What happens when a person gets under the sheets with someone other than his or her committed partner? In the journey of a long-term relationship an affair is a cataclysmic event of seismic proportions. Shaken to their foundation, some relationships do not survive an affair; others are left permanently scarred.  As common as affairs are, determining the exact frequency is frustratingly difficult.  Because people who cheat also lie, studies have trouble determining how often affairs occur.  The data suggests that men are a bit more likely to cheat than women.  Being tempted by unfaithfulness is a sign that the primary relationship is troubled. Becoming involved in an affair does not solve problems, but dramatically complicates them. A far better choice is to resist the temptation, return to the partner and quickly start a conversation about the relationship’s troubles.  While loving another or being loved by another may never seem wrong, a higher obligation of each partner is protect the other from being hurt.

    How can a relationship be protected?  The answer is very simple…keep the relationship happy. Saying so is dramatically easier than doing it.  Unhappy relationships are far more vulnerable to infidelity than are happy ones, though no relationship is immune. Dissatisfied partners do not always share their unhappiness.  Once told about dissatisfaction, partners do not always respond by making the requested change.  If the emotional or sexual bond between partners is not positive and strong, the relationship is vulnerable. Many affairs occur in couples where the sex life is not mutually satisfying; a healthy, active sex-life bonds partners. 

     Contrary to the beliefs of many, an affair which violates the contract of fidelity between formally and non-formally committed partners, may or may not include sex.  Non-sexual affairs, also known as “emotional affairs,” can be just as devastating as those that include sex.  Some unfaithful partners enter into an affair so as to “build a bridge” out of their current relationship, a phenomenon referred to as an “exit affair.”  Conventional wisdom informs us that an affair is the easiest involvement to get into but the hardest to get out of. Most affairs begin innocently with a friendly moment of understanding or compassion, but end destructively.  An emotional connection with another may occur simply due to an opportunity caused by close proximity.  Unfaithful partners through cheating try to cure loneliness, sexual or erotic dissatisfaction or an inner need for a sense of worth.  If a heart is not occupied, it will seek connection.  Hearts desire to be fulfilled. 

    Upon learning of the affair, an injured partner’s world is thrown into chaos, where rage, hurt, and intense pain may approximate death. An affair smashes trust which will never again be one hundred percent.  Loss of appetite, insomnia, grief, inability to concentrate, and obsessive thinking are all common symptoms of the injured partner’s reaction to such a traumatic revelation. A hurt partner may incessantly ask for details of the infidelity. Such is an attempt to regain a sense of control.

     Surprisingly, most couples heal from this substantial threat.  Sincere partners may use the crisis to initiate the process of healing.  Re-building is possible.  Some relationships heal to become stronger than before, but only when the unfaithful partner is seriously committed to growing and re-earning trust.  The injured partner may be challenged to let go of anger, despite it being fully justified.  Partners must be willing to have tough conversations and be open to make change.

     The following are five general ways to prevent an affair: eliminate all hurtfulness, be open to one another, share generously what is within, strive to have a great sexual relationship and incorporate together fun and excitement to add an essential spark.  Accomplishing these tasks is a lot of effort, but healing from an affair takes even more.  Andrew Aaron, LICSW

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