How to End an Affair

Breakup of a couple with guy leaving and sad girlfriend staying on the bench


Ending an Affair Is the First Step to Saving Your Marriage

While the start of an affair may seem to be all excitement and romance, ending one is anything but. Whether your spouse found out or you realized what harm you are doing to the trust between you, once the decision is made, you should act as quickly and as calmly as possible to keep the drama to a minimum. The key to a clean ending is to take responsibility for your choices and your actions without causing further harm.

Be Clear

One of the cruelest things one human being can do to another is to give false hope. It might seem kinder to soften the blow by saying something like, “We have to stop for a while,” but this sounds like you are keeping the door open for the relationship to resume in the future. A definitive statement, such as, “I am ending our affair,” makes it clear there is no hope of it continuing. If you feel that statement is too cruel or too stark, you can soften it to, “This affair needs to end, so I am saying good-bye.” No matter what your lover argues, stay firm. Limit the meeting to no more than 10 or 15 minutes if you decide to meet in person. If your spouse knows about the affair, it’s best to end it via email or letter. Let your spouse witness you composing and sending the email, or let him go with you to post the letter. After that, let your spouse see you block and delete all means of contact with your now ex-lover. This is the first step toward rebuilding trust.

Be Kind

Assuming that your lover did not force you into the affair, you have no real right to blame them for it. Because you changed the rules of the relationship without your spouse’s knowledge or consent, you have no right to blame them, either. The kindest thing you can do for all concerned is to take responsibility as compassionately as possible. “I made a mistake,” is appropriate to say to your spouse, but it will needlessly hurt your lover, because no one wants to be thought of as someone else’s “mistake.” Something more along the lines of, “I had no right to become involved with you when I am married to someone else,” is the actual truth, while allowing your lover to retain some dignity and sense of worth. If you are letting your spouse know that you are ending the affair, your only reason for starting it has to be, “I was selfish.” Any issues in the marriage that need to be addressed can be handled later, once the initial emotional storm has passed.

Be Careful

If you decide to end your affair in person, keep in mind that sudden rejection is a hard blow to take. Meet in a public place. Even the quietest person can become overwhelmed when their relationship is ended suddenly. Your lover will feel blindsided, powerless and possibly angry. Being in public may not entirely prevent a scene, but it should help. Meet at a place that doesn’t serve alcohol and there’s no need to order food, such as a coffee shop. Limit your meeting to no longer than 15 minutes. Say what you have to say, wish your lover well without giving false hope, and then leave. If you don’t feel safe, have a trusted friend wait outside the coffee shop for you. All they need to know is that you will be having a short, difficult conversation and that you need their support.

Be Committed

Ending your affair does not mean that your work is done. You will need to rebuild your partner’s trust and engage in some rigorous and fearless self-examination to figure out why you chose to have the affair in the first place. If children are involved, you will have to, at some point, address the tension in your home or the absence of a familiar person if your affair was with a neighbor or close friend. That doesn’t mean you should tell your partner everything. This is also not a decision you should make alone. Committing to a marriage means remembering that your spouse is your partner and respecting them as such. If your spouse knows about the affair, you should decide what, if anything, to tell the kids together. If your spouse does not know, you need to consider carefully how revealing the affair will affect, not just you, but your spouse and your children. You may want to seek professional help in trying to sort this out, either alone or as a couple.