How to Get Over an Affair Partner…the Grief of the Involved Partner

Revised 1/24/20

getting over affair partner is an uphill battle

You want to return to your marriage, but you also want to know how to get over your affair partner.

The grief of the “unfaithful” Involved Partner is the most delicate issue in couples therapy.

In my previous post, I discussed the problem of rumination and obsession with the Hurt Partner, and how thought-stopping may be an effective way to assert control over intrusive toxic thoughts.

Sometimes an Involved Partner breaks off an affair when they come to realize that the relationship is a dead end.

Some Involved Partners disclose… others are discovered. But they often realize that they don’t want to sacrifice their marriage, and they can’t make promises in the dark anymore.

Intimate and Significant

But affair relationships can be intimate and significant. A sense of profound grief and longing may linger in the mind long after the affair has run its course. They ask how to get over an affair partner and remain contented in their marriage.

Getting over affair partner not only filled with grief but is worsened as it is an often taboo subject in couples therapy, and many “general practitioners” therapists lack the sophistication and training to engage with the Involved Partner’s grief during their individual sessions… (if they even bother to hold individual sessions at all).

Unlike the rumination of the Hurt Partner, Involved Partners who are grieving the loss of their affair partner, cannot discuss their grief with their spouse. They often lock their grief away, and typically regard it as invalid and inappropriate as the affair itself. In a world of the therapy room, where full disclosure is important, not discussion this grief is a double-edged sword.

Getting over Affair Partner: The Unspoken Grief of the Involved Partner

When I am working with a couple in affair recovery, I always assume grief is in the room, but I am willing to be corrected if it’s not.

When I am conducting an intensive couple retreat with a couple working on affair recovery, I always have a chance to speak with the involved partner alone.

“How are you handling your grief about losing this relationship?”

Sometimes the questions startle them.

A Shame-Laden Dark Secret

after the affair

They seem surprised that I know about their grief. They discuss their grief as a shame-laden dark secret because up to this point, they have been struggling with it alone. Often they are relieved to talk about it… or are grateful for my “permission” to explore it. If they confirm that they are grieving, I normalize their grief. I tell them that it is natural for them to grieve a loss. They want to know how to get over their affair partner.

It doesn’t mean they aren’t determined to rebuild their marriage. They should accept these feelings, and not fight against them.

In other words, affair recovery sometimes presents a therapeutic paradox; I might help a hurt partner to Thought-Stop their toxic rumination, but I might tell the Involved Partner that their grief is not toxic and that they should avoid second-guessing themselves, or their commitment to their affair recovery. The grief they feel doesn’t render them insincere. They should allow the grief to flow so that it may be discharged as soon as possible.

The Sooner They Relax into their Grief, the Sooner Their Grief Will Fade into Memory

Grief is a very idiosyncratic emotion. It’s a popular notion that there isn’t a “right” way to grieve. Grief is a working process. And this process works if you don’t interfere with it by denying its reality. While there may be no correct path to resolving grief, there are many paths to a problematic and painful, prolonged grieving process.

Many general practitioners see the grief of the Involved Partner as a serious obstacle to affair recovery. Some are even openly hostile to the grief of the Involved Partner.

They are wrong.

Working with the grief of the Involved Partner is a necessary part of affair recovery. This grief, however painful, has a utility. It often provides a roadmap to what was lost or denied in the marriage.

Normalizing the grief of the Involved Partner is not a moral decision… it is a pragmatic one.

The Grief of the Involved Partner and the Struggle for Integrity

Involved Partners are assailed on all fronts. The grief of the Involved Partner is only part of their struggle.

They often see their grief as something to hide, while also feeling resentment and lingering dissatisfaction with the marital status quo, depression over the collapse of their integrity, and an often anxious, angry partner who is also in grief and despair.

The grief of the Involved Partner has many dimensions; grief for their affair partner, grief for their spouse, grief for what may be an emotionally abusive or dead marriage or grief for themselves over their unwise decisions.

That is why generative conversations are so critical to affair recovery.

I have written about these conversations between the partners striving toward affair recovery, but there is also an inner conversation that needs to take place as well.

  •   What kind of partner do I want to be?
  •   Why did I lie and deceive? Why am I staying?
  •   What if repair is too hard?
  •   And what does too hard mean to me in the light of my other accomplishments?
  •   Am I staying because divorce is too messy?
  •   Am I only staying for my kids?
  •   What will my kids think if I leave?
  •   What will they think if I stay?
  •   How can I ask for what I need after what I have done?  
  •   Can we recover from this?
  •   Is it true that we can get into a better place than before?
  •   What can I learn about myself in this recovery process?

Some of these inner questions are more helpful and generative than others. it is not unusual for Involved Partners to do individual therapy as well as couples therapy to sort out how they are going to stay in their marriage after they decide that they want to stay. Affair recovery is often a transformational experience as well as a painful one.

Exploring the Grief of the Involved Partner

grief of the involved partner

I’ve written about the twin tasks of affair recovery.  Blazing a path to forgiveness, transparency, trust, empathy, and redemptive healing is always the best practice.

When we unpack the grief of the Involved Partner we often find that they feel hopelessly lost and depressed.

Even when struggling to reconcile with the Hurt Partner, they may also feel a keen loss of excitement and vitality.

How can they reconnect with their spouse and rebuild trust again?

Some Involved Partners struggle with the question about their relational dissatisfactions before the affair. “After everything, my partner has been through, how can I put these issues on the table now?

They’ve been through an exciting affair and now struggle with a fear of their lingering malaise with their now openly troubled marriages.

Is it Possible to Process This Grief with Your Hurt Partner?

Part of the grieving process for the Involved Partner is confronting their humility, neediness, and broken spirit. The involved Partner appreciates, through their grief, a growing awareness of their own self-focus and misplaced attachment. Perhaps with this deeper understanding, they might learn to tolerate their partner’s relational failures as well.

I suggest to Involved Partners who choose to return to their marriage that they avoid the pitfalls that will complicate their grief and extend their suffering:

  • Stuffing down their feelings.
  • Grieving without talking to a therapist or confidant.
  • Thinking that the passing time without self-examination is enough.
  • Regretting the past without curiosity about enduring vulnerabilities.
  • Collapsing into toxic shame and not feeling entitled to discuss with their Hurt Partner “what happened to us?” 

Can Getting Over an Affair Partner Lead to Healing?

It’s not unusual for Involved Partners to carry a toxic shame for their infidelity and wonder how their marriage could ever be restored. They question whether they’re doing the right thing for themselves and their spouse by staying.

They must silently deal with their own internal grief for the loss of their affair partner because to openly grieve would either risk derision from others or upset their Hurt Partner who already has been devastated by their actions.

But self-forgiveness is sometimes a part of this process as well. If you have split yourself off, lied, and distorted the truth to cover your tracks, eventually you must look back and learn. If you are authentically striving to rebuild with your spouse, you need to forgive yourself for being a good person who made some bad choices and then tried to make it right again.

Toxic shame, like toxic rumination, means that there is less of you available to your partner in the ever-critical present moment. Learn about your vulnerabilities and promise yourself not to ignore them in the future. And since you care about your partner’s feelings, be tender with your own as well.

Getting Over Your Affair Partner Means Managing Lingering Feelings

My mentor, Michele-Weiner Davis once told me that there are many varied reasons why someone might have an affair.

Sometimes it is purely a case of bad judgment — a person may feel satisfied, even happy, with their marriage, but after a late night at the office struggling to meet a deadline with an attractive co-worker, and after a couple of celebratory glasses of wine can lead to lack of impulse control.

But much more frequently it’s either an active search for an emotional connection or responding to an attractive other who is paying attention to you, flattering you, and attracted to you. And the subsequent feeling of “aliveness” that follows can be as unexpected as it is exhilarating and alarming.

Grief is a Normal Process

This soon becomes an incredibly challenging situation. Don’t expect your feelings to simply die off. Michele advises that feeling positive feelings toward your former affair partner is a quite common reaction, even if it’s been quite some time since the affair ended.

But feeling grief does not mean that you should act on these feelings. Recognize your grief as a normal process that you are moving through.

The research tells us that well over 60% of couples struggling with infidelity never divorce. Recovery from infidelity is possible, even likely in many cases.

But it the quality of the recovery that matters. At Couples Therapy Inc., we feel privileged to work with couples who take their healing seriously. They see the pitfalls of rumination, inconsolability, and shame. They become stronger and more resilient because of their efforts.

Our couples realize they’re not perfect, but they strive to be better, more honest, open, and authentic. And that is what really matters in affair recovery.

           Recover from Your Grief.

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. Thank you for sharing this. My wife has just asked me to leave as I have finally collapsed emotionally after trying to hide my grief at ending my affair. It’s been quite delayed but feels absolutely devastating. I am even questioning if I made the right decision to stay. It is so difficult as so much of the emotional attachments were with my affair partner and the marriage feels so empty. If an affair had any depth it’s end will be like any relationship break-up and often worse as the person leaving it my be going against their true feelings for a host of other reasons.

  2. Hi Lynn,

    Your comment here has encouraged me in my own pain. Thank you. Both my AP and myself and trying to have no contact. I instigated this and then after months reconnected. Then she instigated it after awhile. It’s been a several months and it’s been painful. I’m amazed at how I just can’t get over it, and the intensity of the pain at times. I was interested in your story because after 15 years you still haven’t forgotten each other. I feel like that will be the case for me. It is a lonely place to be and there is no one (non-professional) to talk to about this stuff. It’s one of the worst types of pain I’ve experienced.

    1. I agree with the previous poster. I have lost loved ones I have deeply loved and the loss of my affair partner is just as devastating. When you lose your AP, you lose the part of that person that you desperately want to see in yourself. The make you feel valued, seen, alive and desired. I am in an abusive marriage and my relationship with my AP has made me find value in myself. Each day with no contact is painful. I lost a loved one and a cherished friend. Unlike me, he is in a relatively happy marriage and Carrie’s a lot of guilt . This breaks my heart because I don’t want to hurt him and I know that being discovered would be devastating. There is something called llimerence and it binds you to your AP. I have been stuck in a toxic cycle of “trying to be friends”, getting more and more wrapped up in each other, he panics and pulls away and I am confused and hurt not knowing where I stand. Each time this happens I cease contact. We have done this 3 or 4 times and it is always the same and each time I wonder if this is the time he won’t come back. There is little to be gained by becoming involved with someone outside of your marriage. I tell myself I won’t always feel this way, that someday it won’t hurt or matter anymore. Right now, in the present, life feels unbearable.

    2. Alan, how is it going now? I have instigated no contact with my AP and it is pretty awful. I think constantly about how and when I might be able to reconnect with him, but hoping this desire fades with time. It is very lonely.

  3. It’s exactly as you say – ‘responding to an attractive other who is paying attention to you, flattering you, and attracted to you. And the subsequent feeling of “aliveness” that follows can be as unexpected as it is exhilarating and alarming.’ This was 5 months ago. We are both married. At first I was uncomfortable but found myself quickly thinking I was too old to be too moralistic and that I might regret it if I walked away. So we continued to meet, every couple of weeks or so. Although he made all the overtures at first, he is reluctant for sex and in many ways that doesn’t bother me – we kiss and embrace, and sometimes he touches me intimately although he won’t let me do the same to him. But I fear that despite this he regrets it all – I find myself doing all the chasing. He is in in his mid-80s, 24 years older than me, and has had numerous affairs before which, I think, he breaks off if the IP gets ‘too needy’. And I have managed to fall in love with him. He’s just told me we should be friends only and just meet for lunch and conversation from time to time, and I feel as if I have been suddenly bereaved even though we have plans to meet next week. It’s partly because communication is so difficult – I can’t call or email and I can only send occasional short texts – but mainly because I can’t bear the thought of a future without him. I know it sounds morbid, but it is so much more likely he will die before I do and I have no idea how I would manage the grief.

  4. I met my AP 15 years ago. We were working on a project together. We were both very lonely. We had kissed and talked. Through the first several years we would go in and out of each other’s lives. About six years ago, he outreached to me. He sited he was layed off his job and couldn’t find my contact information, but hasn’t stopped thinking about me. We started talking, texting. We met for a drink and it led to sex. This went on for four years. The sex was amazing. We would talk every day. Two years ago we got caught, not by either of our spouses. We continued to talk and text but became more reluctant to engage in anything intimate out of fear of being caught. In April we did have sex. It just happened. This last summer I really started struggling emtionally and was becoming exhausted.. I am a nurse and with the pandemic I was miserable. I felt isolated. Looking back I should have realized I was not a happy person to engage with. AP didn’t believe in masks, didn’t think COVID was that bad and refused to get vaccinated. I tried to educate but not force. It seemed like our conversations were ok, but with work I was asked to do more so our evening conversations were more limited. In August he went on a hiking trip. I hadn’t heard from him when he said he would be home. 4 days later I got a text. He called and briefly talked about his trip. He seemed different. Vague with his responses. We met up the first week of September. He gave me a hug, we went into the restaurant and he argued with the waiter about wearing a mask. I tried to ignore the situation. We left the restaurant and he asked if we could have sex because he missed me and knew the next several months would be a challenge to get together. I believed him because he was going to be out of town on some jobs. Afterwards we talked as we both drove home. we texted the next two days. Suddenly he just stopped responding. We were not arguing. He just stopped. He didn’t return my calls. He still won’t. He won’t return my text or emails.It has now been two months. He hasn’t blocked me. My heart is broken. I know his wife didn’t find out. It is the rejection of the ghosting that really has me swirling. I always asked if he wanted to stop or felt he needed to, to just let me know. I would understand. I am grieving the loss of a friend, confident, and lover. I also am really struggling over the way it happened. Did he know that would be the last time we would see eachother? Did he use me that last time for one last sexual interlude? did he meet someone else? So many questions…..

  5. I have been struggling with grief, guilt and pain for a year and a half and couldn’t summarize my feelings until reading this. Thank you! Just the acknowledgment gives me clarity and hope. I feel like I have PTSD from the trauma of losing my affair partner, the shame of hurting my husband and all the friendships that have been destroyed with the revelation of the affair. I live in constant anxiety of a confrontation with his wife who despises me, especially an ugly confrontation in front of my children. My feelings of grief and loss are so deep and hiding them has been incredibly difficult. I thought that misery was part of my punishment. Thank you again

  6. 10 years later. I still haven't gotten over her. I miss my affair partner just as much as I did in the early days of returning to my wife. I only came back because I didn't want to lose my children. Now they are all in college and I am stuck alone with my wife.

    My affair partner is still single and I often wonder if she has moved on or if she would take me back. I did not know what it felt like to be really loved and to be in love until I met her. We actually liked each other and respected each other.

  7. I am a trauma survivor. My husband attempted to kill me in 2018 after I found a phone that proved he had been having an affair.
    We separated and then my kids and I did oversee toxic mold in our house. We evacuated and had to detox with my husband in an apartment he had developed.
    My son (12) was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor 3 months later (March 2019)
    I began taking much more adderall than I usually did to study his medical docs and get him to the best hospital.
    My husband was not supportive and in denial about the brain tumor.
    In December 2019 I met a man at Starbucks I had known when I was 16 and he was 12 in high school. He wanted to help me find my son have a stem cell transplant. He looked like a movie star, was brilliant, successful, and compassionate.
    I had an affair. I sent myself to a rehab/ trauma center that March when COVID happened. I had 3 Tbis and was scarred from the affair and knew I had to get off the pills. I was there 60 days. I came home that June, healthy and ready to have a full affair, from June- September I became obsessed with this man and wanted to leave my husband. Finally, after 4 incidents of my husband taking my phone and becoming violent and threatening my affair partner it has ended. I know it’s for the best, but I’m devastated he has blocked me. Please give me advice on how to suffer well!
    Sincerely, A H

    1. Your story is a complicated one, filled with domestic violence, drug addiction, and serious illness of your child, as well as both you and your husband involved in an affair.

      You have a lot of work cut out for you, AH, and first on the list should not be to get your affair partner back. Obsessions with an affair partner can mimic the hyper-focus of substance addiction. That’s the first thing to be clear about. It seems like you see this affair partner as a “golden parachute” from a nightmare marriage. And perhaps BECAUSE this man you knew in high school is brilliant, successful, and compassionate, he knows you have a lot of work to do on yourself, your child’s health, and not the least, stopping the domestic violence, which seriously harms children.

      When you being to focus on your many issues, like you did so admirably with that addition to pills, you will find yourself with many positive things to focus on, and a more expansive world that can offer you pleasure and satisfaction.

      Admit it: You are in no shape to have an “exit affair” with this man. You have to get clear and focused first, and make a decision to end the violence or end the marriage. That is only work you can do. And your sick child needs you to act fast.

      Get yourself a good individual therapist who knows about Domestic Violence (ask when you interview them). They will help you to both put the affair into perspective, and make important decisions about your future.

      You won the battle against pill addiction. Now move on to the other issues plaguing you. You can do it.

  8. Thank you thank you thank you. As the involved partner in a current affair I am struggling with ending it. I know that nothing good can come of it no matter how much I fantasize about it. He is a widower and I am married. My husband doesn’t know. There is much baggage on both fronts but the emotional support and connection that we have supersedes that or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. I am absolutely petrified of what my life will be after I end it. I love this man. He represents everything I have longed for in my adult life of relationships. Ahhh, thanks for the bad timing. Everything I have come across on the subject is from the spiritual perspective and doesn’t deal with the grief and loss that I know unequivocally will come with ending it. I am broken thinking about it.

  9. Thank you for putting this post for the Involved Partner. I had an affair for almost 18 months. We ended the affair almost 5 months ago now. His wife was suspecting and we had to end it. I always know that the affair was going no where and it was filling the void in my marriage. Fast forward 18 months later, it was over. I am accepting the fact that it is over, but what I didn’t realized is that, it is just so hard to get over it and moving on. Your article was spot on about feeling lost and all the grievances. It’s like something you had died and the emptiness after the affair. Having said that, it was a relief that I don’t have to sneak around or hide anything anymore from my spouse. I know that affair is always a wrong path. So the question is how do I stop the feeling of being lost and the anxiety/panic attack around anniversary day and also the hour of the day where we would be together.

    1. Hi Maddy. Anticipate the trigger…Notice the trigger. Be the Maddy that notices. Notice also the “void” in your marriage and get some good couples therapy. If you’re going to stay, You’re going to need a good couples therapist to help you talk about that void.

  10. This article is so needed. I’ve not found a therapist or friend for that matter who will go near this issue. I didn’t have a physical affair, but still fell deeply in love, more deeply than I even knew how to imagine. He showed a strong and sustained interest for years, and eventually moved away not ever knowing his actual effect on me; I had probably a clinical breakdown when I heard the news that he was gone. It wasn’t until I started travelling away on my own and began to acknowledge his true effect on me that I started to normalize again. It makes a person unbalanced to carry around so much unacknowledged powerful emotion. Yes, it’s ethically and practically not ok to fall in love with someone else; also yes, we are human, and it does happen. I didn’t go looking for it, this was someone I met by happenstance and still believe to be my true love, lifetime over lifetime. It’s been close to a year and I still miss him keenly and continually. Aside from the intense chemistry, he was a great friend and support, and made me laugh more than anyone I’ve ever met, even while arguing. He was also the only man whose child I wanted to have, and the only person who made me feel actually satisfied to be alive—not just passing moments of happiness, but thoroughly satisfied. I’ve survived a very lot, and he is the only thing in this world that has ever made me feel it was, all of it, worth the trouble. Even if it’s right to do so, it’s extremely painful and damaging to pretend like none of this ever happened, and that I don’t still want another chance with him. Thanks again for this article.

  11. Thank you for this. I had an emotional affair (and I’m the wife) and even though I told my husband I ended it, it continued for another several weeks. There was emotional abuse going on so he’s been working on that but I’ve been depressed since finally cutting thing off with my AP. We are scheduled to go to a marriage retreat and he’s being amazing about it but he doesn’t know the extent of my infidelity. I am scared and confused and shamed and depressed. Also hard since there aren’t many resources for women who cheat emotionally only and whose husbands don’t think it was serious. This post made me feel at least “seen”. Thank you!

  12. What a much needed article. Thank you. I ended a short, but intimate affair only 2 weeks ago. I confessed to my wife of 43 years hoping she could forgive me and together rebuild our marriage. Though she was shocked, hurt and angry, she has shown me inexpressible grace, and is unwilling to give up on all of our years together. We’ve begun joint and individual counseling. The problem? My affair was with an intelligent, educated and attractive younger woman. We easily communicated the deepest thoughts and emotions with one another. I was the one to end the obviously wrong relationship, but I’m grieving, painfully at the loss. I feel ashamed as well, so I grieve alone. I love my wife and want to be with her, but I can neither reconcile the conflicting emotions or escape the memories of the affair, which haunt me.
    I have to overcome this if our marriage is to succeed
    What has helped others to let go?

  13. This had me in tears. I feel like my grief isn’t allowed, and my husband keeps telling me how I shouldn’t grieve over someone who could be so apparently malicious toward my children, and my friend keeps telling me I have to refocus my thoughts away from my AP, and I don’t feel ready for that just yet. I’ve barely had a moment to myself since D-day, so I’ve barely even had time to cry, much less process the loss of all we shared. I know it was wrong, but the conversations we shared were so intimate, and the emotions were so intense. My family even has a connected history with my AP. That makes it even harder, because there’s so much more loss than just an affair partner: it’s the loss of someone who felt like my brother and who was also my friend for many years. This is so hard…

    1. Same here, Allison. I feel like I am not entitled to ANY grief since I’m the unfaithful partner. Every website I’ve been on regarding affair recovery seems to be slanted toward the betrayed which, I completely understand, but we unfaithful have our own grief. We’re just not able to show it or talk about it. You’re not alone.

    2. It’s very hard to be viewed as a “bad person” without the right to grieve. My affair partner’s wife discovered our relationship. Within a few days of discovery he ended our relationship of 18 years. We are both married, with adult children now. I am not proud of my life and what I continued to do for so long. He came into my life when I was so low, a virtual door mat for my husband. He taught me how to laugh again and find joy in life. He taught me how to love and be kind to myself. Was the affair wrong, yes. But being in a marriage that chipped away at me a little everyday until I no longer recognized myself was wrong too. Because I could find moments of peace with my AP, I was able to stay married and provide my children with a stable home. His wife has yet to out me to my husband and I’m not sure why. I unintentionally ran into my AP the other day in a parking lot. We spoke very briefly. He looked broken and as if he had lost his last shred of dignity; and this broke my heart because at his core he is a good man. So Sharon and Allison, every day I grieve a little, try to live a little and most importantly try to love myself a little. We are people, we are not perfect.

      1. I met my AP 16 years ago. We had an on and off again relationship until 6 years ago when we actually started a true affair. We text and talked daily. Met at least once a week. Two years ago we got caught in a compromising position so we decided to stop the physical part of our relationship but continued to talk, text, and meet. Sometimes we were on the phone for hours. 3 weeks ago he ghosted me. I have struggled tremendously since than. I don’t know what happened. The last time i saw him was 3 1/2 weeks ago when we met for lunch which led to having sex. First time in two years. Prior to our lunch he went on a trip with his friend hiking out of state. Before he left he was his normal self. After I could tell something changed. I am grieving, sad i lost someone who was essentially my best friend. Also the way he just stopped everything. He hasn’t blocked me on text or phone but just wont respond. I have not been able to find someone to talk too who can relate with my situation without making me feel more awful for having an affair in the first place. I am sure he knew that was the last time we would see each other but I didn’t. I deleted our text as I always did after we met so i now i dont even have that to look at to see if he really gave me any clues

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