End the Affair Strategies and the Backfire Effect

Backfire Effect 2Discovering an affair in your relationship is a shock and often the first response is one of panic.

An affair shows you how tenuous the structure in your life really is: security, finances, home, companionship, shared stresses etc. Your panic bubbles up to the surface almost immediately, and your reaction is to scramble to try to right the overturned cart.

Common Reactionary Behaviors

Of course you will be upset and devastated about this revelation about the affair, and you may find it incredibly difficult to accept this new reality in your life. Your immediate behaviors are heartfelt expressions of the upset that you feel, and you’re probably not thinking of much other than sorting this mess out and making sure that your relationship survives this horrible assault.

Be honest – how many of these have you found yourself doing?:

  • Following your cheater around, trying to ‘talk’ about your relationship
  • Printing information about affairs from the internet for your cheater to read
  • Reminding your cheater of their marriage vows to you
  • Crying and being distraught in front of your cheater
  • Reading bible passages to them (or even posting them your Facebook page) that denounce adultery
  • Arranging for couples’ therapy even though the affair is ongoing
  • Leaving out photographs or sentimental mementos of your life together for them
  • Telling your cheater you love them
  • Threatening divorce if they don’t stop the affair, when you really want to reconcile
  • Arranging dates with your cheater

If you are truthful, you probably did at least two or three of the things on this list.

You probably believed that your behaviors in the immediate aftermath of discovery were nothing more than a natural emotional reaction, or sensible and productive ways to get your cheater to stop their affair and recommit to your relationship. Think again.

The ‘End the Affair’ Strategy Fail

Buried in these behaviors is really a need to control and an attempt to regain it. When your circumstances change, panic and rage can become powerful motivators to ‘fix’ the new and horrible situation, and return things to the safety of ‘how things were’. At this point terms like letting go, acceptance, and moving forward are not in your vocabulary, and if they are, you simply don’t want them there! You’re clear about what you want – and you want what you had, what you were promised, and what you believe is rightfully yours – in certitude that your cheater has taken temporary leave of their senses.

All of the behaviors we’ve listed are more than a simple ‘reaction’ to an affair. They all have a flawed underlying strategy intended to end the affair and to return the cheater to you.

  • Following your cheater around, trying to ‘talk’ about your relationship
    • You’re not trying to talk with your cheater, you’re trying to guilt them, accuse them, berate them, beg and plead with them. You are trying to get the cheater to see how this affair is nonsense, and how they aren’t thinking straight.
  • Printing information about affairs from the internet for your cheater to read
    • You haven’t printed out all the pro-affair information that’s out there, have you? You’re showing them a one-sided version (your version, the correct version, right?) of how awful this affair is, how they are hurting you, how they are throwing their life away, and how they are making a terrible mistake that will haunt them for life. You’re trying to show them that their only real salvation is you.
  • Reminding your cheater of their marriage vows to you
    • Even if you didn’t have a religious background in your relationship, you are trying to guilt and castigate them over their broken promises to you. You’re holding the moral high-ground of honesty, integrity and honor, and you’re highlighting their affair (and by extension, them) in direct contrast, hoping that it will wake them up to the truth.
  • Crying and being distraught in front of your cheater
    • Because they can’t truly understand how much this hurts, so you have to show them. And when they really SEE it, they will be filled with remorse, compassion and love for you, and sweep you up and tell you how wrong they were, and beg you for forgiveness.
  • Reading bible passages to them (or even posting them to your Facebook page) that denounce adultery
    • Because when your own arguments and pleas don’t work, you bring in the big guns of ultimate judgment, omnipotence and the fiery hell of eternal damnation. How can it fail?
  • Arranging for couples’ therapy even though the affair is ongoing
    • Because not only will an authority figure give them a good telling off but the cheater will listen to them when they won’t hear it from you. And while you’re there, you might ignite the cheater’s desire to ‘save’ your relationship, and the therapist will say the magic words that end the affair and bring the cheater to their senses (and knees, for added value).
  • Leaving out photographs or sentimental mementos of your life together for them to find
    • Because they just need reminding of what you had together, what was real, what they’re throwing away, how they REALLY feel about you. The power of a wedding photograph shouldn’t be under-estimated?
  • Telling your cheater you love them
    • Because you do, and it’s okay for you to be honest about how you feel because that means something, right? You loving them trumps everything else – job done, now stop this nonsense and come home.
  • Threatening divorce if they don’t stop the affair, when you really want to reconcile
    • Divorce is scary to you, therefore it must be scary to them too. After all … divorce means financial detriment, less access to the kids, no cozy home … and everyone will know that they are a cheating rat and they will be punished and ostracized. In the face of all this ‘scary’, of course they’re going to rethink the error of their ways and reconcile.
  • Having affair books delivered to them
    • Because bludgeoning them with information about how much they’ve harmed you, their lives, and their children will bring them around to your way of thinking which, of course, is the right way of thinking.
  • Arranging dates with your cheater
    • Because spending time with you on a date will rekindle their love for you. When they are alone with you, away from the influence of the other person, looking into your eyes, they will see the light, remember how much they love you, take your hand and start to make things right again.

Blowing Up in Your Face

Not only do these behaviors do nothing for your self-respect, but they aren’t engendering the reaction in your cheater that you’re hoping for. You will come across as needy, clingy, miserable, and horribly judgey – it’s honestly not an attractive look on anyone. On top of that, you’re trying to make the cheater feel REALLY BAD … and that is to be avoided at all costs in cheater-land.

Fighting StanceReally, when was the last time you felt positive about someone who told you that you are dishonorable, lacking integrity, a coward, insane, morally bankrupt, ethically deficient, selfish, doomed in perpetuity, and a bad parent? You’re hardly likely to invite them around for tea, let alone commit to loving them until you die.

Do you honestly feel love, compassion, and respect for people who make you feel terrible about your life choices, who doubt your ability to make your own valid decisions, and who tell you that your future is bound to be unhappy, unsuccessful, and lonely?

All of this will probably just generate feelings of dislike and distaste for the person judging you in this way. It might even spur you into an ‘I’ll show you‘ fighting stance.

A cheater, when faced with your end the affair onslaught strategy, is likely to ricochet further into the affair. Nobody likes being controlled, judged, upbraided, and hounded by a wailing and sniffly victim. A cheater being presented with ‘facts’, and reproach for being a terrible person by having an affair, can develop a sense of ‘fuck you‘ that is entirely contrary to the outcome you’re artfully (ahem) trying to engineer.

Unless your cheater is as dumb as a bag of rocks (and generally, they’re neither dumb nor insane) they will have ‘noticed’ your clumsy attempts to control the situation and are probably sharing with the other person their amused pity and derision at your pathetic and desperate attempts to end the affair and win them back. Ouch.

Singeing Your Eyebrows: The Backfire Effect

When our choices are criticized we often defend them, even if we know that really we’re on some rather dodgy ground. Often, the dodgier the ground, the more zealously we defend our position.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.

You’re Not So Smart

The Misconception: When your beliefs/actions are challenged, you alter your opinions/behaviors and incorporate the new information into your life.

The Truth: When your choices and beliefs are challenged, you dig in.

What it Says About the Cheater

For a cheater to end the affair, to apologize, to beg forgiveness, and to prostrate themselves emotionally before the righteous and faithful hurt partner, they have to admit wrong-doing. Wrong-doing aside, they have to admit bad judgment, selfishness, reprehensible disregard for their promises and the hurt they caused. Their future credibility is shattered. They have to look at themselves and see major faults, flaws, and failings. They have to face the censure of their family, their partner, and their friends, all while being charged with rebuilding the relationship. Isn’t it far easier to to pursue the affair, invest effort and time and work into it, and have a fresh start with someone else than it is to end the affair?

And just to prod you further … if this is who your cheater really is, remind me why you want to be with them so badly?

Yield Control

Affair Help: Yield ControlLet go of the notion that you should have control or influence over your cheater’s choices. You cannot prevent or end the affair just because you will it.

Ironically, there can be more “control” in a flexible position than in one marked by efforts to keep everything within a narrowly defined comfort zone. It’s like trying to hold on to a water balloon. The more tightly you try to grasp it, the more likely it is to just burst. If, instead, you gently and flexibly cup the balloon in your open palm, you’re much more able to “control” its movement without getting all wet.

Sandra Sanger, Ph.D

Disengage from the affair drama and make whatever Herculean efforts you need to prevent yourself from demanding/commenting/accusing/guilting.

The likelihood that the affair will last is incredibly small, but it has to burn itself out: Any flapping around by you trying to put out the fire will do nothing but fan the flames.

You may also like:

  • Affairs: How Could You?
    Affairs: How Could You?
  • Affair Exposure
    Affair Exposure: Brave or Manipulative?
  • Reconciling after an affair
    The Magical Reconciliation Pixie
  • Let Go
    12 Things I Learned in the First 12 Weeks of…
  • Faithful Spouse: Under Pressure
    Under Pressure After the Affair
  • Under Pressure: The Faithful Spouse
    What’s Love Got To Do With It?


“I'm not a teacher, only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead - ahead of myself as well as you.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

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