Leaving Your Marriage for Your Affair Partner?

betrayed spouse

 

Leaving your marriage for your affair partner? First, here’s the unwelcome news: More than 75% of marriages that begin as affairs never get to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary.

And only a fraction (less than 5%) of affair partners ever marry in the first place.

At CTI we only do science-based couples therapy. Sometimes we find that we are working with a couple who began their relationship as affair partners. We often see these couples as early as 2 years from their wedding date.

Leaving your marriage for your affair partner? Here are 8 predictable issues that you will need to grapple with to increase your odds of success:

If They Will Do It with You…Will They Do It to You?

First, I will make my apologies to Dr. Phil who famously quipped “if they will do it with you, they will do it to you.” 

The problem I have with Dr. Phil’s cogent little sound bite is that it’s offered up as a certainty.

This is as unkind as it is incurious.

It’s also judgmental and insulting to both partners. No, it’s not a certainty that they will do it to you… but Dr. Phil does have a point.

If you’re leaving your marriage for your affair partner, understand that issues of trust may eventually become front and center. Many people who leave their marriages for their affair partners have made great sacrifices, often enduring shame, resentment, and uncertainty. Issues of trust and integrity are a common theme in conducting couples therapy with now-married former affair partners.

Affairs are as exhausting as they are exciting. They burn hot because they often require secrecy. They survive more on what each partner extracts from the relationship rather than what they deposit.

Affair partners exist in an artificial bubble. The affair exists as an antidote to a what is seen by the involved partner  as a “bad” marriage (which often looks a lot better in hindsight).

Affairs are fueled by comparison. But once the bubble bursts and the comparison is rendered irrelevant, the new marriage has to stand on its own merits.

I Thought My Kids Would Get Over It By Now…

In the heat of passion, our kids often get overlooked. And new research tells us that adult children of divorce suffer greatly as well. There’s a lot of psycho-babble blather (some embarrassingly from divorced all-purpose therapists) about how we’re all “entitled to be happy”, and how “resilient” kids are.

Do all kids suffer from infidelity and divorce? No…not every last one. In fact, Gottman has written that parents who emotionally coach their children minimize the harmful impact of divorce.

But research is clear that most children experience significant emotional struggles and often feel compelled to take sides. Sometimes these parental alliances and alienations are life-long.

Then there’s your family, your ex’s family, your friends (who also feel uncomfortable and may take sides… or drop both of you). There’s a social cost to divorcing and marrying your affair partner. Often the full weight of this cost isn’t fully appreciated until the aftermath.

Let’s Not Go There Again…

When you’re leaving your marriage for your affair partner there will be a deficit in your shared history.

I’m seen a number of these couples squirm with discomfort when discussing how they first met. An affair that broke up a family (or families) might be embarrassing for both spouses to discuss in couples therapy. The sad deficit of not having a happy and unencumbered shared early history only fully emerges over time.

Is that All I Have Left?

fifncial infidelity financial intimac

The national average cost of a divorce is about $30,000 per couple.

This usually includes attorney’s fees, court costs, and the cost of hiring outside experts such as a tax consultant, real estate appraisal, or child custody professionals.

Finalizing a divorce takes anywhere from four months to a year. And if it goes to trial, it will cost more and take even longer.

Of course, the financial and emotional stress of the divorce inhabits the new marriage. You will typically have to redefine your finances as well as your social and parental bonds.

One partner may feel bitter that they have paid a disproportionate financial and/or emotional price to marry their affair partner.

Leaving Your Marriage for Your Affair Partner? The More You Sacrifice…the More You Will Expect

When newly married affair partners are sitting on my couch, the most common emotional dynamic I see is the bitterness of dashed hopes and thwarted expectations. These couples have been through hell to be together, the resilience has already been worn thin. They do not take surprises well. Conflict with your ex can be absorbing. Once that conflict is resolved, and the dust settles, a pyrrhic victory may feel empty when similar conflicts emerge with your new spouse.

When You Leave the Bomb Shelter Bubble You Enter a Different World

You may have battened down the hatches during your divorce. While divorcing, many of these couples retreat into their own world. They are insulated from the chaos and devastation that surrounds them. After the divorce is history, the now-married affair partners emerge from isolation, fully expecting to rejoin the world of the living.

However, many couples discover that their social world has been decimated, and they have to rebuild a new social identity.

Love Fades as Resentment Builds

I don’t think couples therapists talk enough about Love Addiction. Serial limerence or Love Addiction is a compulsive, chronic craving, and/or pursuit of romantic attachment in an effort to get our emotional needs met in an epic fashion. It’s estimated that at least 10% of affair couples marrying involve a spouse with Love Addiction.

Research suggests that the epidemic of Love Addiction may be due to inconsistent or neglectful parenting, low self-esteem, or an absence of positive role models for marital commitment in the family of origin. Personally, I suspect that our current fascination with polyamory is nothing more than an intellectually vapid apology for Love Addiction.

The Comparison Bubble Bursts as the Rescue Fantasy Fades

During the divorce, the soon to be ex-partner is a convenient villain. Comparisons may linger, as feelings of being rescued create a compelling narrative. But after several years in the new marriage, it’s quite amazing how your rescuer has come to resemble your ex-tormentor. You can divorce your partner… but you can not divorce yourself.

Leaving Your Marriage for Your Affair Partner? Your Mileage May Vary…

Leaving your marriage for your affair partner is problematic, but not a guarantee of failure.

Some affairs can evolve into durable long-term marriages. But according to research, these happy unions are relatively rare.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy. It just means you both may have some work to do. Leaving your marriage for your affair partner impacts and disrupts your entire social web. Be humble and cautious. Go slow… and carefully consider your options.

Leaving Your Marriage for Your Affair Partner? How to Improve Your Odds

Put Your Kids First.

leaving for an affair partner is tough on children

Divorce is tough on kids. Your kids deserve healthy, happy parents as role-models, and it is never good for children to witness their parents attacking each other.

Expect to Have Challenges and Even Conflict

Let’s be blunt. The odds are stacked against you. Humbly anticipate setbacks, misunderstandings, boundary violations, you name it. Resolve to stubbornly outlast your problems…and expect to have problems.

Clarify Family Relationships, Responsibilities, and Boundaries Early and With Great Specificity

 

Kids can wreak havoc with your new life…probably because you already wreaked havoc with theirs. Discuss all of your post-divorce parental duties early and often.

Have Healthy Boundaries…and Establish Them Together

Leaving your marriage for your affair partner means that you’ll have a lot more to manage. Set expectations and boundaries as early as possible, particularly around the kids and your ex.

Find Opportunities to Build Trust With One Another

Co-parenting continues a relationship with your ex. One of the biggest fears that I hear in my practice, is whether the new partner will return to their ex-spouse. Commitment and trust are two of the biggest challenges for these couples. Good couples therapy can help you get there.

 Practice Respect…Particularly for Your Ex

Respect for my ex? Yup. Here’s why.

I often hear people speaking very badly about their ex-spouses in couples therapy. Then when I’m in a one-on-one session with their spouse who was once their affair partner, I hear a lot of anxiety that they will be disparaged as well when disagreements arise. This is where that deficit in your shared history comes back to bite you.

One of the ways I invite you to respect your ex is to refer to them by their first name in couples therapy.

She may be your ex-wife…or he may be your ex-husband… but you are still co-parenting with Marsha or Steve. The marriage is over…but the relationship isn’t. Respect the need to co-parent by respecting your ex. Model respect for your kids as well as your new partner.

Sure You Talk…But Communication May Elude You

Research shows that during an affair, much of the conversation between the affair partners are about their marital woes. Now that the talk track has run its course. Do you really know how to communicate about mundane wants, needs, and desires? Good couples therapy can teach you how.

Are You Married to Your Affair Partner?

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw


Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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  1. I love how this article is actually coaching people who cheat how to make their relationship work. 😂 You people are justifying and enabling abuse. Full stop.

  2. Mr. Dashnaw, your assertion that, "The affair exists as an antidote to a bad marriage", is as bad as the statement that you call out Dr. Phil for.

    The marriage that I had with my wife of 20 years was very good. It's impossible to have a perfect marriage, but it certainly was good, loving, mostly balanced when it came to give-and-take. (I was a little more the "giver" and she a little more the "taker".) However, she fell "madly in love", as they say, for another man, and she chose to divorce me to be with him.

    Their relationship has all the hallmarks of limerence, as described by Dr. Joe Beam and others. This is a case where a good marriage is sacrificed for a questionable relationship.

    Back to my original point… If you are going to call out another professional for their use of absolutes, then you should avoid making the same error. I have respect for Dr. Phil the work that he does and his written works that I've read. I also have respect for you for the work that you do and most of the writing you've done on this site.

    But please, don't make a generalization that simply because a marriage ended in divorce that it was a bad marriage. As a marriage and family therapist (especially one who practices the Gottman Method), I certainly hope that you don't really believe that. People have free will; they can choose to marry, they can choose to have an affair or not (there were times I was infatuated with other women but I resisted temptation out of love for my wife and to honor my beliefs), they can choose to divorce. That doesn't mean the marriage was bad, just because one spouse walks away.

    1. Hi JD. You have a point. I’m afraid my sloppy writing resulted in my being misunderstood.
      Thanks to your input, I have revised what I wrote for more clarity:

      “Affair partners exist in an artificial bubble.The affair exists as an antidote to a what is seen by the involved partner as a “bad” marriage (which often looks a lot better in hindsight).”

      JD, people have affairs because they don’t complain to their partner about why they’re unhappy. Instead, they accept the attention of a new attractive other, and start investing in a secret affair and making unfavorable comparisons…and it’s these Unfavorable comparisons that fuel affairs.

      I’m sorry if I was unclear on this point. Affairs happen to all sorts of marriages. If you feel your emotional connection with your spouse has dwindled…complain early and often. But I did not mean to suggest that affairs only happen to “bad” marriages. Thanks for pointing this out to me.

  3. I spent many years with my ex-husband. We were so in love, or so I thought. Our wedding day was one of the happiest days of my life. We were surrounded by so much love and goodness. We struggled with infertility but with IVF, we had twins and it was wonderful. I always wanted lots of kids. He said he did too. It turned out that he only said that to comfort and support me and was counting on our infertility to keep us at two kids. After we went through our infertility treatments and had our beautiful twins, we had two more children naturally. He later shared that he resented me for having them. During my pregnancy with our last child, my husband grew bitter and angry with me. He was so cold and distant. When he spoke to me it was to criticize me. I leaned hard into my faith. I tried to match his cruelty with love and compassion but it only stirred his wrath all the more. He yelled at me, swore at me, flipped tables, threw things "near me, not at me" as he said. I still tried to reach his once loving heart. When I reached for him for love and affection, he would turn away from me and leave me crying. When our baby was born, she was sick with Meningitis. I stayed with her in the hospital for nearly a month. He hardly called and visited twice. He was caring for our other three children, with the help of my parents and friends. Our church delivered meals each night and his brother helped get the kids ready for school. When I brought our baby home, he was still as difficult and unkind as ever. He yelled at me for how I loaded the dishwasher, put knives in the block, did laundry, planted flowers. I kept trying to please him and whatever I did was never enough. I forgot to pay a bill one day and he lost it. He yelled and upset the table. Our kids cried and hid. A few months later, he stood me up on our Anniversary. When he came home, he heated up the food I had made for us and he turned on the TV. I asked him to talk to me. He turned up the volume. I cried. He yelled. He flipped over the table and broke things. He made a huge mess and he left. Our kids were on the stairs, just crying. My father in law showed up with flowers and to wish us a happy anniversary. He was very saddened by the mess he found. He helped me get the kids back to bed. He hugged me while I wept. He tried to talk to my husband, but it didn't help. From then on though, my father in law called each day and talked to all of us and spoke love, kindness and encouragement into each of us. This sweet man died in 2016. Within weeks, my husband went full on mean to the point it was no longer safe to be with him. During that time, our home was undergoing renovations. The crew working in our home witnessed some of the mistreatment. We talked about it a little. The contractor befriended me and my kids. He was in a similar situation in his own marriage but his wife was hurting him and their daughter. It felt good to talk to someone who understood. One day, my husband hurt me so badly. He got so violent with me. I was crying, a mess. I prayed for God to comfort me and to ease my pain. Or to take me home to him, but not if it meant bad things for our children. I just cried so hard. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was our contractor. He just held me and let me cry. We bonded in that moment. A love grew where nothing was. We were both married at the time. We were both trying to honor our faith and our spouses. We were so drawn to the goodness in one another. We both knew it was wrong, but we couldn't seem to let the other go. Our marriages both failed. I have my kids full time. My affair partner's daughter left with him and neither of them speak to his former spouse for all she put them through. His son is with us half of the time. His son is cold with me, but I understand and accept it. My kids love my partner. I married my partner a year ago. We have a loving marriage with each other. I also carry a lot of guilt. And shame. I cannot forgive myself for failing my ex and our children. I couldn't live with his anger and the pain it caused anymore. That does not excuse my getting involved with a married man. I was selfish. I hate that this is part of my story. I still love my ex. I just couldn't live with him. He was toxic for me and for our children. He has little to do with our kids. My current husband really stepped up to care for my kids. He loves them like their own dad should have. Blending is hard. I love and care for my current husband. He is sweet and steady. He would do anything for me.
    I don't have the depth of love I had for my children's father. I also don't have the devastating lows or the pain of rejection or the abuse. I miss the highs of the love I once had. I miss the depth of affection I had in my heart for my ex. The energy we created when we parted ways coudn't have been more toxic. The energy I have with my current spouse is light and gentle. It is reliable. I will honor my vows to my current husband. I will stand by him come what may. I don't believe I will be unfaithful to him. I feel less sure about his fidelity towards me. I hope I am wrong. Time will tell. I've been supporting all of us through the Pandemic. He is working on building a business. We will see what comes.
    I feel kind of empty inside. I feel like I am not deeply connected to anyone anymore. I go through the motions. I have moments of love. I have moments of pain. I've experienced so much loss. I lost my childhood friend in 2015 to breast cancer. I lost my father in law in 2016 (he was my favorite person) like a father to me. My dad had a stroke and cancer, but recovered. I had to move from the home I had all of my kids in. I went through a very bitter divorce. I lost my pap (my pillar). We put my grandmother in a nursing home and sold their home (the only constant place throughout my life). I lost another dear friend in Dec. 2019. Moved in 2020. Lost several residents at once to Covid (I work in a nursing home) in Nov. 2020. And I just lost my sweet dog a week ago. We lost 4 cousins and two uncles to Covid as well. My heart feels bashed to bits. Yet, I have a good man, good health, a warm home and my kids are well. I don't really have any friends. I devote my time to my faith, family, my job, and my home.
    I don't know how to let the guilt fade. it's always there. There's so much hurt inside of my heart too. A lot of loss. I want to be joyful. I chose joy. Sorrow is like my constant friend, I just hide it and keep on going. I have much to be thankful for. I am so thankful. I think I need to grieve. Mourn. I haven't really allowed myself to do this. I am afraid to fall apart. Maybe I won't be able to be put back together.

    1. Hi Kristen,
      So much stress. So much loss. You are describing the path of an “exit affair” and this is so common with women. And the smoothness of this new marriage to the current roller-coaster highs and lows of your former marriage is also understandable. You had a long time of full-on anxiety with that man, and we can confuse that with the intensity of love. The full “about-face” is so bewildering and its so easy to blame ourselves. Seeking “asylum” in this new man, and the guilt you feel is an intimate conversation you should be having with your current husband. Share your feelings with him. Ask him for his help and support as you deal with it. And also turn to him to grieve, don’t shut him out. Accepting guilt is a task of adult development. Regret. Embarrassment. Grief. Shame. One approach is learning to live with them and accept them until they fade. Recognize that they will fade if you accept your humanity and failings. We all have them.

      We can all appreciate and join with you as you express the many, many losses you’ve had over these last several years. And the biggest gift you can give to your husband is your truth. Seek out friends among your spiritual community. Learn to be friend to someone who voluntarily chooses to be one with you. It’s a way to round out all the grief you’ve described.

      And if these feelings go on and one, seek out a counselor to explore them in greater detail. You’ve done such a good job here. Allow yourself to do it face-to-face and get comfort.

      My best to you.
      Dr. K

  4. I thought this was a well informed article until I got to your comment about Polyamory. How disappointing to see such a prejudiced and uninformed comment. Instead of suspecting things and fabricating reasons why don’t you do some reading? You might find Polyamory is a fully realised model and a natural choice for a lot of people who’ve experienced the abject failure of marriage and monogamy. I’m not n poly myself but I certainly have learned a lot about myself and relationships by looking into it.

  5. 3 months ago, my wife of 10 years deserted our marriage for a secret affair and tried to hide it while pushing for a divorce.

    Every since this event I have lost a great significance of meaning in my life and struggle to reconcile my with my present. The last thing she said to me was that we never had an emotional connection, then left. It burns to this day. She is currently living with him and draining me for military alimony.

    I thought I knew this woman but she has become a totally different person; almost unrecognizable in speech and behavior.

    I feel like trash that was taken out. Like nothing in my marriage was worthy of an honest and amicable ending. I don’t trust myself with women anymore. But I still love her and wish her the best as painful as it feels every waking day.

    1. Cory, it is possible that your wife is in limerence for the other person. Limerence is intense, but not long-lasting. https://www.couplestherapyinc.com/limerence/

      When she said that you and she never had an emotional connection, it may have been her “rewriting history”, because some unfaithful partners in limerence for their affair partner will do this. (They might honestly feel that way at the time, only to remember correctly when the limerence comes to an end, a few months to a few years later.)

      When someone leaves a good marriage for their affair partner, there is a distinct chance that they will later want to restore the marriage with their spouse/ex-spouse.

      According to marriage recovery experts, the best thing that a betrayed spouse can do is to work on themselves, for healing, for self-improvement, and to rebuild their own self-esteem. It’s best for them, may attract their spouse back to them, or prepare them for a good relationship with someone else.

  6. I felt obligated to tell you that your statements about how “meaningless” the feelings of the “third party” to affairs are, and how “no one owes them anything” are dehumanizing to those people, many of whom don’t even know they are involved with a married person and whose lives are often devastated by the affair especially dual deceptions. . Your view on that is very inconsistent with your assertion that such a third party had a duty and responsibility to the spouse to honor and respect vows they never made to anyone.
    If my husband and I don’t have to respect her feelings or care how the affair affects her life, how was she obligated to care about how that relationship affected either of us, our family or our marriage?
    When my husband cheated on me I didn’t blame that poor girl at all.
    He broke his vows. She didn’t know about me, me much less know me.
    He had her just as duped as he had me. She had no idea at all that he was a married man with three children. In fact, I had to tell her.
    And I did feel sorry for her. She met him online under a fake profile and she didn’t even know his real name.
    Unfortunately, he even got her pregnant. My husband and I were 35 and 36 and she was 24. Fortunately for her the courts no longer take your view of her as “human garbage to be thrown in a trash can when he was finished with her” and she gets support for her child who is just as innocent as my three and just as much my husband’s child, and a sibling to my children. I think it’s wrong and sick to take the position that someone doesn’t deserve humanity, respect or compassion because they were involved in an affair. That person is as much of a human being as we are and everyone’s life and feelings matter. She didn’t injure me. My husband injured me. She was as innocent as I was maybe more so because of her youth. I think you should read Ester Perez’s book the State of Affairs and take a more nuanced view that doesn’t strip anyone of their humanity.

    1. Hi Angela. I feel a bit misunderstood, I’m hoping you will permit me to clarify my point of view.

      The only context where I said that the feelings of the affair partner are unimportant is in couples therapy with the primary couple.
      If a couple wants to heal from infidelity then the affair partner is the least important person in the room (Mentally of course). Unlike Esther, I don’t clinically dignify affairs by seeing active affair couples in couples therapy.

      It’s odd that you placed your comment about my dehumanizing affair partners on a blog post about affair partners who marry. Surely if I thought the feelings of affair partners were irrelevant, I would not see affair partners who marry as clients.
      Your situation sounds painful, and I am impressed with the grace and humanity you display towards your husband’s affair partner. Many therapists and healers that I’ve worked with under similar circumstances have not shown the empathy and compassion that you have.

      But if you and your husband were my clients, I would not be dwelling on how your husband should make amends to the affair partner, particularly if there were children involved.
      If he wanted to repair his marriage, I would be focused on what he owed you and his children first, and then reflect on the suffering he inflicted on that “poor girl” as an afterthought.

      And when I said his children… I mean all of them.
      Your husband’s affair partner and resulting child should not be financially abandoned. Whether or not the two of you would be comfortable with an inclusive extended family dynamic would be a decision you and your husband might wrestle within couples therapy.

      But if you were open to an inclusive relationship with the affair partner that would be on the table as well.

      In your case, your husband’s affair partner didn’t “injured you” because she was unaware that your husband was married.

      I have never had an affair case like that.

      Most affair partners are aware, and covet their married partners nonetheless. They bear some burden of responsibility. They are complicit in their own misery, and the misery of others.

      And if my clients are trying to stay married and heal, then yes, you’re right…I do see the wants needs, and desires of the affair partner as less important than keeping a family with children intact.

      1. My ex husband’s affair partner knew my husband was married and went after him anyway. Honestly they do not care. This one called me up to announce to me she was taking him. My ex had multiple affairs over a 37 year span and I never knew. He always seemed happy and I loved him very much. Some women just flat out do not care who they hurt because they want what they want. The lack of a moral compass on my husband and her sides is horrendous and I believe affairs are just so incredibly selfish. The pain and suffering caused is never ending and I am just now coming out of an 8 yr funk. They did marry and have been married for 4 years seemingly happy I suppose but I do not buy it. The wreckage they caused my family and my adult children is heartbreaking. Honestly, my one therapist said that people like them often times lack empathy. So interesting because I remember him telling me that he knew he hurt me but he could not quite put himself in my shoes to know how that felt. Unbelievable! My ex is a musician and his affair partner now wife was a record executive. My kids said Dad sold us out for his music. That was more important to him. Now it has been 8 years and he does not have the relationship he once had with his adult daughters. Time makes you stronger. He may have broken my heart but he did not crush my spirit. Life goes on.

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