Question #1: My husband had an affair with a work colleague. He has chosen to stay with me and our children. He still sees her and talks to her about work – even on her cell phone, he doesn’t hide it from me – how do I get him to understand that this must stop if we are to move forward? It hurts so much. How do I get my spouse to break all ties with their affair partner?
Dear Broken Hearted,
Your marriage cannot even begin to heal while your husband still has unnecessary or innappropriate contact with the other woman – especially if this contact is kept secret from you. The fact that he is not hiding this communication is a good sign that your husband’s heart is in the right place. Possibly you have less to worry about than you think, however, your feelings (fear, anger, feeling violated) are valid and need to be understood and addressed.
If talking to her about work is not part of his job, this contact needs to stop. If his work requires some work contact, your marriage can still be healed, if the contact is only appropriate and required work contact, and you and he become a team together to create accountability and boundaries that make you feel safe around this contact. It would be ideal if your husband could change jobs or positions within the company so contact would no longer be required. However, this could come with a financial setback, that you both don’t want.
Getting him to break all ties with the 3rd party (assuming his communication is not required for work) is tricky business. It has to be done in the right way and at the right time. I recommend you get as much perspective as you can first, and then you may need to deliver your husband with an ultimatum letter. An ultimatum letter is required when your husband does not need to see or communicate with her for his job, or is doing so beyond the scope of his job, and he is under the illusion that he can now be “just friends” with the other woman.
My husband also thought he was going to be “just friends” with the other woman. I believe if I had not in the right way insisted that it be one way or the other, that we would be divorced today.
The first thing you need to do is read My Husband’s Affair BECAME the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me, because it will give you tremendous perspective and you’ll see how I successfully delivered this ultimatum to my husband.
I also recommend reading James Dobson’s Love Must Be Tough. It is a Christian book, so be ready for that, but it’s the best I’ve ever seen on addressing this issue of getting your spouse to break ties with the 3rd party, and it was reading Dobson’s book that helped me to do so successfully in my own marriage.
Last I recommend reading Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass. The title says it all. Shirley Glass is among the most respected and knowledgeable experts on affairs. Her book is a classic as far as dealing with all the issues related to healing, and you need as much perspective as you can in order to do the right thing for you and your marriage.
What you do now is critical to your future. You can’t just get mad at him and tell him you won’t tolerate this anymore. You really need to know what you’re doing.
You may also want to set up a 1 hour coaching session with me at some point, just so we can discuss the details and make sure you get this done in the right way and at the right time. Your future depends on it.
Question #2: Thank you – I have read your book and I did get mad at him about this – it didn’t work. I will check out the other two books you recommend. Boy this is hard work. Thanks for being so open and honest with your story.
It’s is hard work, and it is hard to think straight when you’re in such a state of emotional trauma. You are very wise to seek support.
Many people read my book twice to really soak in all the truths that are there in our story. When it comes to getting your spouse to break all ties with the 3rd party, getting mad doesn’t work, and getting mad is not what I did. I did not get mad; rather I rationally, calmly and thoughtfully drew a line.
Here are some clear steps to take:
Step 1 – before you do anything get some perspective, by reading the books I mentioned above, and perhaps talking with a good counselor or coach. Before you take any steps you need to fully understand what you’re doing. If you threaten your husband or get mad, your behavior will be perceived as a meaningless empty threat which will produce no results and only serve to escalate the negative feelings and disrespect between you.
Step 2 – Choose your timing carefully. If possible it’s best to wait until you’re sure you have your spouse’s heart back before you deliver the ultimatum, until they’ve made a decision to stay in the marriage, and then maybe a week or two later. The bottom line is generally speaking unfaithful spouses develop some genuine feelings for their affair partners, and as painful and as unfair as this is, it needs to be understood that breaking those ties is generally not so easy for them. They will recognize the affair for the fantasy it is, as their decision and time separates them from the fantasy they’ve been living in.
When considering the timing, you also must consider your own emotional state, because if you’re not ready to follow through with your side of the ultimatum, then you’re delivering an empty threat that will only weaken your relationship, not strengthen it. No two marriages or affairs are identical so the timing in your situation is unique to your unique circumstances.
Step 3 – Deliver the ultimatum. This will need to be done in the form of a letter. Don’t bother phoning your spouse and screaming into the phone that they have to break up with the other woman /other man or you will leave. You’ll merely come across as weak and out of control. Your spouse won’t remember the words you’ve said, and neither will you. Besides you probably won’t say EXACTLY what you intend to (and even if you did, your spouse is likely to interrupt or at best not be listening). Write a letter and take your time doing it.
This letter has nothing to do with getting mad or angry, quite the contrary. It has to do with quiet confidence, a boundary in marriage, taking a firm stand for your own dignity and how you deserve to be treated in this marriage, as well as a confidence in what’s right and what’s wrong concerning affairs. Your spouse cannot be JUST FRIENDS with someone they’ve had an affair with, and in most cases the affair partner will not accept this “just friends” arrangement. Oh they will verbally, but their heart will be thinking of your spouse as more.
What should this letter include?
This letter will probably be the most profound love letter you’ve ever written to your spouse. Once again let me emphasize, this letter has nothing to do with being angry.
1. Be honest about how painful the discovery of the affair has been for you. Keep it in the “I.” “I ….” Don’t start accusing them or attacking their person with “you” statements. Say: “I’ve been through some very tough moments since I’ve discovered your affair.” Don’t say: “You’ve caused me so much pain.”
2. State how much you love your spouse clearly and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to heal and create a great marriage on the other side of this pain.
3. State how you meant your wedding vows on your wedding day.
4. State the things you are not prepared to live with in your marriage, such as them continuing contact with the 3rd party. Again it’s very important that you talk in terms of what is and isn’t okay with you. You are not telling your spouse what to do. You recognize and respect that they are free to choose. You are merely stating that you also are free to choose, and you’re choosing not to be married to someone who insists on remaining in contact with someone whom they’ve had an affair with.
5. You may want to explain why this is not okay with you. For example that you’ve done your research and based on what the experts say, you realize your marriage will not stand a chance of healing, nor having the intimacy and passion you desire while this 3rd party is still in the picture.
6. State clearly what you need in order to remain in the marriage. Do not be wordy or unclear here. Something like: “If you want to stay with me, you’ll have to put an end to this “friendship” and all contact with this person completely.”
7. Emphasize the fact that you’re not telling them what to do. That you recognize and respect their free choice … in fact if they cannot freely choose you, if their feelings for the other person are so strong that this is a difficult decision for them; suggest that it’s probably best that they do leave.
Note: You must realize that some marriages are salvageable after affairs, and some are not. This ultimatum is going to determine whether yours is or isn’t. At times we want our marriages so badly, we love our spouse’s so much that we are not willing to let them go. But in the long run love and making right decisions cannot be forced on another human being. It’s a principle in life that many times we cannot have what we desire from the depths of our hearts, until we’re willing to let it go. Certainly this was the case with my marriage. It wasn’t until I finally accepted the fact that my husband might leave me, I might end up divorced and that I did not have control over his decision, that I got my marriage back.
In Dobson’s book, he says that many times people who have affairs felt trapped in their marriages rather than free to choose the marriage and free to “pursue” their spouse. You’ve got to give your spouse the freedom to leave, if you want them to commit fully to you. Anything less comes off as too needy, is unattractive and will push your spouse away from you. You cannot force someone to love you.
8. You can be honest about the fact that you will be severely hurt if they leave.
9. Make it clear that you only want your spouse if they truly love you, that you don’t want them to stay with you merely out of moral obligation or pity. Leave yourself some dignity!
10. Tell them that if they choose to leave you will not make it difficult for them. Really set them free to choose. This will shake them up. Once again realize that not every marriage is salvageable. If your spouse is not or will not be committed to your marriage, there’s no time like the present for them to go, unless you don’t mind living the rest of your life with half their heart, repeated affair offenses, lying and lack of intimacy.
11. Let them know that you realize you have not been a perfect spouse, but you’ve never violated your marriage by allowing another man/woman to touch you.
12. Let them know that you have thought this through and take it all very seriously. This is why just getting mad and yelling that they have to break up with the 3rd party is usually fruitless.
13. Let them know that if there is a 2nd (or other) offense your marriage will be over.
14. Let them know that you aren’t sure what they’ll choose, you are both responsible for your own lives, and your conscience is clear.
15. Remind him/her of all the wonderful memories you’ve shared.
16. Tell them you sincerely wish only the best for their future and happiness.
17. End by restating how much you love them and want them to stay and are willing to do whatever it takes to be the most wonderful husband or wife they could ever have, but if this friendship with the affair partner is so important to them, then there’s no time like the present for them to leave.
Step 5 – Proofread the letter. Be sure it says exactly what you want. Perhaps have a trusted friend or counselor proofread it also and offer any input. This letter is really important to your future. Take your time. This is not something to be frivolously written and delivered in anger. THAT WILL NOT WORK.
Step 6 – If you’re not fully prepared to follow through with separation if they do not break ties with the 3rd party, DON’T BOTHER GIVING THIS LETTER TO THEM. An empty threat will be meaningless. You need to mean business!
You are a person with dignity. You are worthy of love and respect. You deserve exclusivity in your marriage. Do not settle for less.
©Copyright 2005 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.
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