Why is ending an affair is so hard to do?
I had a phone call from one of my readers last month,
she was asking me for advice on how to end an affair she was in.
For privacy, I’ll call her Sue.
Sue told me about her affair with a man that is friends with her husband and she is friends with his wife.
Actually the 2 couples are all friends.
Their kids play together and they all go to the same church..
One compromise after another led Sue right into an affair.
Sue didn’t mean to end up in an affair, but this man seemed to say just the right words to her to make her feel special.
They began innocently enough, texting each other about trivial things. But soon they were texting each other often, and then secretly meeting each other.
One compromise after another, and soon they were in a full blown emotional and physical affair.
Sue never felt loved or appreciated the way she needed in her 22 years of marriage.
Although she said her husband is a good man, and he’s trying to meet her needs now.
See, her husband saw a text and suspected there was more to the relationship between his wife and his friend.
He saw the connection and flirting himself.
After pressing her further, she confessed.
Well, partly. She told him there was no sex. But the truth is, the affair went on for almost 9 months and sex was very much involved.
Her husband is upset but willing to forgive, yet he only thinks there was some flirting involved and not really an affair.
Sue is confused about what to do.
She doesn’t want to end the relationship with her affair partner, but she doesn’t want to lose her marriage either.
Plus, if (but most likely when) her husband finds out that there was more to their relationship, he will be understandably upset.
She realizes her husbands friendship with this man will definitely be severed. Obviously the friendship with them as a couple will be over too.
But I told her their friendship was the least of her troubles honestly.
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The tug of war within her was taking its toll.
The sneaking around and lying is wearing her down, but when she’s with her affair partner, the connection they have is amazing.
She worries she will never have that with her husband, even though he seems to be making an effort to connect with her more now.
Although she tried to break it off with this man, they always end up reconnecting again.
She can’t understand her own behavior and the guilt is starting to wear her down.
Sue realizes if she doesn’t stop the affair soon, her marriage will be in jeopardy.
But still, time and time again she goes back to her lover and just can’t imagine a life without him in it.
Her one main question to me was “Why is ending an affair so hard?”
Can you relate? I sure could.
Although my infidelity was 12 years ago, as Sue shared her story, my own story came flooding back to my memory.
Maybe you’re like Sue and not sure how you got yourself into this mess.
Why is ending an affair so for us hard to do? Especially when the affair is actually making us miserable and confused?
There are a number of things at play here, and some forces that are hard to fight against, unless you understand it.
Here are the top 5 reasons why ending an affair is so hard.
1. The relationship is filling some deep need, or void, you may not have even realized you had.
If there wasn’t a “benefit”, people wouldn’t have affairs right? The problem is, those benefits actually end up turning against us and eventually causing chaos in our lives.
Maybe you thought it was no big deal. Nobody would get hurt if nobody knows. So you work hard to keep your secret, keeping your phone and emails close and
trying to keep track of which lie you said.
But it all seems manageable in the beginning.
The feelings of intense pleasure and love you start feeling for your affair partner is beyond anything you felt before. (or that you can remember).
He says all the things you’ve longed to hear, his touch is just want you needed and for just a little while you’re able to escape.
Or maybe you needed to feel sexy and desirable again.
This often happens when women are in a midlife season.
There are many reasons women have affairs.
Sometimes we don’t even understand at first why we did it. For more insight into the subject of “why women have affairs” read this post.
I suggest sitting down and think of what the relationship with this man is providing you.
Is there something it satisfies in you that you feel you won’t have if you broke it off?
I wrote a post a while back, “the 7 benefits of having an affair, which are not really benefits at all.” You can read it here.
Wow, you wouldn’t believe some comments I got from that one. Some people misunderstood my title and obviously didn’t really read the post.
They thought I was singing the praises of the benefits of affairs. Uh-hem…no, that’s not what this site is about.
But the reason I titled it that way is because yes, of course at first people think they’re benefiting from the relationship.
Think about it. If they didn’t, then infidelity wouldn’t be a thing right?
The truth comes later when you realize you exchanged your soul for those moments of escape and pleasure.
Often that realization comes after much damage has been done.
So, to give up whatever need the affair filled can be hard at first, we might think we’ll never find this pleasure and fulfillment again.
This is one reason ending an affair is so hard.
2. He seems to know you so well, and you swear he’s your ‘soul mate’.
How can you possibly end it when you have such a connection right? This is pretty common.
Actually many people in affairs say they’ve never felt like this before.
When you’re together, there’s such a chemistry and connection.
Even Sue told me the connection between her and her affair partner was unlike
anything she ever felt before with her husband.
That might be true, and it might not.
That may sound presumptuous of me, because after all, how do I know what she ever felt with her husband?
I don’t for certain.
But the common thread in almost all emotionally charged type of affairs is the soul bond and connection.
There’s an emotional connection unlike any other felt before. The problem is, our feelings lie to us.
They cloud our memory and influence our decision making skills. It’s part of what many specialists call “Affair Fog”.
The truth is, you also felt something for your husband at one time, strong enough to marry him.
Those reasons may seem a distant memory now, but most of us started our relationships dreamy eyed and in love.
The truth is, most of us felt our spouses could do no wrong in the beginning.
Until we married them, then we saw all those things that we didn’t see before.
Yea, I’m talking stinky socks on the floor and dishes in the sink. (not my husband of course).
But as our years together add up, so can our records of their wrongs.
It’s much easier to see all that’s wrong with them, than we did in the beginning. Isn’t it?
Why is that? It’s a natural progression of love relationships.
Every relationship has stages and the early stages is filled with euphoric feelings and seeing only the best in our new found lover.
This same euphoric feeling is at the start of every affair, and probably even more so for your affair partner. Why?
Because of the illicit, secretive nature of an affair. It’s the wanting what we can’t have that adds to the thrill.
I know that’s probably not what you want to hear. And maybe you don’t believe me.
But doesn’t this guy have an advantage over your spouse because he doesn’t have to show his ‘stinky sock self’ to you yet?
Am I right or am I right??
3. When you’ve connected with someone emotionally, spiritually and sexually
it creates a bond that’s hard to break apart.
Now I know this isn’t going to be popular in this day and age when it’s socially acceptable, and even encouraged, to sleep around. (and yes, I said ‘day and age’ which my kids
always tell me makes me sound old). Well this statement also probably ages me. But it’s a fact, and it goes back to the beginning of why God created marriage and sex and the oneness
it creates. “Two shall be one” is for marriage, but it also happens physically.
Many people underestimate the bond that’s formed just praying with someone. That’s why it’s often not a good idea to pray one on one with someone of the opposite sex.
No matter how much we minimize it, connecting with someone on a
spiritual, emotional, and especially a physical level, connects us to a part of their souls.
That’s why emotional affairs can be just as dangerous as sexual ones. The emotional connection that feels like love can be extremely hard to break apart.
Also, when you’re one in marriage, and then become intimate with someone outside of marriage, it creates confusion and tearing in your soul.
It’s hard to describe it any other way.
This was what Sue described. When alone, she felt torn and confused, and she’d be determined to end the affair for good.
But then she described how all her willpower and resolve melt away when she went to break it off with her affair partner in person.
(Which is why I always say to not break it off in person, it’s too easy and very common, to get sucked back into the relationship.
Or it becomes a very lonnngggg good-bye).
Which leads me to another common reason many have a hard time ending an affair.
4. You feel guilty and worry about hurting your affair partner, if you break it off.
These feelings are not unusual, and it’s our minds way of finding reasons to not break it off.
Maybe you feel guilty for leading him along, especially if you initiated the affair. Perhaps he’s not in a good marriage.
Sue told me her affair partners marriage wasn’t good.
So she felt bad that he would be very depressed if she broke off the affair, as though she needed to rescue him.
But that’s his own issue and not something you should ruin your life and future over.
Truth be told, the affair partner will be much better off if you end the affair with them.
That may sound harsh but it’s honest.
Being in a back and forth relationship is exhausting and emotional for everyone involved.
Letting them hold onto hope that you’ll someday get a divorce and be with him is both draining on them and not fair.
They likely won’t tell you that for fear of losing you, but the very guilt you have about leaving them should be the guilt you have about leading them along.
I speak from experience as I did this myself. Not wanting to end my marriage, but feeling sorry for my affair partner too. So I stayed stuck.
With all my continued indecisiveness, the only thing that remained was my continued affair and confusion.
Dragging on the affair just delayed the inevitable and prolonged the pain of everyone involved.
So next time you feel guilty for breaking it off, tell yourself it’s really the kindest, most self-sacrificing thing either of you can do for each other.
The last, and very important, reason why ending an affair is so hard, is the physical chemical reactions going on in your body.
5. Oxytocin, Dopamine and serotonin- the 3 scrooges.
Although there’s a lot to say about the developing research of the effects our brain chemicals have on our behavior, it would take too long for this post.
So, a quick summary is Dopamine is the brain chemical that is the reward center of our brain.
Its job is to produce the high we feel when we first fall in love (like #2 on this list).
Not only does it surge when we participate in pleasurable activities, but it creates an internal drive to recreate that scenario to experience that high again.
Research also reveals that ‘high feeling’ that we often feel in an illicit affair, is actually a result of the release of dopamine.
This quickly creates a cycle where the brain seeks that experience again and again which led to the pleasurable high.
Oftentimes this is what’s going on behind the scenes, when a person seems to go beyond normal logic of acting in ways uncharacteristic for them.
Otherwise moral people, seem to throw caution to the wind and risk losing it all, just to go back again and again to their affair partner (their acting out behavior).
It’s the brains way of craving that ‘drug’ much like a cocaine addict craves cocaine.
And the withdrawal that happens when the drug is taken away (the affair partner) is just as real.
It’s quite common, and normal, to have days or weeks, of very low depressed emotions.
Everything in you will want that ‘drug’ but if you can get past the early stages of breaking off the affair, you’ll find it does subside.
That is why you must be vigilent even many months after an affair is over.
There can be triggers to return to those experiences that led to the old high (dopamine).
This also explains that those “feelings of intense love” may not be as much about “unconditional self-sacrificing love”
as it is the intense high that is felt when in the high of the illicit affair.
Some of you in an affair won’t like that comment. I’m sorry, but it is true.
I lived it myself and it took many months of self deception and compulsion to continue in the affair, before I saw the light.
If you’re the betrayed spouse reading this, you may think I’m making excuses for your unfaithful spouses behavior. Not at all.
My husband struggled with this as well when the only way I knew to describe my compulsion was ‘it’s like an addiction”.
Not an excuse, just a piece of the puzzle in understanding all the many components to why so many ending an affair is so difficult.
- The affair is filling a need you had, ending it may bring up feelings that your needs won’t be met if you end it.
- The connection you have is unmatched, you believe he’s your soul mate.
- Connecting with someone emotionally, spiritually and sexually creates a bond that’s hard to break.
Affairs are like ropes that bind around you tighter and tighter each time you go back.
- You feel guilty for breaking it off and you might feel like you’re abandoning your affair partner.
Maybe you felt his rescuer and now worry about him.
But the most loving thing you can do is break it off, so he can move on with his life.
Just don’t be surprised if he doesn’t see that yet.
- The 3 scrooges are hard at work.
Although I didn’t have time to go into the Oxytocin and Serotonin, the Dopamine is the big player here.
It’s brain chemical is a high that compels you to keep going back to the experience over and over. Stopping it is possible with support and a plan in place.
You can read about the 4 choices you have when you’re married but in love with someone else here.
It can also help to know what stage of the affair you’re in.
and having a vision for your future can give us strength and resolve in ending an affair. Read my post on what do you want your life to be, where I help you think beyond now.
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