A question that comes up regularly from women whose husband’s have had affairs and the Affair Partner (AP) is either pregnant or has had a child of the affair is how can I be sure that the affair is really over? The unfaithful husband has made a commitment back to the marriage but is still regularly seeing the Affair Partner because of the pregnancy or baby/child. If this is your situation then the affair is not over.
You can think of an affair as having 2 distinct components: the emotional and the physical/sexual side of the relationship. Many men involved in an affair would see that once the physical part of the affair is over, that the affair is over. And this is where they are coming from when they assure their wives that nothing is going on, that they are just making sure the AP is OK with the baby or pregnancy. But in actual fact if you, as the husband involved in an affair, are still seeing the AP regularly (or at all) the emotional part of the affair is still continuing – the affair is not over.
Relationship rebuilding – rebuilding the marriage - cannot occur until safety has been restored to the relationship. There is no safety for a betrayed wife when her husband is still seeing the AP. But I also understand that as the husband having an affair in this situation, you are consumed with guilt at what has happened and feel incredible responsibility for the wellbeing of the AP and the child. Add to that the likely pressure the AP is putting on the unfaithful husband to “do the right thing by her” which I have seen in all the situations I have worked with bar one. Or the other “voice” that comes into it for many men is their dad in adolescence warning them of getting a girl pregnant and what “doing the right thing” means. Ending any relationship is hard. Ending a relationship under these circumstances can seem impossible to work out.
The following are some steps I suggest any man in this situation works through to help you make the choices that are right for you.
Do you really want to commit to rebuilding the marriage? If the answer is a resounding YES then go to step 2. If you are still ambivalent then you need to do some further soul searching about what is right for you in this situation. Do not avoid this – the longer you put off making the decision the more you are keeping people who love you hurting. Seek help to do this if needed but do it for everyone’s sake.
Good decisions do not come out of guilt. Guilt is an emotion that indicates to us that we are doing something wrong. Once we stop doing the wrong then the guilt has no place. If you are not sure what right and wrong is in this situation go back to step 1. Once you have made a decision that is right for you and in line with your values and you begin to act on that decision, guilt can take a back seat and remorse can move in. Whilst remorse may not feel any better at least its purpose is to keep you moving in the direction of addressing the wrongs and making them right again. And while you may not feel it is possible right now, if you keep working at making the wrongs right again you will eventually be forgiven and be able to forgive yourself.
Reality check your level of responsibility in this. It is no more than half - that is 50%. Too often, consumed by guilt, I see men assume complete responsibility for the pregnancy. Unplanned pregnancy involves shared responsibility. You are both adults who made your own choices about engaging in a sexual relationship and are now living out the consequences of those choices. There is no requirement for you to take on the AP’s responsibility for her choices.
Clarify what that responsibility is. It can help to separate your responsibility to the child from your responsibility to the Affair Partner.
Responsibility to the child. You without question have a responsibility to the child. You have legal responsibilities that you are obligated to meet by law eg financial support to ensure the child’s physical needs are met. And then there are the social and emotional responsibilities – how much of a role are you going to play in shaping this child’s values and life such as health and education, best achieved by spending time with and having a relationship with the child. This latter responsibility varies between situations – there are no right or wrong answers (and can be complex – a topic for a whole other blog!).
Responsibility to the AP. Once the affair has ended you have no responsibility to your AP. If you have chosen to rebuild your marriage then the reality is the Affair must be over and just as in the case of divorce, once the relationship has ended, it is no longer your role to provide emotional support the AP no matter what they are going through. To continue to do so prolongs the pain for all involved. It stops you from being able to rebuild your marriage, keeps your wife in a state of high anxiety and pain, and prevents the affair partner from finding sustainable emotional support from people who are actually available to give it to her.
Set the boundaries with the AP and begin to live them. These boundaries need to be focused on creating safety in the marriage. At the very least all contact needs to provide the betrayed wife with the option of being included if she so chooses – email is an effective way of doing this as it is open and transparent. Be clear about how this will work in your situation and follow through – again and again and again.
There is no easy way to end a relationship so I am not going to pretend that any of the above steps are in any way easy to implement. But I know from experience and now having been part of this with my dear clients over the last 5 years – in the marriages that survive and thrive, the unfaithful husband takes all of these steps seriously and keeps doing them until he gets it right. And then the work on rebuilding the marriage can begin.