5 Hard Truths About Extra-Marital Affairs


While they don’t always mean the end of a marriage, affairs are almost always a sign that something, somewhere throughout the relationship, has gone wrong. We all know, deep down, that marital infidelity is not a simple matter. We also know that our emotions often get the best of us in these situations. Regardless, it is important to view the affair as a symptom of deeper issues. Whether you have cheated on your spouse or have caught your spouse cheating, here are some important truths to consider.

1. Affairs Rarely Work Out in the Long Run.
Perhaps you are wondering why this has happened. How could he or she (or I) prefer this other person? But the truth is, affairs are rarely about the third person. Remember that.

In a Time magazine article entitled “Why We Have Affairs – and Why Not to Tell,” couples counselor Mira Kirshenbaum looks at the deeper issues underlying affairs. As she pointedly advises, in an extra-marital affair that ends in divorce, the third party is like a “crowbar” to help get out of a broken relationship. Once you are out of the marriage, you don’t then marry the crowbar.

Whether you have cheated, or your spouse has (or you both have), it is important to put this point in perspective. A relationship that started with lies and deceit is unlikely to end well. For this reason, if not to save the marriage, make sure that the “guilty” party has done their best to honestly assess their reasoning before moving on and making the same mistakes all over again.

2. Affairs are, Unfortunately, Common.
The question of guilt brings us to the next point. According to the same Times article, approximately half of marriage relationships lapse into adultery at some point. While this is a sad statistic in some ways, it really means that adultery happens to us all. Perhaps you are wondering: why is this happening to me or why did I do this? Here is the answer: because you are human. Sometimes, we all fail. Good people make mistakes. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. That is why.

3. In the Case of Affairs, Honesty is Not Always the Best Policy.
If you are having an affair, you may want to tell your spouse, to get if off your chest. You may feel so overwhelmed with guilt that you cannot live with it anymore. Conversely, having found out about your spouse’s affair, you may wonder how they could have let you find out this way. Confession, in this case, can be hurtful and wrong — even selfish. Trying to keep the secret may have been your spouse’s way of protecting you from their mistakes.

Again, affairs are symptoms of deeper problems, and it is best to address those problems in meaningful ways — even if that means separation and divorce. Simply coming out and confessing unfaithfulness may seem like a solution, but is unlikely to get to the heart of the matter, unless the adulterous spouse has deep issues with monogamy and they refuse to confront those issues.

4. Statistically, Men and Women Have Affairs for Different Reasons.
An unsurprising statistic from a Rutgers University survey shows that men and women have affairs for vastly different reasons. The study found that over half of men have affairs, despite being content in their marriages. On the other hand, less than a third of women who had affairs reported being content in their marriages. It is a hard reality that, for men, affairs may be part of marriage. We are not so far past the age of concubinage and consorts, when some (not all!) men expected to have both a wife and a mistress, or multiple mistresses. This reality leads to our next point.

5. Do Marriages Recover From Affairs?
Writing for the Mirror, psychotherapist Philippa Perry looks at some of the reasons why people have affairs — and the relative likelihood of recovery. As noted in the previous point, there are times when men (and women) expect to be able to have an “open marriage.” In that extreme case, a marriage could reconcile with new boundaries, but you should never feel like this is something you have to accept.

Perry gives two examples where recovery is likely, and both involve the need to communicate more effectively. First, you may feel that you and your spouse have grown too far apart, and perhaps, the affair arose out of a need to have someone you or they could relate to. Second, you or your spouse may be inadvertently pushing the other person away due to insecurity or a constant need to be right. In either of these two cases, counseling can, and likely will, help to save your marriage.

On the other end of the spectrum, affairs can really signal the end of a marriage. If, for example, your partner wants to have affairs and you do not approve, then what else can be said? Cut it off now. If they choose to remarry in the future, they should be honest and let their significant other know that they do not plan to be monogamous. You are making the right choice by taking control and walking away from the situation. Remember, in such a case, it is not your fault.

For guidance in saving your marriage or making the decision whether or not to divorce, check out our Contemplating Divorce section for helpful information.

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