Dealing with infidelity, when you're having, or are tempted to have, an affair
Dealing with infidelity can be pretty challenging - to put it mildly! This article is for you if you're having an affair. (My research has also shown that a lot of people are searching for how to start an affair… so if that’s you, there’s plenty here for you too.)
If you are the 'wronged' partner...
If you’ve just found out that your partner has been unfaithful, hop over to my page: Surviving Infidelity
First up, I want you to know, it’s absolutely not my place (nor my intention) to judge you. So I won’t! Instead, I’ve written this article to help you discover all that's at stake, based on my 24 years’ experience as a couple counsellor.
Let's start with what happens if you feel your illicit lover truly is your soulmate…
This is what it feels like!
What if the affair is really 'serious'?
There may be a chance that you've met the love of your life, despite already being married or in a committed intimate relationship. You know you love this ‘new’ person with all your heart. It feels like you can’t help but love them. And you can’t get them out of your head.
The following video provides an explanation of what might be going on for you...
The brain in love
According to prof Helen Fisher, this is what happens in the brain with regards to lust, romantic love and attachment.
However, unless you really understand and face up to the potential impact of your infidelity, your 'new' relationship won't stand a chance. Your time and energy will probably be consumed by a very angry partner or spouse for a long time to come. The risk of revenge is huge!
Are you and your lover both really serious about this relationship (the affair)? If so, then you need to invest time and energy in creating a dignified ending for your primary relationship. That may well take longer than you’d hope, particularly if there are children involved.
However, your family deserves nothing less. Also, if you do it kindly and the ‘right’ way, you're likely to feel better about yourself too. A messy ending can add to any feelings of guilt you may already have after your betrayal. That’s not helpful for you, your ex or your new partner!
Not sure what to do about either relationship?
Can't make up your mind whether to go back to your partner or set up home with your new partner? I can’t make that decision for you. But I can say with certainty that you can’t expect to have your cake and eat it too! That shows no respect for anyone, including yourself.
The only advice I can give you here is to talk it over with a licensed therapist. It's very easy to set up an online session (and get continued support if you need or want that). For further information see my page: Online Relationship Advice.
What if you’re single, but you're having an affair with someone in an intimate relationship or marriage?
Granted, you may not know that person is already spoken for. However, if you do and if this is your first ‘committed’ or ‘serious’ relationship, you possibly have no idea of the anguish you're helping to create.
You may well have been promised the earth by your lover. He or she will leave their partner. The two of you will eventually be together forever. You just need to hang on a little bit longer - it will be ‘just the two of you’ soon. Etc!
I’m sorry to tell you, this is unlikely to happen if you've been together for months and there's been no movement in that direction! It’s more likely that the infidelity will be discovered, and you'll be the one to lose out.
In any case, you now need to live with the fact that this man or woman is used to being unfaithful. How secure will you feel?
This is what it can feel like too!
Infidelity destroys all trust
All parties will have difficulties with trust when you're dealing with infidelity in a marriage or relationship.
If the affair ends, the wronged partner will want to check up on you constantly - particularly in the early stages. You, as the one who’s betrayed your partner, are likely not to trust that you'll ever be forgiven. You may worry too, that you've given your partner the 'green light' to also have an affair. Indeed your partner may at some point in the future feel 'entitled' to have an extra-marital affair, and be forgiven for their infidelity.
The fact is, it can take a long time to rebuild trust - months, perhaps even years.
Nevertheless it may be possible, in the meantime, to rebuild a loving, rewarding and otherwise happy relationship. Your affair won't be forgotten, but depending on what happens next, you may be forgiven. This period will simply become part of the tapestry of your life together.
Why do people - men and women - have affairs?
As a couple counsellor, I've heard a whole host of 'causes' of - or 'reasons' for - infidelity. Below, I've listed the main ones that I've come across in my practice.
Keep in mind, though, that it won't help the situation at home if you attempt to use any of these as an excuse.
15 'Reasons' or excuses for infidelity
- Someone paid you attention - you badly needed it, or at least you thought you did, and it made you feel fantastic.
- For no ‘apparent’ reason you feel (or felt) hopelessly attracted to someone and you can't put that person out of your mind - he/she is 'the love of your life'.
- Your partner has had an affair and now you're out for adventure as revenge... almost anyone will do - a really bad way of dealing with infidelity!
- Your marriage or relationship is dead - both you and your partner know it (or not!), and you feel that the affair is giving you something you otherwise wouldn't have had. Of course, there are plenty of people who would claim their marriage is dead without their spouse knowing about it!
- You haven't been in a committed relationship before so you don't know how precious it can be. Therefore you haven't given your partner (or your lover’s partner) any thought at all. Or if you did, you quickly dismissed them out of hand.
- You feel this is your chance for a ‘bit of happiness’ - for whatever reason. Your happiness is very likely to be short-lived - for you, an affair is not the answer. Avoiding dealing with what really makes you unhappy is just going to prolong the agony in the long-term.
- You're young and feel privileged to be the 'chosen one' of someone older. You may not realise the total devastation your infidelity can cause.
- You feel like the 'chosen one' of someone in a position of power - the affair appears to do wonders for your low-self esteem and/or lack of confidence.
- Your partner suffers from a long-term illness, taking up all your attention, time and other resources. There's no space for you and this affair is meeting your needs - emotional and/or physical.
- You have a long-distance relationship, you're missing having someone close and you want some fun.
- You don't care about your relationship or your lover's primary relationship - you're having an affair out of bravado and contempt, and for any perceived ‘kudos’.
- You have a greater need for a physical relationship and your partner has never been that interested, has lost interest or just can't ‘provide’ - for whatever reason.
- You're feeling invincible and see no problem in doing just what you like. You have a list of reasons as to why you're ‘entitled’ to have an affair, but you're beginning to have niggles about it.
- You're in touch again with an old flame and despite being married or in a relationship, you feel driven to be close to this person.
- You had absolutely no idea that your lover was/is already married or in a committed relationship. This is a really painful one, if you truly didn't know. You were lied to and now you're having to cope with the shock of that discovery and, quite likely, the end of your relationship.
Whatever your reason for being unfaithful, the above are only factors that may have led up to you having an affair. None of them are an excuse - you made choices every step of the way..
If you're having an affair, you may not necessarily be caught cheating right now. However, the skeleton could potentially fall out of the cupboard at any time - if it hasn't already. Needless to say, there's never a good time!
Below, I've listed some potential problems with having an extra-marital affair. They’re some of the kinds of things you’ll have to confront when you’re dealing with infidelity. So, if you’re being - or thinking about being - unfaithful, I’d urge you to consider the following...
10 Potential dangers of having an extramarital affair
- Having an affair may help you to meet your Essential Emotional Needs in the short-term, but is it actually just a temporary plaster over the underlying problems you have?
- Your lover is probably not going to leave his/her partner, particularly if they have children. Occasionally it happens, but more often than not the waiting is in vain.
- If your lover is willing to have an extramarital affair with you, he or she may well be willing to have an affair with someone else later down the line. If the relationship did become more permanent, how secure would you actually feel?
- How would you feel and respond if you were challenged by an angry and hurt partner? And what if he or she reported your cheating to your place of work? (It certainly has happened in an organisation I worked for!)
- Your emotional and mental well-being are to a large degree dependent on the health of the relationships with the people you feel closest to. How would your family and/or friends respond to your affair? How important is that to you?
- Are you cheating on your partner at work? How would it affect your job/promotion prospects and your relationship with your colleagues if your infidelity was discovered? What if the relationship goes sour? Could you still work in that place/department/position?
- What if you/the other woman fell pregnant? Can you truly be sure that's not going to happen?
- If you're normally considerate of other people's feelings, you may end up feeling unbearably guilty for a long time about all the pain caused (often described as a physical pain!), like so many of my past clients.
- What’s the effect of the lies and dishonesty on your self-esteem, your sense of 'self', your belief in who you are and what you stand for?
- What precisely will you say to your children if or when they find out?
When you're having an affair, it's unlikely that you'll want to be confronted by any of these uncomfortable facts. However, I'm hopeful that - since you're looking for information - this will help you to think about your next step, and be considerate of other people.
Are there children involved in your affair?
Complications increase when you're dealing with infidelity and either one of you is a parent (or indeed you’re both parents).
Here are some of the issues you need to consider before you decide on whether or not to pursue this affair. The following will have an impact on you:
- Your and/or your lover's children may find out. How would you explain what's been happening - without blaming your partner?
- Your lover may have children from one or more partners. Have you considered the potential impact of the other parents' wishes, demands, involvement and judgments on your ‘new’ relationship? This may or may not be important to you, but depending on the makeup of your family it can be a very big factor in your continuing relationship with those children.
- It's very likely that your spouse won't want your children introduced to your new partner for a long time. So, if you're anticipating a future with this man or woman, your children may not be allowed to spend time with the two of you. This is particularly important if your marriage or relationship has really come to an end and you are keen to 'move on'.
- The ending of the primary relationship, if it comes to this, will be complicated with regard to the children at the very least.
- Older children are very likely to judge you and you may find it very hard to recover their trust, love and respect. Imagine for a moment how you’d tell your children that you’ve cheated on their mum/dad.
- Adult children's reactions can also have quite an impact! You may argue that it has nothing to do with them - they're adults and this is your life. However, your life is forever connected to theirs - their hurt and anger can have a real impact on how you feel. You may end up feeling hugely guilty about all the pain caused.
Whether or not children were involved, many of my clients who were having an affair ended up feeling terribly caught between two partners - for whatever reason.
I get that you can become totally absorbed by a love-affair. I also understand that you may feel trapped between all the 'wants' and 'shoulds'. If you feel torn and don't know what to do - talk to a relationship expert - you can, right now.
Can your relationship or marriage survive after an affair?
Yes, it’s possible for your relationship or marriage to recover if you end the affair. But only once the initial waves of strong feelings have begun to subside. And don’t expect your partner to come to terms with it quickly. Dealing with infidelity gives rise to many layers of complicated feelings and emotions. Neither you nor your partner will be able to process everything and ‘get back to normal’ any time soon.
Patience is key here. Rebuilding your relationship (if that’s what you both choose to do) will take time. But it is even possible to create a better - if different - relationship to that which you had before.
If you’ve been unfaithful before, though, I’d really advise both you and your partner to stop and think long and hard about your life together. If you’ve betrayed your partner more than once, is there actually anything meaningful left in your relationship together?
10 Tips for surviving infidelity by reinvesting in your primary relationship
If you’ve realised that your primary relationship is the one that’s worth investing your time, energy and self into, then it’s largely up to you to start the repair process. To help you recover, I'd really like you to be prepared to:
- Have yourself checked for sexually transmitted diseases, first and foremost! And tell your partner to have him/herself checked too - however much they won’t want to hear that.
- Don't blame your partner - I understand you're feeling defensive, but the only way you’ll get through this is by taking responsibility for the choices you made.
- Confront yourself - take responsibility and challenge your own behaviour
- Accept that your partner may want nothing else but to know all the details. Their imagination could possibly be worse than the reality. The more you give him or her your time and honesty, the quicker the healing happens
- Accept that your partner needs lots of reassurance. Remind yourself therefore of all the things you like and love about them. Remind yourself too of all the good times you had, and exactly why they were enjoyable, fun, beautiful and memorable.
- Decide together on set times (every day for however long your partner finds it helpful) to talk about the infidelity - and agree not to talk about it during the rest of the day. Negotiate and agree on a reasonable time limit for conversations about the affair - 20-40 minutes or so, or whatever works for both of you
- Learn how to really listen and respond appropriately. Read my article on effective communication
- Accept that it may take months to recover, step-by-step, with the first 2-6 weeks being the worst (if the affair has actually ended!)
- End all contact with your lover - this is non-negotiable. Show your partner the email, text message, the deleted account and whatever else would reassure him or her.
- Share immediately and honestly with your partner if your lover tries to re-establish contact.
Be aware of gender differences
Women are more likely to want to talk about feelings, and know all the details (but of course this may actually be completely the reverse for you).
Men more often want to leave it behind and concentrate on the future, which could mean either not talking about it, or a divorce! They do feel the pain, but may well have learnt not to show it.
If you choose to end your affair, you may feel relief - or you could feel the pain of the separation from a possibly much-loved person. Though that depends on whether the affair was about love or lust.
Either way, it’s time to make a decision. Dealing with infidelity is stressful for everyone involved. Particularly you! Whether you choose to end your primary relationship or your affair, take some time to think long and hard about what you’re doing.
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