What type of affair was it and why does it matter?
Cheating is cheating right?
Well maybe not.
Many of my clients seek support from me after they have discovered an affair in their relationship. However, the type of affair isn't really one of their questions, nor has it ever been? So why then should I be talking about it now?
Whilst all affairs cause devastation within an relationship, its true to say that certain types of affairs are easier to recover from than others. If your partner has had a one off affair with a stranger, that was never planned and most likely won't re occur, it may be easier to work through than an affair that has been happening for years or an affair that keeps happening, each time with someone new.
Therefore, the type of affair is a good indication of the reason behind it, which should be the starting block for any type of work that is going to support the couple in trying to recover.
An affair is never the problem, it is only ever a symptom of the problem!
This article is intended to help you explore some of the reasons why your partner, or you, have had an affair and ultimately what you can do to move on from it.
The most important fact is that the affair is never the problem, if you focus all of your attention on the affair, what happened, with who etc. You are missing the one thing that can help you ensure it never happens again. The simple fact is, happy people don't have affairs! So an affair indicates that there are other issues that have influenced the betrayal.
Important note: The act of having an affair is one of personal choice and no one can force or push someone into doing it. You cannot drive someone to cheat, it is not your fault and you are not to blame for their choices.
However, certain experiences, personalities and situations can make it more likely that someone would choose to do it, so working out why it happened is a great indication of the things that need to change to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Below are 7 common types of affairs, as originally identified by Relate UK, that highlight the types of behaviours and possible reasons why affairs may have occurred. Of course this isn't a going to identify every affair that has ever happened, but it can highlight certain things that may ring true for you.
The Avoidance Affair
'Used as an act of sabotage to avoid commitment & intimacy. Avoidance affairs usually happen more than once.'
Avoidance affairs are one of the most destructive affairs someone can have. They engage both partners in an emotional battle between love and betrayal. People who commit avoidance affairs are usually doing so as a way of avoiding commitment and intimacy. Often they willingly engage in a relationship and want to find commitment within it but then, for reasons usually unknown to them, they will commence an affair. After which they feel intense guilt and return to their partner with promises never to do it again, and, at that stage they most likely believe they never will. But all too soon it happens again.
The affair itself can occur out of nowhere, even at times when the relationship appears to be thriving, which adds to the pain that is felt by the other partner. The faithful partner is then left with a dilemma: they are aware of the happiness and love they have in their cheating partner and do not want to lose it, after all, they were fine, everything was going well, but they know they desperately don't want to be hurt again. In many instances the pair will try to re-build the relationship and move on. Unfortunately though, the avoidance affair usually happens again.
People who have a fear of, or avoid commitment likely have historic problems around trust. As a child they may not have been in a position where they could trust someone, they may not have experienced trusting relationships growing up and so don't understand what it is to be trusted or know how to trust others. Therefore, they avoid it all together.
They may not know they have these issues, and will likely think that they are ok with trust and commitment but they will notice a pattern of behaviour that has followed them around for some time, as will their partner.
Couples experiencing this type of affair will be well rehearsed in the emotional dance that follows it, they will be used to being let down by either themselves or their partner and be somewhat hardened to the pain that these affairs cause. However, there is hope. Relationship Counselling can help to identify the root cause of these affairs, within my sessions we would explore each partners relationship with trust and commitment and try to identify their personal rules and internal guidance around these issues. Then together we would then work to establish new rules around trust and commitment boundaries.
The Door Opener Affair
'This affair is often used as a way to end a relationship without having to face the difficult conversations.'
This one appears to be quite obvious, and it is. The door opener affair is usually used as a 'Get out' clause. A way to end a relationship without having to deal with all of the emotional issues that surround a breakup. By having an affair, their partner is much more likely to want to end the relationship and the cheating partner has given them the perfect reason to do just that.
What makes these affairs more difficult to spot, is that sometimes there are no obvious markers that the relationship is bad, even the cheating partner may have trouble explaining exactly why they wanted to end it, that is why the affair appears to be an ideal option to stop them having to find a reason.
However, an affair is never an ideal option. It may well be that the faithful partner is also happy for the relationship to end, they too may have felt that something wasn't right, or they may be heartbroken and never truly be able to say why it happened. Either way, an affair disregards any happiness and true feelings that were once shared between the couple. it creates animosity, anger and pain and ruins any memories that once were. Affairs can also leave lasting scars on the faithful partner, they may well lose self confidence, questions themselves, their life and their history and may never truly get over it.
However you look at it, the door opener affair is never an ideal option. If you feel your relationship is over, speak up, respect the person you once cared deeply for and end it correctly before moving on.
If you have been the victim of this type of affair, be kind to yourself, try not to question your self worth and accept that on this occasion you are better off out of it. Counselling can definitely help you work through some of the difficult questions that will arise after experiencing this type of affair and will also help you to explore and strengthen your own self worth.
The Revenge Affair
'The Revenge affair is usually started as a way of hurting the opposite partner. This could be in response to any perceived threat that has been caused to them - not just in reaction to an affair from the other partner.'
This type of affair usually happens when one partners feels they have been hurt by the other and they have not had the time or audience to express their anger and work through it. The affair is an act of revenge.
Often, the perpetrator is unaware that they are acting out of revenge but will come to realise this after a while. At that stage, the damage has often been done.
Revenge affairs usually happen as a 'one off' with the most obvious cause being the discovery of a partners affair (but this isn't always the case). This can be a recent betrayal or one discovered after many years but the result would be a great deal of pain, confusion and most likely a huge drop in self worth. At that stage the person who made the discovery may look elsewhere to reaffirm their attractiveness, their worth and boost their confidence, this is when a revenge affair can happen.
These types of affairs are usually short lived and regretted quite quickly. However, this being said, in most cases the affair is used as a weapon to hurt the original cheating partner. The perpetrator may purposefully uncover the affair, they may tell their partner outright or they may find a way to ensure they find out. More rarely, the affair remains a secret and is used to boost the persons confidence in times of pain. Where a partner continuously cheats on the other, the secret revenge affair may be used as a defense to remind the person they are attractive and desirable.
Relationship counselling can be supportive in working through the reasons behind this affair, I would start by helping the couple to engage with the original betrayal or pain caused and work through that. It may be that this work alone is enough to bring relief. From there I would look to help the couple explore the revenge affair, their visions for the future, set boundaries and move forwards together.
The 3 Legged Stool Affair
'This affair usually occurs to mask the problems that already exist within the relationship. It can give temporary reprieve from these problems making them appear more manageable.'
The 3 legged affair is the one you most often see on the TV. The young beautiful woman, taken in by the older married man. Kept hanging by the promise that one day he will leave his wife and be with her.....
Of course in real life this can happen with men and woman of all ages but the story remains somewhat the same.
This type of affair occurs when problems arise in the relationship that are too difficult or challenging to confront. Triggers can come from anywhere, financial, social, work or family problems, these are just a few. Whatever the problem though, the pressure felt from it is so strong that neither of the couple feel they can deal with it, and so another person is brought in to take the strain.
If you can imagine a 'normal' relationship as being a 2 legged stool, where both partners take on equal pressure and manage problems and challenges between them, the 3 legged stool affair occurs when an additional person is brought in to take on the additional pressure.
Of course that person never really knows that this is the case, and quite often the couple don't even know. But the affair will come to act as a vent for the cheating partner, to release pent up pressure and get away from the stress. When the affair becomes known to the other partner, which it often does, it then acts as the main and only reason for the relationship problems. Thus they can avoid dealing with the actual issues.
3 Legged stool affairs usually last a long time, years in fact and are usually known about by both partners. Often, the cheating partner will go about life normally, keeping up the pretense that life is fine and keeping the affair a "secret". However, the other partner will usually know about it, but will also go about life normally, avoiding the affair and acting as if it is not happening.
As you have probably worked out, these types of affair start when there are others issues that need to be worked out and that is exactly how they stop. Couples in this predicament need to be ready to face the true problems in their relationship and commit to change. At this stage Relationship Counselling can of course help them to do this, I would start by turning back the pages on their relationship and exploring their entire history together, looking for clues and experiences that have effected their current situation. It can be difficult and it does take a significant amount of time but relationships can survive past the 3 legged stool affair.
The Opportunistic Affair
'Usually occurs as a'one off'. This affair isn't planned, it happens by chance and is quickly regretted.'
Exactly as it sounds, when given the opportunity, this affair happens without prior planning.
It may be that a couple are experiencing problems, or they have had an argument and are temporarily not on good terms. It may be that one partner feels ignored, unheard or hurt by their partner. Whatever the reason this affair happens by chance when an opportunity arises and is usually very quickly regretted.
Historically, the most common scenario for an opportunistic affair would be one that occurs on a night out. A person, taken in by unusual flattery or unexpected attention, will, often drunkenly, have a sexual encounter with another person.
However, more recently these types of affairs start online. With the internet offering every possible opportunity to meet new people and engage in conversations lost, people are now much more likely to find themselves in situations which could turn into opportunistic affairs.
Lets look at an example, Jill has been arguing with her partner for the last few weeks, its nothing serious but they can't seem to agree and usually spend evenings doing different things and generally feeling a bit down. Jill has just logged into Facebook and received a notification and a message. An old colleague has liked a recent picture she uploaded and sent her a message asking how she is. She hasn't seen him in a few years but remembers getting on quite well with him. After sending a few messages back and forth he tells Jill she is looking well and discloses he always liked her as more than friends. Jill ends up meeting him for a coffee and later for drinks, this meeting ends in a sexual encounter. The next day Jill feels immense guilt and cannot understand how she found herself in this position, she deletes the messages and never contacts the man again.
Opportunistic affairs, whilst devastating for the partner who has been cheated on, also hugely affect the partner that has cheated. In most cases they have no understanding of why the affair happened and often cannot offer an explanation of any kind. This can result in intense self recrimination and they may start questioning their relationships, their personality and everything they once thought they were.
Opportunistic affairs are usually one time occurrences and don't often happen again. However, as with all affairs its very important to communicate the feelings and thoughts that lead up to the affair in the first place. Relationship Counselling can help the couple focus on the issues that were present before the affair happened alongside the resulting issues with trust. I would work closely with each partner to look at their past experiences and relationship with trust, we would explore their thought processes and the feelings they had when this occurred in the hope that identification will stop any further problems.
The Notice Me Affair
'This type of affair can happen when one partner feels they are not being heard. There may be issues in the relationship that the other partner refuses to acknowledge.'
The notice me affair usually happens when there are issues within the relationship and one partner feels that they are not being heard. It may be that they have tried to voice their concerns on different occasions but nothing has been resolved. Notice me affairs can also happen as a result of issues surrounding sex within the relationship, the affair can act as a way to shout their problems out loud and finally get the attention they seek from their partner.
These types of affairs are usually one time occurrences and don't have to involve sex at all. The act is like a cry for attention, a last ditch attempt at trying to get their partner to notice them and their needs and not as a way to end the relationship.
Whilst notice me affairs can cause just as much emotional damage as any other affair, rebuilding the relationship afterwards is often simpler, as the shock of the act is enough for the both partners to realise that change is required. I often work with clients who experience these types of affairs and they do get through it, sometimes a lot stronger than they were before. The key message here, as with most affairs, is to take notice of the problems that resulted in the affair in the first place, the coping strategies that each partner has to deal with their problems and how to stop it from happening again.
The Experimental Affair
'This affair is often just about sex. The experimental affair can happen where there is limited experience with sex or where issues around sex are present in the relationship.'
Affairs of this nature usually happen as a result of inexperience. The person having the affair may be looking to experiment sexually, they may not have had many sexual partners or they may be unhappy with the sex they have in their relationship. The experimental affair can happen when couples find it difficult to discuss sex or have fallen into a sexual routine they find mundane.
As you have probably guessed, this one is mainly about sex.
The person who has an experimental affair is aware of their intention and desire. The act itself is usually premeditated or happens opportunistically but the goal is always to have sex outside of the relationship. Due to this fact this type of affair doesn't carry the self questioning and confusion of some of the others, but it may still cause intense guilt and regret.
This affair, like all others can have devastating effects for a relationship but one of the main differences here is the way each partner will question the reasons behind it. It is not uncommon for the perpetrator of the affair to know it was only about sex but this statement can be hard to believe. The partner who has been betrayed may disbelieve this and think their partner was looking for more than sex or they may start to question the value of sex to their partner in their own relationship "clearly sex can't mean much to you if you can hand it around so easily to others". This will of course have a knock on effect in the future.
Relationship counselling for this type of affair would involve, like all others, looking for the reasons why it happened. Working through these issues will help the couple make changes to ensure it doesn't happen again, it also allows time to explore sexual boundaries, expectations and desires. Counselling will also look to examine each persons individual perspectives in regards to sex and the importance they place on it, in many cases, whilst the affair was just about sex and had no emotional connection, sex in the relationship does mean a lot to them and it is because this area of their relationship wasn't being fulfilled that they looked elsewhere.
So in conclusion, there are multiple types of affairs that people can have, but the most important thing for any couple to work out, if they want to get through them, are the reasons why they happened in the first place.
I can support you both in exploring these reason and in finding a way through the pain and confusion affairs can cause but ultimately you both have to be prepared for the time and patience it will require to rebuild the relationship you once had. Relationship counselling, like relationships themselves, calls for commitment, honesty and a willingness to change. If you have those things then there is a good chance you can work through an affair and rebuild trust, eventually.
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