Today’s culture promotes love in earnest, but few resources exist that explain how to fall out of love.
First and foremost, the most important bit of wisdom we give involved spouses is that it is possible to fall out of love with an affair partner—if you want to. But just like falling in love is a learned emotional process, falling out of love is something that has to be learned, requires some effort, and may take some time.
Here are some principles from behavioral psychology that can be helpful for falling out of love with an affair partner.
A common technique in cognitive behavioral therapy, thought replacement is the most powerful method for falling out of love. It involves training certain thoughts to stay away and learning not to encourage destructive thoughts.
With thought replacement, we encourage individuals to make a list of positive items, events, places, and situations that don’t involve the affair partner. The first instant the affair partner comes to mind, the individual should yell, “STOP!” and immediately think about something from that list. Repeating this practice and keeping track of progress will help the affair partner train himself or herself to gradually decrease instances of thinking about the affair partner.
The practice of silent contempt helps betrayers diminish thoughts of the affair partner further, especially if contact with that person is inevitable. This is accomplished by replacing the high esteem of the affair partner with a ridiculous, humorous image that emphasizes his or her flaws. But it’s only effective if this image doesn’t incite a sense of pity within the involved spouse.
Silent contempt removes the affair partner from a pedestal, simultaneously placing the focus on his or her flaws and exercising the betrayer’s sense of humor. After a period of practice and perseverance, the affair partner eventually becomes associated with the absurd or exaggerated image.
Covert sensitization, also called repulsion, is a more extreme technique that can be useful if thought replacement and silent contempt aren’t working as well. It’s also effective at taming physical attraction toward the affair partner.
This process involves creating a list of vivid images that overwhelm the senses with their extreme, repulsive associations. Then, the involved spouse attaches one of those images with physical contact with the affair partner, so that contact becomes associated with a repulsive sight, sound, or smell. The final part of this process involves envisioning turning away from the affair partner, helping the involved spouse unlearn the physical attraction he or she has previously felt.
The process of falling out of love with an affair partner is inhibited if there’s jealousy in the equation. Since the deeply emotive jealousy is learned at a young age, it can’t be overcome by simply deciding to not be jealous anymore; it has to be emotionally unlearned. Thought replacement can be helpful in the process, but the most effective technique, is called graduated calming. This technique can also be effective for injured spouses struggling with jealousy.
Best conducted by a trained therapist, thought calming is a three-step process involving deep muscle relaxation, determining and making a list of things that trigger jealousy in order of intensity, and the graduated calming process—envisioning scenarios on that list until they no longer elicit anxiety. Like the above techniques, graduating calming retrains the emotions to cope with jealousy in a healthy way.