I just found some flirty messages on my husband’s phone, they are from a co-worker and this more or less confirms what I had already suspected. I am pretty sure that this is beyond flirting and that he has been cheating on me. I haven’t confronted him because I just don’t know where to start. It feels like saying it out loud is basically ending my marriage. What should I do?

First, take a deep breath and write down in a notebook how you are eating and sleeping from now on.

Secondly, realize that this is a very serious crisis for you and for your marriage. It is totally possible that this co-worker is acting solo and crossing the line. or that your husband is enjoying the flirtatious attention. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem just that it is a different sort of problem.

Next, do your best to prepare for how you will talk about how you discovered this phone text. Make sure he and you are:

  • rested
  • hydrated
  • undisturbed
  • in private
  • well-fed

Then, make notes to yourself answering these questions:

  • Have you been feeling distance between the two of you?
  • Has the sex stopped or changed somehow?
  • Has he been having a lot of “late nights” or “business trips” that seem out of the ordinary?
  • Do you feel like you know his worries and concerns and he knows yours?
  • Are you “best friends” or do you feel like strangers now?
  • Do you feel like you are his top priority and do you think he feels the same way?

You’ve just outlined your talking points.

In any case, read all you can about affairs, what they are, how they start, what they mean, the various types. Even texting affairs. We have over sixty articles on extramarital affairs. What you’ll learn is that this seldom means that your marriage is over, unless that’s what you want it to mean. One study reported that 60-80% of couples where an affair was discovered go to couples therapy and leave it stronger than when they went in.

So whether it’s a full-blown affair or an inappropriate texting relationship, first own up to invading his privacy and looking at his text. If you already have his password, thank him for the trust he’s given to you in being an “open book.” That’s going to be the first hurdle to overcome: “How come you looked at my phone?!”

You can apologize, and should. Respect the fact that you overstepped your boundaries, no matter how justified you feel based upon what you found. Give him that. You’ll go round and round by not doing that first. Tell him you know you overstepped and apologize. It will remove a lot of extra strain between you.

Expect to continue to have access to his phone. That’s a must. If he tells you that now that you’ve looked at his phone without permission he’s “cutting you off” from further access tell him the truth: that means he has something to hide and it doesn’t look good.

Next, assume he’ll want to minimize, distract, omit and deny if he is having an emotional or sexual affair. In other words, he’ll lie. Tell him that you’ve learned that so much of the pain in affairs happens AFTER the hurt partner finds out. Tell him you don’t want to learn he’s lying about things to you now after you’ve found this out. You want full disclosure, and this, like a Band-Aid, is much better pulled off all at once, rather than gradual disclosure over weeks or months. Or lies he tells now that later get corrected. Or even worse still, one lie after another.

A second big issue that arises to prepare yourself for is counter-accusations. No one has a perfect marriage or a perfect personality. But affairs have to be handled first. And no bad behavior on your part “caused” him to have this affair. It was one bad choice out of hundreds of other options. At the very least, he has received an inappropriate text from a coworker and has kept it from you. At a minimum, he (with you there) should be willing to call her on speakerphone and ask her to stop sending you these kinds of messages (without telling her you are here listening). Let her know it was unprofessional and that his wife found them and he loves his wife and doesn’t want to hurt her anymore.

If there is an affair, he’ll simply refuse or try to put it off until he gets a chance to speak to her privately. If there isn’t, and you haven’t confronted him in the middle of the night, he should be willing to do that for you. He should also tell her that she’ll be sharing these messages with you from now on, so please stop texting you.

If he admits to an affair, you actually can feel glad that he’s being upfront with you. The more candor he shows, the better. Be willing to go to a highly trained couples therapist who knows many different approaches to effective affair recovery. Be cautious about a therapist who blames you or a bad marriage for his bad behavior.  It takes 18-24 months before a couple completely recovers from an affair when they get proper help, according to studies, so don’t expect it to be overnight. That doesn’t mean going to therapy for that long. It just means for the hurt and active pain to fade.

If he absolutely denies any wrongdoing, but his behavior leaves you feeling terribly suspicious, ask to go to couples therapy anyway. At a minimum, you both can work on behaviors that will leave you more certain that he’s telling the truth, and open up a wider, more open line of communication between you both. After an extensive assessment, you’ll learn what your strengths and weaknesses are as a couple and why you fell in love in the first place.

He may not have realized that this sort of texting is a boundary violation. Ask him if the three of you were at lunch whether he’d talk this way in front of you. If he doesn’t get that visualization, you can act it out for him and he’ll quickly see how awkward it is to talk to her like that in front of you.

It’s a challenging and difficult time for you. Admit that upfront. And if he simply refuses to go to couples therapy, find a marriage-friendly individual therapist and go yourself. You’ll want a sounding board. And you will want strategies to help him agree and get good marriage counseling.

I wish both of you all the best.

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