Truth be told, extra-marital affairs are not unusual. Some studies report that 60 percent of married partners report having engaged in affairs. Some couples are able to recover and reconcile from infidelity and report a stronger relationship afterwards. But that’s not easy and more often, the affair will lead to the eventual end of the marriage.
In some cases, the person having the affair already sees the marriage as being over and the affair becomes the way to leave the marriage – it’s an exit affair.
For the faithful or victim spouse, such affairs are brutal. These spouses often report satisfaction with the marriage and the discovery of infidelity results in the loss of self-esteem and confidence. The exiting spouse is ready to move on with the legal process while the faithful spouse is playing catch-up trying to understand and come to terms with what has happened.
So how can you spot an exit affair and what can you expect?
Joining me for this Conversation is Laura Scott. Laura’s marriage ended abruptly when she discovered her husband’s exit affair and following her journey through divorce, she wrote The Accidental Divorcee – a guide for navigating the twists and turns or divorce. Click on the player below to listen to podcast or keep reading.
What Is An Exit Affair?
With some affairs, the person having the affair will go to great lengths to conceal it and when confronted may deny it while still continuing the relationship. With an exit affair, the person usually feels that the marriage is over but is unable to confront their spouse and have that difficult conversation. So, the affair becomes a way to bring about the explicit end of the relationship.
As Scott describes it, the exiting spouse “will do something so abhorrent, so awful and they dump their partners in this way so there is no way back.”
What Scott has found is that the exiting spouse shows little concern for their partner spouse and makes little effort to conceal the affair. There’s almost a desire to get discovered because then it would bring everything out in the open and to a head. Once discovered, the exiting spouse is quick to leave, painting the faithful spouse as a bad person.
When asked why people have an exit affair as opposed to just ending the relationship, Scott said, “I think affairs, and especially affair sex, is scintillating and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a way to go back and act like you’re a teenager again, not have any responsibilities or any concerns. I think most people who have an affair live day-to-day.”
Are There Warning Signs?
The red flags that your partner is having an affair are easy to miss mainly because the faithful spouse is not suspecting or looking for the signs. With hindsight, you can start to spot them. If you start to suspect something is amiss then common warning signs include:
- unaccounted for absences or unusual absences
- sudden outbursts of anger or rage that seem irrational or disproportionate to the topic
- missing amounts of money or unusual withdrawals
- credit card purchases for items like flowers, jewelry or restaurant meals
Understand The Divorce Process
The exiting spouse is usually way ahead of the faithful spouse both emotionally and in terms of being prepared for the legal process. This means that it is imperative for the faithful spouse to understand the legal process in their jurisdiction as quickly as possible. If you’re lucky, you’ll live somewhere that requires a year’s separation before divorce. If the laws where you live provide for a divorce in 2 – 3 months that doesn’t give you much time to get up to speed and prepared. This means having a legal consult becomes a matter of urgency.
Proceed With Caution
Feeling hurt, outraged, embarrassed, angry … is natural but Scott cautions against public outbursts. She says it’s important to know your end goal and then not to do anything that might jeopardize that. Scott had minor children so getting a custody agreement where they were with her the majority of the time was her priority. That meant no drugs, no alcohol, no outbursts and certainly no posting to social media.
“I think you should get real observant real quick, find someone you can trust such as a priest or a therapist so you can explode about it without telling everyone,” said Scott.
You Do Not Need Every Detail
Combing through credit statements and bank withdrawals trying to piece together details of who, what, where, when is understandable to a point. You’re trying to make sense of what has happened and why. You may even want to do this to make a case in the division of your assets that marital assets have been spent not in the support of the marriage.
But there is a point when the need for details becomes an obsession and is no longer healthy.
Scott says, “Thinking about somebody all the time and what they’re doing and where they are is all natural but that’s not going to make you feel better and it’s the one thing that won’t make you any better psychologically.”
Stay Away From The Third Party
Similar to not knowing the details of the affair, Scott recommends staying away from the third party such as confronting them or their spouse. Her message is that you do not want to do anything that you may regret later or that may create legal problems for you.
“I was afraid of learning the person’s name because of the actions I might take. I asked my attorney to not share with me their name. It was a way for me to give myself a break and constrain myself,” said Scott.
As an alternative, Scott recommends that you focus on what you are going to do about your own life.
When The Affair Turns Into Marriage
Vicki Stark, who coined the phrase, wife abandonment syndrome, found these exit affairs do often lead to the exiting spouse marrying the person with whom they’ve had the affair and it can happen quickly after the end of the marriage. You could find that your ex’s co-worker or worse, the person you thought was your best-friend is now your child’s step-parent. That makes it especially hard for the victim spouse particularly when there are children from the marriage and even more so when the children are minors.
“It’s even more reason to stay circumspect no matter how much you’re hurting inside because you end up at sporting events together, at social events together,” said Scott.
Scott recommends grieving when you need to with the people who will let you grieve and being a master of control at other times. “The best comment is ‘no comment,’ said Scott. “If you don’t respond, you are in control.”
Laura Scott’s marriage ended abruptly when she discovered her husband’s exit affair and following her journey through divorce she wrote The Accidental Divorcee – a guide book for navigating the twists and turns or divorce.