Written by: Marie Murphy, Ph.D., Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
The end of an affair can be a uniquely painful experience. Sure, the end of any romantic relationship can be plenty sad – maybe even excruciatingly so – but if your relationship was an affair, its end may seem especially difficult.
If the relationship was a secret, you may not have anyone to support you as you grieve your loss. You may wish, desperately, for someone to be there to witness your pain and help you bear it… but for all kinds of reasons, you may not want or be able to turn to your usual sources of support.
Furthermore, if you don’t want anyone to know that you’re upset – because you don’t want anyone to know why you’re upset – you may feel compelled to hide your pain, put on a happy face, and keep up appearances, when all you want to do is sob and wail all day, every day. Or just crawl into a hole and die!
As if that weren’t enough, you may have gotten the message that your grief is not legitimate. There’s an idea out there that if you’ve been part of an affair, you did something wrong, and therefore you deserve whatever pain you experience as a result of participating in the illicit relationship… OR that you aren’t allowed to feel pain at all if your affair relationship ends. Ouch.
Finally, even if the circumstances of any breakup have the potential to be complicated, the circumstances surrounding the end of affair relationships may be even more so. For instance, maybe your affair partner broke up with you very suddenly or abruptly because their spouse found out about what they were up to, and your affair partner (who very quickly became your former affair partner) asked you not to contact them ever again. Or maybe your affair partner’s SPOUSE contacted you and made it abundantly clear that your affair was over. Yikes. Any ending can be tough, but some endings are definitely tougher than others.
So what do you DO with all of your sadness, longing, grief, and heartache? Here are my three main recommendations.
One: Legitimize your own pain and allow yourself to feel it
Yes, it might be a total bummer if you don’t have anyone to talk to about your situation. Yes, you might really prefer to have a bunch of sympathetic shoulders to cry on, rather than having to deal with your pain privately. It’s fair enough to wish for sources of external support.
And it might be the case that you CAN find external support, if you want it. You might be able to confide in someone you know and trust. It might SEEM like no one you know will understand or be sympathetic to what you’re going through, but you might be surprised. And of course, you can find a compassionate professional to talk to if you don’t want to share your story with anyone you know. And I am one such compassionate professional! You can schedule a time to talk with me here, if you like.
But whether you have the external support you’d like or not, you can support yourself as you move through your grief.
Many of us are in the habit of wanting others to validate our experiences, or affirm the legitimacy of our pain when we’re hurting. That’s fine, to an extent – meaningful connections with other humans are part of what makes life worth living, after all – but we don’t need to let our desire for support from others get in the way of supporting ourselves. WE can validate our own feelings. WE can honor the legitimacy of our experiences. We can witness OURSELVES as we mourn our losses in private.
And moreover, only we can digest our own feelings. No matter how much support – or “support” – we get from others, digesting our feelings remains our sole responsibility.
Two: Decide if you want to do anything differently
If you’re the person who ended the relationship, and you’re finding yourself extremely sad now that it’s over, you get to decide: is your sadness an indication that you might have ended the relationship too hastily, for reasons that you don’t really like? Affairs can be pretty stressful, after all, and sometimes people end their affairs in the hope that doing so will put an end to all of their stress, and thus, solve all of their problems. And sometimes that sort of works, but sometimes it really doesn’t. Maybe breaking up with your affair partner isn’t the resolution to your infidelity situation that makes the most sense for you.
If you think you might have ended your relationship too hastily, or for the wrong reasons, you get to decide what you want to do about that. You might want to see if you can reconnect with your affair partner, and figure out how to continue that relationship. Maybe they’re the unicorn in your life, and you don’t want to let them get away! If you decide to keep your relationship with them going, that may mean you may have other decisions to make – such as, what you want to do about your marriage, if you are married – but that doesn’t have to be an insurmountable problem.
Similarly, if your affair partner broke up with you, and you want to ask them to reconsider, you can (assuming they haven’t cut off all contact with you, of course). You can ask someone to reconsider in a classy, considerate manner. You don’t have to beg or plead or stalk your former – or possibly former – affair partner. You can tell them why you think your relationship deserves another chance, give them a chance to consider what you’ve said, and then respect their decision. Sometimes great love is worth fighting for – even if the relationship began under slightly complicated circumstances.
But it’s also incredibly important to recognize that sometimes sadness is simply a reflection of the fact that something you’ve cherished has come to a conclusion. Sometimes grief is just a normal, natural, and inevitable reminder that everything in life is impermanent – even relationships with people we care about deeply. Sometimes the most appropriate response to feeling sad when a relationship ends is to give ourselves adequate time to honor and mourn our loss… so that we can eventually feel ready to move on to our next chapter.
The difficult thing about that, of course, is that so many of us don’t LIKE feeling sad. We don’t WANT to feel loss. We don’t want to feel grief, or sorrow, or anguish, or any of those kinds of feelings.
Here’s the deal, people: all human emotions, even the uncomfortable ones, are a natural, normal, inevitable, and even beautiful part of the human experience. And moreover, when we’re willing to ALLOW ourselves to feel our most uncomfortable feelings, they tend to give us less trouble than they do when we try to avoid or resist them.
Three: Take control of your narrative
When a relationship you’ve very much enjoyed comes to an end, it’s completely reasonable to not like that at all. If you think your breakup with your affair partner is a Big Problem, and an instance of something going Horribly Awry in the Cosmic Scheme of Things, that is totally human, and completely understandable.
You probably want to give yourself a generous amount of time to view the end of your affair as a great tragedy, if that’s the way you see it. You want to give yourself ample time to be as displeased as you want to be about the way things ended – and about the very fact that things ended. You may think that your breakup is the Worst Thing that has Ever Happened to Anyone, and that’s okay. Appropriate, even!
But you probably don’t want to keep on thinking that way forever.
At some point, you will probably want to move forward and feel better. At some point, you will probably not want the end of your affair relationship to seem like a life-defining tragedy.
So AFTER you have given yourself ample time to legitimize your sadness, allow yourself to FEEL your own emotions, and let yourself be very upset about the end of your relationship, there will come a time for you to decide how you want to intentionally think about the end of your affair.
You have the power to focus on what you learned and gained from your past experiences – and to use this knowledge as fuel for creating the life you want to live, going forward. You have the power to think about what happened in your affair relationship in a way that enhances your capacity to engage in future romantic relationships in ways you feel great about.
If you want help digesting the pain of your affair coming to an end, I’m here for you. I’m a relationship coach and I provide non-judgmental assistance to folks who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity. Click here to schedule an introductory coaching session with me. Or click here to check out my podcast, “Your Secret is Safe with Me.”
Visit my website for more info!
Marie Murphy, Ph.D., Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Marie Murphy is a relationship coach and the host of the podcast, “Your Secret is Safe with Me.” Dr. Murphy helps people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do – without shame, blame, or judgments. She believes that if you’re cheating on your partner, you deserve guidance and support that respects the fullness of your humanity, and the complexity of your situation, no matter what you’re doing. Resolving your situation in a way that’s truly right for you IS possible, and Dr. Murphy can help you do it.