How to End an Affair: It's Like Detox and Rehab
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
It's not easy. Most affairs have stops and starts. Sometimes, though, there comes a time when either party wants to end the affair for good. Read on for help on how.
First, have a conversation with the affair partner:
"I can't do this anymore"
"This relationship is causing me too much pain, and I need to begin to heal."
"I need to use my time/energy to refocus on my family/job/marriage/dating life/self/mental health."
Should you ghost your affair partner? I suppose you could. People do this every day.
But your affair partner is a person, too. I believe that to be direct, clear, and firm is to be kind.
To do this, first you need to be direct, clear, and firm within yourself. Take ownership of wanting to end the affair. This should be a choice that is motivated by a deep personal knowledge and desire that the affair is not working for you. "You" being the operative word. If you make it about your affair partner, they'll see an opening for something in their control, and focus on the areas that are negotiable or that they could work on improving to keep you from ending it. It's human nature to negotiate with loss.
But stay connected to your reasons. Chances are, you want to end the affair because you've lost control, you want your life back, you've lost connection with yourself, are numb, in pain, are scared, want to stop harming yourself and/or others, you want to stop walking into traffic or backing into brick walls because you're so distracted, want to end the secret, etc.
First step to getting on and staying on the path is to admit fully that you're lost and out of control. Phew! There's relief in that admission.
You'll need strong commitment and conviction to end an affair.
Then, decide for yourself what's the best method for ending contact, communication, and visits.
Quitting 'Cold Turkey'
Quitting your affair "cold turkey" is what's commonly recommended (by the way, where did the term 'cold turkey' come from? I'll be Googling that after this...). To quit something cold turkey means that you throw it out with the trash and never touch it again. You sit through the pain, torment, anguish, body aches, and gradually you open your eyes from the dark depths of fiery hell and realize that you've made it to some small hint of hope and life on the other side.
It's like detoxing before going into rehab.
If you decide to quit your affair cold turkey, you'll want to clean house. Remove all temptations and avenues to contact your partner. Delete their number from your phone, then delete text chains and empty your trash. Remove them from social media, and you may want to consider removing your own access to social media for a time to avoid going down rabbit holes.
Decide in advance what you'll do if your affair partner reaches out to you. You can not respond, ignore and delete -- which would be the most 'cold turkey' choice. Or, you can practice "broken record," which sounds like repeating a boundary statement such as "I am doing what I said I would and moving forward" or "I told you I can't do this anymore, and I need you to respect my wishes."
If you work with your affair partner, see them at school functions or soccer games, 'cold turkey' isn't as realistic, but you can still practice most of it while having a contingency plan for how you'll handle running into them in person.
The Slow Wean
You've been direct, clear, and firm about ending the affair. But affairs are like a drug, and our brains to want to end the pain by reconnecting to take a hit and get relief.
The slow wean works best when both affair partners have agreed to end their relationship. You're on the same page, you're working toward the same goal, but you may slip or take a step back. The slow wean can also certainly be effective even if you aren't in agreement. It means you slow down, reduce, and change the nature of your contact. You sober up gradually. Over time, as you re-engage in life, the pull to the affair lessens, its grip loosens, and ending contact fully feels more realistic and possible. It may simply happen naturally.
What does this look like? It looks like getting a text that says, "I miss you so much," and waiting 24-48 hours to respond, "I know, this is really hard. And I also know this is what's right."
It looks like choosing to drive by their house once in a week instead of every day.
It looks like agreeing to talk a few times on the phone as you process moving forward, but not meeting in person.
It looks like a hug instead of sex (just know the risk to opening the door on a hug!).
It looks like keeping text conversation brief, basic and friendly, not romantic or explicit.
The slow wean has more risk of falling back into old dynamics. But, if you recover and regroup, you may find that taking one step forward and two steps back turns into two steps forward and one step back, then eventually you're only walking forward.
What does ending an affair look like? Regardless of how you do it, ending an affair
looks like and is hard work. It requires that you do your own work every day to move through the temptation to relapse and head back into some version of the affair. It's like you're checking yourself into rehab. You've got to be very strong and have a plan in place for how you'll deal with the pain when it arises. For help healing and moving forward while you're in the initial stages of ending an affair, see my article on "how to take care of yourself when you're ending an affair."
Make no mistake: this shit is HARD. But so is being in an affair.
And you can do hard things.
Lauren provides boots-on-the-ground lived experience combined with invaluable professional expertise working with infidelity. She is committed to helping individuals and couples deal with and heal from marital affairs in a highly effective, yet warm and judgment-free style.
Lauren's articles help share much-needed information, and reduce the stigma and shame around the common experience of infidelity. Contact Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about working together.
Lauren, Affair Specialist