Affairs for the Involved Parties
This is an article for people who are having or had an affair, and who are considering counseling. If you are in a relationship with someone who is having or had an affair, you can click here for “Affairs and Infidelity,” which I recommend you read first.
Note: In this article I refer to affairs that involve both emotional and sexual elements. There are many kinds of affairs, but those that involve both sex and emotional connection are the most compelling for affair partners, and the most potentially damaging for all involved.
“Good people in good marriages are having affairs.” — Shirley Glass, from Not Just Friends
Affairs are ubiquitous in our culture right now—many people are going outside the agreed upon structure of their relationships to experience emotional connection and sex with people other than their primary partners. Many marriages will experience an affair over the life of the marriage—some of the latest research reports that up to 70% of marriages will experience an affair. Affairs happen for many reasons, but the conditions that most favor affairs are found in relationships in which open, honest communication has become shut down for some reason and has been replaced by emotional deadness and/or entrenched patterns of anger, disappointment, and silence. Relationships in which attraction for others is not openly discussed as a natural part of life are particularly at risk for affairs.
If you had or are having an affair, and are considering counseling, it is likely that some part of you feels out of balance with your values. You may feel justified about your underlying reasons for having an affair, but still feel some conflict about the actions and decisions it took to have it. Affairs almost always involve deception and omission of information. Very few people would say that dishonesty is in line with their core values or is an accurate reflection of how they usually relate to others they care about. That said, affairs can be the source of some extremely powerful, positive emotions for many people involved in them. The universally positive reflection most people get from their affair partner feels great and is often an electrifying experience, especially when compared to the more grounded, familiar feelings present in long-term relationships.
People commonly mistake the powerful emotional rush they experience in their affair for love. The feelings of adulation, obsession, magnetic attraction, and exciting sex in many affairs can result in affair partners feeling “swept away” together into a state of bliss. They may experience charged emotional intimacy together and may feel comfortable experimenting with new levels of emotional vulnerability. All of these feelings are similar to those experienced at the beginning of a new relationship. However, there are two additional factors, specific to affairs, that make the emotions experienced therein even more intoxicating. The first is that affairs exist in a world apart from the day-to-day world. In a typical affair, you never have to see your affair partner’s dirty laundry, argue with their relatives, or talk about financial pressures. You are allowed to be a perfect version of yourself that is free from normal social roles. Even better, you are able to experience a reflection of this perfect self from your affair partner. Someone is seeing your best qualities. What more could you ask for? The second factor that makes affairs so exciting is their secrecy. Many people get a charge from the elicit nature of affairs, and indeed, from the elicit nature of anything. People often want what they are told they can’t have. Once the line into emotional and sexual intimacy has been crossed in an affair, many affair partners find themselves doing things they never could have imagined doing: Lying to their spouses, sneaking time with their affair partner, and becoming less interested in life’s major responsibilities such as work, kids, pets, friends, family, finances, long-term goals, etc.
If you are considering counseling about your affair, you are probably starting to realize that the feelings you experience in your affair come at a price. For starters, it is hard work living a double life. The weight of all the lies breaks many people down after awhile, which is why many affairs are eventually discovered or admitted to. In addition, most people coming to grips with their affair ultimately realize that it is largely based on fantasy. When exposed to the light of day, affairs start to lose their polish and look more like a normal relationship—and there is nothing inherently magical about relationships—as wonderful as they can be, you get out of them what you put into them. The honeymoon period doesn’t last forever in any relationship, and once over, the quality of the relationship depends upon the quality of the honesty and communication shared. The reality of leaving one’s primary partner for one’s affair partner is typically quite sobering—especially if there is significant history or family involved in the primary relationship. Moreover, many people have an intuitive sense that beginning a new relationship on a foundation of deception, betrayal, and the loss of their former life is probably not a recipe for a healthy new start. The research supports this intuitive sense: Only 3-7% of new marriages that began as affairs last in the long run.
I can help you explore the feelings and needs that led to your affair. I will coach you toward honesty with yourself, with me, and if you choose, with your primary partner. I can help you explore the decision to leave or stay and work on your primary relationship. I can help you navigate the stressful time that follows an affair’s discovery, and help you repair the damage to your primary relationship, if you choose to stay in it. I can help you explore and come to terms with long-standing relationship dynamics, fear of intimacy, or historical factors that may have contributed to your decision to have an affair. I will be a non-judgmental source of support as you work to better understand your feelings and needs, elements of your affair, your relationship, and your future choices. I can recommend readings for you and will encourage you to stay active in your own learning and research process.
If you would like to schedule a free consultation or initial session, if you have questions about my approach to working with affairs, or if you’d like reading suggestions, please contact me.
Phone: (503) 757-6259
3050 SE Division, Suite 260, Portland, OR (In the ‘D Street’ building.)