Regardless of the reasons and context of an affair, it hurts and trust is significantly broken. Unfortunately, while divorce feels like a solution, about 80% of couples who separate due to an affair eventually regret that decision. Living without closure and resolution can be equally painful. If you are considering infidelity counseling, then you probably at least want to attempt to repair it and understand why this happened in the first place. More than half of the couples who come to Marriage Quest for couples counseling do so to deal with affair recovery or come to make a decision about their marriage.
What Are The Two Main Types Of Infidelity?
The two types of infidelity are Emotional and Sexual. When you hear the word affair you probably think about sex. Of course some affairs are based solely on sex, however more often than not affairs are about seeking more intimacy. Most affairs start with a need for emotional intimacy and connection, and then evolve into a physical or sexual relationship. Both types can be painful, and some spouses report that an emotional affair is actually more hurtful than a short-term physical encounter.
Emotional affairs are categorized by an intimate connection with a “friend” that often results in emotional distance from one’s spouse. It can include flirting, playfulness, intimate messaging, and quality time with the affair person. This type of affair can lead to a sexual affair, but in many cases it stays non-sexual. It feels good to have someone who really listens, laughs at your jokes, is playful, and shows genuine interest in you, especially if this is not happening with your spouse.
Sexual affairs require physical contact of a sexual nature where the people involved are aroused and deriving some sexual pleasure. It does not have to involve intercourse, but what psychotherapist Joe Kort calls “outercourse”. Some people consider sexting, emails, online messaging, or long-distance sexual exchanges to be a sexual affair too. This is a bit of a gray area, and rather than clearly defining the experience, it is more important to focus on healing the relationship between the couple.
What Percentage Of Marriages Survive Infidelity?
While experiencing infidelity might feel like the worst possible event in your marriage, the research shows that about 75% of couples who seek professional help after an affair report significant higher relationship satisfaction than the years leading up to the affair. This is because an affair is usually a symptom of other issues within a marriage that have built up over time. Helping a couple finally address these root causes will increase deeper feelings of connection, sexual satisfaction, and overall emotional intimacy. It also can help make the family system healthier. We have seen many couples whose affair, incessant arguing, or freeze out leave their children anxious or depressed and often struggling with health or behavioral challenges.
Why Do People Have Affairs?
Most people have affairs because they are seeking something that is lacking within their current marriage. The research also shows that spouses who have an affair have attempted to create those desired qualities within the relationship, but have been unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. If you are wanting to stop an affair, the first step is recognizing that you are causing harm to yourself and your spouse by continuing the extramarital relationship. The second step is to identify what needs you have and work to nurture those within your marriage. This is often a difficult conversation that requires professional support.
Why Do People Cheat On People They Love?
Our brains can skew the sense of risk when emotional connection or sex is our reward. It can seem much riskier to discuss a sexual fantasy, express a vulnerability, or heal from past traumas with a long-term romantic partner than it is to talk to someone new who shows interest in you or even simply seek that comfort with a stranger. The reality is that seeking those experiences outside the marriage will cause much more damage, but in the moment, emotions and desires get in the way of logical thinking and overpower rational thoughts about future consequences. Of course, there is often the element of conflict avoidance.
Additionally, some people cheat on their spouse because of the thrill. This sense of excitement can either be the taboo of the affair itself, or the exhilarating experiences with the person outside your marriage. Interestingly, after helping many couples discuss their inner desires, it is amazing how much more receptive spouses are to their partners’ needs than the partner anticipated.
I Am Having An Affair And Want To Stop
What Is An Emotional Affair Or Micro-Cheating?
Emotional Affair Examples
Examples of emotional affair activities can include:
- Keeping secrets from your spouse
- Talking intimately with someone when you should be able to do that with your spouse
- Primping yourself prior to seeing this person, including buying new clothes and jewelry, and getting a new hairdo
- Flirting with them; laughing more with them than your spouse
- Feelings of guilt or resentment
- Dreading going home to your spouse
- Sexually fantasizing being with them
- Thinking “If only I got along with my spouse as well as I do with…”
- Trying to re-kindle relationships with old lovers or “prospects”
- Lost of mystery and interest, excitement is gone
What Are The Dangers Of An Emotional Affair
Emotional affairs often start with the best intentions of making a friend. As is the case in many normal marriages, couples often “divide and conquer” as a way of managing the many responsibilities that they encounter, such as work, school, kids, household projects, and chores. While most people know intellectually that marriages take time and work, emotionally they are distracted by “life” and working on their marriage becomes a lower priority. Before you know it, years can pass and spouses can feel estranged and lonely and begin to question their compatibility and happiness together. At any point during the process of “growing apart” a spouse is vulnerable to an emotional affair. In fact, they may be vulnerable to a sexual affair as well. We often refer to this as triangulation. This is where a third party, making a triangle, connects to one spouse and in essence gets in the middle of the marriage. Couples become vulnerable to triangulation when their bond and attachment weakens or was never very strong to begin with.
How To End An Emotional Affair
Ending an emotional affair requires acknowledging that the relationship is inappropriate and then setting clear boundaries about future contact and behaviors. Keep in mind that although the affair is inappropriate, it is fulfilling a personal need for one person. Therefore, to successfully end an emotional affair, that partner’s desires and emotional needs must be addressed within the marriage. Complications exist when the third party is connected through someone’s job such as a co-worker, office assistant, the nurse, dental assistant, employee, or a partner in business. Sometimes this needs to be navigated carefully because of sexual harassment and other workplace laws. We have even had to refer clients to lawyers on occasion to handle the legal ramifications.
At the conclusion of an emotional affair, some people want to keep the affair a secret. Others need to come clean with their spouse. There are pros and cons to either decision, and it is best to discuss the situation with a professional before picking a path that cannot easily be walked back.
Can A Marriage Survive An Emotional Affair?
Yes. An emotional affair is a sign that something was missing in the relationship, so the goal of any counseling is to nurture those qualities within the marriage and to clean up any history that may have contributed to the marital disconnect. Additionally, the couple must reconnect at a deeper level to begin healing from the current situation and to prevent future affairs.
How Long Does Infidelity Trauma Last?
The short answer is it will be faster if the couple addresses the root causes of the affair, and it will take much longer if they are avoiding the topic or argue frequently. However, it is different for every couple. Some spouses can recover and forgive immediately during their marriage retreat. Others require weeks or months to finally achieve closure and peace. The good news is that while the destination and goal is ultimately closure and reconnection, many couples report being satisfied just to be moving in a positive direction. This takes the pressure off of having to move on as quickly as possible and allows them to focus on a more authentic pace of healing.
How To Deal With Infidelity?
After the initial shock, the spouse that discovered the affair is often angry or depressed. It is common for the injured spouse to want to know all of the infidelity details, but we discourage sharing those details. It is rarely if ever useful. Keeping the dialogue positive and discussing what each person wants from each other is focus of our work. Whether the injured spouse wants to know the details of the infidelity or not, there will be a continual search for signs of an ongoing betrayal. Professional help just makes good sense. In virtually all cases of infidelity communication is a problem. There is also a need for additional work such as:
- Understanding the foundation of your marriage and how that has influenced your relationship
- Building awareness of your emotional and sexual feelings by putting your emotional and sexual needs into words that make sense and feel right
- Addressing and then reducing self defeating behavior by building skills
- Confronting difficult lifestyle changes. Letting go of the past and being more in the present (here and now)
When you start dealing with infidelity as the victim or the perpetrator, you are probably going to experience several different phases of emotional distress to acceptance.
Frequently Asked Questions
A friendship does not include secretive meetings, calls, emails, or texts. Most true friends have some contact with your spouse. It is not an exclusive and private relationship.
Emotional affairs are platonic. They do not include any physical or sexual aspects. That would be a sexual affair.
Consider A Marriage Counseling Retreat
We work to learn the causes of your extramarital affair, and to establish rules for the future. Trust must be rebuilt gradually and by working together an opportunity exists for you and your partner to rebuild and actually strengthen your marriage.
Usually by the second day of our couples retreat it becomes obvious to all concerned how the rest of our time should be spent. Our commitment is to get to the truth in a loving and peaceful way. Finger pointing and blame is never very useful. Couples learn to take personal responsibility through effective communication exercises. Remember… affairs are often just a sign of a deeper underlying problem. If addressed appropriately, adultery can be the crisis that your marriage needs to change for the better.
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