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.)
First up, I want you to know, it’s absolutely not my place (nor my intention) to judge you. I’ve simply 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 can happen if you feel your illicit lover truly is your soulmate…
It could be that you've met the love of your life, despite already being married or in a committed intimate relationship. You may have fallen in love against your own expectation, wish or intention. It could even be that at the same time, you still really love your wife, husband or partner.
But, you know you love this new person too. 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...
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 either.
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)?
Surviving infidelity then means investing time and energy in creating a dignified ending for your primary relationship. That is, if you aren't in a relationship where you can be open with your partner about your wish to have an affair and where a third person would be welcomed. In some relationships that's a possibility for a variety of reasons - be that for sex or emotional intimacy.
Ending your relationship and getting a divorce (if you're married) may well take longer than you’d hope, particularly if there are children involved.
But, 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!
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'm sure you realise yourself that you can't expect to have your cake and eat it too! That shows no respect for anyone, including yourself.
For you to survive your infidelity with your dignity intact, I highly recommend you talk it over with a professional counsellor.
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 who is in an intimate relationship or marriage?
Does he or she see you as 'a bit on the side' (horrible expression isn't it!), or the other way around?
Or are the two of you in a serious relationship?
Do you both see it in the same way?
Granted, you may not know that that person is already spoken for. However, if you do and if this is your first committed or serious relationship, you possibly don't fully realise the upset that this illicit relationship is likely to create.
Also, 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, until... It will be just the two of you soon. Etc!
However, if you've been together for months (or even years) and there's been no movement in that direction, then it's unlikely to happen at all. In which case, it’s more likely that the affair will eventually be discovered, and you'll be the one to lose out.
Of course, as I mentioned before, it's possible that you really are meant for each other.
Do take heed, then, of my comments above, particularly if your man or woman has children. That means that you'll become a carer or stepparent to those children. Your love then comes with serious commitments and challenges that will have a much greater impact on your relationship than you're experiencing now.
When dealing with infidelity, all parties are likely to have difficulties with trust, both now and in the future.
If the affair ends, to survive the infidelity the wronged partner will want to track your whereabouts, check up on you and question you constantly - particularly in the early stages. Your betrayal could also have resulted in your spouse or partner feeling jealous whenever they find you talking to another person of the opposite sex (or same sex).
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 feel entitled to cheat on you, and be forgiven for it.
It can take a long time to rebuild that trust in each other - months, perhaps even years.
Surviving infidelity, in the meantime, means working hard to rebuild a loving, rewarding and otherwise happy relationship.
Your affair is unlikely to ever 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.
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.
1. Someone paid you attention
- you badly needed it, or at least you thought you did, and it made you feel fantastic.
2. 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.
3. 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!
4. 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!
However, just in case you're really not sure what to do, I'd recommend my Relationship Compatibility Test to help you discover if indeed your primary relationship is no longer recoverable.
5. 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.
6. You feel this is your chance for a bit of happiness
- for whatever reason. Your happiness, though, will depend somewhat on your circumstances and whether or not your primary partner is aware of and in agreement with your having affair.
Also, in general, avoiding dealing with what really makes you unhappy is just going to prolong the agony in the long-term.
7. 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.
8. You feel like the chosen one of someone in a position of power
- the affair appears to bolster your self esteem and/or lack of confidence.
9. Your partner suffers from a long-term illness,
which takes up up all of your attention, time and other resources. There's no space for you and this affair is meeting your needs - emotional and/or physical.
10. You have a long-distance relationship,
you're missing having someone close and you want some fun.
11. 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 (see my article: How to deal with a narcissistic spouse or partner).
12. You have a greater need for a physical relationship
and your partner has never been that interested, has lost interest or just doesn't want sex - for whatever reason (see my article on a sexless marriage or relationship)
13. 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 cheat on your partner. But now you're here, maybe you're beginning to have niggles about it.
14. 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.
15. 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 ( and that includes having an emotional affair), the above are only factors are not 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 (see my article on the signs of a cheating spouse)!
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...
When you're cheating, 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.
Complications increase when you're cheating 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:
Whether or not children were involved, many of my clients who were having an affair ended up feeling 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, I highly recommend you get some good relationship advice. It's best to talk to a professional counsellor, but failing that do consider talking to another trustworthy and wise person.
See also my article: Children in the middle.
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 do expect that your partner will take much longer to come to terms with it than you think.
Coping with infidelity gives rise to many layers of complicated feelings, emotions and consequent relationship problems. Neither you nor your partner will be able to process everything and get back to normal very quickly.
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. You may find the hypnosis download Surviving Infidelity helpful. For further details about this see my article: Hypnosis FAQ and downloads.
If you’ve been unfaithful before, though, I’d advise you both to talk about whether there's anything meaningful left in your relationship together.
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:
1. Have yourself checked for sexually transmitted diseases, first and foremost! (Click here to download Washington State Department of Health explanatory leaflet) And tell your partner to have him/herself checked too - however much they won’t want to hear that (see STD symptoms questionnaire below).
2. 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.
3. Confront yourself - take responsibility and challenge your own behaviour.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Learn how to really listen and respond appropriately. Read my article on effective communication.
8. Accept that it may take many months to recover, step-by-step, with the first 2-6 weeks being the worst (if the affair has actually ended).
9. 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.
10. Share immediately and honestly with your partner if your lover tries to re-establish contact.
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. Coping with infidelity is stressful for everyone involved.