Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Ending an Affair: Letting Go and Moving On

Ending An Affair: A 6 Part Series
  1. Make the Decision
  2. Close the Door
  3. Lock the Door – Part 1
  4. Lock the Door - Part 2
  5. Throw Away the Key
  6. Letting Go and Moving On

My internship during my senior year in college was with a thoracic surgeon working with terminally ill patients. At 22, walking patients and family through the stages of grief was more than I had bargained for. The year was 1975 and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' book titled "On Death and Dying" had only been out six years. Sad to say my maturity level in those days kept me trapped in grief's early stages of denial and anger. When I wasn't pretending everything was going to be okay I was pumping a clinched fist at the heavens for allowing such pain.

I had yet to discover the stages of bargaining, depression and acceptance. To this day I'm still learning about grief work.

But one thing I've learned for sure: the stages of letting go apply just as much to ending an affair as they do to death. Both require moving to a place of surrender to what is, and allowing for a transition to something new.

Failure to let go leaves you forever trapped in the land of the "no more and not yet".

Letting go and moving on are two separate processes, but we'll cover both in this article.


Letting Go


Letting go is more than a decision; it is a behavior. It's about surrendering the dreams imagined, and embracing the fullness of current reality. To begin, the denial about your affair partner has to be relinquished.

Openness to a larger collective pool of knowledge is necessary for acquiring new perspective. Talking about the relationship with others who are safe and can help you gain perspective is critical for letting go.

If you continue to live in denial and ignore their faults, you'll maintain the illusion of an unrealistic future. Failure to move beyond denial makes acceptance next to impossible.

Failure to move beyond denial makes acceptance next to impossible.

If you have not come to the point where you see as many negatives with your affair partner as you do with your mate, then you're most likely still in denial.

Impeding Anger

Anger also impedes letting go. Frequently, anger is used to avoid the pain. It's easier to be mad than sad. Rather than facing the emotion we try to transmit it to others and that is simply not fair.

The solution to anger is identifying the emotions behind the anger and having courage to walk through that pain. Suppressing the feelings through rage will only delay the process. Find others who have gone through something similar and who can understand and talk about what you're feeling.

Beating yourself up for what's happened won't move you forward.

Instead be compassionate and work to forgive yourself as well as others to eliminate the bitterness.

Bargaining

After anger subsides our mind begins to bargain, trying to avoid the inevitable end of the affair. Bargaining is a vain expression of hope that somehow the relationship may yet be salvaged.

To move through the bargaining stage, remind yourself that this decision is irreversible.

This is what you've decided is best and that half measures will only prolong the pain for everyone involved. Remind yourself this too shall pass and over time you will heal. Stay focused on your own personal growth to begin seeing ways the loss will be transformed to something more meaningful and beneficial. At times it's facing the inevitable loss of the affair that triggers depression, but that may be a necessary stage to letting go and finding new life.

Likely Depression

Depression is the next grief stage. Some define depression as the inability to create a vision of the future. Letting go requires accepting responsibility for your future and accepting that your future will only be as good as you choose to make it. With loss sadness is natural. But sadness isn't the same as depression's inability to see a new future. While you may not yet see the new possibilities, it begins by believing it's possible. You don't know what it will look like, but allow yourself to dream new dreams and even better possibilities that do NOT include your affair partner.

Moving Towards Acceptance

The final stage of grief is acceptance. It's getting to the place where you see that it is what it is. It's over and it's time to create an even better life. Acceptance is the final stage of letting go. I no longer even long for what was, rather I begin seeing how the loss is being transformed and creating new possibilities.

Acceptance allows you to freely face your future without an anchor of regret holding you in the past.

It's usually not until this stage that we're ready to write our letter of termination. This is a letter that's NOT meant to be sent, but something that serves as a reminder and puts into words our final surrender of the relationship. An amazing freedom comes with endings which then open paths to new beginnings. Don't be afraid to let go and follow a new road.


Moving On


Moving on is about more than letting go. It's a "do over," a second chance to do something better the second time around. It's the opportunity to break out of the mold of other's expectations, take lessons life has taught, and build a more authentic vision for your life.

Many of us who've been involved in affairs have written our mate out of our future, replacing them with our affair partner. It's depressing indeed if we consider renewing our life with our mate when we either have no vision of a future with them or if all we can see is the negative vision we created to justify our affair.

I once heard a story of a man who obtained an audience with a "holy man" he had always admired. When they sat down together the young man immediately began telling this man what he was learning and how he was growing. Eventually as the conversation lagged, the "holy man" asked the young man if he'd like a cup of tea. "Of course," he replied. The holy man then took a cup and began pouring tea. Only he didn't stop when the cup was full he just kept on pouring the tea, filling the saucer, and then spilling tea all over the table as cup and saucer over flowed. "What are you doing?" cried the young man.

"You are so full of your own opinions, how can you consider something new until you first empty your cup?"

Moving on requires a willingness to "empty our cup" to make room for new possibilities. Consider the possibility that you don't really know your mate. Allow yourself to be curious about who they are. Be open to having new conversations.

When I'm working with someone who's moving on (away from the affair), I encourage them to begin getting to know their mate anew. To try and look beyond the history and the stories you've told yourself about them and consider them as a mystery that has yet to be solved. I have couples begin doing strategic planning where they identify a mission and mutual goals. I have them create milestones that allow them to see forward movement. I have them dream dreams of a wonderful future together.

Moving on also requires the support of others who can set an example for new ways to interact. As Einstein says, "No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it." Focus on what needs to be done to build a healthy marriage and minimize those things or people that tear it down. Be intentional.


The chapter you're in now, doesn't have to be the last chapter in the book. As we say at our EMS Weekend Intensives, every great story has at least one bad chapter. If you want tips and direction on how to strengthen your marriage, consider attending one of our upcoming EMS Weekends.

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Comments

How to tell if someone has REALLY "let go" of their AP

My ex-husband divorced me for his AP and she ended their relationship. Initially, he told me he ended it...about 6 months later, I learned the truth, but not from him. When he announced he was leaving me, he denied it was for someone else...another lie. The affair was unknown to me for over a year. He was very much in love with this young (20+ years younger), married mother. He bought a house 2 blocks from mine (yet another secret) and she moved in with him...the beginning of his plans for their permanent future, as he did want to marry her. For the past 4 years we have been "involved", but I question his motives for the relationship. When he left us for his AP, he destroyed his relationship with our son and needed me to repair it. In addition, he spent huge sums of money during the affair, so there were also financial issues. He has lied to me repeatedly and manipulates information in order to control what happens...always to get whatever it is that he wants. He and his AP were very public in their criticisms of me, but he does not speak negatively of her or seem to harbor any anger towards her whatsoever. Because of this I believe that he is still in denial and holds out hope that, at some point, she will return to him. I have no reason, based on his behavior, to think he wouldn't take her back. Our son (only child), left for college and my ex-husband was transferred to another city....so, for the first time he is truly alone. Our relationship, dealing with the affair, building trust, open communication, quality time...validating me and placing a priority on us...has only very recently become important to him. Because of the circumstances...I question the sincerity of his "sudden concern" for me and our relationship. I do not trust his motives and don't want to be used any more. He is very comfortable lying....how do I know if I'm being used, yet again?

perhaps good advice to leave the betrayer as well

My D-day was 8 years ago, he had a 3 year affair with a manlipuative coworker. I have been a faithful follower of this website, and brought myself out of misery. It was a long, hard journey, and even though I asked my husband to join me many times he declined. Not that he wasn't remorseful, embarrassed by his behavior or otherwise supportive of me. We have been in a really good place for a long time, happy, laughing , giggling, lots of affection and attention and yes sex. Our family has been functioning and happy, great four kids. That all changed this weekend. He went out to go shopping--no problem. I planned a bit of rare alone time surprise while he was gone. And lo and behold, he wasn't in a romantic mood. I know him well enough to know exactly when and why that happens, and it turned out to my fault! really? really? Given a few hours I know he'd be fine. Reality has returned with a vengeance. He is pleading with me to believe him that he wasn't in the mood. I'm fighting wanting to believe him, and knowing him intimately for 20 years, and knowing that history has a way of repeating itself. I know I have to leave him, I know I have to shut the door on my dream, and for what my kids don't realize yet. I don't know how to get there, still in the crying stage. Is it possible to hurt even more? He keeps insisting there is no one else, but I've heard and bought into that lie before. Otherwise he won't say anything, I have nothing to go on. I'm at a crossroads, four kids, stay at home mom because his job takes him all over the state. (we couldn't function as a family when I worked) I'm going to go reread the last few articles, and pray for strength. I know he left himself open to this since he never went to counseling, but I'm still floored. I said never again. Maybe the next column should be on the surprise of when it happens again.

Crossroads

Did you find out if he in fact had an affair again? I completely and totally understand your pain and doubt. However, feelings can lie to us. You've been through so much heartache it's probably hard to trust yourself. Ask God to reveal the truth to you if you haven't already found out. It's been almost three years since my D-Day. Sometimes I still feel like it's yesterday. Sometimes it's like I don't even think about them together. The pain has been unimaginable. If he truly did it again, I understand you leaving him. However if it isn't solid evidence continue to pray for light to be brought to it. I cannot blame if you leave. I will leave if it ever happens again, also. I will not walk down this road again because I know in my heart I could never trust him again. I can't live in a relationship like that. It's amazing how I was never a jealous person. I was relaxed and carefree. I trusted him with all I had inside of me. Wow the new perspective I have on life. Not all of it is negative. Truly there are so many positives. However, he has changed like your husband. It has to be a change that is forever. Sincerely wishing you the very best.

Letting Go

I wish my husband had read this (and lived it). It would of made a huge difference in our marriage.

coincidence?

I literally JUST stepped out of my therapist's office and opened up the email with the link to this article. My therapist and I JUST got done talking about this SAME EXACT subject: letting go, and moving on. This article is just as applicable for me, the hurt spouse, as it is for my husband. I can't change the past. I can't change what's already happened. I am learning how to deal with all the triggers and images and deceit of what has happened. No, I can never change what happened, I can only choose to let it go, and choose to move forward into something new. My husband's actions are not excused, and he's dealing with it and making changes that I can see. Because of that, I do see a future. Because I can SEE changes, it makes it easier to trust. I will take what I've learned with me as I go. Thanks Rick. I don't feel this was a coincidence at all, but God reaffirming what I just heard and what I know in my heart. Now, on to healing!

getting over my AP

This has been incredibly helpful. I feel like I have been stuck in anger and then depression. I have been at a loss as to HOW to move out of this...I think it's a really great point about focusing on building a new future together. I like the idea of getting to know one another again, and mutual goals.

Thank you Rick! The last 3

Thank you Rick! The last 3 articles you posted have really helped me. I have been dealing with extreme anger toward my AP lately now that I realize how sleazy he was and how he lied and tricked me for the year we were seeing one another. I struggle with this emotion because it has been over a year since I told my spouse about the affair and my husband and I are doing quite well. This article helped me a lot in dealing with this issue. I really like when you said "The solution to anger is identifying the emotions behind the anger and having courage to walk through that pain." Thank you.

Doubting my judgement....doubting her

The discovery of my wife's affair has made me doubt my judgement. I never thought she could do this and my whole world and reality was lost when I found the pictures and learned about her deceit. I thought she was the last person who would have had an affair. I believe the shock is why it is taking so long to recover.
Everything she does and says shows that she is apologetic, sorrowful, repentant and humbled. She is the picture perfect example of someone trying to reconcile their affair and heal their marriage.

But this hashed me doubt my own judgement. I am having a hard time believing she is truly honest. She did it once and she may do it again. All these recent articles are making me doubt that she has even tellig the truth about her feelings.

How can I really ever know? Blind faith and trust in her did not work before. Why should it be the answer now?

doubting her

For what it is worth, I am in the very same boat a year and a half after discovery of her affair. After 16 years of marriage, I now question whether she had other affairs in the past and whether our whole marriage has been a complete sham. I never would have thought she would do this to me. Who is this person that I am married to? Who is the person who is the mother of our two children? I love my wife to no end, but the absolute hardest thing for me to wrap my head around is whether or not she has told me the truth about anything, anything at all. I doubt my own judgement now. For the first time in my life, I feel hopeless.

Yep..I don't trust her

Wife is still in the midst of an over 2 year emotional affair. D-day was over 3 months ago. She has little self-awareness and is still in contact with the AP. In counseling, but not very motivated to step away from EA. Starting to wonder if I'm being naive to think she will let go and come back to the marriage. I had the same feelings as S; can she ever again be faithful? Do I want to go through my life with someone who isn't who they said they were?

Letting Go

My ex didn’t stop cheating. However, this article helped me deal with the loss and grief and moving on after.

Letting go

Rick, do you have a similar article for the betrayed. I need an article on how to let go and move on. Just do not feel the forgiveness even after 16 months.

Letting go

Hey Sara Eliza, with every person, circumstance, affair and relationship being unique, it stands to reason that everyone's timelines will be different too. Rick wrote in here somewhere that we can expect up to 18 months before we start seeing things in a more positive light. Maybe he's talking about averages? But once again you, your situation and recovery period will be unique too. I'm 2 years and 1 month out from what I call clarity and I'm still asking the same questions and perhaps feeling the same way as you are! The difference for me now is that I know there was nothing I could have done to prevent my wife's affair and nothing I can do to change the past. I'm now living in the present and not really thinking as much of the 2 paths I could take in the future. Yes - I still put on the mask when I'm around her - it works for me, even though I still have many negative thoughts, distrust and disrespect and occasional thoughts about a different future. But it will ease with time, depending on how we use that time. Like I said, it works for me.

My message is don't place too much pressure on yourself and don't place yourself amongst the averages, you are unique too! You will get through this in your own time, as frustrating as that may be. Begin to recognise that you are a pretty special person, with heaps to give and far more strength that you realise. What ever path you decide to take is up to you because of your strength. You hold the power now - just be careful how you use it. That's what's been helping me through my own debacle. I really hope this helps...

Reply to Ozzie andy

Thank you so much for your comments. I understand that it takes time and that I am the one who has to make the decision. It is so hard for me to trust again and even beyond trust, I have issues with the core of an affair which is a lack of integrity. Do I want to live life with someone without integrity. An affair is not a white lite or a spending problem or a drinking problem . It is the worst thing one can do to another in the contract of marriage. So how do you really ever trust someone who has broken the contract in such a serious manner.

I feel the same. It’s a year

I feel the same. It’s a year tomorrow that I found out about my husbands affair of 5 years. He is trying so hard to make us work but I still don’t feel I have the truth and after a year I don’t think I ever will. These secrets are still protecting her and the affair is still shrouded in secret. I want to move on but can’t.

I was the unfaithful spouse.

I was the unfaithful spouse. I still haven't found anything online about how to get over the affair partner and reconnect/heal with your spouse if the spouse is abusive. I am finally getting over the affair partner but still stuck in the depression phase, maybe crossing over into the moving on part. So thankful for that because it has been debilitating. Sadly I feel no attraction to my husband at all, even though I consider him attractive. I haven't for years, maybe because of the abuse (mostly emotional/verbal but occasionally physically, also to our children). I have seen in some of your articles that we can move on and heal even if that means we end up divorcing, but that just means a different future for those in that group. I do know it still can't be a future with the affair partner and I finally accept that. If I do try to work on the marriage to heal "us," well it's hard because there is still no attraction and that bothers him greatly. I don't tell him this but he just senses it and pries it out of me. For months, he has been in counseling for anger but still acts out towards our kids and me. He does not want to end our marriage, but I'm not so sure. I don't know how we could be happy if it stays this way. It's a really bad example for our kids of what a marriage should look like. They already have had emotional problems because of the abusive behaviors, so I'm starting to think that divorce is actually better for every one of us, even if it means each of us being single and lonely for a long time.

Harvest.....I don't know if

Harvest.....I don't know if you will see this response to your comment. While I'm a BS, I can hear the pain in your words.

Even if he is getting help and working on his anger, you do not feel safe. Emotional/verbal abuse leaves scars that aren't visible. You certainly won't find him "attractive" if there is no emotional connection, especially with continued attacks on you and kids. I bet the lack of an emotional connection is what he senses and it bothers him.

While you may end up divorcing, there is a way to set a better example for your kids if you both CHOOSE to get healthy individually and make that decision together without it being emotionally charged while in current unhealthy states. You could consider taking Hope for Healing (you), Harboring Hope (him), or EMS weekend/EMSO (both), deciding to not decide about the marriage for the duration of the course and see if you can each get to a healthier state, then decide or not decide about the marriage/divorce.

Blessings to you!

Reap Love

I could be the betrayed spouse in your story. The situation is so similar that I thought for a few days you might actually be my wife. My thoughts apply to my situation, if you or your children are in immediate physical danger, get somewhere safe and don't look back until you are safe.

For myself the emotional abuse stemmed from not feeling wanted or loved by my wife. There are some legitimate reasons for those feelings but they are compounded by my own baggage. There was very little affection from my family growing up with many hours a day spent alone. Praise was the closest thing to love in my childhood and was given for hard work with results, not just effort.
Throughout our marriage I would criticize my wife and withhold affection thinking she would try harder, give more, and ultimately make me proud of what she had done and thus prove that she really loved me. The sad thing is that I was blissfully unaware of what I was doing until after D-day. Your husband may have a similar story. If your husband is truely changing there will be times when he falls back to old behaviors but those times should be occurring farther and farther apart until they have dissappeared. If that's the case don't give up, attraction will return as you see follow through and results from his efforts to change.

However, change that is one-sided, just one person working on the marriage, will never succeed. Emotional attraction after this kind of hurt, from both sides, is clouded by daily triggers from each other. Your husband hurt you in a way that he can never fix. You have hurt your husband at the deepest levels. To have a chance, you both have to work on yourselves and the marriage. Your husband is seeing a counselor for his issues. Having had an affair I hope you are seeing a counselor too. Give yourselves time to heal and see a marriage counselor together who can help you both learn how to relate to each other in a loving and healthy way while avoiding each other's triggers making space to heal your marriage. That kind of lesson is one few children ever get to learn without experiencing the same deep hurts. You have the opportunity, in partnership with your husband, to teach them a life lesson more valuable than any they can learn in school. There's no need to harvest pain, leave it in the field and plant love in its place. Weed out the pain as it pops up and if the field is fertile enough that love can take hold you stand to reap a harvest of love in the next season.

Letting Go and Moving On

I am in the upside down place of finding it hard to come to a place of acceptance that my marriage is over as my husband who has left me to live with his affair partner is crippled with depression, and told our daughter he is full of remorse and regret, though shows no intention of leaving his affair partner. If he could tell me he had found the happiness he was looking for it would be so much easier - but all he could say was that he couldn't choose between us to I asked him to leave when I found out from her he was still in contact and lying to us both. I don't believe in their relationship though I accept it is happening, I believe in his love for me - weak though it is! He's been seeing her for over three years, (disclosure was 2 years ago) and has been living with her for a couple of months. I question why I would ever want to see him again, and why it can't quite sink in this is real - that he's 'chosen' to live with her and abandon his family. I so want to let go and not even think about him. Any tips?

Trying to move on but spouse won't allow it

I "let go" (ended the affair) 2+ years ago, but because I trickle truthed for almost all of that time, my husband is having a hard time now believing anything I say and won't allow us/himself to move on. I kept withholding information from him at every turn- from details to major events- and understandably so says he's just waiting for more information. Even though I am no longer withholding/lying, my attempts at moving on lay on deaf ears. I want to move on with my husband, rebuild our friendship, create new memories, and get to know him (esp. now that he is sober), but he won't allow me to get to know him. He says he is protecting himself from me and basically our marriage is emotionally and physically empty. Nothing will drive me to cheat again thank God- not even this complete emptiness of a relationship we're in filled with so much pain and resentment from him towards me. I guess I'm just waiting for God and time to do their job and allow him to go through the stages of grief. Maybe now that I've divulged all the painful truth he can truly begin to heal and we can move on together. If any unfaithful out there is still withholding info, I urge you to tell the truth in it entirety to allow your spouse to heal. I wish I had from the beginning and now here I am 2 and half years later with my husband repeating the cycle of processing information and accepting what I've done all over again. He's still been by my side through it all and I pray he can heal and we can begin to rebuild. Telling the truth and answering all the shameful questions he wanted to know has been awful, but I had to face what I did and I finally have once and for all.

Reply to queenz

Thank you for your comments. My husband did the same thing and that has made recovery
So painful. Can you explain why you chose to trickle the truth. Maybe you can help me understand. I would really appreciate your insight.

Healing in Truth

How can I convince my husband that he needs to be truthful for me to heal and move forward? He's been "trickle truthing" for the last two months, I don't want it to go on for 2 years. I want to move on forgive, forget and reconnect. I have told him all of this and he still feels so ashamed he cannot do it. The little bit of this and little bit of that only brings about more questions of trust. I want my life back before the affair. Just a question. Thanks for your honesty.

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