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 the 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 deletes and blocks all electronic avenues of contact between himself and Sarah: email, phone, and social media.
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 end if recovery is to occur, but does an abrupt and forced ‘no contact’ actually work? Does it bring the affair to a screeching halt?
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 relationship’s conclusion and not the two people within it. These parties are the spouse or partner who did not have an 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 the fact that an affair must conclude. However, that’s different from what’s in question.
The sticky point, however, is that the decision to conclude it—and the act of ending it — needs to be initiated and done by the person in the affair for the best recovery outcomes.
When the person involved in the affair purposefully and intentionally directs the conclusion of the affair relationship, it serves to reassure their partner or spouse. Making an independent decision—and then decisively acting–conveys to the partner they hope 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. For example, the partner may feel that they ended the affair because they were under pressure or had no choice.
An analogous illustration that comes to mind is when an adult instructs a child to deliver an apology for wrongdoing. Knowing he’s in trouble and what his parents expect, the child 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.
In the infidelity triad, there are two relationship realms. There is a 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 provides 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 its conclusion will show signs of distress.
The couple may live separate lives, may lack affection and contact, or include bickering and disparaging remarks toward one another. The relationship’s end is approaching.
The affair relationship and for various reasons (including its secret nature), does not exhibit signs of stress, strain, or discord. The relationship is not in decline and is 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.
‘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 breakup. It resembles the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
To further illustrate this concept, consider the parent who disapproves of their child’s friend choice. The parent forbids his child to play with the undesirable friend. What is the standard response to the forbidden friendship? Two people sneak around behind the parent to play with the banned friend.
Forbidden relationships can inspire rebellious acts to communicate with the one placed out of reach.
If ‘no contact’ successfully ‘wins back the ex,’ then it begs the question: “What impact does it have when affair partners go ‘no contact’?”
THE IMPACT ON THE AFFAIR PARTNER
An attachment bond often forms in the affair relationship because affairs comprise bonding behaviors that include secrecy, sex, novelty, and adventure. The bonding can be deep and powerful.
The sudden ending of such a potent, highly intense relationship also affects the reaction and response of the affair partner. Breaking 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 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 whisks away the lover. Abrupt departures are 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 no contact occurs as the affair relationship (appears to) have ended.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
Demonstrating a 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 knows that people do not turn on and turn off relationships with the flip of a switch. Human bonding and attachment 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 lurks in that secret hiding place? There must be more!”
Even when the partner 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 occurring with logic, reason, and rationality. Instead, they are emotional matters, and the emotions have distinctive warning signals and rationality.
Even when partners who did not engage in the affair can 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 partner’s head or heart, where the affair partner may still live and occupy affection.
They wonder, “Do you still think of them? What fond memories do you have of them? 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 deliver peace, calm, comfort, and reassurance, even when all evidence and ‘proof’ suggest a concluded relationship. Doubts remain when trust and safety are 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 they are comfortable with and consider their partner’s feelings, needs, and level of comfort.
The affair’s conclusion must be expedient and swift but not hasty. It requires careful deliberation 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 has decided to remain in their relationship or marriage.
The best way to conclude an affair is to do it with thoughtful intention. Rushing or being hasty may backfire.
The person who engaged in the affair may need some time to experience a ‘breakup’ and grieve. (This is very painful for all involved in the triad, but the aim is the best possible outcome for restoring trust and safety.) Feelings of heartache and loss may surface, as this is true when any relationship ends. Rushing it will not make matters proceed faster but may slow down and interrupt the healing process.
The affair’s conclusion must include the spouse who did not engage in the affair. Now that the affair is no longer secret, concluding the affair needs to occur in the light of day. There can be no more secrets.
The first step in affair recovery is the conclusion of the outside relationship. The affair relationship needs to be concluded with great care so the couple can proceed to the next recovery phase.
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 ends. When conducted 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. 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 comes to a complete stop. 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 complex. 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 the most effective means of ending affairs and relationship repair and recovery. In addition, 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.