There are as many types of marital affairs as there are couples who are involved in them. While each is unique and needs to be treated as such there are some broad similarities across many affairs.
It’s important to understand what type of affair you were having because it can help you to understand what may have been missing within your relationship or what kind of issues you may have brought to the relationship. You can use this information as a jumping off point for rebuilding your relationship.
Here are some brief descriptions of the types of affairs I’ve seen over the years.
“Leading two lives” marital affair
In this type of affair the person who strays may experience some unhappiness in the relationship but not necessarily enough for them to want to leave. Instead, they find an affair partner who shares many of the same interests, most often those which are not shared with their spouse.
It’s almost as if two lives are developed – one with the spouse which may revolve around “real life” activities like raising the kids, paying the mortgage, etc. and a second life with the affair partner which may revolve around “fun life” activities.
This is one of, if not the, most common type of affair and in some ways is a reflection of a relationship not properly tended to.
As I mentioned earlier, the everyday grind of things like earning dual incomes, raising children, maintaining a house, and managing finances can leave you feeling more like business partners than lovers.
All of a sudden here comes this person who is exciting and fun to be with. You may share interests that are of a spiritual, artistic or hobby type of nature that you feel essential to your fulfillment as a human being. This may make the affair partner seem like a soul mate of sorts.
“Emotional” marital affairs
Although “sexless”, this type of affair can be just as, if not more shocking and destructive than a sexual affair.
The lack of sexual involvement is often used as a rationalization as to why it’s not it’s not an affair. People involved in emotional affairs will oftentimes become indignant at the suggestion that an affair may be occurring with “my best friend who just happens to be someone of the opposite sex”. And, in fairness, people are so good at rationalizing that they may be deeply involved in an emotional affair and truly believe that it is simply a very close friendship. However, the emotional intensity of this type of relationship and what it drains from the marital relationship is much more than what happens with a best friend.
How do you distinguish between a friendship and an emotional affair? Three questions you can ask are: a) Does your “best friend” have more information or insight into your everyday or emotional life than your partner? b) Does your “friend” know more about what’s not working in your relationship than your partner?; and c) Who do you feel more comfortable confiding your deepest feelings with?
“One night stand” marital affairs
Unlike other types of marital affairs, one night stands are not always indicators that there are problems in the marriage, although it’s not unusual for the partner who strays to been having fantasies about being sexual with someone else.
More often than not, one night stands are unplanned and spontaneous. They are usually rooted in impulsive choices combined with opportunity. They may occur on a business trip or while out on the town and the majority of the time involve a relative stranger although sometimes one night stands can happen with someone known, such as a work colleague. Alcohol or other recreational drugs may contribute to the situation.
The vast majority of people who have one night stands want to stay in their marriages and are plagued with guilt or fear of being found out.
“I’m deeply unhappy with my marriage” marital affairs
As indicated by the name, in this type of affair the partner who strays is unhappy in the marriage and may feel as if s/he is no longer in love with their spouse. Or, they may say that they love their spouse as a brother or sister but no longer are “in love”. They may see their marriage as a dead end.These types of affairs typically have their roots in friendship which become romanticized over time. They may start with a mutual disclosure of unhappiness in both person’s marriages. While these relationships are usually sexualized their real power comes from the emotional needs that are being met which are lacking in the marriage. They are usually long term romances in which the affair partners feel that they are in love with one another and may be talking about a new life together. They believe that happiness can only be found when they are together.
Although the affair partners are oftentimes not aware of it, the feelings generated by this type of marital affair are usually intensified by the illicit nature of the affair. While people in this type of affair don’t like hearing this, the odds of them having a successful long term relationship are very low. Research has indicated that only about 10% of affair couples are together after several years.
The marital problems combined with the seeming fulfillment of the affair oftentimes make these people very reluctant to work on saving their marriages. However, all is not lost. In virtually every relationship, no matter how bad, there remains some good.
If you’re the affair partner I would urge you to try to focus on the remaining good within your primary relationship. An unfortunate tendency for humans is to use a self-confirmation bias. This bias causes us to focus on things that prove our beliefs (whether they are true or not). What this means is that if you think that things are bad it’s going to be much easier for you to see the bad rather than the good.
So, try to look for the good. It sometimes helps to think about what you could lose if your relationship ended. If nothing else, this may at least bring you to the point of being willing to give the marriage one last try.
If the partner is willing to commit to a period of time to restore the relationship they have a very high survival rate. Sometimes making an initial commitment to try for 15 weeks and then re-evaluate is more likely to work than trying to make a complete commitment because it lessens the likelihood of your feeling trapped.
“Tiger Woods” marital affairs
I chose the name “Tiger Woods” for this type of affair because most people are familiar with how his sexual addictions drove him to have affairs in the extreme. Although they may not describe themselves as unhappy in their marriages, people who engage in Tiger Woods type of affairs have never been able to find complete fulfillment from their marriage. Instead they are driven by obsessive needs and compulsive behaviors and may describe themselves as powerless over their own desires.
Just like Tiger, more often than not the one who strays usually doesn’t want their marriage to fail. It’s about something inside of them, not the marriage. Oftentimes their behaviors began before the marriage and may have stopped for awhile, only to be picked up again when they realized that the marriage couldn’t meet the needs of their addiction.
If this describes you, you may alternate between feeling hopelessly trapped by your behaviors and then trapped by your relationship. The idea of opening up and acknowledging your addiction is particularly difficult because you don’t want to lose your marriage or your addiction.
This type of betrayal can be very difficult for the spouse because a) the breadth of the betrayal can seem so enormous and b) while most people can understand alcohol or drug addiction, sexual addiction is a tough one for most to wrap their minds around.
“Love addiction” marital affairs
Love addiction affairs differ from Tiger Woods affairs in that, although they have an addictive quality to them, they are more about the intensity of a new relationship than about sex (although sex is often involved). Love addicts tend to move from one relationship to the next and they will oftentimes feel very uncomfortable or lost if they are not involved in an intense relationship.
The goal of the love addict is to find that one right person, except they never seem to be able to find that person. They may have some sense of security in their marriage, but it just doesn’t feel 100% right to them. They may feel as though they married the wrong person and have a one-foot-in and one-foot-out feeling about the marriage as they search for their perfect mate.
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