The question of whether or not you should confront your husband’s affair partner is very complicated.
Most thoughtful couples therapists grapple with that question on a case-by-case basis.
Therapists with easy “yes/no” answers to this question make me uncomfortable. Every marriage has its own culture, and every hurt partner has its own rationale.
There is no right answer. Some confrontations can bring clarity and boost self-esteem, and speed recovery. Or not.
Your decision should not be made impulsively. There are many variables, and one thing is for sure…the meeting will probably not go as planned.
The first thing to remember is the context. The “safe” advice most all-purpose therapists typically offer is that confrontation is a bad idea. Confronting your husband’s affair partner indeed confirms their significance, and in many cases, that could be a strategic error from the get-go.
But is there any benefit to confronting your husband’s affair partner? It depends on whether or not the affair is over, the kind of affair it was, the nature and timing of the confrontation, whether or not the affair partner had a pre-existing relationship with you, and most importantly, whether or not you and your husband are working to stay together, and where you are in the affair recovery process.
I meet a lot of wives who tell me “I want to confront my husband’s affair partner.” The first question I ask is “Do you want to do that alone… or with your husband?”
That may strike you as an odd question. But as I said before, there are so many factors to weigh.
Whether or not to confront your husband’s affair partner alone or together hinges on the context.
For example, I once worked with a couple where the husband ended the affair and was rebuilding trust with his wife. But the affair partner was cyber-stalking both her former affair partner and his wife.
This was a distressing “fatal attraction” scenario in which the affair partner simply would not let go. The situation called for a united front, and the confrontation was healing to their marriage as the husband and wife drew a line in the sand and successfully discouraged the affair partner from further mischief.
Another familiar pattern is a hurt partner that becomes dangerously dysregulated because of additional comorbidities such as depression, PTSD, or Borderline Personality Disorder. Dr. Grande does an excellent job explaining such a case.
I’ve also noticed that whatever counsel I offer about this topic in couples therapy often falls on the hurt partner’s deaf ears.
That’s understandable. Powerful emotions are in play.
If you feel an overwhelming need to confront your husband’s affair partner, there isn’t much that I or any other couples therapist can do to prevent you. But hopefully, you will practice good self-care carefully consider answering these 6 questions before making your decision.
Why do you want to confront your husband’s affair partner in the first place? What do you hope to accomplish? Do you want her to see the impact that she’s had on your nervous system? Are you just curious? Are you thinking that raging will be cathartic? Are you looking to compare notes? I could go on. The best questions will emerge from the context of your personal situation.
That depends on why you’re confronting in the first place. If you’re looking to emotionally vent, that’s probably not going to end well.
But if you’re looking to get information, and perhaps convey information, you might consider meeting in a public venue such as a restaurant or coffee shop.
Keep safety in mind at all times. Let someone know what you’re doing, and be careful.
This is a tough one. If your husband is minimizing and dodging, he could try to discourage you or prevent the meeting from taking place.
But even if he has been straightforward with you, he’s not going to be comfortable, so be prepared for some resistance. Some therapists don’t think having your husband come with you is a good idea, but I think that this can go either way.
If your husband wants to stay married, confirming that fact in front of you and his affair partner might be healing for you.
Don’t let her see you suffer. Be a sphinx. Don’t be obvious. Emotional displays will not help you. Imagine the meeting is with an unpleasant underling with whom you must exchange bad news. Be hard to read, and mindful of decorum.
Many of the wives I work with are utterly convinced that confronting their husband’s affair partner will satisfy their souls. However, after it happens, I’m sometimes asked to help them cope with a host of new triggers.
Hurt wives are devastated, and they freely distribute some portion of responsibility on their husband’s affair partner.
It’s important to remember the context of your situation here as well. Affair partners vary greatly in their emotional significance.
Many affairs have little to no emotional depth, while others involve deep emotion and even grief.
It’s not unusual for discarded affair partners, (or spouses) to respond with aggression and anger to save face.
They have little upside in restraining their rage or cruelty.
Here are two words that you should reflect on whenever you feel the desire to confront your husband’s affair partner; dignity and decorum.
Maintain your dignity and composure at all times. Particularly if you have children, hold a stance toward your husband and his affair partner that conveys the notion that the affair partner is the least important person in the discussion…because, if you both want to remain married, she is.
Always keep your dignity foremost in mind. Deal in facts, not feelings. She’s not entitled to her own facts, and she’s certainly doesn’t deserve a window on your feelings.
I often, but not always, advise against confronting the affair partner. But some hurt partners just can’t help themselves.
I’ve learned not to be surprised.
Many hurt partners feel an overwhelming need to confront, and no amount of couples therapy will dissuade them.
Some want to directly face their anxiety, others want “closure,” and some wives tell me it was worth it because they were finally able to stop ruminating.
That’s all well and good.
While it’s often a bad idea, in most cases, it’s not necessarily the end of the world if you confront your husband’s affair partner. But why take the risk?
But if you did, hopefully, you’ve learned something about yourself in the process. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the affair partner seems less formidable and daunting after meeting them for some hurt wives that I’ve worked with.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
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