Having an affair
Infidelity, unlike what most people assume, is neither rare, nor an exclusively man’s doing. It is estimated that approximately 46% of men and 25% of women will engage in an extra-marital affair during the lifetime of their marriage. Interestingly, infidelity has become an equal opportunity affair. Women, men, gay, straight, young and old, all seem to be somehow engaged in affairs. Affairs, both physical and emotional, are devastating. The damage done after the discovery or revelation of an affair can destroy a marriage and family, but it doesn’t have to. Rebuilding a relationship after an affair is certainly possible, but will take a long time. It is far better to prevent an affair from happening.
Preventing infidelity: How to stop affairs before they start
The late Shirley Glass identified three signs that should indicate to a person that they have crossed a marital boundary, and may be dangerously close to having an affair.
If you find yourself discussing marital problems and sharing deep thoughts and feelings with a member of the opposite sex, you are entering the danger zone. Ask yourself the question if you would want your spouse to hear this conversation you’re having with someone else.
If you find yourself sexually attracted to another person and imagine being with that person in a romantic way, you should be very careful.
If you leave out details of your day because they include spending time with the person you are attracted to or if you lie to your spouse about this person.
Be honest with yourself and your spouse and do not ignore these signs. It is a common myth that only people who are living in an unhappy marriage engage in affairs. This is far from reality. Sometimes, even people in happy marriages can find themselves tempted to become involved with a person outside of the marriage. The best way to prevent infidelity is to mutually “affair proof” your marriage. Extra-marital affairs don’t just happen. There are clear steps and choices that lead into an affair.
Not all affairs are created equal
Online affairs have become extremely common since the start of the Internet and the circulation of pornography and online dating. Some view online affairs as one of the biggest threats to marriage. With the Internet being so accessible; affordable; anonymous and addictive, the Internet population seems to be exploring sexuality in ways that are unparalleled.
The common belief is that affairs are about sex. In fact, affairs are often about self-expression and not always a reflection of a bad marriage.
Other types of affairs, but to name a few are:
People who go to any length to avoid all marital conflict may resort to affairs.
“Intimacy avoiders” are reluctant to be intimately close and use the affair to keep themselves at an emotional distance from their spouse.
Individual (Existential or Developmental):
Mid-life crisis, fear of growing old, the empty nest, depression and a sense of emptiness or a void are factors that can fuel an affair.
Sex addicts compulsively display poor impulse control. They use sex repeatedly to numb inner pain and/or a sense of emptiness.
This type of one night stand affair “just happens,” when a person is in the right (wrong) place at the right time. Curiosity, pity, drunkenness and even politeness may lead to such affairs.
Sometimes one partner wants to “get back” at the other partner by having an affair. This may be payback for withholding money, love, emotion or any other perceived wrongdoing.
After the storm of an affair
At Wellness TC3, our marriage counsellors are equipped to help you work through the pain and devastation of an affair. Through Imago relationship therapy, the counsellor will typically take the following steps to try and help restore the broken marriage:
- try to help the couple get through the immediate crisis;
- tend to the underlying wounds in the marriage;
- take a deeper look at childhood scars;
- provide compassion and advice as needed; and
- encourage new trust, forgiveness, and intimacy in the relationship.
All marriages are alike to the degree that confronting an affair forces the couple to re-evaluate their relationship, but dissimilar in how the couple lives with the legacy of that affair.
Esther Perel identified three basic patterns in the way couples reorganise themselves after an infidelity:
Stuck in the past: they never get past the affair
In some marriages, the affair isn’t a transitional crisis, but a black hole trapping both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge, and self-pity. These couples endlessly gnaw at the same bone, circle and re-circle the same grievances, reiterate the same mutual recriminations, and blame each other for their agony. Why they stay in the marriage is often as puzzling as why they can’t get beyond their mutual antagonism.
The Survivors: they pull themselves up by the bootstraps and let it go
A second pattern is found in couples who remain together because they honour values of lifelong commitment and continuity, family loyalty, and stability. They want to stay connected to their community of mutual friends and associates or have a strong religious affiliation. These couples can move past the infidelity, but they don’t necessarily transcend it. Their marriages revert to a peaceful version of the way things were before the crisis, without undergoing any significant change in their relationship.
The Explorers: they leave it far behind
For some couples, however, the affair becomes a transformational experience and catalyst for renewal and change. This outcome illustrates that therapy has the potential to help couples reinvent their marriage by mining the resilience and resourcefulness each partner brings to the table.