The Right Way to End an Affair… You’d think that a wayward spouse would be so aware of his or her weakness and so aware of the pain inflicted that he or she would be thoughtful enough to make every effort to avoid further contact with the lover. Instead, the wayward spouse often argues that the relationship was “only sexual” or was “only emotional, but not sexual” or some other peculiar description to prove that continued contact with the lover would be okay. Most betrayed spouses intuitively understand the danger and demand that all contact with a lover end for life. Permanent separation not only helps prevent a renewal of the affair, but it is also a crucial gesture of consideration to the betrayed spouse.
In spite of career sacrifices, friendships, and issues relating to children’s schooling, I recommend with all seriousness that there be a sudden and complete end to an affair. And I recommend extreme measures to ensure total separation for life from a former lover.
Several years ago, I owned and operated ten chemical dependency treatment clinics. At first, we used several different treatment strategies. For some, we tried to encourage moderation, and for others we tried to achieve total abstinence. It wasn’t long before all the counselors agreed that total abstinence was the only way to save drug or alcohol addicts from their self-destructive behavior.
Unless they completely abandoned the object of their addiction, the addiction usually returned. For these people, moderation was impossible. The conviction that their drug of choice was off-limits to them for life, helped end their cycle of addiction-treatment-addiction.
My strategy for ending an affair with total separation from the lover developed after my experience treating addicts. And, over the years, I’ve found my total-separation strategy to be very effective in ending affairs in a way that makes marital recovery possible. Without total separation, marital recovery is almost impossible.
An affair is a very powerful addiction. The craving to be with the lover can be so intense that objective reality doesn’t have much of a chance. The fact that a spouse and children may be permanently injured by this cruel indulgence doesn’t seem to matter. All that matters is spending more time with the lover. That makes it an addiction.
Even the one-night stand may be an addiction. It may not be an addiction to a particular lover, but it may still be an addiction — to one-night stands. In affairs that have low emotional attachment, the addiction is often to the act of having sex itself, rather than to a particular lover.
The addiction to one-night stands can also grow from a need to be continually assured of one’s attractiveness. People who indulge in such practices want to feel that they can have anyone they want, even that person over there sitting at the bar. These people who need constant reassurance of their attractiveness must learn some other way to gain that assurance — a way that does not destroy their marriage.
The analogy between chemical addiction and an affair is striking. In both cases, the first step toward recovery is admitting that the addiction is self-destructive and harmful to those whom the addict cares for most — his or her family.
After recognizing the need to overcome the addiction, the next step is to suffer through the symptoms of withdrawal. Addicts are often admitted to a hospital or treatment program during the first few weeks of withdrawal to ensure total separation from the addicting substance.
The way to overcome an addiction is tried and proven — abstain from the object of addiction. Alcoholics, for example, must completely avoid contact with any alcoholic beverage to gain control over their addictive behavior. They must avoid places where alcohol is likely to be found, such as bars and parties. They must even avoid friends who drink occasionally in their presence. They must surround themselves with an alcohol-free environment. In the same way, when a wayward spouse separates from the lover, extraordinary precautions must be taken to avoid all contact with the lover — for life.
Of course, my advice is not easy to implement. Many people who have had an affair try but fail to make a drastic and decisive break with their lover.
Adapted from Surviving an Affair, by Dr. Willard F. Harley and Dr. Jennifer Harley Chalmers. Copyright © 1998 by Dennis Rainey, used with permission, published by Revell.