What do you do when your world implodes and the love you thought would last is suddenly gone? I’m not talking about your marriage. I’m talking about your affair. What do you do after the affair has ended?
Affairs, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. They begin and end for different (though, interestingly, somewhat predictable) reasons. And they run their courses on different (though, again, somewhat predictable) timelines.
From Darwin to Freud to Dr. Ruth, theories on the motivations for cheating abound.
Modernize those theories with statistics on women who cheat, and the discussion becomes much more interesting and telling.
There are countless factors that influence the temptation and even proclivity to cheat. Like the “sets and subsets” of our elementary math days, they overlap in some areas and stand alone in others.
You can’t ignore, for example, the concurrence of women flooding into the workforce and stepping out of their marriages. Suddenly “having more” or “having it all” became an equal-opportunity employer because of…well, opportunity.
Perhaps the most constant and accepted theory of why women cheat zeros in on a woman’s natural yearning for emotional connection in a relationship. Centrifuge that down to its core message, and it sounds something like, “Men want sex, women want connection.”
Sounds pretty raw and overreaching for a stand-alone theory, but it’s not without merit. And its inherent message can be enlightening – even life-altering – after the affair has ended.
If nothing else, this focus on what a woman not only wants, but needs in a relationship can inform and guide her choices if (but more likely when) her affair ends.
So let’s use the end of an affair as a starting point. After all, the majority of affairs do end, and for fairly predictable reasons.
From being united in a common bubble of excitement, misery, and secrecy to succumbing to unchanged coping styles, eventually, most affairs crumble.
If you’re a woman who has cheated on your husband and are now at the end of an affair, you’re probably feeling like a rowboat mid-Atlantic at midnight.
Where are you? What the hell do you do now after the affair?
And are those fins you just saw circling the boat, or is it your imagination?
Before you start paddling aimlessly toward a dark, unknown destination, you have a big question to answer: Should you stay or should you go?
What may surprise you – and even attempt to heist your decision-making – is the grief you will feel.
And it may be overlapping grief for two relationships.
Depending on the length of your affair, you may have developed a deeply emotional relationship with this other man. With women especially, this kind of affair can feel like a marriage in itself – or at least a transition away from an unsatisfying marriage.
Distinguishing between the natural grief that accompanies the loss of anything important to you and the realization of what you were seeking to begin with will be difficult.
As if that’s not a weighty enough task, you will be crushed by the obvious and imminent dilemma: Do you tell your husband about the affair?
Is it possible that he really doesn’t know or even suspect?
What will the backlash be like?
Will he even want to stay married to you?
Do you even want to stay married to him?
How will you discover the answers in the midst of so much hurt, anger, and confusion?
You have a handful of choices at the moment:
- Tell your husband about the affair and express remorse and a desire (and commitment) to work on your marriage.
- Tell your husband about the affair and tell him you want a divorce, even though the affair has ended.
- Tell your husband about the affair and tell him you want a temporary separation to work on yourself and potentially your marriage.
- Don’t tell your husband, but stay in your marriage and work to make it better.
- Don’t tell your husband, stay with things as they are, and hope he doesn’t find out.
Every choice carries consequences that can’t be reneged on.
You may not have consciously considered the possibility that marriage isn’t for you at all.
Searching outside your marriage may not have been at all about looking for what someone else could fill.
It may have been about looking for what only you can fill.
You are now in a position of unfathomable accountability.
You are also in a position of unimaginable opportunity.
And you will have to embrace both at the same time.
Before rushing into a decision, you need to get down and dirty with your reasons for cheating in the first place.
What lured you into becoming part of the cheating wife phenomenon?
Were you really starving for an emotional connection that could/would never exist in your marriage?
Or were you, perhaps, yearning for the sexual gratification that has long been nodded to cheating men?
These aren’t and won’t be easy questions to answer. If epiphanies were a checkout-lane commodity, perhaps we wouldn’t leave such devastation in our quest for them.
Certainly now, more than perhaps any other time in your life, is the moment to seek guidance in your process.
Discernment counseling can help you learn if there is any hope left in your marriage. It can also help you devise a plan for telling your husband (if that’s your intention) and deal with the fallout.
And hiring a divorce coach can ensure you are informed of the divorce process before you or your husband rush into any irrevocable decisions.
Finally, one assurance you must have:
You are not alone on this journey. Millions of women have been and still are where you are.
This period – this black hole after the affair has ended – not only can be but will be life-changing.
It’s up to you to decide what that change looks like.
Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklist,s and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”