The unthinkable has happened. The pain is unbelievable. How could someone you know and love have betrayed you in this way? How can you go on being with this person? The crisis of an affair is a subject I hear about from couples in all walks of life. Statistics on affairs are controversial since there is inherent secrecy about reporting them. Some sources claim affairs have occurred with 40% of married women and 60% of married men. Other sources state that 10% of wives and 25% of husbands have engaged in an affair. We do know that affairs are happening and are devastating to the individuals involved.
Why do people have affairs? It is important to understand the reasons so affairs can be prevented and to determine the most appropriate way to deal with the affair. Affairs generally fall into three categories or vulnerabilities: individual, marital and social/cultural.
The person is a risk taker; they like variety and excitement and are often attracted to the forbidden. The person wants an escape from their everyday life. Or they are seeking admiration and acceptance It is important to note that the person might be struggling with a sexual addiction.
Marital problems can cause people to be vulnerable to an affair. The person is dissatisfied with their relationship and they start confiding in others. This is very prevalent in couples who avoid dealing with conflict and difficulties. The affair partner often becomes the confidant-the person on the inside of the problems. One partner may describe feeling lonely within their marriage. Or they have needs that go unmet and feel rejected. These affairs can be a cry for help and a way to get attention on their unmet needs. They can also be an exit strategy to get out of a difficult relationship.
The social insolence occurs when it is accepted that affairs do and will occur. This can be within an office setting or an industry, such as the entertainment industry.
Whatever the vulnerabilities that contributed to an affair, I remind couples that it is an individual choice whether or not to engage in an affair. Many people face these vulnerabilities but do not have affairs. Rather they choose to deal with the situation by working with their partner, typically including counseling.
If you are in or have been in an affair it is still important that you reveal and address the effects of the affair. Otherwise, it is a secret that will separate you and your spouse. I have worked with couples where revelations of the affair came out fifteen or twenty years later. In these situations the spouse feels a deeper sense of betrayal because they feel like their life together was a “fraud.”
Once an affair is discovered:
- Remember that you are on an emotional roller coaster
- Allow yourself time to work through your overwhelming emotions
- Don’t feel pressured to make a decision
- Seek out professional help with a therapist
- If overwhelmed, contact your doctor
- Talk with an attorney to know your options
- Be tested for STD’s