Q: My wife and I recently broke up after 18 years of marriage. It was because I have found someone new and probably didn't handle things as I should, but now my family has broken into factions and everyone is upset and taking sides. I'm at a loss as to what to do. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Rarely do people who have affairs stop to consider the far-reaching effects their decision has on not only their partner, but also their family members. I remember working with a family who was trying to navigate just this situation. When the daughter confronted her father about what he had done to her, he said, "I did nothing to you. I did this to your mother." It was quite an eye-opening response for everyone, including the father. Before voicing this he thought that his decision affected only him and his ex. In that split-second he realized the gravity of his decision. When you are a family, every decision you make affects every member of the family in some way.
But that does not help you at this point. You have already made the choice and now want to know how to repair the fallout. That's a tough one.
You didn't say what your plans are — stay and rebuild your marriage or leave permanently and attempt to form a new relationship. You should know going in that it's rare that two people who had an affair marry at all, and then are still married after five years. Dishonesty is not a good foundation for any relationship.
That said, more relationships seem to be weathering infidelity than ever before, but it takes work to get on the other side of something like this. You are going to have to rebuild from scratch, and you probably won't be able to do it by yourself. Get help from a therapist who specializes in things like this.
Important components to survival begin with a heartfelt apology, genuine remorse, and ending with complete transparency in the future. What does transparency look like? You volunteer as much information as possible. If she asks where you are going or where you have been, you tell her the truth. If she wants to see your phone, you hand it to her. You give her all your passwords and answer every question she asks. For how long? For as long as it takes. That's where that therapist can guide you. Your wife may throw up roadblocks to test your commitment. If you want to fix this, you must have patience. Both you and your wife must be truly dedicated to putting it back together.
Your relationship with your family members may actually be more difficult to repair. Children love their parents differently than parents love each other. That love is often the glue that allows two people to repair something like this, but a child's anger at feeling betrayed is completely different. Remorse and a vow not to repeat the same behavior is a start, as well as doing your best to demonstrate respect for their mother. You forgot that one in the past, and believe me, it registered. Remember that therapist to guide you through the process here, as well.
I think my readers will be interested in your progress. Keep us posted.
Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation" and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.