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

Ending an Affair: Lock the Door Part 1


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.

Anticipating Vulnerabilities

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 work1 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.

Stages of Change


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 times 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.



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.

This explains why the next stage of change is sometimes, relapse. Research shows that relapse can be 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, or even relapse type behavior 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.

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. Recovery in many ways can be about locking some doors and opening up other doors. Our EMS Weekend is a safe and expert driven place to help you and your spouse open up your heart again. I hope you'll consider attending our next EMS Weekend.

1Prochaska, James O.; Norcorss, John C.; DiClemente, Carlo C.; Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994. Print.



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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.


How is it even possible to live through 18 to 24 months with a spouse who might relapse.
No spouse deserves that level of pain.

it changes who you are

My husband was involved for 2 years before I clued in. We had not been intimate for that period because we had a serious argument and he was very angry. I my simple mind I took the rejection of intimacy as his stubbornness but never crossed my mind about him having a mistress. I got a few phone calls from a cousin and also a stranger which made me question what was going on in his life I didn't know about. He finally told me of his "really good friend". I had questioned both of them several times but always got the same, "We're just really good friends". The clues were there. He would come home with belt loops missed, underwear inside out etc but refused to fess up. This went on for another 6 years. Yes, 6 years. I was suicidal and he finally told me they had been having an affair but he broke it off a year previous. 8 years of my life. I have changed. I am not sure I will ever feel secure again. He even confessed they had taken a vacation together. When he told me he needed to get away (I didn't know about her at that point), we were having problems, no intimacy, no communication, living together but miles apart, ) I wanted to go with him hoping to build some bridges. He refused. That hurt thinking all those years he had gone alone. He also confessed buying her a past, present future gold necklace. That killed me more than the sexual betrayal. He has never bought me gold now a past present future piece of jewelry. As I had remained faithful and committed, the pain still overwhelms me at times. It has been 3 years since D day. He still says it's my fault because he was mad at me. Cowardly. He also told her when he was breaking it off, "It looks like the people who didn't want us together have won". He just doesn't get it and likely never will.

Nita - He doesn’t get it

Sometimes a mans emotional maturity never moves past 3rd grade. I violated my partners trust, and it has taken me years to understand the pain I caused. That change has only happened after years of recovery work. Those entwined in sexual addiction will only see those that hinder their addict as obstacles. You need to recover your own self worth, and know that his issues are part of his illness and will likely not change until he owns the destruction he caused. The sad part is that now I am free of many of the challenges and have come to terms with the hurt I caused, but it’s too late because we divorced and I’ve had to leave that chapter of my life. I have chosen to never ever let that type of addiction control my life and hurt others, and it has transformed my life.

Locking the door

What I just read in regards to locking the is very enlightening to me. I am dealing with my husband and he swears that his emotional affair is over!
But, will not talk to me about the affair. I do see signs in his behavior that give me encouragement and some reassurance. However, I feel like he is probably still talking with her and giving me the right signals making me feel secure. I feel like this article is spot on with how he may be feeling.
Should I send him this link?

My wife ended her affair a

My wife ended her affair a few months before I found out, yet she never deleted his Facebook, phone number etc. When I asked her why, she couldn't answer. Even 2 years later she cant answer. She says I just didnt think about it. Can anyone help me understand what that is?

She doesn't want to close the door

I am an unfaithful spouse. My wife asked me to delete my AP's number and block her on FB. I did out of respect to her, not because I wanted to. If I had my way, I would have kept all the info, even if I wasn't planning to reach out. Why? Because deleting all that info is like deleting her out of my life forever. And that is just such a painful, painful thought for me. Selfish, yes, but also painful. So I'm willing to get your wife doesn't/didn't want to delete the info because of the same reasoning. Even if she hasn't reached out, just knowing it's there is comforting, despite that being wrong.


My husband deleted all contact information and we also blocked all social media. He also told her that even if we divorce, he will not see her again . He now realizes that he was a sucker for a lonely woman who gave him attention. I was taking care of a sick patent while the 6 week affair was going in. Our lives are forever changed. Delete the information. You do not need plan B ----if you plan to make your marriage work. If a person who conspired to conceive and lie is your idea of comfort---you might need emotional counseling.

That happened to me too

Yes, that happened to me too. During "post disclosure investigations" I found my wife's AP's phone number was not deleted, and was cleverly hidden under the name Lorelle. At the time I didn't understand why someone who was supposed to be recommitting to our relationship would do this. And what else was still happening or being hidden? Her guilt ridden answer was "I thought maybe we could stay friends". Hmmmm. As we know, there's the truth and then there's the real truth. As Rick pointed out - she was leaving the door open, it wasn't completely over and maybe far from it. I guess it's the same for you rectifythis. It's a very very hard slog for us as the betrayed, and I really dont buy into the idea that a relationship can be better than before an affair. Only a betrayed partner can understand that 24/7 pain we go through, the destruction and the wondering if we've done the right thing by staying. But in that loneliness, at least you find being alone may not be so bad after all.

"But in that loneliness, at

"But in that loneliness, at least you find being alone may not be so bad after all."

So true! Today my DH asked me if I thought I would prefer to be alone. I paused in my response, which he noted. I said no, but sometimes I do wonder. What I do know now, is that if we divorce I will be fine. I do believe him that now, 21 months after he finally broke off his affair, he is being faithful, but I'm still dealing with the pain of the betrayal on a regular basis. I still wonder if I should leave.

Core changes

As much as I hate to blame the affected spouse, I think you have to know that the core issues that opened the door to the affair are still there if both of you just pickup where you left off, it sounds like her shame drove her to end the affair, but she still doesn’t feel safe with you. Do you look into her eyes every day and tell her how wonderful she is? Do you love her like she’s the most valuable person in the world to you? Do you drop everything when she needs to talk to you? Her affair partner probably will, and just knowing that can be a comfort to her. It’s wrong for her to keep the door open, but it sounds like you may need to find out a new way to romance her that was missing.

Reply to affair causes

I am so sorry but there is no reason for an affair. There is nothing your spouse can do to cause an affair unless you gave her / him the choice. Anyone who believes that ---is only deceiving themselves. Perhaps you were not happy or perhaps you felt rejected---- counseling would have probably been more beneficial than an affair. My recovery began when my spouse finally gave me a heartfelt apology.

There's a lot to be said for a heartfelt apology

Sara Eliza you are so right! There is nothing I could have done to prevent this, and a heartfelt apology would go a long way for my own healing. Unfortunately I got the apology that a child would give if they spilt some milk, simply because she doesn't really understand the implications for me. And how would she? - she's never been cheated on.

And thanks for your comment James 001, I understand what you're saying and you are also correct - however, as you know, every situation is unique. Affairs happen even in the most warm, caring, loving, equal and trusting relationships. There's an article by Rick somewhere in here that addresses this, that's my situation. My wife had some counseling and found self esteem issues, selfishness etc to be at the core of this debacle. Put that together with primal human instinct NOT to be monogamous, the inability to walk in someone else's shoes, general boredom with the daily slog of life and many other reasons (not excuses) that we read about here - the affair gauge reads LIKELY loud and clear. So your right about feeling safe, except she didn't feel safe within herself. The trouble for the betrayed is what does the gauge read now? It's a real gamble and you've got to re-equip yourself with self worth and the knowledge that I'll be ok by myself for your own backup.

Now back to rectifythis's issue - affairs generally begin slowly and they die with similar pace. The unfaithful partner may not place so much value on our requirement to stop all contact for all the reasons above and more. The inability to provide an explanation could be due to a number of reasons, but it's likely that she hasn't let go of those "wonderful" feelings and reactions at that particular stage and is leaving the door open for the fantasy of relapse. That doesn't mean she will relapse - just means it's a possibility. That's what I think Rick was getting at too?

Have to Agree

There are ALWAYS better choices one can make, and if someone doesn't BOTHER to even consider or research those, that's an inherent flaw in THEM, not in the betrayed. I almost want to laugh....through the intense and lingering pain...a "heartfelt apology"? Nearly 4 yrs after discovery (not willing disclosure) and I've still not received one of THOSE! All I get, still, is defensiveness and turning around the blame back on ME. I keep saying no one was pointing a gun at his head, yet there's still no personal accountability expressed.

Stay or leave

I have two friends who stayed after their husbands affairs and two who divorced.

The two who left seem much happier than the ones who stayed so maybe while divorce is scary--- it is also an opportunity to move forward . Why should anyone feel compelled to live with a person they cannot trust?

We stay out of obedience! We

For some of us.....who come from faith...We choose to stay out of obedience! We stay because God whispers in our ear. We stay because we took vows and believe in the promise’s of God. Just because our spouse broke their vows doesn’t mean we have to. We stay because our hope is in Jesus! Our trust is 100% in Jesus, not our unfaithful spouse! It may not be that way for you but it is our heart's desire to stay.

My hope is in Jesus

Thank you! You described exactly why I continue to cling to hope for our recovery after my husband of 44 years left me 40 days ago after disclosing a 4 year affair. All i’ve read here tells me that this is way bigger than anything I can do on my own. Only God can change his heart, and only if he is willing to do this. He said he thought I didn’t love him anymore even though the evidence is overwhelming that he is the one who checked out. Even after he admitted he was wrong about that and knew I always loved him, he went ahead with 15 day vacation with AP in Fiji. The devastation he left behind with our kids, grandkids and family is heartbreaking. I am working on taking care of myself, reading all I can to understand this mess. Without God, I’d could not have survived this intense pain. He is my hope, my future, my comfort.

Steps to cutting things off

One of the things my husband told me when he was trying to cut things off with his AP was that he was trying to push her away while at the same time keep me close. It took him three or four tries/relapses before he was finally able to cut things off. At that point I had filed for divorce, but not yet served him with the papers. He must have felt that I was done, because he wrote me a six page paper explaining things and telling me he really didn't want to lose me. He broke up with her for good on Thanksgiving 2016. On that day, I told him if he went with her for dinner I was done for good. He called and broke it off--he had already broken things off at least three other times before, but that time it stuck. He also started therapy the next day. We then decided to go ahead and get divorced in early December because he couldn't seem to get her out of his heart, but the interesting thing was, she pressured him to go home with her--she got drunk at a work dinner (they are co-workers) and he agreed to drive her home, but then told her he would not go into her house, nor see her anymore. He came home and told me about it and asked me to please not leave. So after we decided to actually divorce he was finally able to stand up to her. I always found that weird, but I guess the finality of me leaving gave him the strength to really say no to her permanently.

Despite all of this, I didn't feel like he was truly over her for a good six months to a year after that incident. He said he didn't really want to be with her even if we divorced, but, he had a hard time letting go--and this was especially true any time I tried to talk to him about us divorcing--that would drive him straight to her.

By 2018, he was back to being himself, and we just celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. I still think about leaving. Staying has been hard--and I probably would not have stayed, except he had a tumor we found in January of 2017. He had already broken things off with his AP at that point, but even if they had been together, she 'doesn't do hospitals' and since I love him, I couldn't bear the thought of him dealing with that scariness alone. In the end, his tumor was benign, but it had over a 90% chance of being cancer. After that, I've just continued to stay and take one day at a time.

Some days are better than others. My DH is sorry for everything, and yet the pain for me is still intense. He continues to work with his AP, although they are no longer friends and she has a boyfriend now. She made things hell for him at work for a while, and played the victim, even though she went after him HARD while knowing he was married. He is careful to communicate where he is and what he is doing now, as I know he wants to make me feel secure about things. And he told me recently he can't bear the thought of ever losing me, and I believe him.

So, I have survived the relapse as the betrayed. My marriage is certainly much better now in MANY ways--I am appreciated. I hope the pain continues to abate over time. I'm trying to enjoy the better marriage I have now, and I know nobody is perfect.


You are correct. Noone is perfect and forgiveness is the foundation of the faith I cherish. However, I do believe an affair is much more painful than the death of a spouse .

Sara Eliza

I agree Sara Eliza. I believe the death of a spouse would be easier than the betrayal of an affair. You seem to be very sad, hurt, angry, and bitter. I have been you. It's the hardest thing to get past. We will be coming upon 5 years since D-Day in January. I chose to stay. Time does make it less painful, but your spouse definitely has to come through for you or you will never be able to get past the betrayal. I'm hoping and praying that you will give yourself plenty of time to heal and maybe, just maybe your marriage will survive.

When Failure Results in Nothing But More Failure

" As humans, we rarely learn by obtaining more head knowledge. Most lessons are learned through failure."

Yes, *except* when your spouse tells you they have never LEARNED anything from failure, except to just "carry on." THEN what??? You can't get through to anyone this oblivious.


I am the betrayer. I cannot emphasize more strongly how important it is to completely lock that door with as many deadbolts as you can find. I am currently stuck in a situation where I have to communicate with my AP partner because of a complicated legal situation. I yearn to lock that door because as long as it is open I am subjected to the AP sending me messages and texts with subtle hints. I hate it. I want it to stop. My husband knows that I want it to stop and I am waiting out the situation when I can finally cut this person completely out of our lives. I am counting the days...Until then, for those of you that have a choice: DEADBOLT. It will save you and your spouse months (years?) of pain and struggle. Trust me. Do it.

So here is the thing. All of

So here is the thing. All of it makes sense about locking the door but how would you help somebody who is being forced to lock the door because the AP has suddenly gone cold and non responsive. Hoping to not get judgmental comments please, but I feel like the decision to re-build what I have is not my decision but I am doing so because there is no other way. There is helplessness and rejection and bitterness and guilt and regret and what not. There is regret the size of a mammoth for trusting in someone blindly. And then there is no, absolutely no way of breaking this to my partner and seeking any support there or expecting a change in his behavior that may help me bury this emotional episode for good. Seems like a dead end.

Pain of letting go

Perhaps you are in a much better place now. I do understand your pain. In my case I chose to close the door 4 times but didn't lock it ....the 5th time I closed it but sensed then my AP was worn by the constant closing and then one of us making contact and reconnecting / opening the door. I've not had any contact for 6 months and we ended the affair 9 months ago .... no matter who closes the door, there will always be unfinished business for both ... and it's hard ... talking to others and reminding yourself that eventually the AP, outside the cloud of secrecy in a fantasy world, is not the person they would be if you lived with them day in day out ... let alone the fact that no amount of feeling right will make it right ... let alone the hurt it would cause to continue. Don't rule out breaking this to your partner ... perhaps by now you're in a better place.

What type of affair was it?

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