Your Secret Is Safe With Me with Dr. Marie Murphy | How Long Should You Wait for Your Affair Partner to Leave Their Marriage?

179: How Long Should You Wait for Your Affair Partner to Leave Their Marriage?

Feb 07, 2024

Do you want to have a non-affair relationship with your affair partner, but are waiting for them to leave their marriage? Are they not leaving as quickly as you would hope? Last week, I talked about how, in this position, you can develop an agenda for your partner. While you can’t do anything about your affair partner leaving their marriage, there is one thing over which you have control.

This week, I explain how you can decide how long you are willing to wait for them. Maybe you don’t want to set a timeline for your partner and prefer to wait indefinitely for them to leave their marriage. Regardless of your situation, I guide you in making the decision that is right for you.

In this episode, I discuss the reasons why you might want to consider setting a timeline for your partner to leave their marriage. Even if you don’t like the idea, I invite you to explore it with me and consider the reasons why you would want to do that. Learn the questions to ask yourself and discover how to get clear on how long you are willing to wait for them, why it’s worth waiting, or why you are not willing to wait for them to leave their marriage.

 


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What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why you should consider setting a timeline for your affair partner, even if you don’t like the idea of it.

  • How to know if you’re waiting for your affair partner to leave their marriage or if you are procrastinating.

  • What to do once you’ve acknowledged that you don’t want to wait indefinitely for an outcome with your affair partner.

  • How to embrace the idea that you and your affair partner might not have the life you dream about.

  • What having the kind of relationship you want depends on.

 

Listen to the Full Episode:

 

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Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy.  I’m a relationship coach and I help people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do.  No shame, no blame, no judgments.  If you’re ready to resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, let’s work together.  There are three ways you can have me as your coach.  You can purchase the self-study version of my course, You’re Not the Only One.  You can join the secret society/group coaching program version of You’re Not the Only One.  Or we can work together one-on-one.  Each of those options is great, they’re just great in different ways, and you can get started with any of them by going to services page of my website, mariemurphyphd.com/services.

 

Okay, in today’s episode, we’re going to consider the question of how long you should wait for your affair partner to leave their marriage.  This topic, and this episode, are closely related to last week’s episode about having an agenda for your affair partner.  Or maybe it’s better to say that they’re an offshoot of last week’s episode. 

 

Let’s say you are involved in an affair relationship.  You want to be in a non-affair relationship with your affair partner, or in an above-board relationship with your affair partner.  Your affair partner is married, and they’ve been telling you they want to leave their marriage, or they’ve been telling you they are GOING to leave their marriage, so the two of you can be together in a non-affair way.  As I talked about last week, if you’re in this position, it can be very easy to develop an agenda, and to get into a mode of trying to help – or “help” – your affair partner leave their marriage.  As I said last week, it’s not unreasonable to want to help your affair partner to leave their marriage – but trying to do that may not be the best use of your time and energy.  Because only your affair partner can leave their marriage.  That’s a piece of business that only they can attend to.  And you trying to “help” them do that bit of life business may not actually help them all that much, AND, even more importantly, it may not actually help YOU all that much either.

 

But there is so much you CAN do to get yourself closer to what you want, even if you are involved with someone who is married, and they aren’t moving as quickly on leaving their marriage as you might like.  And one of the things you can do is decide how long you’re going to wait for them to do the thing you want them to do.  That is one piece of the puzzle that you have total control over!  And it’s very simple to exercise your control over this piece of the equation!  

 

However, sometimes we don’t WANT to exercise control over this piece of the situation, for a few reasons.  For one thing, we may really want this particular relationship to work out!  We may REALLY, REALLY want to be in a particular kind of relationship with THIS particular person.  And to an extent, that’s fine and great.  It’s a lovely thing to have a specific connection with a specific person and to want that to continue.  What isn’t so lovely is believing that we HAVE TO HAVE a specific connection with a specific person, or believing that a specific relationship has to continue in a specific way.  Wanting something and pursuing it wholeheartedly, even if we risk disappointment in doing so, can feel pretty great.  Wanting something and believing we HAVE TO HAVE IT in order to be happy usually doesn’t feel all that great.  

 

But as you may very well know, people can and do get into the mindset of believing that they HAVE TO have their relationship continue with their affair partner in a particular way.  People can and do get into the mindset of believing that their affair partner is the only person for them.  People can and do get into the mindset of believing that their affair partner is the only person who could ever be for them, or is the only person with whom they could ever have the relationship they want to have.

 

If this is what you believe, or if you’re operating from a mindset that is anywhere close to this, you probably are not going to want to set a time limit on how long you wait for your affair partner to leave their marriage.  If the relationship ending – in any way, and for any reason – seems like a terrible outcome to you, then you probably aren’t going to want to put a limit on your participation in the relationship.

 

And if you’re okay with that, I’m okay with that!  If you don’t want to impose any limits on your relationship with your affair partner, and you like that choice, then great!  You can choose to stay with your married affair partner even if you’re tormented by the fact that they’re still married.  And it is also an option to be content with your relationship with your affair partner just the way it is.  It is an option to enjoy your choice to stay with them, even when you don’t know when or if they’ll ever leave their marriage.  You could just drop the expectation that they’re going to leave their marriage, and decide to enjoy your relationship with them as it currently exists.  

 

Depending on what your preferences and priorities are, staying in your relationship with your married affair partner and shifting your expectations or hopes about whether and when they leave their marriage could be a solution to all of your problems.  But of course, some people do NOT want to continue an affair relationship.  They want to be involved in an above-board relationship with someone who is fully available to be with them!  And that’s great.  That’s a fine thing to want.  But if you’re stuck on wanting that relationship to be with a particular person, and that person is still married, that might present a problem.  And this might seem like a really big problem to you.

 

It's important to be aware that for some people, having a big problem like this can be kind of fun and exciting, at least on a certain level.  There can be SO MUCH DRAMA associated with hoping your affair partner will leave their marriage, and following all of the ups and downs of what they do and don’t do to take steps towards leaving.  Even if the drama of wanting them to leave their spouse and finding their efforts in this direction insufficient seems excruciating and exhausting, it’s still entertaining.  Getting your hopes up, and then having your hopes dashed may be pretty exciting and entertaining to you even if it seems torturous.  And a lot of us prefer entertainment – even if it seems like torturous entertainment – to the absence of entertainment.  A lot of us don’t like to be bored, and sometimes, we think of the absence of drama as boring.  

 

And the combination of really wanting to have a particular kind of relationship with another person and not knowing if they are going to be available to be in that kind of relationship with you can create some really high-octane drama.  In these kinds of situations, when we’re waiting for our affair partner to leave their marriage, we sometimes kind of get into believing that our fate really is in someone else’s hands.  Will they leave?  Won’t they leave?  It can be really compelling to get sucked into this saga and the mystery of not knowing what someone else is going to do – rather than taking responsibility for what you have the power to control.

 

If you love that drama, by all means, keep it.  As usual, my recommendation is that if you choose this drama, you choose it consciously, rather than unconsciously.

 

But if you DON’T love the drama associated with waiting for your affair partner to leave their marriage, it’s time for you to make some choices.

 

And the first choice you have the opportunity to make is to decide whether or not what you are doing is actually waiting for your affair partner to leave their marriage.  Does what you are doing count as “waiting” at all?  You might decide that it does, and then you can decide what you want to do with that.  But you also might decide that you aren’t actually waiting for your affair partner to do anything.

 

Here’s an example of what I mean by that.  If you think you are “waiting” for your affair partner to leave their marriage, but you yourself are still in a committed relationship, you may want to consider adjusting your perspective on your situation.  If you are preoccupied with whether and when your affair partner will exit their committed relationship, but you aren’t doing much of anything to exit yours, then you might want to consider that you may not actually be waiting, you may be procrastinating.  Or, put a little differently, the question of whether or when your affair partner will leave their committed relationship may be important to you, but if you’re letting that be more important than taking care of business that you actually have the power to take care of, you’re bullshitting yourself.  If what you really want is for you and your affair partner to be able to have a non-affair relationship, why not get busy doing the things to make that possible that you actually have the power to do?

 

I’ll tell you why you might not want to do that.  It can be uncomfortable to extricate yourself from your own committed relationship!  You may not want to take on that project!  And waking up every day and waiting to see what your affair partner does or doesn’t do in terms of leaving their committed relationship can be a really potent and seductive distraction from dealing with your own business.

 

So I want you to consider that if you think you’re waiting for your affair partner to leave their marriage, but you haven’t left yours, the only person you’re really waiting on is yourself.  At least until YOU decide to do anything differently!  If you leave your relationship and your affair partner still hasn’t left theirs, that’s a little different.  But if you’re still just as committed to someone else as your affair partner is, I encourage you to drop the idea that you’re waiting on them for anything.

 

Here's another example of what it can mean to decide whether or not you’re actually waiting on your affair partner to leave their marriage.  I’ve talked about this already, but it’s worth reiterating.  Theoretically, you could remain in an affair relationship with your affair partner forever.  You could do that if you chose to, AND you could decide that being in a relationship of this sort isn’t a big deal.  Waiting for someone to leave their marriage is optional.  The drama you may associate with waiting for someone to leave their marriage is optional.  You don’t even have to think of what you’re doing as waiting.  

 

You could decide that you’re going to be happy with your relationship as it is, and get on with the business of living your life and enjoying all of the parts of it, without making your affair partner’s marital status a major concern of yours.  Maybe your life is so full and rich that your romantic relationship takes up only a small portion of your focus.  Or maybe you want to date other people while your affair partner is figuring out how – or IF – they’re going to leave their marriage!  You don’t have to do that, of course, but you could.  The point is that there are lots of ways of enjoying your relationship without getting really stuck on the idea that you are waiting for your affair partner to leave their marriage.

 

Now, on the other hand, you might say, “But I don’t want to be in an affair relationship.  I don’t want to be involved with someone who is committed to someone else, or who is involved with someone else.”

 

Fair enough!  If that’s what you want, and if you have done everything you need to do on your end to make yourself available to having the kind of relationship with your affair partner that you want to have, it’s probably time to start thinking seriously about how long you want to wait for them to leave their marriage.  It’s probably time to think seriously about this, and then make an actual decision about how long you want to wait.

 

Now, if even considering considering putting a limit on how long you want to wait for your affair partner to leave their marriage inspires panic or resistance or both, you are not alone.  For all kinds of reasons, the idea of setting a limit on your relationship with your affair partner may seem terrifying, some of which I’ve already talked about today.

 

So remember.  If you don’t want to set a limit on how long you wait for your affair partner, you don’t have to.

 

But you may want to consider that even if you don’t LIKE the idea of setting a limit on how long you wait for your affair partner to leave their marriage, you can still explore it.  You can consider reasons why you MIGHT want to set a limit, and what kind of a limit you might set, even if you ultimately decide you’re just going to wait indefinitely.

 

And here’s why you might want to do that.  No matter how great your affair partner is, no matter how much you love your precious, unique connection with them, you might want to be in a relationship with someone who isn’t committed to someone else.  What you REALLY want might be a relationship with someone who is fully available to be with you.

 

Now the problem is, some folks say, well, my affair partner SAID they were going to leave their marriage, and I believe them, and I believe that it’s hard for them to leave, and I believe that we’re going to be together eventually, so I’m just going to keep waiting.  Because I know I’m going to get what I want eventually.

 

Here’s the thing, people!  Some people do NOT do what they say they are going to do.  Some people say they are going to leave their marriage, and then they never leave their marriage.  And I want to suggest that no matter how wonderful your affair partner is, it is possible they will never leave their marriage, even if they’ve told you a million times that they will.

 

And you may not like considering that!  You may not like the idea that things might not go the way you hope they will!  And that’s fair enough.  If you really want things to go a certain way with a specific someone, that is fair enough.  But at some point, you’ve got to ask yourself whether you want to cling to a particular version of an outcome that you want, even if there’s no way of ensuring that you get that thing, or if you want to open yourself up to other ways of getting what you ultimately want.

 

If what you want, ultimately, is to be in a relationship you love with someone who is fully available to be with you, that does not have to happen with your affair partner.  You getting what you ultimately want is not dependent on them.

 

For some people, recognizing this is super liberating.  Some people get really stuck on thinking that the only way for them to have the relationship they want to have is with one particular person, and once they consider that that might not have to be the case, they feel a powerful sense of relief.  Sometimes we get stuck in tunnel vision, and we just lose all sense of the range of possibilities that are open to us.  And when someone reminds us that there actually are many ways of getting what we want, we’re like, “Oh yeah!  That’s right, and that’s amazing.”  So for the sake of nudging those of you who just need a little nudge to make some clear decisions, let me repeat this very important point: you having the kind of relationship you want to have is not dependent on your affair partner leaving their marriage.  There are other fish in the sea.  If you’re willing to open yourself up to a relationship with someone else, and you’re willing to actively look for a relationship with someone else, you will find one.  

 

Sometimes, remembering this – or perhaps, truly recognizing this for the first time - provides a swift and potent dose of relief.

 

And, sometimes, even when we truly believe, on a deep, visceral level, that we COULD have a great relationship with someone other than our affair partner, we don’t like the idea of having a great relationship with someone other than our affair partner.  We just want to have a great, non-affair relationship with the person who is currently our affair partner!  But we also know, on some level, that we wouldn’t want to live out our whole life waiting for them.  We’re really attached to a certain outcome, but we know we don’t want to be attached to that outcome forever.

 

When you get to that point, here is what I recommend you do.

 

Number one: recognize that letting go of the hope that you and your affair partner will have the kind of future relationship you’d like to have may be sad.  Maybe excruciatingly sad.  I encourage you to let yourself get really sad about this.  Have the experience of sadness.  Letting go of a dream you’ve cherished can be really painful.  Letting go of an idea for how the future should unfold that you’re really fucking attached to can be excruciating.  We humans can get really stuck to our ideas of How Things Should Be, and sometimes, prying ourselves free of these ideas – or releasing our grip on these ideas, however you want to put it – feels like an existential death of sorts.  And in way, it really is an existential death, but that’s another story, and I’m not going to go there right now.  My point, for the present purposes, is that consciously deciding to embrace the possibility that you and your affair partner might not have the future relationship you’ve been dreaming of may be super sad.  Let yourself feel that sadness.

 

Why would anyone want to feel that sadness, you ask?  Because on the other side of that sadness lies new possibilities.

 

An interesting thing to be aware of is that allowing yourself to feel the sadness that comes with considering that you might choose to let your relationship with your affair partner go, FOR THE SAKE OF ALLOWING YOURSELF TO PURSUE WHAT YOU ULTIMATELY WANT may have a very rapid effect.  Once you allow yourself to feel that sadness, you may start to feel ready to let the relationship with your affair partner go.  So often, we’re afraid of feeling the feelings we think we’ll feel if a relationship ends – OR the feelings we think we’ll feel if we even CONSIDER the possibility of a relationship ending.  When we are brave enough to actually feel those feelings, we see that they aren’t going to kill us.  Sadness may be SAD, but it isn’t a problem.  And when we allow ourselves to feel it, instead of trying to avoid it, we open ourselves up to experiencing whatever lies beyond the sadness.  And beyond the sadness of one relationship ending lies the possibility of a new relationship beginning.  Or the possibility of exploring new relationships.  Or whatever – all kinds of things are possible when you let go of the idea that you have to have one particular relationship work out in a particular way in order for you to have what you want.

 

Now, maybe for you the feeling you’re contending with or trying to avoid contending with isn’t sadness.  Maybe for you the idea of willingly relinquishing your relationship with your affair partner comes with fear, or blame, or maybe both, or maybe a whole bunch of other feelings.  Whatever the feelings are, the point is the same.  Allow yourself to feel them.  If you don’t know how to do that, I can teach you how.  You don’t want let the feelings, or the fear of what you might feel, stop you in your tracks.

 

And then it’s time to make some actual decisions.  After you’ve acknowledged your sadness or fear or blame or whatever you feel when you consider choosing to relinquish your relationship with your affair partner, you’re in a much better position to DECIDE if you want to spend any more time waiting for them to leave their marriage, and how much more time you want to spend waiting for them to leave their marriage.

 

As you calmly consider how much longer you might want to wait for your affair partner to leave their marriage, here are some questions to ask yourself:

 

Is it worth it to you to choose this particular person, or having a relationship with this particular person, over having the kind of relationship that you’d ideally like to have?  It might be!  And if it is, that’s fine and great.  If that’s the case, you have the option of re-framing your orientation to your relationship.  You may want to stop thinking of what you are doing is waiting for your affair partner to leave their marriage.  You may want to start thinking that you have a great life, and a great relationship, and start thinking that you are willingly accepting the constraints that come with the relationship you’ve chosen to continue.

 

If you do NOT want to indefinitely continue your relationship with your affair partner, ask yourself this: how long are you truly okay with continuing to wait?

 

Here are some other ways of asking yourself this question:

 

For how much longer could you wait for them without considering it a burden, or an act of compromising things that are really important to you?

 

How much longer do you want to wait, knowing that you have no way of knowing for sure if they will ever leave their spouse – no matter what they have told you about their intentions?

 

What are you cutting yourself off from by waiting for your affair partner to leave their marriage?  What options or opportunities are you foregoing by waiting for something you don’t have control over to happen?  And how much longer are you willing to cut yourself off from those options or opportunities?  

 

When you answer these questions, make your answers as specific as possible.  

 

Here’s an example of how some folks might specifically answer that last set of questions I posed.  Sometimes people really want to have children within a certain time frame, and they want to create biological children of their own, and they want to do it with a romantic partner who isn’t married to someone else.  There are other ways to have children, of course, but let’s say this is what you want to do, for reasons that you like.  And if that’s what you want, great.  

 

So let’s say you want to have kids within three years.  And you know you like your reasons for wanting that to happen within a three-year time frame.  That’s fantastic.  Now you get to work backwards.  If it takes nine months – give or take – for a baby to get ready for its entrance into the world, once the zygote is formed, that means you need said zygote to exist in about two years and three months, if you are going to have a kid three years from now.  

 

And sometimes it’s pretty easy to create a pregnancy, but sometimes it isn’t.  So you might want to give yourself a certain number of months to try to create a pregnancy.  And just for the sake of making this example concrete, let’s say you want to give yourself a good six months to try to make a pregnancy happen.  So nine months for the baby to grow, plus six months to try and make a baby is 15 months.  If you want to have a kid come into the world in three years, that leaves you with another 21 months.  

 

You get to decide how you want to use that time.  You could say to yourself, well, I’d really like to have a baby with the person who is currently my affair partner, so I’m going to give them twelve months to leave their marriage before I move on.  It’s worth it to me to wait for them for twelve months, even though I could in theory use that time to find someone else who I’d like to have child with, and form a bond with them.  And if I wait twelve months, I’ll still have nine months to find a person who wants to have a baby with me, and I’m pretty sure I can do that.

 

On the other hand, you might think, if I’m going to leave my relationship with my affair partner, I’m going to be pretty distraught.  I want to get on with the business of looking for a new partner if this relationship with my affair partner doesn’t work out, but I also want to take some time to not be in a relationship with anyone before I do that.  If that’s what you’re thinking, you get to decide – how much time do you want to intentionally set aside to be single?  And how much time do you want to give yourself to look for a partner?  Maybe you know you want six months to be single.  Great.  Maybe you know you want a year to look for a person to have a baby with.  That, combined with six months to try to create a baby, and nine months for the baby to grow, comes to 33 months.  Which, working within the three-year timeline, means you have three months leftover which you might be more than willing to allocate to waiting to see if your affair partner does leave their marriage.  

 

Now, before I say anything else, I want to let you know that I used this example because some people are VERY sure they want to have kids, and they’re very sure they want to have them within a particular timeframe.  But I also want you to know that I hesitated to use this example because I know that so many people experience a LOT of stress and pressure in relation to having kids within a particular time fame, and I want to make it clear that my intention is not to add to that pressure!  If I have inadvertently added to the stress you’re feeling around having a child in a particular time frame, I sincerely apologize.  I use this example because it’s ONE compelling reason that some people have for making really ruthless decisions about timelines.  And of course, there are lots of other really compelling reasons to make ruthless decisions about how you want to make use of your time, too.

 

With that said, if you ask yourself the questions I talked about a few minutes ago and it’s becoming clear that you don’t want to wait for your affair partner to leave their marriage indefinitely, get to work.  Get clear on how much longer you are willing to wait and see what your affair partner does.  Get clear on why it’s worth it to you to wait for this long, and why you aren’t willing to wait any longer.

 

And to echo what I’ve said throughout this episode, if setting a limit on how much longer you’re going to wait for your affair partner does NOT appeal to you, ask yourself why not.  If you like your reasons for not wanting to set a limit on your waiting, then great!  You can wait as long as you want to, and you can make your experience of waiting as torturous or un-torturous as you want to.    

 

Having an affair partner who says they want to leave their marriage, and says they are GOING to leave their marriage, but doesn’t actually seem to be doing all that much to leave their marriage may seem like a terribly unfair situation that’s been foisted upon you by a cruel universe.  Wanting, very badly, to have a particular kind of relationship with someone who SAYS they want that kind of relationship with you but doesn’t walk their own talk may be sad and frustrating and confounding.  And feeling sad and frustrated and confounded by your situation is fair enough.  But you get to choose how long you want to stick around for more of the same.  You get to decide if you want to make changes, or if you want to wait and see if your affair partner makes changes.  It’s fair enough to not like waiting, but ultimately, you are in control how much longer you spend doing it.  Use the power you have to create the love life you desire.

 

And if you want help deciding how much longer you want to wait for your affair partner to leave their marriage, let’s work together.  There are three ways we can do this.  You can purchase the self-guided version of my program, You’re Not the Only One, which includes a whole library of video teachings and assignments that will help you deal with your infidelity situation in a way that you feel great about.  There’s also the group coaching program version of You’re Not the Only One, which includes all of the teachings in the DIY program, but also includes group coaching calls that are held in a way that protects your privacy.  And finally, there’s the option for us to work together one-on-one.  To get started working with me in any of these ways, go to the services page of my website, mariemurphyphd.com/services.  Let’s find you some relief and a clear path forward.

 

Thank you all so much for listening!  Have a great week!  Bye for now!  

 

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