug thank you for the encouragement. I know I need to find me and get back on track. One of the reasons he said he fell our of love with me is because I had no respect for myself and I was to consumed with him (he had an autoimmune disease and has been very ill the last few years but is feeling good now).I did spend all my time taking care of him and now he says he needs space. I just don’t understand how it came to this. I am still working through this tough love stuff!!

      • Strengthrequired

        Solost, what your h is doing is giving excuses for his bad behaviour, blaming them on you. my h was the opposite, thought I wasn’t looking after him enough. They will find any excuse to make themselves feel better. Don’t forget the ow would be playing all the right cards right now, but eventually her true colours will shine through and he will wonder what has he done.
        You do need to look after yourself, emotions are at a high right now, and everything is so confusing to you as well as your h ( I know hard to believe ),, yet looking after yourself and your children is important right now.
        Please though do not take the blame for your h short comings, he made this mess, not you. Don’t let him put that guilt on you.

      • Doug

        Well doesn’t that suck? You spend all of your time and energy taking care of him while he’s sick and now he needs space. Selfish! That just reinforces my thought that now it’s time to focus on YOU. Oh, and you may want to consider not letting him come back home until you’re sure the affair is over and he agrees to your plan for recovery.

    • Rachel


      I blamed myself when I heard the same reasons from my ex husband. Now I can see clearly and they were just excuses for him to look innocent that he has an affair.
      Hang in there. Like the others have said take care of you!!
      Seek counseling for you if possible and continue to blog on this site.

    • Kelly

      Hi, I could use some advice. I discovered my husband was having an EA for the last couple of months. When I confronted him he said he loved me but he wasn’t sure if he was in love with me. He stated that he had some fears regarding the continuation of our relationship. He had a very hard time letting her go because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue with me. He does admit that he loves her, although, I think he is in lemerance. He knows that he does not want a future with her, but she has become a big part of his life. About 11 days ago he cut off communication with her. However, they work in the same place and have to talk occasionally. He does not cut off the communication after the work talk is over. In the past 11 days, they have had 1 15 minute phone conversation and about 20 texts exchanged. This is a huge leap from the hours and hours they used to communicate a day on top of hundreds of text messages. I am not sure what to do at this point.. He says that because he isn’t certain he wants to stay with me, he isn’t really ready to work on us and that his main priority is getting rid of her. How do I deal with this? He has done very we and I’m proud of the progress he has made, but even the smallest conversation with her I’m afraid causes a relapse in his “rehab”. Do I do the tough love ultimatum or do k try and help him through his withdrawal pain before trying to work on us.. He has been, for the most part, communicative with me about if they speak which I appreciate. I’m very lost. This situation seems different than any article I can find and I’m sort of floating around unsure of what to do next. Any advice would be appreciated!

      • Doug

        Hi Kelly, Your situation is quite typical and it will be difficult in my opinion for him to break completely free as long as there is still any type of contact between the two of them. Can he break free if they work together? Perhaps, but it will be a longer and more frustrating withdrawal process with a fairly high probability of relapse. I’m a firm believer that no contact forever is mandatory and necessary. An ultimatum can be appropriate but you need to really think it through and be prepared to follow through on any consequences. You might want to read this:

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