When Your Husband Won’t End His Affair

He said he would. Why won’t my husband end his affair?

I seem to have been receiving an epidemic of phone calls from wives whose husbands have promised to break off their affairs but continue to engage with their affair partner on the sly.

They spy on their husband’s phone and other technology and confront them with their rage and pain.

I agree that hurt wives do need to establish boundaries. But it should not be a boundary that puts their partner on the defensive 24/7.

It is understandable that many wives present their cheating husbands with firm ultimatums. “Either break this affair off, or I’m filing for divorce.” This brinksmanship approach is problematic in several ways. First, do you really mean it? Or is this your pain talking?

His reaction is likely to be defensive and disingenuous. His entitlement is galling but ruminating on that will not help you get through this tough time.

Here is what is better to say. “You’re a big boy. You know what you want out of life. You gotta do what you gotta do. I’m not going to stand in your way to prevent you from getting what you want. But please pay attention. Listen carefully. I don’t want to deal with this situation. It’s just too painful. It violates everything I believe in.  Please remember this conversation. So if you decide to keep this going, I will __________ (fill in the blank… but don’t ever bluff. Will you file for divorce? Move out? Separate? Be accurate and authentic here.) I need to protect myself and rebuild my life. What happens next is up to you.”

Don’t spy on him anymore.

In fact, make it clear that you are not willing to work on the marriage until such time as the affair is absolutely over.

Make sure that you are totally committed to the course of action that you claim you will take and that you have thought through all the possible consequences.

Affair Strategies for a “Long Game”

Tell him that’s it. End of discussion. Don’t spy. Don’t berate.

It’s OK to describe emotions, but be careful not to ruminate and obsess indefinitely, or hold a perpetually aggressive stance. Use the emotional judo of knowing that most affairs burn out and decide for yourself how long you will wait before you are completely comfortable taking the decisive action that you described if he fails to end his affair within your comfort zone.

According to couples therapist Terry Real, some wives also use an “in-house” divorce approach. They withdraw a certain degree of availability and services. This can be risky but is sometimes an effective strategy as well.

I offer it as a way of conveying your displeasure in a non-combative way, but certainly, this is an approach you should weigh carefully. Your mileage may vary.

The last thing you want to do is behave in such a way that drives your husband closer to his affair partner. This is a time for differentiation, but also for strategic moves. If you want to restore your marriage back to health, you need a carefully thought-out stance. Play a thoughtfully considered “long game.”

How Long Do Affairs Last?

This is also another “your mileage may vary” situation.

But I can offer some social science here. Limerence predictably fades.

About half of all affairs last for more than a month but sputter out in less than a year. Yeah, I know this doesn’t help much.

You’re looking at anywhere from 5 weeks to almost 12 months or any point in between. Unfortunately, I’m also telling you that it’s not unusual for an affair to last for months on end.

Research also tells us that 40 percent of affairs can last two years or longer. So what’s that last 10% about? These are the one-night stands, and brief flings that burn out in well under a month.

It’s important to look at this math and decide on your comfort zone before you follow through on the action you announced that you would take. Dopamine is flooding your husband’s brain, but trust me, the novelty of this affair partner will start to wear off.

When the dopamine fog lifts, he may ask himself “Is this woman worth my marriage?  Half my wealth? My reputation?” When your husband decides to end his affair, it’s better for you if he ends it for his own solid reasons rather than because you badgered or threatened him.

Self -Care is Most Important

While you’re waiting to see if your husband will end his affair, you will benefit from being strategic, and play as long a game as you are comfortably willing to play. But what can do you do while you’re waiting for your husband to decide?

You can engage in meticulous self-care.

Feed your soul and your self-esteem. Art, music, being with friends and family, take a class, go back to school. Whatever you have previously put on the shelf because you put your partner first, put it back in your life.

It’s time for you to enter a “selfish period,” to even build end his affaira new you from the ground up.

Be selfish regarding self-care, but not by selfishly vindictive or spiteful behavior. Vengeance won’t help him end his affair.

You need support, but who you tell may require a careful balancing act.

As long as you are holding on to hope that you will stay together, keep family and friends who will be wholesale critical of your partner out of the loop.

You want a few patient friends who offer “marriage friendly” support.

Not well-meaning friends and family who are modulating their own relationship anxiety by agitating you with misguided “divorce the bum” rhetoric.

Also, consider getting a therapist who has some clinical experience with the emotional struggles of hurt partners. They can help you explore what you feel are appropriate boundaries.

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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.

  1. My husband has had a long term affair with his employee at a faith organization. We were married for 16 years and have 4 little girls. He believes it’s God’s will. He raged at me to die and hoped to convince me to commit suicide in order to have this woman free and clear. He then threatened to kill me himself. I filed for divorce and she is divorcing her husband for him. I still fought for my marriage all the way along and gave him an opportunity to change his actions but they’re now “engaged” and have been secretly living together. His friends, work and her family support them and think they are soulmates. He said he now knows he never loved me and even blames me for his abuse and cheating. I was an incredible wife! It has ripped our family apart. My kids are in therapy, I’m in therapy and he has zero remorse or guilt. In fact, he’s full of pride that his plan worked out and he won. His mistress told me if I had been a better woman it would never have happened. He claims he rescued her too from an abusive relationship and he has blown all our shared money on trips, hotels, gifts and now lawyers.All our dream trips- he has now taken with her, despite the fact he was stingy with money with me. I have lost all my personal savings that I now owe for his cheating debt. His work helped him pay for his legal team and living expenses. I am about to lose my house and he’s hoping to get custody of the kids with his mistress as he claims she will be a much better mom to them and he is more financially secure. They are acting like teenagers in love and he is giddy with happiness- he’s earned his freedom to be 20 and in love again. My question is this- did I do the wrong thing to file for divorce (he says when I mentioned the word divorce when I suspected his cheating & caught him flirting was when he said he started his sexual affair because the word divorce gave him permission to cheat- he said I pushed them together). Why is he not remorseful- this is now a couple of years of them working and living together and the novelty has not worn off? Will he ever have regrets? Can it be true love?

  2. What if your husband who has cheated, wants to go live with his affair partner for 2 weeks to see if their feelings are real?

  3. comment and resource sharing: I am listening to the restoredsummit organized by Michael and Christine Leahy that began on Sunday. One of yesterday’ s speakers was Marnie Ferree, LMFT, CSAT
    Director, Bethesda Workshops who spoke about your essay about when the addict won’t end his/her affair. And today I read your article on that subject. I also want to share that for me in addition to AlAnon, SAnon, Celebrate Recovery, ACoA, CoDA, and counseling, I’ve also found great teaching/learning from Leslie Vernick I’ve been married for 31 years and confused by his baffling behavior for much of that time unfortunately. I always confronted his gaslighting and lies/secrets/silence, but I was naive and idealistic and sensitive and did my part 100% to give and give and give to our relationship, and I honestly simply didn’t realize that his behavior was systemic and sick despite the glossy charismatic magnanimous successful high functioning exterior. Now I do! and we are still “married” but living apart. He’s still a reliable provider thus far and wants to change but doesn’t want to get help or do any of the work needed to change. I am literally learning ballroom dancing without him, because although he’d like to be my partner he admits he has no interest in learning how to ballroom dance. It’s the same across the board. We have four beautiful kids and not for the love of them nor me, least of all himself (and certainly not his own family of origin, where his denial/delusion clearly stems given the many other people with secrets and issues over 3 generations) will his needle move. Thank you and so many others in this “crazy” field of work who help both directly and indirectly. I am in a season of saying thank you. The free resources and articles are valuable, so valuable, like this one, which re-confirms that his kind of brokenness is universal and that I am not alone and that I can heal and be my best self with or without him and with or without his own healing. I am praying (in my own non-religious but deeply spiritual/soulful way haha) fiercely for the healing of my kids! So so prayerful. Thank you.

  4. Hello,

    My husband of 19 years has been having an affair for over 2 years now plus sleeping with other woman. Once I discovered the truth I kicked him out of our home. I decided to reconcile 7 months ago as he swore he ended the affair and would do anything to save our marriage. We have been in couples counseling and our marriage seemed better than ever, however I couldn’t shake that gut feeling that he was still having an affair. I just discovered that he was in fact still having an affair. I kicked him out again and am now ready for divorce. He only sees this woman maybe a couple times a month and just to meet at a hotel for an hour or 2. What would make someone throw away everything just for a sexual encounter. I must add we have a very active sex life and always have. I’m just at a loss.

  5. My husband is having an affair. He refuses to cut ties. I am completely devastated as I did not see this coming. We have 5 kids (ages 16-2) and my oldest is angry at him. She is disappointed and broken that he has chosen not to cut ties. I don’t want my marriage to end. What do I do.

    1. There is no one answer that fits every situation, JoAnn. So much depends upon your husband’s investment in your marriage and the reasons he got involved in the first place. Please read all of our posts on affairs and keep a look out for the ebook on the topic that is coming out soon. A lot is riding on your marriage with 5 children… I hope you seek help soon. Dr. K

  6. My husband is involved in an emotional and sexual affair. Do i let the affair die off by itself? He wants me accept the woman so he can have both woman and still stay in the marriage. He wants the woman to back off the affair on her own. He says that he will dedicate 1day for the woman and the rest of the days is for my family and kids. Do i leave things as it is now? Instead of asking him to chose between me and the woman? Pls help. Need help urgently. Tks

    1. It makes no sense that your husband allows a person outside the family to dictate what happens inside the family. However, this is not your decision to make. He has told you he isn’t willing to cut it off, regardless of the validity of his reason. Your job is to decide how much you want this marriage at the cost he is asking you to pay. That, no one on this website can tell you. Take a look in the mirror or go get your own counseling to help you sort things out. You can’t decide what HE is going to do. You can only decide that YOU are going to do. Thanks for writing and I hope you reach some clarity. Dr. K

      1. Thank you for your reply. I might decide to leave him as he has promised the woman to dedicate 3days to company her and also promised to take wedding photo with her. He also suggest to her that he will wed her overseas.

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