Ending Your Affair and Returning to Your Marriage – Part III: Rebuilding Trust

Couple Holding Hands

Please note that ideas and actions can work differently for different couples. The steps to end an affair given here are not absolutely right or wrong. They are steps based on experts’ recommendations and much discussion among former wayward spouses (FWSs) and betrayed spouses (BSs) on this and other marriage forums. How you, your spouse, and your marriage respond to these recommendations may vary.

Please be aware that while recovering from an affair is quite feasible, it takes time for you and your spouse to work through the infidelity while wrapped in confusion, pain, shame, anger, and many other emotions that accompany the process. And while the time and effort may be well worth it, it may be a difficult road.

Before implementing anything suggested here, examine all possible outcomes of each action first to determine if the suggestion will be helpful or hurtful to recovering the M.

And remember… You cannot change your past, but you can change who you are today, and going forward.

You might be thinking that ending the affair should be enough to convince your spouse that you want to stay married. But that’s not all it takes to make your spouse believe you’re recommitted to him/her. In her book When Good People Have Affairs, Mira Kirshenbaum wrote:

“You’re judging yourself by your intentions. And you may very well firmly intend to never do anything hurtful again. But our intentions are always invisible to other people. That’s why our intentions, which count for so much to us, count for little to the people we’re closest to. They have only two things to go by: the past and the future. And based on the past, you already stand condemned. After all, you’ve done something to hurt their trust. So all you have to work with is the future, your actions in the future. And don’t neglect the obvious: Make it totally clear that you will never, ever even come close to cheating again.”

Kirshenbaum continues, “If the person with whom you’re trying to rebuild trust is a nut, then you should not be with him. A nut, in this case, is someone who is in love with his own paranoia. Or it’s someone who is thrilled to have this opportunity to control you. Does that describe your partner? If not, then he’s not a nut; he’s just someone who’s really hurt and scared. And all that means is that you have your work cut out for you.”

Listen and Validate the Feelings of Your Spouse, Especially When It Is Difficult.

You will likely see expressions of deep pain, which may be expressed as anger and criticism. Accept your spouse’s feelings unconditionally and let him/her know that you understand and accept them.

Answer Every Question Your Betrayed Spouse (BS) Asks.

As Snyder, Baucom and Gordon write in Getting Past The Affair: A Program to Help You Cope, Heal, and Move On – Together or Apart : “An affair calls everything into question. And from the injured partner’s perspective, beneath any unturned stone lurks another danger – the chance that whatever led to this affair could lead to another.”

If you think an answer might be very hurtful for your spouse, consider asking her/him if s/he is sure s/he wants to know the answer. That is a clue between the two of you that the information might be very difficult for him/her to know. This will allow for pause, so your spouse can consider how important knowing those details is to him/her. If your spouse wants the information anyway, tell him/her the truth.

Exposing the details of your affair will probably be very hard for both of you. Your spouse is going to be imagining many things – things that may or may not be true – and you may be struggling with protecting your spouse and/or yourself, anxious about the information requested and unsure what the reactions might be. If you or your spouse have difficulty talking about your affair or your relationship, find a way to make it as comfortable as possible during a designated time.

You may need to assign certain days/times to talk about it, and agree that the infidelity is otherwise not discussed, so other times together are not laden with anxiety over whether the topic might be broached.

You may need to ask and answer questions in writing, utilizing a shared journal, email, or instant messaging. Some couples find it easier to talk in the dark, or even with each other on opposite sides of a door or curtain. Perhaps conversing with a third party present will make the conversation easier.

Your spouse is going to question everything that ever happened between the two of you, before and during your infidelity. S/he will want to know what was truth and what was lies so s/he can piece back together that time of his/her life. Do your part to make this possible.

The importance of honesty from this moment going forward cannot be overemphasized. Honesty gives the best chance at real recovery. Lying and hiding details delays or prevents recovery. The truth sets you free. Lies keep you both in bondage indefinitely. Anything that comes out well into the process of recovery sets the entire deal back to square one. If it’s something that was sworn to early in recovery that is later revealed as less than fully truthful, it can undo ALL the work that has been done to that point, and even prevent the process from continuing – resulting in the end of the marriage.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Avoid these conversations while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or sleep deprivation. You both want to be alert and in control during what may be emotionally charged conversations.

Turn Over Your Passwords and Terminate the Private Access Points You Shared With the Affair Partner.

This includes email accounts, IM accounts, secret cell phone numbers, etc. There is a difference between secrecy and privacy, and you need to show you are not keeping secrets from your partner. If your spouse can see all that you’re doing, it keeps you in check and it provides transparency for your spouse. You may request the same of your spouse, but you can’t control whether or not s/he will comply.

Determine What Precautions You Will Take to Ensure You Are Never Again Tempted To Be With Someone Else.

These actions are referred to here on Marriage Advocates as Extraordinary Precautions (EPs). Write these precautions down and share them with your spouse. EPs should be the result of doing the analysis and soul searching required to figure out your points of vulnerability and how to guard against them. EPs are for you, and should be upheld because you want to uphold them. They are preventative measures that can keep you, your spouse, and your marriage safe from your weak boundaries.

If Your Affair Was Physical, Get Checked for STDs Immediately and Share the Results With Your Spouse.

Do this even if you had protected sex because protection is not 100% foolproof. Be responsible and learn now if you need to deal with health issues. Get re-checked 6 months later.

Consider Taking a Lie Detector Test if Requested by Your Spouse.

Also consider offering to take one. Offering a polygraph early on can build confidence that what is being revealed is  true. Resisting one can indicate details yet to be revealed, typically things much worse than what has already been admitted. To some, taking tests is the best way to show you’re telling the truth. Because you lied throughout your affair, respect that your spouse likely will distrust what you say for a long time. Taking a test could show you’re willing to prove you’re not hiding anything.

Some debate the accuracy of lie detector tests, and this might influence your decision. You might want to refer to the discussion on this topic on the MA thread titled “Polygraphs: Validity, Reliability and Admissibility” and do your own research.

If You Are a Woman, Consider Taking a Paternity Test if Requested by Your Spouse.

You may know for a fact that your child or children are your husband’s, and you might find such a request heart-breaking and offensive. But you have put into doubt much of what has happened during your marriage. Don’t be surprised if your spouse questions paternity.

Get Rid of Everything That Carries Any Memory of Your Relationship to the Affair Partner.

This includes photos, CDs, emails, jewelry, clothes, notes, ticket stubs, fragrances, stuffed animals, songs, movies, tchotchkes, etc. Any material item you have that in any way triggers you to think of the infidelity partner should be disposed.

Avoid Situations That Remind You of the Affair Partner.

If a certain restaurant or radio station has associations with the infidelity partner, do not patronize the restaurant or tune to the station. Share these things with your spouse, so you can work together to address how best to handle those situations.

Discuss With Your Spouse What Actions You Will Take if You Are Ever Contacted by the Infidelity Partner, or if You Ever Cross Paths with the Infidelity Partner.

Knowing in advance what your spouse’s expectations are, and what you will do, will help you deal with the situation more effectively in the moment and immediately after. Knowing there is plan in place to address unexpected contact will be helpful to both you and your spouse because you will have already thought it through.

Provide Contact Information for the Affair Partner’s Spouse if You Know it.

Do not inhibit your spouse from contacting the infidelity partner’s spouse and other people in the infidelity partner’s life who can help maintain No Contact between you and the infidelity partner. Your spouse might also want to compare your version of the affair with what the infidelity partner has (or has not) told his/her spouse.

Discuss this article on our forum.


“Extraordinary Precautions (EPs)” by OurHouse and Flick
“Polygraphs: Validity, Reliability and Admissibility” by LadyGrey
“Emotional Memory Management – Dealing with Triggers” by Mark1952
“What About Getting Through Withdrawal?” by Looking4

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