Will they be open and honest, anyway? You may need a more novel approach...

Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful can be incredibly painful and challenging to process. Address the situation directly but words will not be your major strategy with your cheating husband, or cheating wife. Here are some considerations for how to approach the situation:

You're clearly in a vulnerable position as the hurt spouse. 

You can also assume that your wife or husband isn't wanting to open up about the affair. Maintaining your own sense of self-respect and dignity should remain front and center.

The suggestions here are counterintuitive. Michele Weiner Davis is a master therapist who has introduced these concepts to me. They are designed to reshift the balance of power.

Once you understand the dynamics, especially gender differences, you can approach your spouse with more thoughtfulness. You can reflect on the nature of the person you married. Allow them to show you more of who they are. And believe them when they show and tell you.

You have awakened... and business as usual is over.

The attitudinal stance

The ball is in their court. Nothing can happen to save the marriage until the involved partner ends the affair and seeks to repair it.

You can send the message that you will be OK no matter which way it goes. You are an adult man or woman. You can respect any decision that your spouse makes. You will not only survive, you will thrive.

Do not ask for help from family members. 

If you forgive your spouse and stay together, don't let others hold a grudge against them.

The "180" is a stance that holds a certain distance from the involved partner. The last thing you want to appear is predictably overwrought.

First, take a look at what you should do for yourself:

You need to make your partner think that you have had an awakening. As far as you are concerned, you are going to move on with your life, with or without your spouse.

Be cheerful, strong, outgoing, and attractive.

This is the time to accept that you are in a major transition. You have little power to influence your spouse, except indirectly. Be strong in yourself.

Buy some new clothes, get a new haircut, or plan a vacation. Have you wanted to learn a foreign language or start a new hobby? Do it now.

Take care of yourself in proactive ways.

Join a gym, eat better and try to get better sleep. Focus on the parts of your life that are going well.

Laugh and enjoy your children. Visit your brother in Kansas. Plan trips with your closest friends.

Be strong and confident.

Grab a therapist to talk about your strength and what you're good at. Understand that if you don't have confidence in yourself, no one else will. On the other hand,

Don’t be overly enthusiastic about your marriage or it all working out.

Especially when it comes to talking to your spouse, be willing to admit that you have problems, and so does the marriage. But be matter-of-fact about it. Be positive, and civil, like a great roommate.

Do not sit around waiting on your spouse. This is the time to set up healthy boundaries.

Get busy doing the things you've been putting off or not doing enough of. Go to church, go out with friends, join a Meet-up group.

Act as if you are moving on with your life.

What to say to your cheating husband or wife (and what not to say)

Actions are now more important than words. Your smallest CONSISTENT actions will be noticed much more than any words you can say or write.

  1. Do not pursue, chase, beg, plead, or implore.
  2. Don't try and point out what's positive in your marriage.
  3. Do not ask for reassurance. He or she cannot provide that now.
  4. Don't encourage talks about the future, or plan events months or years from now.
  5. Do not say, “I love you."
  6. When home with your spouse, (if you usually start the conversation) be scarce or short on words.
  7. All questions about your marriage should be put on hold. Let your spouse come to you to talk about it (which may be a while).

What to do to your cheating husband or wife (and what not to do)

  1. No matter what you are feeling TODAY, only show your spouse happiness and contentment. Show him/her someone he/she would want to be around.
  2. Do not buy gifts to show your love and devotion.
  3. Don't call unless you have a concrete reason to.
  4. Don't schedule date nights.
  5. Do not follow him/her around the house.
  6. If you have acted like a detective in the past, or asked your spouse his or her whereabouts, ASK NOTHING. Do not spy, snoop, or try to ensnare your partner.
  7. Do not be nasty, angry, or even cold – just pull back and wait to see if your spouse notices. More importantly, allow him or her to realize what s/he will be missing.
  8. Be patient.
  9. Never lose your cool.
  10. Do not give up no matter how dark it is or how bad you feel.
  11. Do not be openly desperate or needy even when you are hurting more than ever, and really are desperate and needy.

Questions to ask a cheating spouse

  1. When you ask, "Do you want to talk about it?" assume that they do not, and accept no for an answer.
  2. Do not focus on yourself, how hurt you are, or how let down you feel, when communicating with your spouse.
  3. Do not argue about how they feel (it only makes their feelings stronger). It is their opinion so let them have it. Be curious, but not furious that they see the world this way.
  4. Listen carefully to what your spouse is really saying to you. Take notes if it will help you to focus on their words (not what you are telling yourself these words mean).
  5. Learn to back off, go silent, and possibly walk away if tensions flare.
  6. Do not believe any of what you hear and less than 50% of what you see. Your spouse will speak in absolute negative terms because they are hurting and scared.
  7. Do not backslide from your hard-earned changes.

Many spouses lie, sometimes for a long time, when directly answering this question: "Are you having an affair?" They sometimes also lie in couples counseling.

There are important gender differences

Helen Fisher is an evolutionary anthropologist at Rutgers University. She points out that more women (66%) were unhappy in their relationship before they became the unfaithful partner. This is in contrast to 44% of male cheating partners.

Dr. Fisher points out that men can be happily married and still cheat.

This requires a different approach for men and women.

Men as involved partners

Long term, men are more often not interested in leaving their marriages as a result of an affair. Therefore, in dealing with a cheating husband, he is more likely to feel guilty, and want to rebuild trust with his wife, if he can figure out how. He may still feel defensive, but this isn't the same as feeling justified in his actions.

Women as involved partners

Women who engage in affairs, Fisher points out, statistically are more interested in either solving their marital unhappiness, supplementing it, or leaving it. They have a gripe and have used troubling means to solve it.

Husbands may want to insist on marriage counseling if their wife is open to it. He will need to learn important questions he can ask her, if she decides to go into treatment with him. Also important is to understand common pain points women have in their marriages that cause them to opt for divorce.

The role of empathy in affair recovery

Fisher has mapped some of the brain circuitry responsible for marital happiness. She studied happily married couples who scored high on a marital satisfaction questionnaire.

Dr. Fisher says that women's motivations to have affairs are typically more than just sexual.

Dr. Scott Wolfe is one of Couples Therapy Inc. Master Therapists. His research reached an identical conclusion. Marital satisfaction is linked to empathy. If a husband shows compassion, his wife is happier in their marriage and decides to stay.

Their brains revealed more activity in the area where feelings of empathy reside. Wives involved with affair partners usually feel a significant lack of empathy on their husband's part. A husband who can listen and try to empathize with his unfaithful spouse is removing one of her major complaints.

Keep in mind that your healing process and the decisions you make moving forward are deeply personal. Men and women often seek the guidance of a therapist or counselor before trying these strategies. We call it "hopeful spouse" coaching. It can provide additional support and guidance throughout this challenging time.

Ready for a change in your relationship?

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

Dr. Kathy McMahon

Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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  1. Hi
    Found some 5 month old instagram messages of my wife and a stranger
    She says first I missed you then oh no I don’t to him
    She said his smart,fun,pretty and she will be chatting again with him-I don’t remember if she ever made such compliments to me. Found in history that she was googling Best compliments for guys
    He is in stock market in which my wife too
    I confronted her right away and asked what is going one over here
    She said she doesn’t know why she did that but no sorry sir whatever
    We live in the same house with a kid
    How should I act, have a feeling she still talks to him even if she says no plus we sleep separate for about 2 month

  2. Hey my spouse was itching to go to Florida for work left me at the house with a little girl that ain’t her and ain’t mines but she wants. Since she been out there she never wants to talk on the phone and everytime I call her phone she never never answers always have an excuse for it. Caught her in many lies


  4. My husband will not stop cheating. I wanted to my separate life but am also considering my 3kids. They are attached to thier dad, I don't want to separate them from their dad. But I have no trust and not interested in the marriage again. Please how do I cope with him and his cheating? Remember am only enduring my marriage instead of enjoying.

  5. My husband and I have been back together for a month after a 4 month separation. He moved in with a coworker and had an affair which he blames on me because of severe conflict. Although we are back together, my anger over the affair and his drinking and smoking, which he ceased doing for over a year is now back in full force. He will drink a 6 pack of beer before going to work and not fulfilling the money he promised to contribute upon his return. I knew him from high school so I chose to look at him through rose colored glasses. I, myself am not a good communicator and He has told me he will not answer any questions about the affair unless a therapist gives a thumbs up that he should answer. We have been together 2 years, married for one, and I really don't think we are going to make it. Speaking to a therapist is the last shot. We will be out of town next week, but would like to start therapy the Monday after.

  6. I have tried some things suggested in ur post none have worked I act calm she gets mad she said she never cheated just text him when I threaten to confront the guy she gets mad to me that is a indicator she slept with him also she has a mental illness narcissist or bipolar one of those per Dr just needs more evaluation to confirm which one and she was sexually assaulted when younger by her mother's boyfriend

    1. I suppose you have to be clear about what you consider behavior that “works.” If you truly believe that your partner is having an emotional or sexual affair, and she denies it, one of two things are true: You are wrong or she is lying. The next step is to decide what you want to do about remaining in the relationship. You can control your actions, not hers. I’ve seen cases where spouses repeatedly lie for years. I’ve seen cases of irrationally jealous spouses who suspect an affair but none exists. Get yourself some help, Michael. Talk to someone about the situation you are in and get targeted help for your particular situation. –Dr. K

  7. My husband has been cheating on/off for years. I’ve yet to find solid proof bc he’s been super sneaky and deletes everything (not sure how bc he’s high 99% of the time). But I just know he has been. I’m not sure how many but I do think it’s been someone I know. As soon as I confront him with solid proof, there’s no way I’m staying in this marriage. Looking for advice on how to move on with my life and what to do next.

    1. Ya, a blog isn’t the best place to get that. You need to find someone who really understands you and the marriage who can give targetted, vs general advice. Most people would say that if your gut has told you for a long time that something is wrong with your addicted husband, it’s probably good to listen to that gut. But do get help. It’s torturous to live like that.

      Dr. K

  8. My life was falling apart, I felt being cheated and abused but i needed to make sure my instincts were true until i was referred to this Ethical Hacker who took care of the hack job. he hacked his Phone,facebook,instagram, Whats-App, twitter and email account. I got all I wanted as proof . I’m glad i had a proven truth he was cheating. Contact him for closure mail Support @ hacker4wise com

  9. Right on perfect best practices as applied to a spouse in chaos.
    Only problem is sometimes after a year or two, three, four, of waiting, the waiter does naturally move on. Sad but true. Oh, and be prepared for the next round.

  10. My husband is having an affair and he is denying it. I and i am in denial about it. I don’t want to believe it. I want a divorce.

  11. I read this advise and it’s crazy but that is how I treated my husband. Without advice 20 years ago. It worked, we got our marriage back togeather. Sometimes I think Cheaters. Still have a wandering eye and the potential to cheat again and again.

  12. I must say the Article is Excellent because Their Is No Excuse For CHEATING ..and if the CHEATER Feels UNLOVED..Cheating is Demoralizing to the Innocent Mate. I Love This Article it is right on POINT.

  13. I agree with Ray above, I have done both the above and the opposite of the above on discovering his affair.

    I moved out when I discovered it.

    I was struggling to work out why when I acted happy and just got on with my life, he was chasing. But when I showed him love and expected same level back it never fully came, felt like something missing. Now I’ve backed off he is begging to move in with me.

    Now I’m not sure I even want him to, its way too soon to put myself at risk again.

  14. I recently got back with my ex husband after being apart for 4 years because he had an affair. 4 months ago I moved back home with him. I found out that he is still having a relationship with the same woman that I divorced him for the 1st time. I’ve given everything up in my life to make this work with him. I was fooled again and now I have no idea of what to do. I can’t conforming him about this because he gets upset and mad and then we fight for days at a time. I’m dealing with medical issues of my own right now and don’t need anything triggering me to blow up. Not sure what to do. Any advice would be great.

  15. I think some points are counter productive. I have read other sources that pointing out good points in the relationship, as a form of ”remember when” and some talk about the future is actually good; it shows that there is still some love and a relationship to maintain. It doesn’t have to be imploring or begging; I think it shows that the other is still important even after finding out about the affair. Also a small gift here and there shows that there is care and even forgiveness. I agree with most of the rest, but if the partner strayed because he felt unloved, it seems that pretending I don’t care and am moving on is only confirming that the relationship is over for me as well, when it is not the case.

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