Your spouse is in the shower, and his or her phone suddenly lit up signaling an incoming text. You know the passcode. For the past three months, you’ve had this nagging feeling that something’s up, and almost all of the warning signs hinting that your partner is having an affair are becoming more obvious.

Should you snoop?

You decided to act against it because it’s not the right thing to do.

A month later, a dear friend admitted that she saw your husband with a co-worker in one of those cafes outside town. There’s also proof: a photo of your husband and his arms wrapped around his supposed paramour’s waist. It looks like they’re about to share a kiss.

Perhaps you accidentally opened your wife’s email at your home’s shared computer, read a series of emails from a high school sweetheart, and oh, they have a plan to see each other next weekend. It’s official; she’s in love with him.

You knew it. So now what?

Take a deep breath and read on.

Step 1: Don’t blame yourself.

Have a drink with a friend. Talk to a family member. Stalk the paramour’s social media account. Cry and howl all you want for weeks. Binge eat and drink. Punch the wall.

Blame yourself over and over again.  Was it something you said? Or something you did or didn’t do?

All of these things can make you feel better, but they’re not part of a long-term solution. Most importantly, don’t get stuck in the cycle of blaming yourself for the affair.

It’s not about you. Keep in mind that your spouse is solely responsible for the decision to break your marriage vows and commit adultery.

Besides damaging your self-esteem permanently, blaming yourself sends the message to your spouse that it wasn’t their fault for cheating on you. As a result, your partner may never truly accept responsibility for their actions.

Step 2: Stay focused and avoid rash decisions.

Business person hand is on a notepad with a pen on a wooden desk in the office.

Sure, it’s easier said than done. Upon discovery of an affair, it’s not uncommon to do the following:

  • Have an affair of your own. Sweet revenge, right?
  • Get destructive because your life’s over anyway.
  • Confront the paramour and warn your partner not to talk to your again.
  • Tell the kids that you and your partner are seeking divorce and they should live with the grandparents for a while.
  • Engage in thrill-seeking activities because YOLO.
  • Write vague or cryptic statuses in social media.

All of the above and other extreme behaviors are only going to make you more confused and make things worse. While an affair may signal the end for many, it could be an opportunity for you and your partner to sit down and talk about the future of your marriage.

Esther Perel, one of the world’s most respected relationship psychotherapists, writes in her book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity:

..(an affair) doesn’t always involve forgiveness, it makes room for anger, but hopefully it is an anger that mobilizes rather than keeps them trapped in bitterness. We need to go on with life — to hope again, love again and trust again.

With that said, give it a few weeks until things settle down. Avoid rash decisions when you’re angry, feeling horrible, and can’t think clearly. Waiting until your emotions are out of the way is in your best interest and your family’s too.

Step 3. Talk to a therapist.

You have friends and family members who are willing to listen, knows everything about your life, and you trust and care for each other! Why talk to a therapist?

For a start, talking to a therapist is entirely private, and you can speak freely. You don’t have to worry if a friend will tell all your other friends. You don’t have to hesitate if whether or not you should tell your mom about the discovery because you don’t want her to feel terrible for you.

Next, therapists are trained to seek patterns in your behavior and how you’re dealing with the aftermath of the discovery you just made. Plus, a therapist will be honest, straightforward, and direct in sharing their thoughts and advice.

Meanwhile, a friend or family member may not be honest with you. Worst of all, they’ll support your destructive behavior because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

In a nutshell, therapists are trained to encourage self-reflection and self-growth. They can empower you to engage in activities that will mobilize you towards compassion (for yourself and your spouse) and forgiveness rather than hate and resentment.

Step 4: Gather proof or hire a private investigator.

Private investigator using a telephoto lens to capture spouse affair

Depending on how long you can keep the secret you just unraveled, gather proof that you can use if you and your spouse decide to file for divorce. Enlist the help of family and friends. In some cases, they already know something’s up but they either don’t want to hurt your feelings, or they don’t have sufficient evidence to back up their claims.

Look for romantic and erotic conversations in emails, letters, and texts. Check online dating sites, phone bills,  and social media. Take screenshots when you can. These things should have information about the illicit affair.

Alternatively, hire a private investigator to collect evidence for you. These investigators are experts at their craft and can provide photographs and other substantial evidence of the affair.

Most importantly,  store the evidence you’ve gathered in three places: a physical copy, a copy saved on a flash drive, and cloud backup.

Step 5: Protect yourself and be mindful of your social media activities.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with the emotional, unpredictable process of ending a marriage. Before confronting your spouse, here are a few things to do to protect yourself and your family:

  • Change passwords and security questions (make sure that your spouse would never guess its answers ) to email accounts, social media, smartphones, financial accounts, etc.
  • Open your own bank account when you don’t have one.
  • Gather important documents like financial papers that may be hard to get hold of once your spouse is aware that you’re filing for divorce.
  • Keep your children’s passports in a safe place as your spouse may use them to either blackmail you or keep the children from you.
  • Keep it private in social media.  Your social media habits can negatively impact your family and divorce outcomes.

Recommended Reading: Maryland Divorce Checklist

Learning and Growing (Together or Apart) After an Affair

Once you’re done with Steps 1-5, it’s time to sit down with your spouse and talk about your next steps forward (and not backward!). Resist the urge for violence, revenge, or further escalation.

On the other hand, if you want to talk to a family law attorney FIRST before talking with your partner, schedule an appointment with a lawyer whose practice is experienced in extramarital affairs and divorce.

If you live in Maryland or DC, consider an appointment at Wise Family Law. We will address what’s probably one of your most pressing questions at the end of the consultation: “What do I do next?”

Turn to us for insights and practical advice —  we’re here for you.