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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

The Many Faces of the Affair Partner

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I saw a question posed on Twitter yesterday asking if anyone had written to the affair partner and, if so, what the outcome was.

The responses were interesting and quite diverse. It soon became clear that the type of communication (not to mention its aftereffects) with the affair partner were very much dependent on the relationship that person had to the wayward spouse prior to the affair and their role in the infidelity.

 

The Relationship of the Affair Partner Prior to the Infidelity

 

The Stranger

This is definitely the easiest of the horrible options to stomach. When the affair partner is a stranger, they become a blank canvas where you can easily project your own insecurities. However, there is little betrayal felt from them; after all, you’re a stranger to them as well. Additionally, if there is an attempt to salvage the marriage, this is the easiest relationship to cease all contact with and there are not likely many ties that make the disentanglement difficult.

The Acquaintance

We’re venturing into more difficult territory here. You’re likely to replay countless encounters with this person, wondering what was simmering beneath the surface that you failed to notice. There is probably an additional level of betrayal since this person knows who you are and knows who they were hurting in the process. As an acquaintance, it’s more likely that you’ll run into them and there may be mutual connections that lead to difficult or awkward situations.

 

The Coworker

This relationship is especially difficult if you’re trying to save the marriage. After all, your spouse can go “no contact” with a former friend, but generally bosses don’t look too kindly on that. They have to navigate the transition back to a professional relationship (which may be next-to-impossible if the affair partner has other ideas) and you have to fight the feelings of panic every day when they begin their morning commute.

 

The Friend

Your spouse and your confidant have been playing you. What a devastating discovery that throws your whole world into question. Who can you trust? The fractures caused by this type of infidelity travel far and wide, splintering friend groups and causing people to take sides. If you decide to try to salvage one or both relationships, building trust again will be especially difficult because everybody seems like a potential threat.

 

The Family Member

It doesn’t get any worse. We expect that family will always be there for us. And so the betrayal by a family member is equal to or even greater than the betrayal by a partner. You may be facing divorce and family estrangement at the same time, leaving you feeling orphaned and adrift.

 

The Role of the Affair Partner in the Infidelity

 

The Victim

They didn’t know that they were having an affair. They were told their partner was single, divorced or in the process of divorcing. Although they may not have been married, they are feeling betrayed as well once they learned that you were still very much in the picture.

 

The Willing Participant

This affair partner knows about your marriage, although they may have been incorrectly informed that your marriage is awful and that a divorce is inevitable. They may be married themselves or they may be attracted to those that cannot fully commit. In order to justify the affair, they may downplay its importance, minimize the marriage or compartmentalize the areas of their life.

 

The Instigator

This person set their sights on your spouse and then deliberately set out to win their attentions. They were not afraid to manipulate or lie in order to get what they want. If your spouse tried to set boundaries, this affair partner would attempt to bulldoze them over. They are unlikely to end the affair themselves and may make it difficult for your spouse to end it as well.

 

The Saboteur

Have you received disturbing messages from the affair partner? If so, this may be what you’re dealing with. These are the people that will not rest until they have left a path of destruction in their wake.

 

So What Does This Mean?

 

No matter the role of the affair partner, it’s natural to want to reach out – either to scream or to question. Or perhaps both. You want your pain to be heard and you want your questions answered.

Keep in mind who you’re dealing with. You can have a conversation with a victim, but not with a saboteur. The questions you’re going to pose to a stranger are very different than those you may ask a friend.

In my case, the affair partner was a stranger and a victim. I spoke to her on the phone for several hours while my (actually, our) husband was in jail. I wanted to warn her, protect her. She was never somebody that I had ill will towards. In fact, I desperately hope that she is okay. However, if she had been in a different role, I cannot promise that I would feel the same.

If you do attempt contact, wait until your emotional state is out of the red zone. By all means, scream or write those words you need to release, but release them into a safe space that will not have repercussions. Also, be aware of your expectations going into the contact. You most likely will not receive the response or answers you crave. There is no magic balm that comes from confrontation. No answers that illuminate everything. You’re not going to find healing from them.

So have your say. Ask your questions. Set your boundaries. And then let it go.

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6 thoughts on “The Many Faces of the Affair Partner

  1. This is a great article. Affairs are not all the same. They are all devastating but our view of it, and the way we react to it, is different depending on the context. thanks for highligting this.

  2. I had to deal with the co-worker being the mistress. She was the Willing Participant, the Instigator and the Saboteur!!! – needless to say, I did not win the battle. I am convinced that threats were made regarding him keeping his job if he left her. BUT the sad truth, he betrayed me and our children.
    They got married, had a baby and what I hear, not blissfully happy. If I could have one wish….it would be that she could go through what she put me through – betrayal, embarrassment, a broken heart, loneliness, the day I had to remove my wedding ring, the day I had a STD test, begging for money, my children driving away to her house for the weekend, my life in ruins… this is what SHE deserves, after all, I did not step into her life, she stepped into mine!!! It would have been easier If he died. I would have been a widow, not a divorcee! People send flowers to a widow but judge a divorcee!
    Karma is not playing the game.

    1. How awful!

      I, too, expressed that it would have been easier if my former husband had died. At least then he wouldn’t have been able to continue to interfere in my life and, as you state, the reaction of others can be quite different. I hope that you’re able to create a life so fulfilling that you no longer care about her.

  3. The affair partner is his high school sweetheart. ( From 50 yrs ago) They want to be together but her husband is unaware that she is going to leave him. What is your opinion of me calling her husband to make him aware of the situation?

    1. That’s always a hard call. All too often, the person that tells gets the brunt of the anger, especially if the person doesn’t want to hear/isn’t ready to accept. Yet it also feel good knowing something so potentially damaging and not saying something.

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