Is Confronting Your Husband’s Affair Partner a Good Idea?
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.
No Right Answer
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.
Are There Benefits To Confronting Your Husband’s Affair Partner?
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.
Context Is Important
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.
Situational Deafness in Couples Therapy
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.
6 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before Confronting Your Husband’s Affair Partner:
- What Do You Already Know For Sure?
- Do You Have a Plan?
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.
- How Will You Set Up the Confrontation?
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.
- Do You Want to Tell Your Husband?
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.
- Can You Stay Calm If Provoked? Be Honest.
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.
- Do You Understand That this Confrontation May Install Many New Triggers in Your Nervous System?
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.
Confronting Your Husband’s Affair Partner Can Slow Your Affair Recovery
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.
Dignity and Decorum
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.
If You’re Going to Confront, Here are 11 Things To Keep in Mind:
- Be Prepared For the Unexpected. Whatever confrontation fantasy you keep ruminating on…trust me. It’s not going to go down the way you’ve been vividly imagining. You may, if you’re at your best, control your own words and feelings. But remember that you have little control beyond that.
- Make Sure You Hold On to Your Personal Power. You have the house, the home, the history, and maybe even his kids. She’s merely nibbling around the edges of the life you already have. Don’t confuse your grief and rage with powerlessness.
- Don’t Expect to See Shame or Remorse. I once worked with a wife who decided to confront her husband’s affair partner and was startled by her utter lack of shame. “You’re just not good enough for him. Sure, he loves his kids, but they’ll adjust. He told me it’s over, but I know loves me and he’s just blowing smoke at you. I don’t care what you think. I don’t care what he told you. It’s not over” Could you go eyeball to eyeball with that and stay cool?
- They Could Have a Serious Personality Disorder. This is why safety is paramount. Narcissistic mate poachers don’t think the rules apply to them. Neither do hurt partners with comorbid mental disorders. Remember that confrontation may be perceived as an escalation. It might invite retaliation, such as harassment, stalking, or worse. On the other hand, how safe are they going to feel with you? Don’t meet unless you can keep your cool.
- Take What She Says With a Grain of Salt. It’s kind of amazing how many hurt partners act as if what the affair partner said was the Gospel Truth. They seem startled when I remind them that many affair partners want to manipulate the situation and lie shamelessly to you to wreak havoc in your marriage.
- Do You Really Need Her Take on Things? If you and your husband want to recover, what the affair partner thinks and feels isn’t terribly significant is it? She is the least important person in the triangle.
- She Can’t Tell You Why He Betrayed You, So It’s Pointless to Ask. Figuring out “how did this happen to us?” is a question for you to wrestle with your husband in couples therapy. It’s toxically seductive to believe that your husband’s affair partner has a window into his soul. Don’t think that the two of them had an affair for the same reasons…they probably didn’t.
- Don’t Try to Reason With Her. Many hurt wives seek to be seen and considered by their husband’s affair partner. They want them to know that there is a family at stake. But how would you answer this question; “if your own husband failed to keep his family in mind …why should I?”
- Keep Your Dignity Even if Provoked. I know you probably want her to suffer…but how does that help you in the long run?
- If your Husband is Breaking it off… Do You Really Want to Break-in? Your confrontation is fresh conversational content for your husband and his affair partner. He may feel obligated to listen to her complain about you. You want to starve contact…not feed it.
- Why Her? You want an explanation for his betrayal. What does she have that I don’t? Meeting her will most likely not answer that question. You may be underwhelmed and bewildered by your husband’s attraction to his affair partner. Many men have affairs with women who are conspicuously inferior to their wives in many ways.
It Doesn’t Matter What Your Couples Therapist Says…You’ll Do What You Want to in the End
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.