Episode 9: I Can’t Leave My Marriage. I Can’t Stop My Affair.

by | Last updated: Aug 28, 2023 | Podcast

When women reach out to me about their affair, they’re often experiencing a whirlwind of emotions: adoration for their new partner, guilt over their spouse’s feelings, and, above all else, utter confusion about how to move forward.

For reasons unbeknownst to them, they can’t bring themselves to let go of their marriage, yet ending the affair feels impossible – and maybe they’ve even tried and failed several times before.

“Where do I go from here?” they ask me. “Will I be stuck in this spot forever?”

In this judgment-free episode, I explain what causes decision paralysis in relationships and why more and more modern women are seeking affair partners.

Then, I’ll walk you through a 3-step process to decide exactly what you want, whether or not it’s possible to achieve it, and how you can start moving forward toward happiness.

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • What I say to women who are having an affair and don’t know how to stop (hint: it’s not judgment, and it’s not “just end it already!”)
  • The real reasons it feels impossible to leave your marriage, even when you’re having an affair
  • Why things can never go back to “the way they were” pre-affair (and why that’s okay)
  • How to stop giving your power away (and create a healthy future for yourself, with or without your husband or affair partner)
  • 3 steps to get 100% clear on what you want (and create a realistic path to long-term happiness)

Featured On The Show:

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If you have a suggestion for a future episode or a question you’d like me to answer on the show, email us.

Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?

Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.

“Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now, your host, relationship expert and certified master life coach: Sharon Pope.

“Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Well, we are diving into the deep end outta the gate today with a conversation on affairs, because many times when women find their way to my work, they are involved in an affair. You see, forty to fifty percent of the time men are having affairs inside their marriages, but that number has been pretty consistent for the last several decades. The number that has not been consistent and that has been steadily increasing is the number of women that are now having affairs.

“And we're not far behind. We're probably in the forty-five to fifty percent range. And honestly, I think that's understated because that's only the percentage of people that will admit to it on a survey and will define whatever it is that they're doing as an affair. And we don't have a common definition that we all agree on what constitutes an affair. So there's a lot of ambiguity there.

“So I think that both of those numbers are understated. So it's not uncommon for someone to find their way to my work where they are involved in an affair. Now, when you're struggling in your marriage, it's a really confusing time, no doubt. But you layer an affair on top of that, and you have feelings for someone else on top of that.

“Now, the complexity and confusion in your heart and mind are really, really high. And so many times when women find their way to me, they're in this place of, ‘I can't leave my marriage. I don't know how to do that. That's terrifying. But I also don't wanna let go of my affair.’ And they're judging themselves for not wanting to, or not being able to let go of their affair because they, in their mind, have that as wrong. That is wrong behavior. ‘I shouldn't be doing it.’ I am often called affairs anonymous because so many people find their way to me, and they know that they're not going to be judged; they're not going to be coddled, but they're not going to be judged.

“So sometimes when women start working with me, one of the questions that they'll ask me if they're involved in an affair is, ‘Do I have to end it? Like, are you gonna make me end it?’ And I never answer that question. First of all, I don't answer it because I'm not the moral police to tell you what to do. But the other reason I don't answer it is because it never works, right? If I tell you to stop your affair, and you stop it for three days and then you go back to it, now, you're not gonna tell me, and I'm your coach, and you gotta be able to trust me and not be keeping secrets from me in order for me to be most helpful to you. So that's why I just don't tell you what you should or shouldn't do in that regard, but what I am going to do is help you get clear about what it is you're trying to accomplish so that I can ask you the right questions and mirror the truth back to you so that you can come to clarity, or you can achieve what it is that you want to achieve.

“Now, here's why I say that. That whole, what you want to achieve, being important is important. And here's the reason why - because look, if you are not yet ready to give up on your marriage, and you feel like, ‘You know what? We just hit several speed bumps and I really wanna be able to recover from this, and I'm not giving up on it yet,’ well, then that's a very different conversation as it relates to your affair than if you're like, ‘Sharon, I know my marriage is over. I'm just paralyzed in how to move forward, and I don't wanna recreate this same sort of dysfunction in a future relationship, even if it is with this affair partner or someone else in the future.’

“Those are two very, very different things, right? If you want to rekindle a relationship with your husband potentially, then of course you're going to need to stop your affair. But if you know that your marriage is over, then it's just a matter of how to unwind it and how to do it in the most peaceful and loving way possible - well then not necessarily. So that's why the goal or the outcome that you want is the place to begin. Okay?

“So I'll share with you the story of a client of mine. I won't even make up a name because it doesn't matter. And this could be many, many clients of mine, to be honest. So this particular client is a corporate executive, and she travels a lot for work. And her husband has a career as well, but he holds down the fort at home because she does so much travel for work. And this is where a lot of affairs begin is through travel for work, because it's very easy. You're spending a lot of time together with other people. You start to get to know them personally, not just professionally, which means you start sharing different personal details of your lives. And then that's where the attraction sort of takes root, and it becomes very easy to hide. And so emotions turn into feelings and feelings turn into physical affairs.

“And her situation was no different. You know, he was married and she was married at the time as well, and they both had kids, but his kids were older and her kids were a little younger. Now, after a couple years of having this affair, you know, he did decide that for him, his marriage was complete and it was time to end it. And so he had done that. He was walking through that, but that then put pressure on her - [like] ‘Oh my gosh, I've gotta do something. I've gotta make a decision.’ So now their relationship dynamic for sure has changed because he's feeling super vulnerable because he's left his marriage and she's feeling a lot of pressure because he's left his marriage. And so that's when she found her way to working with me.

“So let's talk about, first of all, why you say you can't leave your marriage? So it's some degree of fear. It's always some degree of fear, and that doesn't make it not real, but let's just call out what the fears are. Some of the most common ones are fear of lifestyle change or money, fear of being alone, fear of the impact on the children or the family, fear of hurting your partner, especially if they're just a good human being. Like, you're not out here trying to hurt people. I'm gonna automatically assume that. But then it's also fear of regret, fear of leaving too soon, fear of not trying hard enough, fear of regretting your decision down the road. Those are the reasons that will keep you paralyzed in terms of not moving forward to either recommit or to end the relationship.

“So that's the first piece. But the second piece is, ‘I don't wanna stop my affair or I can't stop my affair. Many times it's like we've tried three or four times and we always come back together. It's like a drug.’ How many of you have said that? It's like a drug. You know why? Because it is. Let me say that again. When you are falling in love, and also when you are involved in an affair, you are essentially chemically in your body on drugs because the dopamine that is flowing through your body makes you feel like you are on drugs. That's why we say that. Like, ‘Oh, he is like a drug. I had to keep going back. I couldn't stop myself.’

“That's the chemical reaction to the context of what is happening inside the affair. Okay? So that's one of the big reasons why you feel like you can't just end your affair and you can't just walk away even though it's wrong. Now, let's talk about a few things about affairs that I think are important here. First of all, your affair partner is always going to be the polar opposite of your spouse.

“And that makes sense, right? You're not gonna just go out and have an affair with someone who's just like your husband. No, all the things that are missing in your marriage, not necessarily in your husband, in your relationship with your husband, and the things that your heart longs for, those are the things that someone else is gonna come along and offer up on a silver platter to you.

“And so they're going to feel very, very different. The thing is, we mentally associate that with those men, with those people. We think, ‘Oh, he has these qualities and makes me feel this way. He has these qualities and makes me feel this way, and I wanna choose this because this feels so much better.’ Because by the way, when you're running a household and making dinner and bathing the kids and getting them to bed, like there's no dopamine going on there, is there? So of course the affair makes you feel - I don't wanna say better. I'm gonna say more alive, more engaged, more interested, more curious, more adventurous. It might even make you feel more fully like the woman that you want to be, that you want to feel like.

“A lot of times the thing that we can't turn away from is who we are and how we show up in that relationship versus how we show up inside of our marriages, right? It's really easy to fall into the role of wife and mother, even when you're a working mother. Like there, it's really easy to fall into all the nurturing roles that come along with that.

“But that doesn't mean that just because we're a wife and a mother, that we're also not a woman with desires and dreams and things that we wanna feel, right? And so that's an element that is also going on here. So I told you that your affair partner is going to be the polar opposite of who your spouse is. And here's something really important that I want you to know - the things that you are feeling in your affair relationship, that's important information for you. I don't want you to associate it just with that person, but the feelings themselves, that's really important information for you. And once you know that you can't unknow it; you can't pretend like, ‘Oh, I don't know what that feels like and I probably don't even really need it,’ right?

“One of the things that I did a video on YouTube one time where it was called ‘apples and oranges’ or something like that. If all you've ever eaten your whole life is apples, apples are lovely, right? But then someone comes along and puts a pineapple in front of you, and you're like, what the heck? How come no one told me about pineapple? And then you think, ‘Oh, how can I possibly live without pineapple?’ So now you don't want to live without pineapple, and I totally get that, but it also means there's a whole bunch. There are peaches out there, there are plums, there are pears. Have you ever had a grilled peach? I mean, that's something, right? So there are lots of things available to you, but once you know this, you can't unknow it.

“And I think that is important because now it gets you closer to understanding what it is that you really want to feel inside your most intimate relationship. And now the question for you becomes, can I create those feelings inside my relationship with my husband? Right? Because you're thinking about your marriage, like, ‘Oh, I have to go back to what it was,’ which is, by the way, what made it vulnerable to an affair to begin with. So we're not going back there. That's only gonna get you right here again with a different dude and a different pair of pants. So that's not an option. Take that option off the table.

“The option is, can we evolve the relationship so that I can feel some more of these types of feelings in this relationship? That's really the question. And if yes, lovely, it happens. Believe it or not, it really does happen. I've had lots of women who've come to me and they've really genuinely believed that they were going to have to end their marriage. And what they ended up discovering was that they could evolve the relationship and it started to feel really good again for both of them. So it is possible.

“Now, if you determine that you cannot create that, or you are unwilling to try to create those types of feelings with your spouse, okay, then you have an answer about your marriage. We've gotta deal with that. We've gotta close this chapter, and then you can reopen the next chapter of exploring your relationship with your affair partner or anyone else that you want to explore a relationship with. But that is secondary to now closing the chapter on this very important piece of your life. We don't get to skip past that. There is no fast forward button so that I can just run into the arms of someone else and not deal with any of the pain that inevitably comes through ending a marriage.

“Like we've gotta do one thing first, right? And then the thing I want you to know is that when and if you pursue that relationship with your affair partner, it's going to be different. It could be better, it could be worse, but I promise you it'll be different. Now, almost no one hears me when I say that because they think they know. They think it's gonna feel the way it feels today forever. And that's just not true. That's just not true. The first, we're gonna call it two years of a relationship. And obviously, it's not exactly two years might go a little longer, might go a little less. But regardless, in the first two years of a relationship, everything feels new and exciting and adventurous and interesting.

“But after ten years together, I will tell you, I think my husband is super handsome, but now ten years later, it's not like I look at him and my clothes just want to pop off, right? That's not it, right? So the relationship evolves in different ways, and it's not always going to be this big bonfire of a relationship. It's not always going to be all passion and fire and all of that. Eventually, it does settle down into something that can be more sustainable. And when you're involved in a relationship where you're not available physically or emotionally or fully mentally, when you're not available; they don't actually know the full you, and you don't actually know the full them.

“And so what happens that when you come together, when you're both emotionally and physically available for one another and available for a real relationship together, well, now you really get to know each other on a different level and in a different way. And sometimes you will love them more, and sometimes you won't. You will see things that you didn't see before, because now we're trying to create something without the context of secrecy and danger and risk and spontaneity and hotel rooms and new things, new adventures, lots of new things, right?

“Because now, so it's going to be different. You can explore that if you answer the first question, but most people wanna avoid that first question. The first question is, can I create that with my current husband? I'm not saying, do you have that with your husband? I'm saying, can you create it? And that's a different question. Okay?

“So the other thing that I wanna talk about related to why you feel like you can't stop your affair - it's not just the dopamine. It's not just, ‘Now that I know what this feels like, I don't want to live without that,’ which I totally get, and I don't think that you should. I think that's important information for you. Also, we've gotta be able to talk about - even though you're not doing it consciously, cuz I know you didn't go out looking for the affair because you're afraid to be alone - but the reason that you won't let go of one thing and you're afraid to move into fully into another thing is because you're hedging your bets to a certain degree.

“And so I really want you to ask yourself the question about how you feel about not being in a relationship - being alone. Because being alone is a really big thing for a lot of people, even if they don't admit it. For instance, there was a client last week who said to me that because she's married and he's not, he's now moving on and moving forward while she's trying to get clarity in her marriage. And now she's feeling the fear of missing out, FOMO, fear of missing out on the relationship with her affair partner because he’s like, ‘You know what? If ever you are available, we can revisit this, but now you're not. And so I'm gonna move on with my life,’ which by the way, is a healthy thing to do.

“So when you get involved in an affair, the disconnection in your marriage gets wider, it gets greater, and there are some very obvious reasons for that. I mean, now you're creating feelings and having a relationship with someone else, but the other reason that the disconnection grows wider is because you really start shutting things down. Because once you carry a big secret like that, then you shut down from saying anything or sharing anything about your day or your life or what's going on for you, because it's almost like you're afraid something will slip out and you don't want to be found out, right?

“So a couple of other things I wanna touch on related to affairs and why you feel like you can't end the affair. One is, look, even if you're not doing it consciously, you are in fact hedging your bets. I know you didn't get involved in the affair because you're afraid to be alone, but there's something in you right now like, ‘I can't leave my marriage and I can't end my affair, that I'm petrified of just being with my own darn self for a minute so that I can get clear about what, what I can create in my marriage or not.’

“And then being able to enter into a new relationship clean. And what I mean by clean is like not carrying all the hurt and pain and residue that automatically comes as you're navigating divorce. Look, even if you are the one asking for a divorce, you don't get to bypass the pain and the sadness of a marriage ending, and you bring all that unhealed stuff. If you're jumping right into a new relationship, you bring all that unhealed stuff right into that new relationship, and that puts some heavy weight on that relationship that doesn't actually have to be there if you take the time to be able to heal that so that you can enter into that relationship from a more clean place and not look to them to sort of snuff out or erase some of the emotional stuff that you're gonna go through over the course of unwinding a marriage.

“So I think you gotta ask yourself the question of, ‘Why am I in such a rush? Why am I so afraid to just be with myself for a little bit? Is it that FOMO? Is it that fear of missing out that he's not gonna be there if I don't hurry up?’ Well, if he's not there, then maybe that's okay. Maybe that's how it was supposed to be. Like, maybe we just need to let some things happen here. And here's the big thing that I wanna make sure I don't miss in talking to you about why you think you can't end the affair. You think that all these things he's making you feel - desire, alive, sexy,
how you want to feel as a woman - because you associate that with him. You think if he's not there, you'll never feel those things again.

“I am here to tell you that is not the truth. The truth is that other human beings brought up some of those feelings within you, thank you very much. They brought them up, but those feelings are within you. Those are your feelings. So if you can create those feelings about yourself and for yourself with this other person, you can create them. Again, I'm not going to go so far as to say you can create them with anyone, but you can create those feelings again. But I want you to own those feelings and stop giving away your power to say, ‘Oh, he made me feel this way.’ Because then if he's not there, your mind will automatically tell you. Then you have to get comfortable with never feeling that way again, and that's not gonna be healthy. Okay?

“So those are the biggest contributors to why you feel like you can't end the affair, and you can't just take a moment to get real clarity about your marriage. So I'm gonna go back to where we began, which is what is the outcome that you want, right? If you say, I really want to try to give my marriage an opportunity, but I'm unwilling to end my affair, then I think you gotta tell yourself the truth about that. I think you are. You're saying the words or trying to take some action in your marriage because you think you should, because it's the right thing to do. It's the moral thing to do. But I don't think you actually want to.

“You see, sometimes we want to want our marriages to work. Sometimes we genuinely want them to work, but a lot of people just want to want 'em to work. Like, oh, it'd be so much easier. Wouldn't have to blow everything up, wouldn't have to change my lifestyle, wouldn't have to tell the kids and the family wouldn't… you know, all the things. So they want to want it, but they don't actually want it. So I just want you to be honest with yourself about that. There's no judgment either way. You get to choose.

“But tell yourself the truth. You're not working on your marriage if you're actively involved in an affair, okay? If you know what the goal is - that I know that I don't actually want my marriage or it can't ever be what I want it to be, I need to be able to walk through unwinding that relationship in the most peaceful and loving way possible. And I wanna be able to open my heart to love again, whether it's with this affair partner or someone else in the future. And I don't want to recreate the same type of dysfunction over and over again.

“Now, that's a very different outcome. And so the ways in which you think about this affair is going to matter based upon what the outcome is that you really want. So that's the first step. First step is get clear about what you want. What's the outcome? Then get clear about how you want to feel in your most intimate relationship. And then the third piece is answer the first question, which is, can I create that? Or am I willing to try to create that in my relationship with my husband? If yes, great. If not, then we can explore what this relationship might or might not be in the future with an affair partner or someone else.

“All right? Affairs are a sticky topic, right? And they're filled with judgment and blame and a lot of hurt for a lot of reasons. I've been on all sides of affairs, and I have coached thousands of women through affairs, whether it was their husband that had an affair or they had an affair themselves. And it's not as simple as when we just stop the conversation with, ‘Oh, well, they had an affair, so they're just a horrible human being.’ That to me, is a complete cop-out because it's not the truth. It's never the truth. They might be a confused human being. They might be a lost human being. They may not be able to express themselves or take action from a place of real intentionality yet, but that doesn't mean they're bad.

“And if we stop the conversation there, we don't learn anything and we don't grow beyond that. And so I don't shy away from talking about affairs. We're gonna talk about it here because it's happening in fifty to sixty percent of marriages at least. And so it's time we start talking about it.

“All right? I hope that that gave you some things to think about and some things to chew on. All right, and I will see you next week. Until then, take really good care.

“If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage, and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and me to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.

“Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.”


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