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

Ending An Affair: Throw Away the Key

Love is usually the force compelling us to leave affair partners and return home.

For some this statement may seem confusing. We believe it was actually love that drew us away in the first place. However, we often times find that we were mistaken and heavily confused.

On the day I married Stephanie I swore I would love her till death do us part. I wanted to be a man who loved his wife, who would protect her and provide for her. I wanted to be a good father and someone who would support and guard her best interest. I never fathomed that I would dishonor her or disrespect her. My heart was to love her to the best of my ability. I also wanted to be a man of integrity.

That sentiment reflects my true heart. At the core of my being is a heart that loves, is compassionate, kind, concerned and caring. However, I have other parts of my being that want to be loved and want to feel good about me.

All of us live in a state of duality.

To please both sides is impossible.

I say that in an attempt to help those of you closing the door on an infidelity understand why throwing away the key is a necessity. The other side of me that wanted the affair is both crafty and cunning. While my true self wants to return home, there's a good chance the part of me that entered into the affair may still crave those feelings of affirmation.

Failure to throw away the key leaves me vulnerable to something I know my true self does not want.

If you've betrayed your heart and fallen into self-deception, self-sabotage remains an eminent threat. This leaves you as your own worse enemy. Avoiding self-sabotage requires guarding your own motivations and actions. Here are a few pitfalls that can unintentionally sabotage our resolve when ending an affair.

Guilt and Shame:

Feelings of guilt and shame generated by terminating the relationship create temptation to contact the affair partner to let them know how bad you feel for disrupting their life. While the thought of trying to help their pain might seem noble, the basis is self-centered. Telling them you feel bad for hurting them only fortifies your image in their eyes and reinforces their attachment to you. Pretending to be the good guy may help with the guilt and shame, but does little or nothing to help your affair partner move on. You don't need them to tell you that they're hurting any more than you need to tell them that you're hurting, because you're already aware of that reality. This temptation to let them know how you're doing is only a dimly veiled attempt by your other side to sabotage your recovery.

Four years after my affair I remember telling Stephanie that I still felt bad about what I'd done to my affair partner. I asked what she thought about my calling her and letting her know how bad I still felt for hurting her and her family. "Haven't you already done that?" she asked. "Why do you feel a need to do it again?" As I thought about it I realized that even after all those years there was a part of me still vulnerable to contacting her. I agreed with Stephanie and never made the call.

I now realize part of my problem was a failure to forgive myself for what I'd done. As long as I failed to accept I was forgiven I was in danger of allowing guilt to serve as the key for unlocking that door.

It's our inability to forgive ourselves that leaves us vulnerable.

You don't need your affair partner to forgive you or for them to be okay with what's happened before moving on. You have to fully let go of that relationship to move forward. Circumstances have changed for you both and you each have equal opportunity to make new choices and find new beginnings. The temptation to tell the other party how bad you feel is especially strong if you played the role of rescuer in your extramarital relationship. Let go of the self-deception that tells you they can't get along without you.

As much as the truth hurts they will very likely do much better without you.

A technique to move beyond this temptation is to write yourself a letter from your affair partner telling you how well they've done since you've moved on. The story you tell yourself doesn't have to be one of doom and gloom. It's far more likely they'll do well. Allow that reality to be a part of the story you tell yourself.

The "Someday" Vision:

Eliminating the belief that maybe someday life will bring us together is critical in throwing away the key. If you hang on to the dream that maybe someday we'll get together you'll never fully move on. Tell yourself this relationship is permanently over and will never be. The future has to be rewritten.

Typically those in affairs create an illusion of a future together. That dream, of how life will be, is often the most intriguing part of the relationship. While things might be miserable now we imagine how wonderful it will be when our dreams all come true. In reality tomorrow never comes. Circumstances account for only 10% of happiness. Even if we had the life we've created in our head, it most likely wouldn't satisfy. If you can't do it today you certainly won't be able to do it tomorrow. Even worse, believing that someday you'll have the right circumstances to make you happy impedes your motivation to do the necessary work to find your own internal source of peace today.

Deciding this relationship will never be, is critical.

Failure to do so hinders your ability to dream and cast a new future. Even if your current relationship doesn't work out, the dynamics that made that relationship appealing will no longer be in place. Let it go. While it's scary letting go of that fantasy it's a must. You'll never experience new beginnings as long as you close yourself off to new possibilities by clinging to a fantasy. Once you accept it will never be, a whole new world opens up and self-sabotage becomes far less likely.

Breaking the Ties that Bind:

"The parts of the story that remain untold
are the places where the devil has a stronghold."

-Dan Allender

Eliminating secrets is essential to throwing away the key. It's not that your mate needs to know all the gory details, but you at least need to bring to light the secrets involving your affair partner.

If there's contact let your mate know. Even if it's them contacting you it needs to be brought to the light. Maintaining any type of deception leaves you vulnerable to heading back down that path.

Intimacy with your mate is crucial to rebuilding trust and shifting the loyalty in your heart. If you hold secrets to protect your affair partner you'll never fully break the tie. That secret will leave you forever in a covert relationship with your affair partner. Breaking the code of silence frees you from having to protect your affair partner and allows you to move back toward your mate.

Living in the Past:

The final pathway to self-sabotage is the euphoric recall. Life happens in the moment, not in some past event. It's tempting to dwell on ecstatic moments generated during the infidelity. (Have you ever noticed how it's not that tempting to fantasize about the lousy moments the two of you had together?)

The part of you that wants to focus on those fantasies isn't your true self. It's the part that's interested in self-gratification at the expense of others.

One way to combat that temptation is to ask yourself what you've done lately to create that sort of delight for those in your family. To throw away the key, your focus has to be on how well you're loving rather than evaluating how well others are loving you. You have to maintain a heart of compassion and concern rather than seeing others as objects you need to manage in order to get your needs met.

Living in the past or future robs us of life's reality and leaves us incapable of loving others. Ending an affair requires learning to find enjoyment in each of life's moments. It requires being awake and aware of life's blessings as we flow through life.

Once you've thrown away the key by fortifying yourself against self-sabotage there's only one more step: letting go and moving on.

At Affair Recovery our hope is for you to find an extraordinary life of meaning and purpose. Believe it or not, you or your spouse's infidelity can serve as a catalyst to move you to better places. Don't let what's been the worst part of your life cause you to believe life will never be what you want.

There is hope for something far better.



RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:


This is a marvelous and

This is a marvelous and helpful article, much needed and much appreciated.

Ending the Affair: Throw away the Key

Hear! Hear! Great article.
It struck the chord of "truth" within me.
Thank you.

I would like to add this

I would like to add something here. As a spouse that has been cheated on,(nearly a year ago) I feel it is very important for my spouse who had the affair to stay away from places that he and the affair person shared, (as well as the friends who shared in the affair) Even if this requires him to change jobs. If they must travel out of town and be near where the affair person is they should take their spouse along or not go! Even years after breaking it off why risk the chance of running into that person? Or worse, having the two of you run into them. This should be a no brainer, but my spouse travels for their work and how can I feel safe knowing they are anywhere close to that person. I would like people who have had affairs to realize just how much damage what they have done causes, and how very deep the pain is for us. It is the most horrible feeling I have ever experienced in my life. Even death is kinder as there is no other path, life ends and we move on. After a affair there is no end for us. The pain will always be there, what happened will never be erased our hearts and memories. We may move on but what has happened will always be deep within us, always. My spouse has had several affairs that have increased each time in the intensity. They have always said to me you need to get over it and move on and learn to trust me. I say why should I. They need to earn that trust, and putting themselves back into situations and places where the affairs began and took place is just stupid, and asking for trouble. For the spouse that has had the affair, recovery from the ordeal seems to come much quicker it seems, and why not they did something horribly wrong, are sorry for it, maybe go to a therapist, end the affair and move on. We on the other had have so much more to deal with in our hearts, souls and minds. One of the biggest things I feel I need to help me recover and move on is to feel safe. Knowing that my spouse will be anywhere near the affair person, or friends that shared in the affair, does nothing to make that feeling possible. We also need them to be totally open and honest, because believe me we are watching very closely for everything. We have been violated and abused and we do not feel safe or protected after what they did. We need to know we are loved and their top priority. I can tell you that my self worth took a major beating after these affairs, How can we feel good about ourselves when the person we have trusted , loved and devoted our lives to has done what they have, The pain of knowing you were not enough to this person goes very deep, and takes a lot of hard work to repair. Please don't expect us to bounce back to the person we once were, we are no longer that person and probably never will be totally. We have been robbed of so much by what you have done. It is a much harder road for us to travel, and you need to realize you are very lucky we are even giving you another chance, If you are serious and truly sorry for what you have done please give us the time, love, honesty, and real devotion we deserve, show us we are safe, make us your first priority always, do whatever it takes. It will all help us in find our way back and letting it go so we can move on.

Beautifully Said……..

I don't think I'll be able to recover from the damage my partner has decided to inflict on me or my family. Since he was the initiator of an inappropriate moment with my Aunt, who did not reciprocate, and who ultimately told me of his attempt - I have no way of keeping them separated during family functions and other events. We were all very close with each other. He is remorseful and full of regret and apologies and begs for me to forgive him and trust him once again, but the pain goes beyond a fling with a stranger; it was attempted with a trusted and loving member of my family. I don't think my heart could take the vulnerability of this happening again even with a stranger. Your words actually helped me make my decision to not move forward with our relationship. I can forgive him, and even my Aunt who played her part in this as well, but i can't build a life based on love and safety when the indiscretion was so blatantly disrespectful.

Moving on

My husband had an emotional online affair with an old girlfriend. We had been married 31 years when the affair started. It had been going on for 11months when I discovered the emails and had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say, I went through a lot with the cancer treatments and learning my husband had been unfaithful. He immediately ended the affair and we have since worked through our problems. During their online affair, she managed to talk him into lending her $5000 for her son as a down payment on a house. He told her she had 2 years to pay it back. So far we haven't received any money. I do not want him to contact her and he agrees because it would be "opening the door". I feel as though the door has never been shut because of this stupid loan. I want to contact her and tell her what a swindler she is and demand the money back now but am fearful she may try contacting my husband. He has since changed his email and cell phone number but I know with today's technology anyone can be easily found. At the end of the 2 year deadline which is May 2014, my husband says someone is going to have to contact her. He has agreed it will not be him and says I may have to do it. It makes me sick at the thought of speaking to his affair partner but we desperately need the money. How do we lock this door and throw away the key?


Let the money go-even if you contact that woman she is under no obligation to repay you unless you take her to court. There were many expenses that were part of my husbands affair-but money was the least of the damage. Look at it this way-would you pay yourself $5000 to close the door on this and put it behind you? Then that's your bill of sale-it's cheaper than a divorce lawyer, hug each other and get on with your lives-if you value your marriage-it's priceless.

Living in a dream

Thank you for your newsletter. My husband and I are just past the one year anniversary of my coming out about an affair that grew over the course of a year, and our committing to repair our marriage. I have learned so much about human nature and our ability to block out the things we don't want to see, and the fleetingness of emotions that seem so real when you are in them. What started out as an innocent trust of someone who claimed to be a healer and offered to help me through a traumatic crisis in my life evolved into an emotional affair that nearly destroyed my marriage. Without the right influences at the right time, the right counseling, the right responses from loved ones, this could have easily ended in a divorce as so many do. And the reality is that it isn't easier. I see it in family members and their children and its heartbreaking to know that they will never have a family again that is truly unconditional. When you break a bond of marriage, particularly when raising children (I believe the hardest time in my marriage), your relationship doesn't end, it complicates. I could never have believed that I would love my husband again but I was reluctantly (angry even at times) but willing to give it that last shot because he was a good dad and I couldn't bear taking the kids away from him. We both took steps to claim our part in the damage that was done and made real, drastic changes. We both had made damaging choices that led us apart and for the first time had to face them. At first it was going through the motions but there came a moment, after weeks of work and a trip away to focus on just us, when we both realized the gift we had and how no other person would be able to replace the bond between us. No person would share the love we shared for our family, our children, the history that brought us to this place. And it was like a switch went off from one day to the next. In our case, unbelievably, and with a miracle, our relationship was stripped of every facade and expectation from anyone else and it was down to us. We took responsibility for our actions and accepted the consequences. We were able to see that we could love each other truly, unconditionally. Not just because it was the right thing to do but because it was everything we ever wanted. I'll speak for myself but pretty certain he shares that feeling because we talk about it. It doesn't mean we don't have bad days, they come and go. I know the reminders of my betrayal are still painful and he has to decide to let them go as I have to deal with my guilt. But they have lessened. It doesn't mean pain doesn't resurface at times, we still have to take steps to reconfirm our relationship in the busy-ness of life. There is no doubt in my mind that now, more than ever, I am blessed with the man God gave me. So unbelievably grateful. I read these articles and finally know I owe my AP nothing. He doesn't exist for me any more than I for him. I now see that had I followed my passion in that moment and pursued some fantasy person, who really didn't exist, my family would be broken. I would be starting over on a false foundation and soon enough our flaws would be revealed, reality would set in. There is no dream person out there and to live in an affair is just an escape from reality and from doing the work we are here to do. Neither one in an affair is really in a relationship with another person but a mere mirage, one that is tempting when life gets so hard. I know I'm married to my dream man, the one still full of flaws (not abusive ones) but who is ok with my flaws too amazingly. The one who stood by me through everything and will stand by me no matter what. And I will do the same. What more could I want? We accept each other now as we are but only because God gave us the gift of letting go of the past. Its gone. It only serves as a reminder of the rare and precious gift it is to know someone so completely and love them through this complicated learning process we call life. May God give you that gift of forgiveness and acceptance. May you feel some hope that the commitment you made in marriage can carry you through the darkest time, a time that can lead us to want to give up on life even, and to know that there is love and laughter and hope and joy on the other side. Reality can be a good thing. It can be better than you imagine.

I just wanted to say thank

I just wanted to say thank you so much. This is actually the first time I've ever posted anything on any site and it brings me hope that some day I will be saying some of the same things I just read from you. Thank you again and Im so happy for you and your family..


Thank you for this excellent and helpful article! I pray all who read it will be moved, and take steps toward freedom and restoration! To God be the glory!

Letting go of my AP was easy but repairing the damage is not

Like Rick, I wanted to be a woman who loved her husband, who would grow old with him and love him forever. I wanted to be a good mother and would support my family's best interests. I never fathomed that I would dishonor and disrespect my husband. My heart was to love him to the best of my ability. I also wanted to be a woman of integrity.

I am embarrassed and ashamed of my affair. However, unlike some of the affairs described within this site, I have NO residual attachment to my AP. I never want to see him or communicate with him again. I feel no responsability or affection toward him, whatsoever. I don't blame him for our affair as I hold myself to be accountable. All thoughts of him reinforce my own failure and shame. Moreover, remembering those awful feelings of remorse and regret during my affair highlight the blessing of a healthy, loving relationship, which is what I hope to rebuild with my husband.

I wanted to share my feelings so that hurt spouses know that some cheating spouses really can let go.

Sarah - You really made me

Sarah - You really made me cry. If you didn't write your name, I would have thought this was written by my wife. I hope you realize that your husband probably loves you for your efforts and your dedication. He's probably loved you this whole time, but never understood the importance of telling you. I hope he has the fortitude to forgive and let it go.
For me, I cannot let go of the betrayal. I wish I could, because I know how earnestly my wife despises her actions, how repentant she is, and how much she really does love me. It was simply a stupid decision she made in being caught up in false adoration (by a predator) that was filling in for her own personal insecurities. I wish she would not have made that decision to have the affair, particularly the physical portion.
We would sacrifice anything if we could just turn back time and stop it from happening...but we cannot, but your words to bring much comfort to me.
I don't know if we will make it through, but your words will ring in my head every time I think of letting her go. I know the hope and desire are pushing the relationship forward. I hope the soft heart can follow.

Infidelity with Partner's Family Member

I discovered three days ago that my fiancé and my Aunt had some sort of inappropriate action between the two of them. I am extremely close to my Aunt - she's like a second mother. She's 65. I am also very much in love with a man whom I've known for many, many years. We are 49. He has two adult children and a grandchild. I do not have children. We were making plans to get married soon. My second marriage and his fourth. My Aunt is a wonderful hostess, vivacious and very outgoing and full of energy. She's a lot of fun, but is also known to drink too much. She asked my fiancé, who had also engaged in heavy drinking on this night, to put her to bed. As if she couldn't manage herself. He put her in bed and then touched her inappropriately and pushed him self into her. I am assured by both parties that there was no sexual contact. This night happened six months ago. My Aunt was the one who just told me about it. She lied about the story and sugar coated it. When I confronted fiancé, he told me the story and the details. I am heartbroken, and so incredibly angry at both of them. My Aunt called me to BEG me to forgive him, that it didn't go anywhere, that he loves me, that he's crazy in love with me and not throw away our relationship over a mistake. My fiancé is begging me to forgive him, that he'll do anything - counseling, whatever it takes to not lose me. It's only been a few days, and I've screamed and cried and talked with him. I haven't talked to my Aunt yet, other than to scream at her via phone message. I later apologized in a text. Although she hasn't admitted it, she owns part of this as well with her hanging all over him in the past. He told me that is what she was doing that night. No excuse for a grown man who is supposedly devoted to his fiancé. Part of me wants to run the opposite direction as fast as I can and the other wants to forgive and move forward. I'm not sure I have the capability. I have to see my Aunt for the rest of my life, and unfortunately, the situation is complicated further due to the fact that he just bought her late husband's house which is 15 miles from her house. He works in the same city that she lives in at least two weeks out of the month. I live in another city 200 miles away. He lives here with me the other two weeks and also travels. Any thoughts? I could use some advice and insight as soon as possible. This is tearing me apart.

Add new comment | AR

Hello there, You've done an excellent job. I'll definitely digg it and personally recommend to my friends.

I'm sure they'll be benefited from this website.

Throwing away the key. Intimacy.

Threw it away after locking the door. Confident in that. The point of commenting is somewhat related.

Throughout our marriage and my multiple affairs, I didn’t value intimacy with my wife. Don’t know why I never did, just a self-centered jerk.

Intimacy with her is my most prized possession; and I’m not eluding to sexual intimacy. I have made many, many mistakes and very poor decisions over many, many years. Missing out on intimacy, and more so robbing my wife of it is my biggest regret.

Reply to vanagon

As I try to decide on staying or leaving --- maybe you can give me insight. Did you love your wife? Why cheat on someone you love?

What brought you around to the point that you value your wife. Do you think you learned the behavior from a friend, father, uncle etc...?

That takes a lot of humility

That takes a lot of humility to admit.

Chronic Adultery

Do you have any article on chronic adultery?husband has had relationships (not all physical) spanning a decade of our marriage.

Serial adulterer

Me too. Ten years that I know of.
After 14 months post most recent discovery, I found pictures of girls for self gratification that he recently obtained

What am I thinking, still being here?

Letting Go of The Someday Vision

I know this won't go down well for those who have been betrayed. I was unfaithful - 9 months since I said goodbye to AP, though had brief contact a few months later after I was contacted by her partner ... 6 months since last contact of any kind. Closing the door, yes - I know I made the right decision and want to restore relationship with my wife who I have hurt so much. Lock the door - yes. I'll be honest in saying the throw away the key part is the bit I am struggling with. ... I believe I'll get there .. but it's the truth .. it's hard .. very hard .... I'm not happy to say how hard it is, given the terrible struggle those who have been betrayed must have to deal with ... I know it's an illusion, a projection of my own needs onto someone else ...that the AP would not be the same person if the relationship didn't end and the daily realities of routines, bills, housework, etc were mixed in ... I know all this, but struggle to come to terms with the idea that 'someday' will never happen ... I'd love to hear from someone who was unfaithful who had a similar crazy idea like this - that one day in the future ... 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now ... that due to circumstances beyond our control I would find myself as a single man and somehow my AP would also be single ... we'd bump into each other coincidentally and be able to relate again ... yes, crazy thoughts but honest ... embarrassing to admit these thoughts ... would love to hear if someone else had something like this ... how did you move beyond this so that you could throw away the key?

Letting go the someday vision

I am sure everyone’s situation is different, however 26 years on…….and having maintained zero contact she is still there. Throwing away the key is probably the most difficult thing. Good luck.

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer

Free Surviving Infidelity Bootcamp

Our experts designed this step-by-step guide to help you survive infidelity. Be intentional with your healing with this free 7-day bootcamp.
I would highly recommend giving this a try.
-D, Texas