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ASK THE THERAPISTS: My affair is 'destroying me inside'

A woman having an affair is struggling with the guilt and emotional turmoil.
A woman having an affair is struggling with the guilt and emotional turmoil. - 123RF Stock Photo

All my life I’ve gotten myself into situations with men that weren’t the best for me. I’m now happily married but am having an affair with another married man. I’ve tried to end it several times, but I feel badly for hurting him, so I go back. I am filled with shame writing in about this, but I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s destroying me inside.

Consumed by guilt

Jenny

OK dear one, let’s start right away by reframing the guilt you’re feeling because it’s one of the most toxic emotions we can experience. It may be difficult to be kind to yourself, especially if you’re sitting in a messy situation of your own doing, but it’s absolutely necessary to moving forward. Think about your reasons for starting this whole thing in the first place, it likely stemmed from an unmet need, or maybe a childhood wound, which is worthy of compassion. As you proceed to the next steps, continue to be gentle with yourself no matter what.

Next step; create a plan. What is your best-case outcome? If it’s an amicable split with your affair partner and a clean return to your husband, as you allude to in your question, then you’ll want to approach this in a strategic way. Start by clearly stating your feelings to your affair partner, that you cannot continue on as you are and then outline your new boundaries. Own whatever part you played in the situation, as it’s a real power move to take full responsibility for your actions in the past. It’s also self-loving to commit to living with integrity as you move forward. 

You clearly have the people pleasing syndrome, perhaps an inherited trait from your well-intentioned mother? It’s time to break that cycle and by putting your own needs first. As Paolo Coehlo said, “When you say 'Yes' to others, make sure you are not saying 'No' to yourself.”

By putting your needs at the top of your list, you will ensure that you’re the one taking care of your needs, instead of relying on others to do so. This is an essential step for living an empowered, autonomous life. 

As for your husband, you’ll have to decide how to move forward into this new monogamous chapter with him. If he doesn’t know about your affair, you need to decide how to proceed, since it could go either way. He might actually surprise you by how much he appreciates your transparency, but he may react quite strongly in the other direction. The truth is sweet one, you’re in a mess, and giving him the opportunity to face this shared reality allows him to grow along with you. Ultimately, you want to move on with integrity, not fear, so if your conscience is heavy, you might need to be honest about your situation. This may be best to do in the presence of a therapist who is skilled in mediation. 
EVERYONE makes mistakes, it’s the nature of being human. Breathe deeply and keep taking steps toward your best self.

Blair

Firstly, you have to let other people take care of themselves. You’re not responsible for this man’s emotional wellbeing, he is. Secondly, it’s important to have possible responses prepared in the chance that he may attempt to coerce you back into his life. Create a number of different  scripts on the possible reactions he might have, which will protect you from possibly complying under his pressure and returning to this undesired situation. 

I also recommend that you make this break by phone so that you can wrap up the conversation when you want to and keep yourself physically safe. This allows you to have notes in front of you as well to keep you anchored in your decision. 

I’m not wishing to make you paranoid, but I would refrain from putting anything in an email or text as they could be used against you. When people believe they’ve been wronged, they can become vindictive, even if their behavior is not in their interests. Tread lightly and yet set clear boundaries.  

Finally, remind yourself each day that you’re still a good person, you’ve just made choices to get your needs met in a way that was not beneficial for your wellbeing or your marriage. A therapist would help you to identify what your needs are and support you in fulfilling them in a lifegiving way, so, as always, I recommend you seek counsel from a professional. 

Above all, what’s most important is the commitment to learn from your missteps so you never have to go through this painful experience again. Here’s to your new life of peace and harmony.

Have a question? Submit your inquiries to askthetherapists@herald.ca. Confidentiality is assured.

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