LoveBonds

Attachment. Betrayal. Repair.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENS WHEN AFFAIR PARTNERS GO ‘NO CONTACT’?

Two broken iPhones

Bill and Jayla have just entered marriage therapy after Jayla discovered Bill’s affair with Sarah. During their first session, the therapist tells them that part of affair recovery requires that Bill immediately enact a strict “no contact” with his affair-partner, Sarah.

The counselor explains that marriage is for two people – not three – and that marital repair won’t begin until Bill fully concludes his relationship with Sarah. It’s further explained that Jayla’s emotional pain will not dissipate while Bill remains in contact with Sarah.

With a heavy heart, Bill tells Sarah that their relationship must end. He explains that his focus is on repairing his marriage and that all contact with her will immediately conclude.

He then proceeds to electronically delete and block all avenues of contact between himself and Sarah: email, phone, and social media.

Block.

Delete.

Erase.

Done.

Gone.

Like switching off a light, Bill extinguished all contact with Sarah. Now he can begin the arduous task of repairing his marriage with Jayla.

All it took was one succinct communication and a quick click of the block and delete buttons to clear Sarah from Bill’s phone, email, social media – and life.

Or did it?

Did immediately implementing the ‘no contact’ policy conclude the relationship between Bill and Sarah? Everyone knows the relationship with the affair partner must conclude if recovery is to occur, but does an abrupt and forced ‘no contact’ actually work? Does it really bring the affair to a screeching halt?

DECISIVE CLOSURE 

When two people are in a relationship, the relationship belongs to them. Together, they decide about the relationship, its future, its direction and its ending.

Think about your relationship or that of another. Can any outside party direct you or your partner to end your relationship? Can you determine if another’s relationship should continue or conclude? Of course not.

In the ‘no contact’ policy, parties outside the affair relationship are directing the conclusion of the relationship and not the two people within it. These parties are the spouse or partner who did not have the affair and the therapist. You can almost hear them speaking in unison: “If this relationship is going to continue, you must immediately end the affair.” ‘

And that’s true.

No one disputes that fact that an affair must conclude. That’s not what’s in question. 

The sticky point, however, is that the decision to conclude it – and the act of actually ending it – needs to be started and driven by the person in the affair. This provides the best hope of recovery, so he or she must do it freely.

When the person involved in the affair purposefully and intentionally directs the conclusion of the affair relationship, it serves to reassure his or her partner or spouse. Making an independent decision – and then decisively acting on it – conveys to the partner he or she hopes to repair with, “I choose you,” and this kind of reassurance is paramount to recovery.

If the party involved in the affair ends the affair relationship because they feel pressured, directed, or forced, it can cause doubt in the partner. The partner may feel that he or she ended the affair ‘because they were under a lot of pressure’ or ‘had no choice.’

An analogous illustration that comes to mind is when an adult instructs a child to deliver an apology for a wrongdoing. The child – knowing he’s in trouble and what expected of him – offers a mumbled “I’m sorry.” The adult remarks that the apology didn’t sound believable. “I said it, didn’t I?” the child says as he shrugs his shoulders. Technically, he delivered the apology – but something about it didn’t quite feel sorrowful. The child obliged the will of the adults. It did not truly come from him.

PRE-MATURE ENDING

In the infidelity triad, there are two relationship realms. There is the relationship between the committed or married pair in one realm and in the other, two parties in the affair relationship.

The one with the committed or married pair is tense, conflicted, emotionally dense, distant and painfully lonely. This realm possesses relationship discord and disconnect.

The affair realm is providing intimacy, freshness, novelty, closeness, romance, sentiment, and vitality. It is captivating and gripping to those in it.

Now, think for a moment about the state of a relationship in decline. A relationship near conclusion will show signs of distress.

The couple may live separate lives, will lack affection and contact, and may bicker or make disparaging remarks toward one another. The relationship’s end is approaching.

The affair-relationship, for a variety of reasons (including its secret nature), does not exhibit signs of stress, strain or discord. The relationship is not in decline and nowhere near its natural conclusion.

The swift implementation of ‘no contact’ abruptly and dramatically brings the affair relationship to a screeching halt that was not near its natural end.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

‘No contact’ is a tactic designed to bring an affair to a swift and permanent conclusion, yet the sudden, forced, and premature ending of the affair relationship can cause the counter-effect of escalating yearning and increasing desire between the affair partners.

We have to ask: Does ‘no contact’ end the affair relationship?

Let’s look a little further.

“NO CONTACT” AS A “GET BACK YOUR EX” STRATEGY

To illustrate the effect of ‘no contact’, consider this:

Among dating experts, a frequently employed strategy to ‘win back the ex’ is to implement ‘no contact’!

Dating coaches know that going ‘no contact’ can increase desire and attractiveness following a break-up. It is akin to the adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

To further illustrate this concept, consider the parent who does not approve of his or her child’s friend choice. The parent forbids his child to play with the undesirable friend. What is the common response to the forbidden friendship? Two people sneak around behind the parent to play with the friend who has been banned.!

Forbidden relationships can inspire rebellious acts to communicate with the one placed out of reach.

If ‘no contact’ successfully to ‘wis back the ex’, then how is it also used to conclude an affair relationship?

THE IMPACT ON THE AFFAIR PARTNER

In an affair, an attachment bond has formed between the committed or married partner and his or her affair partner. The affair relationship includes attributes that powerfully bond its participants: secrecy, sex, novelty, and adventure.

The sudden ending of such a potent, highly intense relationship also impacts the reaction and response of the affair partner.

The breaking of a bond between people is traumatizing, and the affair relationship is no different.

The affair partner may also surmise that their committed or married lover does not genuinely want to end their relationship but is ‘forced’ to because of discovery.

The shocking and unanticipated ending can propel the affair partner into a tailspin as it dramatically whisked away the lover. It can be emotionally jolting.

REASSURING THE PARTNER THAT DID NOT HAVE THE AFFAIR 

It would be easy to conclude that the person in the committed relationship or marriage that did not engage in the affair experiences relief and calm when the ‘no contact’ policy is implemented as the affair relationship (appears to) rapidly dissolve.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.

Demonstrating conclusion by deleting a phone contact, blocking an email address or that the affair partner is no longer a social media contact does not truly remedy the situation. These tangible and observable indicators that the affair partner ‘is out of my life’ help a bit, but intense anxiety and unease persist.

Everyone seems to know that people do not turn on and turn off relationships with the flip of a switch. Human bonding and attachment just don’t work like that.  Relationships require time and energy to build. They also take time and energy to conclude.

Since affairs take place behind the back of a partner or spouse, the party that did not engage in the affair often expresses extreme anxiety about ‘what else’ they ‘can’t see.’ The experience goes like this: “If I couldn’t see and didn’t know about the affair, what else is in that hidden, secret place that I don’t have access to? There must be more!”

Even when the partner who engaged in the affair says, logically and reasonably, “Look, I blocked and deleted them. I’m not in contact. Here’s the proof.”

These matters are not taking place in the world of logic, reason, and rationality. They are powerful emotional matters and the emotions have their own warning signals and logic.

Even when partners who did not engage in the affair can obviously see that the affair partner is blocked and deleted and perhaps have full access to their partner’s cell phone – they cannot ‘see’ what is inside their partners head or heart, where the affair partner may still live and occupy affection.

They wonder, “Do you still think of her/him? What fond memories do you have of him/her? Do you want to be with me … or are you just with me because I found out, and you had no choice but to end it?”

Observable, verifiable indicators of ‘no contact’ rarely have the effect of delivering peace, calm, comfort and reassurance, even when all evidence and ‘proof’ suggest a concluded relationship. Doubts continue when trust and safety have been so compromised.

CONCLUDING THE AFFAIR: WHAT WORKS?

For affair recovery, there’s nothing controversial about stating that the affair relationship must conclude. But how that ending occurs is a very delicate and complicated matter deserving examination, consideration and scrutiny.

What is the best way to conclude the affair?

In my work with couples coping with the aftermath of infidelity, I see success with the couple when the person who engaged in the affair starts the affair’s conclusion, demonstrating a sincere desire to conclude it. They need to bring the affair to closure in a way that they are comfortable with, but one that also takes their partner’s feelings, needs and level of comfort into consideration.

The conclusion of the affair needs to be expedient and swift, but not hasty. It needs careful deliberation and should be done with the help of a trained professional. If conducted abruptly, too casually or conveys a possibility of a future meeting (such as, “I can’t see you right now…”), it won’t fully bring it to a conclusion. It must be firm, clear, direct and absolute. And it must include these two facets: 1) That there is to be no further communication; and 2) That the committed party is remaining in his or her relationship or marriage.

The best way to conclude an affair is to do it thoughtfully and with care. Rushing or being hasty may backfire.

The person who engaged in the affair may need someme to experience a ‘break-up’ and grieve. (This is very painful for all involved in the triad, but the aim here is the best possible outcome for the restoration of trust and safety.) Feelings of heartache and loss are to be expected, as is par for the course when any relationship ends. Rushing it will not make matters proceed faster, but will probably slow down and interrupt the healing process.

The conclusion of the affair must include the spouse who did not engage in the affair – who until discovery – was in the dark. Now that the affair is no longer secret, concluding the affair needs to occur in the full light of day. It’s best when the partner or spouse is present for all actions to conclude the outside relationship. There can be no more secrets.

SUMMARY

The first step in affair recovery is the conclusion of the outside relationship. Concluding the affair relationship needs to be done with great care so that the couple can proceed to the next phase of recovery.

It is in the best interest of the couple and their future to get this critical part of the process done correctly so that the affair completely ends. If it’s done suddenly, directed by anyone other than the person in the affair relationship, or is a rushed process, unresolved feelings of longing and desire may linger or re-emerge, even if there’s concrete evidence of its conclusion.

After discovery, all interactions with the affair partner–including concluding it–must occur in full view of the spouse or partner who did not engage in the affair and it must take their feelings and level of comfort into consideration.

Approaching the conclusion of the affair relationship in this way helps ensure that the affair relationship ends completely. It also increases the likelihood that the party who did not engage in the affair knows they are the freely chosen one and that their partner genuinely does not want the affair partner.

This approach is slower and more difficult. However, it is much more efficient and delivers better results.

The ending of the affair is a painful process for all parties involved and ending the affair is the crucial first – but often misunderstood and poorly managed – step in the recovery process.

PROFESSIONAL HELP FOR FULL RECOVERY

From the safety and comfort of my office, I help guide and support couples through with the most effective means of ending affairs and relationship repair and recovery. I provide full emotional support to both partners during the process. If you need help on this matter, get in touch today.

For an audio version of this post, you can listen to LoveBonds, the podcast here.

Save