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

Ending an Affair: Lock the Door Part 1


Series:  Ending an Affair

  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

Are you really willing to do whatever it takes to change? Sad to say many people aren’t when it comes to ending an affair. As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” but behavior doesn’t always follow our intentions. Locking the door is about avoiding self-sabotage.

Steph and I have a friend who’s a flight attendant. She’s nice enough, but years of service in the airline industry transformed her into a safety czar. Not only do seat belts have to be fastened appropriately, but everything has to be stowed away and fastened down. She searches for everything that might become a flying missile were there to be an accident and anticipates and corrects what might go wrong. While it seems like a hassle, she’s probably the safest person I know to travel with. She takes no chances.

Locking the door is just like that: it’s anticipating vulnerabilities and preplanning the response. Anything short leaves the door unlocked. It’s not that we plan to fail, we fail to plan. That omission leaves the door unlocked with possibilities for reentry.

Humans live in a state of duality. Even when we decide to change course there’s still a part of us that longs for what we’ve given up. Carlo DiClemente, PhD, and James O. Prochaska, PhD, pointed this out in their work on how people change. We tend to view people as being either in recovery or in denial. In reality, change is a progression. You can see this with any type of change—diet or exercise, for example.

The first stage of change is denial. In the denial stage of change, I’m not even considering there’s a problem. Someone says I need to do this or that, but I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with you?” because I refuse to see it as a problem. This is the stage we’re in before we even consider closing the door.

The second stage is ambivalence. This is that stage where we’re torn and don’t know what to do. I am 50/50—where 50 percent of me wants to shut the door but 50 percent of me really doesn’t want to. I become ambivalent, trying to stay balanced, trying to stay on the fence. When someone puts pressure on me to change, I may push back. But there’s a good chance that if challenged with, “You’re never going to change,” I will respond, “Oh, yes I will.”

The next stage of change is the determination stage. In the determination stage of change, I decide to shut the door and begin planning how that would look. There is probably 53 percent of me that wants to shut that door. But I forget there is still 47 percent underneath that really doesn’t want to.

Many is the time I’ve had someone come in saying they’ve been unfaithful and want to end the affair. They express fear about what will happen if this goes public and tell me they’re willing to do anything. They’ll say “Just tell me what to do so I can stop.” When I answer with, “Tell your wife about the affair” they usually say, “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m not going to tell my wife. Surely there is an easier way.” Is that person willing to do whatever it takes? No.

At this stage, the issue becomes what am I willing to do and what am I not willing to do? Nevertheless, I come up with my plan on how to approach that door and close it. Closing the door is called the action stage. I begin to take steps. That’s how you know somebody is willing to change. They tell their AP it’s over. They tell their mate they are coming home. Initially the action stage is really kind of energizing, because you begin to see some progress and maybe for the first time you feel you’ve made a decision. The only problem with this stage—where now probably 55 percent of me really wants that door shut—is that 45 percent of me that still doesn’t want it shut and is certainly not interested in locking that door. Next I move to the maintenance stage.

This is where I have to lock the door and where the excitement of my change begins to wane. I begin questioning if I made the right decision. In this stage, maintaining the new routine seems difficult with little reward. Old habits seem to reappear and I can become discouraged. And while now there may be 56 percent of me that wants that change, there is still 44 percent that longs for my old ways. Research reveals that it takes from eighteen to twenty-four months just for the change to begin to feel natural. It’s not uncommon for people to give in before that time.

This explains why the next stage of change is relapse. Research shows that relapse is an important part of change. It is one of the stages of change. For those of you thinking, “I’ve already sworn if this happens again, I’m done,” I know this is not what you want to hear. Yet relapse is really an important stage of change because relapse is where I learn what it takes to actually lock the door. As humans, we rarely learn by obtaining more head knowledge. Most lessons are learned through failure.

I am not saying every single person will relapse, nor am I saying that if someone does not relapse they have not changed. I just need you to know that if your mate relapses it does not mean all the work has been for naught. Our goal with this article is to avoid relapse, not give approval for it. Realistically, however, if the worst thing happens, we need to know how to respond and learn from our mistakes. Failure to intentionally lock that door leaves it susceptible to being blown open by any gust of wind.

Next week, I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide on how to lock the door. Hopefully you see how important locking that door to old behaviors is for the safety of yourself and your spouse. If you are ready for change and know you can’t do it alone (none of us can), consider joining the Hope for Healing notification list.



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thank you...

This is so important for all of us to understand, we do not live in a bubble there is always temptation and will always be people trying to get in. It is up to us the married couple to keep it out and "keep the door locked", because if we don't respect each other and our marriage enough to protect it, what makes us think that the people out there are going to respect our vows. They did not make it, so it means nothing to them. The problem comes when we are naïve and think that we don't have to do anything because we all think and have the same values. Which is clearly not true, as faithful spouse are cheated on but we choose not to do the same not because of the lack of opportunity, but rather because of our different beliefs and values. Rick your artical on Denial works great with this one as we all need to open our eyes to the way life is now, affairs are the norm and we must face that it could happen to anyone and do everything in our power to lock it out, don't be afraid to sit down and discuss the possibility and find ways to agree as a couple on how to keep the door locked and protect our marriages. Sadly I think that it is too late for my marriage as my husband seems to stay in denial and he was still caught flirting over a year from or "D day" and can find a way to justify his actions and minimize it and I find that we are just stuck in a vetiuose cycle because he can always justify his actions and so how believes his justification. I am at my wits end and don't think I can waist anymore time waiting for him to see things for what they are and actually realize that he must actively do things to lock the door and keep it locked. I look forward to part 2 to see how this should be done to make sure it stays locked. Good luck to all and God bless...

We are all vulnerable

I had once heard it said that everyone is vulnerable and that the ones who say "it will never happen to me" are the ones who are most vulnerable to affairs because they don't guard their hearts. I was always wary of this and when my husband traveled a lot with his job I found ways to guard mine. I found it was easy to request to be placed in a cubicle or office space with all females and that when I was lonely for a summer, his sister came to stay with me. Even with those measures, I found attention from men flattering and knew that it would have been easy to stray from a husband who seemed to have little care for my well being. I did not have an affair. I came close to an emotional affair a couple of times, though and so I completely understand this concept of locking the door tightly. It is as if the person no longer exists. You have to turn your back and sever ties and make myriads of rat traps that will go off and snap off your toes if you so much as turn in that direction. It was a lot of hard work for a husband who did not love me and left me behind.

excellent write up...

I was the one who was supposed to mess up and cheat on my wife. Everyone doubted I could be faithful. My own family had doubts. My friends would joke there was a pool as to when it would happen. I had cheated on every single woman i have ever been with...why not this one? Its odd, but in a way all of this helped me lock the door. Was I tempted? Every single day. I am an executive at a company and any executive knows they get the attention of the women at the office. but this is not where my biggest test was. My biggest test was at a bachelor party in Vegas. To make a long story short I got approached by two women. Without going into detail, they offered me the world...and while I knew that no one would ever know but me...I decided to stick with the bachelor party. I felt like a god...completely in control of my life and my desires for the first time in my life. I was given the test and I passed with flying colors. Did i think that is missed out on a great physical sensation...i still do. This being said the physical sensation i would have felt is nothing compared to the guilt that would've followed. I traded in a lifetime of guilt for a feeling that I still carry to this day that I am in control of my life and I have never cheated on my wife or my daughter. You might think its hard...and don't get me wrong, the trip to Vegas was hard for many reasons not the least of which I was drinking heavily, but it becomes amazingly easier when you pass your first real test. the first test that you know you can get away with anything, and you decide to not do it not for those who you love...but for yourself. Once you realize that you lock that door for yourself, and you feel how good that feeling is...everything else becomes easy. My second test comes about 1.5 years after my first. I had discovered that my wife had an emotional affair. I looked back at all the times I fought temptation and mentally I wanted revenge. I wanted to bad to hurt her back. But i had gone 15 years without cheating on her, 5 years of not cheating on my daughter (the time we have been together and the time since my daughter was born)...and while i came close to actually planning something. I didn't. I cant honestly tell you that i always feel good about not getting revenge. I am still flip flopping as to actually getting revenge...But there is a part of me that knows that once I am out of this that I will again feel like a god for not breaking my vow and keeping that door locked. Even though now I am being torn apart inside and sometimes rage fills me...I still know deep down inside that I will not make myself feel better by unlocking my door. I felt that way for months after the bachelor party and I know I will feel it again. For those of you who have made it this far...I want you to know I wanted to share my story for one reason and one reason only. I wanted to share a first hand account of the greatness it feels...even through the darkest times in knowing that you have control over that damn door. And for those of us who are known flirts and desire the feeling of being loved from everyone...it truly feels better. I have cheated on many women in my past, but never my wife. I can tell you first hand that even though now in my darkest of times of being the one cheated on...i know the feeling of cheating has on me and its temporary. but the feeling of being able to keep that damn door shut, that alone is carrying me through this time and I know it feels better... Good luck guys....i hope this all makes sense. Its hard to write through all the emotion pouring out...

This article scared the hell

This article scared the hell out of me. I'm already on edge with our 2-years from D-Day upcoming soon. I have all sorts of insecurities, disappointment and shame already swirling in my head. The very thought of my wife having experienced this (having any remaining desire for her AP) is mind-numbing. I'm not sure if she ever felt this way, as she seems genuinely remorseful and repulsed by her affair...but the thought that she could be still lying to me has done nothing but amplified all my fears and insecurities. I hope and pray that she is the exception and is being honest, but I'm now afraid she has never told me the truth. How will I ever know? I would be devastated if she was not telling me the entire truth.

I also agree that articles

I also agree that articles like these are tough to read. However, keep in mind that although many affairs follow the same pattern every individual is different and may experience varying degrees of these stages. I am about a year post discovery and I still live with many fears and insecurities at some points. The thought of my husband longing for his AP is nothing short of torture. I have been working hard to counteract those emotions and they do seem to be diminishing more and more. I look back over the past year and go back through the tremendous improvements we have made in our marriage and the great strides my husband has made as an individual. We still talk about the affairs and continue to work through what is necessary. Not only does my husband comfort me with his words but most importantly with his actions. It sounds as if your wife is also taking responsibilty. I genuinely believe that a betrayer cannot be relentless in their efforts to save their marriage and themselves if they are hiding things. They would have to build some type of wall again. So although some of these stages may have occurred with your wife early on it is more important where she is now. In the beginning stages of recovery the unfaithful are not operating properly and it does take time to arrive at the truth. They are sick and in great need of a lot of help. If your wife is still taking responsiblity for her recovery, then I would try to release a little of that fear so that you can have a better quality of life. I know exactly how it feels to live with those thoughts. God bless and good luck with your journey. I hope that soon your fears and anxieties will start to fade and heal.