After the Affair: Are You Focusing in the Wrong Direction?

You discovered your partner is cheating.

Driven by a mixed fuel of rage and pain, you begin a background check on the affair partner that would do the FBI proud.

Who are they? Why was my spouse drawn to them? What do they have to offer that I do not?

We’re looking for information that would protect our bruised and battered egos. That would support the rejection and lessen its agony.

But even if you discover that your partner’s dalliances were with Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt (both seemingly the epitome of good looks, good character and good standing and well out of the realm of mere mortals like the rest of us), you will still feel the dismissal just as strongly.

Because the pain isn’t about the affair partner.

It’s about the rejection by your partner.

You’re focusing in the wrong direction.

I know. I did it too. My situation was different than many in the fact that the other wife didn’t know he has married (although I have to assume that the other “other women” did); she was conned as much as I was. Still, I grew obsessed with dissecting her, trying to understand the pull, as though she was some super magnet that emitted a force too powerful to resist that sucked him out of the marriage.

But that’s not the case, is it? If someone doesn’t want to be pulled from a marriage, nobody can have that power of attraction over them.

I was focusing in the wrong direction.

(For the sake of brevity and fairness (and my personal aversion to the repeated use of the term “affair partner”), I am going to refer to the other man/woman as the mister(ess). Because there isn’t an equivalent male-gendered term. Yet.)

I can hear you already. But in my case, the mister(ess)…

My reply?

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

I’ll prove it to you.

The situation with a spouse and another can be broken down into four main categories based upon the intention for reconciliation between the partners and if the mister(ess) is known to the betrayed spouse.

No Reconciliation; Unknown Mister(ess)

You and/or your spouse have decided that reconciliation isn’t possible. You’re grieving the loss of your marriage and harboring anger over how it collapsed. It’s easy to place the blame of mister(ess). Safe. It means you can avoid the painful realization that your partner was not the person you thought and it keeps you distracted from the very difficult responsibility of healing yourself.

The other person does not matter. The marriage is over. The “how” and “why” can provide some useful learning. But the “who”? The “who” is just noise.

I often compare the drive to know more about the mister(ess) to the obsession with scratching a scab. It can an all-consuming itch. A need that builds until you fill it. And then once scratched, the drive fades until it begins to build again. As long as you keep scratching that itch, the wound remains open. Leave it, and with time it will heal.

So unless you want the affair partner to be a part of your life moving forward, shift your focus to your future.

If you have kids, the situation is obviously more complicated if and when the mister(ess) becomes part of their lives.

It increases the pain for the betrayed spouse because it’s easy to feel usurped as both a partner and a parent. And often, that pain comes out in an attack on the mister(ess), sometimes even using the kids as weapons.

It’s a nuclear warhead of emotions, which makes it nearly impossible to be pragmatic.

So I offer you a litmus test.

Over the years, your kids have had (or will have) a handful of teachers that they do not bond with. If you run crying to the principal every time your child mutters, “The teacher doesn’t like me,” you’re doing your kid a disservice. If, however, the teacher is truly abusive and inappropriate, if you do not step in and protect your child, you’re doing your kid a disservice.

And it’s the same with the mister(ess) (or, in fact, anyone your ex is seeing). If your kids are in emotional or physical danger, do everything you can to save them. Otherwise, back off.

Refrain from badmouthing the mister(ess) to your children. If he/she is a bad person or has selfish motivations, your kids will figure it out on their own and will withdraw from the person (and grow some grit in the process). Good.

And if your kids happen to bond with the mister(ess)?

Well that’s good too.

The more people a kid has in his or her corner, the better. No matter how they came to stand there.

No Reconciliation; Known Mister(ess)

It is a much more difficult situation when you know the mister(ess). In fact, that is one of the criteria for compound-complex infidelity. The affair partner may be a friend of yours, an acquaintance, or even family. You’re betrayal is twofold – from your spouse and from your friend/family member.

They are two distinct betrayals.

Treat them as such.

You’re not reconciling with your spouse, so the advice above still applies.

And as for the other?

That’s up to you.

If you want to try to keep him or her in your life, you will have to move past the anger and work towards forgiveness. If you always see them as the mister(ess), they can never again be your friend.

If you decide the betrayal is too great to maintain the relationship, you will have to move past the anger and work towards forgiveness. If you carry that venom, it will only serve to poison your future.

Either way, releasing the fixation on the mister(ess) is key to your freedom.

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Reconciliation; Unknown Mister(ess)

So you and your partner have decided to try to make the marriage work. Yet you’re still consumed by thoughts and questions about the mister(ess).

You would surely be upset if your partner was focused on the mister(ess) after an intention of reconciliation had been agreed upon (and if that is your case, are you sure they really want reconciliation?). Why is it any different for you to focus on the other person? If you are holding on to the ruminations about the mister(ess), you are holding the marriage back.

Whatever you nurture, grows. If you want to save your marriage, that’s where your focus must lie. Not on what helped tear it apart.

Reconciliation; Known Mister(ess)

Hat’s off to you. You’re in perhaps the most difficult position of all. Remember, you have decided to try to salvage and repair your marriage. Focus on restoration rather than the storm.

It’s natural after an affair to want to blame. It’s natural to want to paint the mister(ess) as a vile, evil homewrecker intentionally alienating your innocent (or at least naive) spouse. It’s natural after an affair to become consumed by the questions, driven to uncover the sordid details of what happened behind our backs.

But all of that energy is focused in the wrong direction.

It’s turned to what hurt us rather than what can help us move forward. 

The mister(ess) only matters if you make them matter.