Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When Is It An Affair?

For something to be called a sexual affair, it requires three conditions and all three must be present.

1. There's more intimacy than in the primary relationship
2. There's sex involved
3. It's kept a secret

Men consider it an affair when sex is involved. An affair does not have to be physical for women to consider it cheating. It just has to be emotional.

The Internet has brought on a new issue for people who had no intention of cheating. They innocently cross the line as they divulge more and more of themselves to each other and find themselves involved in an emotional affair.

For an emotional affair, it requires all three conditions to be present.

1. Greater emotional intimacy than in the primary relationship,
2. Secrecy and deception from the spouse
3. Sexual chemistry

Emotional affairs can cause a good deal of marital strife. However, the affair that includes sexual intercourse typically does the most damage to the couple.

Affairs are an indication that there are problems in the dynamics of the marriage. And they bring with them an opportunity to rediscover the intimacy and closeness that was either lost or was never present in the primary relationship if the couple is willing to work through the violation.

Affairs generally start innocently enough. Most of the time, there is no intention to violate the trust of the primary relationship. At first, the pair meets and has a friendly exchange. They like each other and feel a sense of comfort with each other. As they get to know each other, feelings begin to develop. Most people stop at this point. The same mechanics are in operation when we are making a friend.

Then something takes a turn. They notice that they are beginning to form a bond that seems more than just friends. The relationship becomes secret. They stop telling their friends or families about the other attached individual. The secrecy helps to strengthen the feelings and the bond that is taking place with the other person. Now, things are beginning to go too far.

As the relationship progresses, they look for more and more excuses to spend time together. They share their feelings and hopes with each other. They may still try to convince themselves that they are nothing more than friends. However, their behavior reveals a different story.

Finally, there are sexual ideas forming in both of their minds. It may not be spoken about at first, but over time, it usually comes out. Sex is thrilling and they already have a code of secrecy. Who would know? It’s the secrecy that makes it possible for this final step.

If it’s an unattached woman having an affair with an attached man, she often will think/hope in the back of her mind that once they have sex, he will leave his primary relationship for her. This rarely happens. When the affair ends, 90% of the time, he’ll go home and she’ll end up having a broken heart.

Affairs are not a realistic way of having a relationship. They are very romantic, but they are not based in reality. The times when the pair meets up are exciting and highly stimulating. They share dinner, interludes, secret events and may even travel together. However, they are not living together in day to day life. They are feeding the passion with a fantasy and not with the reality of daily life. They are not dealing with the more mundane aspects of a relationship such as the kids, the mortgage, the visiting in-laws, tuition, disciplining of children and maintenance of the home.

Affairs are one of the most damaging predicaments that couples face. They are equally difficult to treat and overcome. In fact, it is estimated by one survey that 50% of all couples who enter therapy do so as the result of an actual or suspected affair.

For the individual who discovers their partner has been cheating it can be devastating. Some individuals go through a legitimate experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In any case, there is a profound sense of loss and pain. In some cases, it can be worse that the experience of death. With the death of a partner, they were taken away by the circumstances. We have traditions and customs to handle such losses.

With and affair, the partner chooses to leave for someone else of their own free will. We don’t have any traditions or customs to support the grieving one left behind. Often, their friends and families don’t know how to help or what to say. Other times, the offended individual hides the fact that their partner had an affair. They are embarrassed, shamed or confused. As a result, they don’t make themselves available for what support they could receive from family and friends.

During this time, the offended individual has to deal with feeling of loss of specialness, loss of self-respect and loss of faith. It feels like the carpet has been pulled out from under them. They may even doubt their ability to judge reality accurately and are unprepared for the emotional and physical changes that could possibly occur as a result of the affair. It’s very disturbing, especially for a partner that was completely trusting.

At this time, it is important to get into couples counseling with someone who knows how to work with couples in crisis from an affair. In therapy, they should be learning how to better communicate with each other both talking and listening. It is important that the affair no longer be a secret but the offending partner tell the injured party as much as they are willing to ask or hear.

The betrayal by a secret does the most damage to the trust in the relationship. It is therefore important that secrets around the affair be eliminated at the timetable of the offended partner. Open communication does the most good in any relationship. It is particularly difficult when dealing with the emotions around an affair.

The injured partner must recover a sense of security and move past the hurt, anger, and worry. The partner who had the affair must tolerant of the injured partner’s ongoing emotional response and relentless “need to know” about the affair.

Retaliation is a common reaction to the discovery of an affair. Don’t do it. It only compounds the problem of the primary relationship. It will only drive a bigger wedge between the couple and make it more difficult to work on the issues that were present before the affair. It also adds more guilt, suspicion and anger into the mix of the relationship.

There are generally only three reasons for an affair.
They are:

1. Passive aggressive anger
2. A way to exit the relationship
3. An effort to work out childhood issues of closeness and abandonment

Men are typically motivated to have an affair as a result of their own psychological issues. Women, tend to find motivation for an affair due to perceived marital shortcomings. In either case, it is a dysfunctional way of dealing with communication and intimacy in the relationship.

The strongest predictor for a man to have an affair is his attitude and value of monogamy. For women, the strongest predictor is satisfaction and happiness in her marriage.

As long as the couple both have a genuine interest and desire to save the relationship, there is a good chance the relationship can survive and grow into something even better than what they had before. However, the lover must be completely given up. Both partners must be willing to share responsibility for their own actions and what they can do to make the relationships work. They must be willing to work on new ways of behaving that eliminate secrecy and improve communication. They both must be genuinely willing to recommit to the relationship and learn to give the kind of love to their partner that the partner needs.

When communicating with each other, there should be no accusing, no criticizing and no uncontrollable anger. Be pleasant, do not threaten and never be disrespectful or judgmental of each other. To help the relationship thrive, remember this anachronym: CHAT. It’s like a four legged chair. If we are missing one of the legs, it’s not very stable. We need to experience each one of these in a good relationship.

C – Cherished
H – Heard
A – Admired
T - Touched

For the time being, added security needs to be brought to the relationship. This can be done by the offending partner:

Calling the partner more often throughout the day
Carrying a cell phone that is always turned on
Limit out of town travel for the time being
Offer complete travel itineraries and phone numbers
Talk about their day in detail
Spend more time together
Answer any questions that are requested by the offended partner

As trust develops, these requests will slow down and eventually stop. There will be many setback on the road to a healthier relationship. Sometimes, it will seem like it has been left far behind and then all of a sudden the offended partner seems to have an emotional flair up out of the blue. This is normal and does not indicate that it is insurmountable. It is just part of the healing process and is to be honored.

How can you avoid all of this? Simply don’t have the affair. If you feel the temptation, get yourselves into couples counseling immediately. Open up to better communication skills and greater intimacy. The earlier you get yourself into counseling the better. Most people wait to enter into counseling until it’s too late. It’s much easier and more effective to deal with issues and have a great outcome when you enter into therapy at the very first sign of trouble.

It’s economical too. After all, it’s a lot cheaper than a divorce.

For more information log onto or for more information on convenient self-help downloads, or to listen to free samples, log onto The Dr. Walton Series. Check out Dr. Walton's latest album and listen to free samples, log onto After Breaking Up: Healing the Heart and Finding Happiness. You man also want to check out Dr. Walton's Anger Management.

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