Affair recovery is a subject I’m quite familiar with considering the amount of couples who come and see me to attempt recovery after a betrayal in their relationship. I’m not going to lie, it is a difficult topic, almost always very painful for the person on the receiving end, and not much more pleasant for the person trying to make amends.
Interestingly, more and more am I getting different types of betrayal compared to a few years back, thanks to the joys of our modern technology. In almost 100% of cases, some form of social media or sexting is involved, which baffles me considering how much evidence it leaves behind, but I digress.
Please note, an affair relates to a relationship with someone behind their spouse’s back. It does not relate to sexual preferences (open relationships, polyamory, kink etc.), or whether a spouse is engaged in a behaviour a person doesn’t agree with (which happens as well). The key is in whether lies and dishonest behaviours were present. It has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with deception, and that can happen even in open relationships.
Why do people cheat?
Perhaps a better word might be ‘betrayal’ as a much more fitting option. Betrayals can take many forms and for the purpose of this blog, we will be talking about betrayal of intimate nature. These include;
I wish I could answer the question of why would someone who claim to love you hurt you. There are many reasons people betray their spouses. Some are about the person, others are about unmet needs, and some are just about choices and values. A professional can help you explore these, however in the meantime, let’s explore the 8 types of affairs and try to make sense of them.
The emotional affair
This type of affair is quite self-explanatory. This is the typical affair that started innocently, just being a good friend to someone, and before you know it, you’re sharing all your life’s secrets, troubles, and wait for it…. forgetting your actual spouse. It’s not unusual for these affairs to almost appear innocent, and it’s not unusual for me to hear “but we’re just friends”. The big issue here isn’t how a person may have a good friend. Instead, it’s how they no longer connect emotionally with their partner.
The romantic affair
This is perhaps the most hurtful betrayal in the history of affairs, as it not only involves someone being sexual with a 3rd party, it also involves them having feelings for their secret crush. You can imagine how difficult this might be for a person to heal after such a trauma because it’s a flood of triggers of physical and emotional nature. These might be the affairs that scream “but my needs weren’t met”, which I suppose could be said of all affairs.
The ‘accidental’ affair
Now, this title made me smile… ‘Accidental’ is perhaps a bit rich, but you get the gist. It’s the affair that was never planned, never intended and happened as a once off, with no meaning and purely for sexual satisfaction. For instance, it’s the result of a drunken Christmas party or the peer pressure late at night in the middle of a very noisy club. For a majority of people, it is filled with shame and regrets, and if it’s not, well I can tell you that we may have many more of these “accidents”
The sex addict affair
These are repeat offenders who tell me things like “But I can’t help it” or “How can anyone stick to one person for the rest of their lives.” In my experience working with these clients, there are generally other issues such as ‘out of control’ feelings and these affairs are often, if not always, damaging to one’s life because it generally leads to a full break down of a relationship, a bad reputation, STIs, and internal guilt/shame. These people generally have an addictive personality and may have other addictions in the background.
The love addict affair
This is one is about a person seeking feelings of validation, love, and comfort in a way that goes beyond what one would expect. It generally concerns people who are demonstrating major attachment issues and a strong schema of needing to be loved. For more information on attachment and the impact on relationships, check out my other blogs here. The issue here is they never get enough, and so they continue their search for love, ignoring the potential consequences.
The revenge affair
This is another self-explanatory term. This related to someone deciding a pay back is in order. After all, their spouse cheated first or did something hurtful ‘so it’s only fair’. I can’t say it’s wrong or doesn’t make sense, because I hate double standards at the best of times, but what I can tell you is that it never makes anyone feel better. A betrayal is a betrayal.
The online affair
This is an insidious one because it is often used as an excuse for “it wasn’t real”. And was is? What a good question. I wish people understood that it’s not about the sex. It’s about the lies. The broken trust. The crushed heart. An online affair, as I was saying above, most always involves social media, sexting, deleting messages as they come, saving numbers as fake titles, and sharing nudes/videos of a sexual nature. Now, is an online affair much different to watching porn? Yes, in that it’s live, it’s not a robot who responds but another human and more to the point, not something a person will openly discuss with their spouse. THAT, in itself is a red flag. An online affair can happen anywhere and anytime hence how intense it can be. And let’s be honest, everyone is perfect online especially when they parade in their birthday suits calling your name in the midst of an induced orgasm for your entertainment.
The exit strategy affair
Some people have checked out from their current relationship and don’t actually want to save it. Having an affair, for some, is a sure way to terminate an arrangement that no longer fulfill its purpose. They either want to get caught, make their partner call the relationship off (and avoiding the tough job themselves), or want a taste of what life could be elsewhere.
The entitled affair
This one, though not listed in the list above for some reason, is about people who think that they should be entitled to doing what they want, not abide by traditional norms, who perhaps think that their vows of monogamy are unrealistic (though even people who are in poly or open relationships can cheat, because again, it’s not about sex but about lying about it). Sometimes, it’s about our patriarchal, evolutionary, stupid history that told us that men were wired to cheat and have multiple women, and that women should just accept it. In these cases, the affairs don’t stop easily and it is much harder to get genuine remorse without deconstructing the person’s skewed narratives and social constructions.
Is there hope after an affair?
Yes. There is always hope however there are factors that make it more or less difficult to recover. For example;
- How personal was the affair (a friend/relative, the parent of a kid at school, or having sex with the 3rd party in the conjugal bed)
- What one did beyond the affair (ridiculed their spouse, called them names, shared photos of them to make fun of etc.)
- How long the affair went on
- What needs was unmet between the spouses (no sex? poor support? lack of emotional intimacy?)
- How remorseful the person having the affair might be
- How strong the relationship was to begin with
- Whether the couple seeks support to repair
There are three main steps in affair recovery and they are based on
1- seeking true forgiveness (not just a “sorry, but now can you move on already?”)
2- Learning or revisiting foundation skills (communication, love languages, learning ways to connect better sexually and taking the time for each other in body, mind and spirit.)
3- Connecting on a much higher level. That is where the couple is stronger than ever, having learnt from the experience and survived it.
Alright. Yes, affairs are painful and require a lot of repair work, but as long as both partners are willing to work on it, a relationship can make it beyond this traumatic betrayal. Now, I might be bias but I would encourage you to seek help and support through a good couple therapist if you can, or at least a strong support network. If you are going through it, I am sorry. If you are just learning about what not to do, you’re welcome 😉. Next week, I will talk about how to regain trust and intimacy post affair.
If I can help at any time, do let me know,