What do you do if your affair partner leaves you for the wrong reasons?

Marie Murphy, Ph.D.
The Scarlett Letter
7 min readMay 17, 2024
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

You were involved with someone who was married.

Actually, they still are married, and that’s the whole problem. They SAID they were going to get a divorce so the two of you could be together in a non-affair relationship. They said this over and over, for months on end. And you believed them! The two of you were in LOVE. You were crazy about each other, and totally committed to a vision of a shared future together. And your affair partner was taking some steps towards leaving their marriage. As far as you knew, it was all going to happen the way you thought it would — it was only a matter of when.

But then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, your married affair partner told you they just couldn’t leave their marriage. They actually had the nerve to say that to you! They said, “Look, I know I said I was going to leave my marriage, but I just can’t.”

And you totally lost your shit. To put it in the most technical terms possible.

You know that it isn’t true that they “can’t” leave their marriage — and you told them so! You told your affair partner that what they were really saying is that they were CHOOSING to stay married, and CHOOSING to not be with you, and that you thought that was a terrible, ridiculous, stupid decision on their part.

Because it is!!! You know how unhappy your affair partner been in their marriage! You know how deeply fulfilled they’ve been with you! You think their reasons for deciding to stay married are total garbage, and you’re pretty sure your affair partner has lost their mind. The reasons they’re giving you why they “can’t” leave their marriage simply do not make any sense.

But yet, they seem strangely sure of their decision. Which seems like irrefutable evidence that they have indeed gone crazy.

What the hell is going on with your affair partner who has made the incomprehensible decision to stay in a marriage they profess to hate? And what on earth should you, their jilted lover, do in response to their sudden change of heart?

I have a few insights and suggestions for you.

I’m a non-judgmental infidelity coach and I’ve worked with a good number of clients who are married and are sure they want to leave their marriage so that they can pursue a non-affair relationship with their affair partner… and then change their mind and decide to stay married instead. Sometimes very abruptly.

So for those of you who are wondering what on earth is going on when your affair partner decides to stay in the committed relationship that they’ve been telling you how badly they want to leave, I have some sense of what may be going on with them. I may not know YOUR affair partner (but then again, I might!), but I have probably worked with someone whose experiences are similar to your affair partner’s experiences.

Here’s what I want you to know:

For better or worse, your affair partner’s decision to stay in their committed relationship probably doesn’t have all that much to do with you and how much they love you. They may love you intensely, but that may not be the deciding factor, at the end of the day.

If I had to boil the reason why people who really want to leave their marriages so they can have an above-board relationship with their affair partner don’t leave their marriages down to one word, it would be this:

Fear.

A lot of folks are TERRIFIED of leaving the familiarity and safety and comfort (even if it’s a pretty uncomfortable form of comfort) of their known life — i.e., the version of their life that includes their marriage.

This might sound crazy if your affair partner has told you over and over again how much they dislike their marriage and their spouse and their home life and all of that and then some.

But sometimes, fear of the unknown trumps our desire for change — even if we truly believe that change could be WONDERFUL.

Plus, there are a lot of messages out there that tell you that leaving your family is a REALLY BAD thing to do, and might even DESTROY THE LIVES of people you care about. This is not true, in any absolute sense — it is totally possible for you to reconfigure your family life without destroying any lives — but a lot of people will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that you will literally destroy the lives of people you care about if you get divorced.

And a lot of people hear this so many times that they believe that this is a non-negotiable truth. And a lot of people are terrified of being the “bad guy” — i.e., the person who left their family and “destroyed” their lives. Thus, a lot of people come to believe that they effectively “can’t” leave their marriages.

So even though your affair partner may love you and desperately want to have a non-affair relationship with you, they simply may not be able to contend with their fear of the unknown, or their fear of the terrible things they think might happen if they were to make big changes in their life.

I realize that this may not sound very reassuring at all! But for better or worse, reassurance isn’t what I’m offering here.

If someone you love leaves you, or someone decides they don’t want to continue a relationship with you, and you aren’t happy about that, there may not be any way to reassure you. If you really wanted your relationship to continue, and your affair partner has ended it, and you’re hurting, there may not be any way to instantly make you feel better. If someone has made a decision you don’t like, there may not be any way to stop disliking this turn of events — at least, not immediately.

However, you can mourn your loss and move forward.

And being willing to look at your affair partner’s decisions from a different perspective may help you tremendously. To that effect, here’s what I want you to consider:

Humans are 100% capable of believing things that aren’t true. It may not be true in any absolute sense that if your affair partner leaves their marriage, they will inevitably destroy the lives of their family members — but your affair partner may still believe that this is exactly what will happen. Even if it seems really obvious to you that it is possible for your affair partner to leave their marriage and reconfigure their family in a way that works out pretty well for everyone involved, if THEY don’t believe that’s possible, there may be little you can do to shift their thinking. Our self-created prisons are as real as we make them. And sometimes we make them pretty real indeed!

Your opportunity lies in recognizing this, rather than resisting this.

Sometimes we get REALLY hung up on wanting other people’s decisions to make sense to us. Sometimes we think that if we could only UNDERSTAND why our affair partner made the decisions they did, we could feel better. And sometimes we think this is a perfectly reasonable desire! We aren’t asking our affair partner to change their decision… we just want to understand their decision, or understand WHY they made their decision. Seems like a legitimate thing to want, doesn’t it?

Maybe it is. But here’s the problem: sometimes things that make sense to other people will never make sense to us. There might not be any getting around that.

But there’s another possibility to consider, too. Sometimes when we say that we don’t understand our affair partner’s decision to stay married, or we say that our affair partner’s decision to stay married doesn’t make sense to us, what we’re really saying is that we DON’T LIKE their decision.

You have every right to not like it if your affair partner decides to stay married instead of leaving their marriage and pursuing a relationship with you! That is totally fair!

And acknowledging to yourself that you REALLY DON’T LIKE the decision your affair partner made is going to allow you to feel better a lot sooner than continuing to tell yourself that you don’t understand their decision, and if only you could only understand it, you would feel better.

You probably DO understand your affair partner’s decision — at least on some level. Their decision probably does make sense to you, at least to some extent. Not understanding their decision, or wanting their decision to make sense probably isn’t the issue at all. The real issue is that you wish they’d made a different choice — and you’re so hurt and sad that they chose what they did.

When you acknowledge your hurt and sadness, you can move through your hurt and sadness. When you tell yourself you can’t feel better until you understand something that you think you can’t understand, you keep yourself stuck in an emotional limbo that usually does not feel very good at all.

If your affair partner ended your relationship for reasons you think are crazy, or senseless, or just plain bad, grieve your loss. Digest your grief. And then use your experience as fertilizer for creating love life you want to have.

For more on this topic, check out this episode of Your Secret is Safe with Me.

--

--

Marie Murphy, Ph.D.
The Scarlett Letter

Non-judgmental infidelity coach. Host of the podcast Your Secret is Safe with Me. www.mariemurphyphd.com