Considering An Affair? Take It From Me — Don’t Do It

Author’s note: There is one caveat to what I have to say below: If you are in an abusive relationship and see no hope, focus on your exit plan. No one should have to endure verbal, emotional or physical abuse. And if you happen to turn to someone else for emotional support and fulfillment during that time I would not blame you. Now on to the heart of the matter…

Is this you?…

  • You’re feeling one or more of these things about your relationship with your spouse: bored, stale, hopeless, disconnected, alone, unloved, unappreciated, disrespected, frequently hurt, confused, ignored, angry or misunderstood
  • You’ve always been attracted to other people — who isn’t, right? But it’s different this time. You fantasize or even seriously consider starting a relationship with someone other than your spouse to whom you are attracted — a coworker, neighbor, old friend, new friend, etc. You might have even “casually” checked out a dating or affair site and seen some promising profiles.
  • You’ve had these thoughts for a while, and you may have become progressively emboldened to actually act on those thoughts. “After all, you’ve been hurt so many times by your spouse, or ignored for too long. A human being deserves affection! It’s unnatural to feel unloved for so long, and by your spouse nonetheless!” These are the thoughts that race through your mind as you try to come to grips with how you’re feeling. Sure there’s guilt, but there’s also a curiosity about the possibilities.

Sound familiar? If any portion of that resonated with you, I have some hard truths to reveal:

Your marriage is already in crisis

Here’s the thing, human bonds are very strong. For you to be considering, or participating in, an extramarital relationship would indicate that those bonds have been all but severed. So if you’ve convinced yourself that things are great at home, except for a few unmet needs, think again. You’re emotional connection to your spouse has eroded. It’s a rare personality that can love their spouse completely but get their physical or emotional needs met somewhere else.

Your brain will tell you what you want to hear

You think you’ve tried your best, but you probably haven’t given it your all. You’ve probably rationalized your partner’s behavior in a way that makes them look like they are doing things to knowingly hurt you (again, if you’re in an abusive relationship, get out). There’s very often a different explanation from their side.

Oh, and once you start an affair, you will immediately identify a bucket full of more ways that your spouse has wronged you. Take a look at this article, with scientific underpinnings of this behavior.

Bottom line: Your brain can’t handle the guilt and the emotional conflict of being emotionally connected to two people (and yes, “just sex” is an emotional connection at some level.) So you will start to build a laundry list of why things can’t be better with your spouse, or how they’ve wronged you in unforgivable ways. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve likely caused you hurt through their behavior or neglect over time, but your brain will try to turn those from wounds that could be healed into deal-breakers. And your new, exciting connection with your lover is only fuel for that. Each affair encounter will bolster the stories you tell yourself about your spouse.

And replaying the hurts of the past will only calcify this view. Remembering moments of hurt or neglect will be almost as damaging as experiencing them in person again. These thoughts alone can cause additional injury over time. Once again, you’re playing right into the hands of the rationalizing part of your brain. Even if you have decided to get a divorce, this is an unhealthy fixation on the past. And it certainly won’t help to improve your marriage.

You probably haven’t worked on your marriage enough

Now if you’ve been to countless counseling sessions, done marriage programs together, been honest about the areas you think need to be addressed, then this section may not be for you. Consider divorce or at least marriage counseling that could help guide you through an amicable split.

The reality is that you’ve probably stuffed a lot of what has troubled you about your marriage in order to keep the peace, or you’ve brought up legitimate concerns but you’ve backed off when there has been conflict or you don’t see immediate change in your spouse. I have bad news for you, if you’re considering an affair or you are in one, there is a lot of work ahead if you want to repair your marriage — but only because as a couple you’ve neglected to do that work up front. You have toxic debt in your marriage. The only way to pay that debt off is through marriage counseling and honest communication. And the mostly likely scenario is that you haven’t put in the time and effort to be able to tell yourself you’ve done all you can. Can you truly say you’ve tried everything?

That “leap” seems so tempting

When your marriage is in crisis, the way out seems so tempting. After all, you’ve been pushed to the brink or into the throes of an affair, divorce is just a small step away. And if you’re in an affair, the joy, passion and connection of your relationship creates the ultimate greener pasture — the internet is strewn with forums of affair partners who are literally brought to their knees with the internal conflict of leaving their spouse for their affair partner. Do not underestimate the emotional turmoil that being divided between two partners can cause. Are you prepared for it? Don’t kid yourself, you almost certainly are not.

This painful purgatory will prevent you from working on your marriage. Time spent with each partner will tip the scales momentarily in favor of each. It can develop into an emotional see-saw, draining your emotional and mental reserves. If you didn’t have the emotional honesty, directness of communication, clear thinking and tolerance for conflict needed to talk to your spouse about the issues in your marriage, do you think you’ll be able to pull the trigger and leave your spouse for your lover? I’ll let you answer that one for yourself.

My prescription

Here’s the straight-forward (I’m not saying “easy”) prescription for you if you find yourself on the brink of an affair or in an affair:

  • Are you in an abusive marriage? Start your exit plan — build up financial reserves, find a support network — start creating that ray of light you’ve needed for so long. If you believe you are in immediate danger of physical harm at the hands of your spouse contact your local shelter and get advice from professionals on how to extract yourself and your children safely.
  • If you haven’t truly worked enough on your marriage then cut off all communication with the person who you are considering an affair with or are in an affair with. Next, be honest with your spouse. Tell them you believe the marriage is in crisis and that you need their help in repairing it. Speak of your hurts and concerns honestly, but avoid finger-pointing and harsh language. I’m not saying you will necessarily save your marriage, but take that first step — you’ll never start on the path the reconciliation without making that first, scary move in the direction of the repair of your marriage. I would recommend this site and the resources it provides as a great overall plan to save your marriage: http://savethemarriage.com/ (I have no affiliation with the site or the therapists and counselors that operate it)
  • If you know in your heart that you have done your best to save your marriage, then I would still recommend that you cease seeking an emotional connection through an affair partner. Commit yourself to the process of divorce, make sure any children are tended to emotionally and that they are supported fully and transition into your new life. I cannot recommend this idea of a “clean break” enough. It will be harder to cease communication with another romantic interest while you endure this, but once you emerge, you can re-embark on your romantic life. And who knows, maybe that person you were drawn to initially will still be available to explore the possibilities..

Hey Mr. Expert, who gives you the authority to tell me whether I should have an affair?

Well funny you should ask. I’ve been in an affair for two years, and I’m just now deciding which way I want to go. I’ve been a mess emotionally and I’ve been selfish is not creating clearer lines and making the hard choices in my marriage and in my life. Don’t seek happiness is the extreme corners of your life. If you’re truly unhappy in your marriage, decide whether you want to put in the work to make it better, or contemplate your next move without the “fog” of an affair. I consider myself a rational and clear-thinking person, but the emotional roller-coaster of an affair has humbled me and shown me what emotional creatures we humans are, and that an emotional and/or physical connection outside the confines of marriage can cause emotional uncertainty in even the most logical of minds. Let my story, and my advice, give you great pause if you’re considering an affair. Because once you embark on one, extracting yourself becomes a lot more complicated.