All affairs include a feeling of betrayal and distrust. This is painful, confusing and angering all at once. Determining what kind of affair is occurring is helpful when it comes to recovery. The process, speed and goals of affair recovery may look very different depending on what kind of affair has been going on. Research shows that affairs are fairly evenly split between men and women. The kind of affairs that men and women have are often very different. There are three different kinds.
The first kind of affair is a sexual affair. These are the most common and often include multiple methods (online matching sites, sexting, “hook-ups,” and serial one-night stands). These kinds of affairs are usually short lived but repeated often with new partners. These affairs historically have occurred during nights at a party, club or bar, but the internet and smart phones have made these affairs very easy. It often starts with “seeing what’s out there” and moves to emails, sexting, exchanging pictures and possibly (but not always) meeting for sexual contact. These affairs can last days to weeks but often lose their luster pretty quickly. One or the other person moves on and the cycle starts over again with little sense of loss. Depending on how long and how fast the cycle turns over, this may feel out of control, like an addiction. Sex addiction is a controversial subject, but to the individual person, they very much report this kind of feeling.
These individuals are good at recognizing potential affair partners and report they can accurately predict early if a potential partner will have sex with them. Sexual affairs are not directly about sex but the excitement of being pursued or desired. The ultimate proof of acceptance is sex. Sexual affairs are most often about self esteem and seeking the thrill of someone responding to them. These kinds of affairs create a fantasy of being desirable and boosting self esteem. This may mean looking for partners that they know they are “better than” and would have no desire for them as a life partner. They often keep emotional distance (avoiding intimacy) so that a fantasy of being strongly desirable can be maintained. In short, they only want to show only their “good side.” They don’t want to know much about the affair partner(s) and if they seem to personal, it becomes threatening. Addressing these kinds of affairs are often the easiest and clearest to manage when both partners are motivated at putting a stop to it.
The second kind of affair is an emotional affair. The emotional affair often starts as a platonic relationship and develops over time. This kind of affair cycles as well with periods of closeness that are justified with being “just friends.” This is followed by emotional sharing – often with complaints about their respective marriages / partners. Finally the emotional connection is followed by sexual boundary crossings – sometimes even “just” a kiss. The affair can then can go through a “cooling off” where each person recognizes that the affair is actually an affair and not just a “friendship.” The cycle then starts all over again.
These affairs are rarely about sex; sometimes sex never even happens. These individuals have no intention of ever leaving their spouse. They report confusion at being able to love two very different people at once. These affairs are harder to recover from as they are often close to home. The affair may be with a co-worker, church member, neighbor, etc. Setting boundaries is much harder when the person is in one or more social circles with the couple. The emotional affair is often more painful as the affair partner can also be a friend to the betrayed spouse. Grief is part of the recovery process as the affair partner is giving up a support and a friend. The betrayed partner may also be losing a friend while realizing they’ve also been betrayed by their spouse. Embarrassment is also an issue as these affairs are rarely a well kept secret, and the spouse is often the last to know.
Notably, these are based in fantasy as well. Each affair partner is able to be an independent support for the other. It’s easy (fantasy) to be a supportive, emotional ear for a partner who isn’t also responsible for child rearing, finances, or doing chores. With no demands or expectations, the affair partner can be completely supportive and validating. Consequently, when the primary relationship fails thereby clearing the way for these kinds of affairs to progress to a public relationship – they almost always fail. This is where the therapist may suggest a “trial separation” as it is most likely to increase motivation and participation in therapy by building appreciation and desire for the spouse. Recovery is possible, but how long that process takes depends on how close the affair person was and how easy it is to set boundaries with that person.
The third kind of affair is an exit affair. This kind of affair focuses on plans to leave the relationship. The goal of the affair partner is to look for another relationship to jump into. These are the least common, but most difficult to recover from. These individuals are minimally motivated to work on the relationship. The betrayed partner is not only feeling the sting of the affair, but also the indifference and rejection of their spouse. These marriages are certainly on the rocks and sinking fast. In order to make progress with these kinds of relationships big changes and high levels of motivation are needed. Time is usually of the essence as one or the other partner is ready to leave. Here is where trial separations are most likely to simply be a half-step toward divorce. If a separation is suggested by the therapist it is often to cool off arguments that get out of control with damaging words and at times physical aggression. Recovery in these situations most often requires a lot of individual work first to build motivation for couples therapy.
Perhaps not surprisingly, sexual affairs are most often committed by men. The higher number of affair partners often makes the problem seem quite alarming; however, when both marriage partners are motivated to change then this kind of affair can be recovered from (and halted) with relative ease. Emotional affairs are committed by both men and women – in my experience by about a 50/50 split. Emotional affairs are harder to recover from, but not impossible. They tend to be a far less frequent, sometimes a once in a marriage type thing. Finally, exit affairs are committed more often by women (but not by a large margin) and are the least common and most difficult to recover from. It is perhaps then not surprising that women very often mistake or confuse emotional affairs for exit affairs. This leads them to assume things are worse in their marriage than they really are.
Regardless of which kind of affair may have happened, the important thing to remember is that it is the motivation of the couple to move forward and improve the relationship that matters the most. Couples who are able to talk freely about the affair and what needs to happen recover the best. My job to help couples develop the motivation and inspire the hope that things can be better. I give communication skills to be able to talk about needs in the marriage (that often are not well understood) to bring the relationship alive again. I work to help couples learn to trust and connect intimately again. I create demonstrable plans to halt affairs and hold partners accountable for their behavior not just to stop problem behavior but to take responsibility to invest in their relationships again.
If you’re struggling to recover from an affair, call today. Almost no one start marriages planning on affairs, and no one plans how they will handle it if it happens to them. Seeking help in understanding the type of affair and how that can guide strengthening your marriage can save a lot of pain and mistakes. Make an appointment today!
J. Kipp Lanning, LIMHP, LPC
1001 South 70th Street
Lincoln, NE 68510
(402) 325-0117 x1