Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


5 Ways to Get Out of an Extramarital Affair

Ending an affair can be harder than starting one.

Even though 84 percent of Americans believe that infidelity is morally wrong, the infidelity rate in the United States has been slowly on the rise (Pew Research Center, 2014). Zuckerman (2020) reported that approximately 20 percent of married couples in the US have cheated, and in other countries the rates are staggering. For example, Denmark’s affair rate tops all countries at 46 percent, followed by Germany and Italy at 45 percent. Belgium, Norway, and France are all over 40 percent (World Population Review, 2023).

To complicate matters, infidelity has long been correlated with divorce. According to Marin, Christensen, and Atkins (2014), 80 percent of the couples with unrevealed infidelity divorced, and 43 percent of the revealed infidelity couples did as well. Only 23 percent of couples practicing fidelity divorced. Lake (2019) reported that the average affair lasts approximately six months; some last days and others last years.

In my clinical practice, I have seen many spouses try, with limited success, to extricate themselves from an affair before they are discovered. This post explores a few of the ways to end an affair before all parties suffer the fallout. Of course, the best way to avoid getting stuck in an affair is to avoid one. But here, l will deal with those people who have already fallen into this fantasized trap and now wish to escape.

The consensus is that an emotional affair counts as a transgression but I prefer to limit my discussion to those individuals who have had sexual intercourse with their lovers. I believe that once this sexual boundary is crossed it is even harder to extricate oneself from an extramarital affair.

  • Weigh the Familial-Personal Consequences. If you do not mind your marriage falling apart, or your children being upset with you, you can ignore this suggestion. But if these consequences are a price too steep to pay, end your affair immediately. Yes, you might hurt your lover. But consider whether it is more important to preserve your relationship with your family or upset someone you really do not know enough to risk it all for. This may sound simple. But I have found that most people in affairs do not consider the consequences of their actions until it is too late.
  • Consider the Professional Consequences. Studies have found that approximately one-quarter of the workers surveyed in workplace settings have had affairs with married colleagues—a popular and convenient context (Loveland, 2019). If you value your career, then make the tough choice between your job and your illicit partner. If you value your job, think about how hard it will be to find another just like it. I have found that spouses who have affairs with a co-worker, when discovered, often must give up their job to appease an angry, anxious spouse. Also, it goes without saying that having a consensual affair with someone considered to have less power than you at the workplace may only end your career in disgrace and litigation.
  • Make up your mind. Show me someone who is having an affair and I will show you someone who is having trouble making up their mind about their primary relationship. If you are having an affair, decide what to do with your marriage. Be honest with yourself. Do you really want to rescue your marriage? Are you really interested in improving it? If you answer yes to these questions, end your affair and begin to work on your marriage in earnest. Staying in limbo will not solve anything.
  • Ask yourself who your illicit partner really is. Too many people engage in an affair without a clear picture of who their lover is. They are so infatuated that they cannot make a clear enough assessment of them, especially their suitability as a long-term mate. Ask yourself: If this person had an affair with me, what might stop them from cheating on me in the future? This is not to say that these are terrible people. But it is an indication that they are capable of crossing boundaries, especially if they too were cheating.
  • Do not ghost your illicit partner. Do not suddenly disappear on your lover, even if the affair was short-lived; this adds insult to injury. Be gentle but firm in telling the person that you can no longer participate in the affair. Take at least 50 percent responsibility for its development and do not waffle. I have always said that affairs are like the ending of a bad zombie movie. You know, when the hero thinks the zombie is dead, turns his back, and suddenly the zombie rises again.


Lake, R. (2019). Infidelity statistics: 23 eye-opening truths. Retrieved from

Loveland, E. (2019). The extramarital affair at work: Do you handle it differently than any other Retrieved from…

Marin, R., Christensen, A., & Atkins, D. (2014). Infidelity and behavioral couple therapy: Relationship outcomes over 5 years following therapy. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 3, 1-12. doi:10.1037/cfp0000012

Pew Research Center (2014). Extramarital affairs topline. Retrieved from…

World Population Review (2023). Infidelity rates by country 2023. Retrieved from

Zuckerman, A. (2020). 50 cheating statistics: 2020/2021 demographics, reasons, & who cheats more. Retrieved from

More from Stephen J. Betchen D.S.W.
More from Psychology Today
More from Stephen J. Betchen D.S.W.
More from Psychology Today