Why do people have affairs?

Wether you’ve had an affair or recently you’ve found out your partner has had an affair, the consequences can be devastating for both of you. There are several reasons why affairs happen, but when it is first revealed, it’s key to get the right support. Decide who you’re going to tell as you can never retract this, and there maybe people you really don’t want to know. If you’ve got children, see if someone can look after them for an evening or even overnight if you can, so you’ve got time to talk, shout, cry and space to let the emotion out.

Sometimes it can feel like a grieving process because what once seemed stable and predictable, and safe, is now all up in the air and you will inevitably feel hurt and betrayed. You may experience physical symptoms too, like feeling sick, not sleeping, not able to eat or perhaps you can’t stop crying. As horrible as these are, they are normal and understandable.

Affairs can happen for a multitude of reasons, but some common themes could be: the open door affair, this usually happens when a relationship is probably over and someone is looking to leave; the three legged stool affair, which can indicate a longer term affair – most relationships are like two legged stools and wobble about a bit with the pressures of life, but a 3 legged stool may mean that an affair can stabilise the relationship and maybe both partners are aware of it. This is an unusual situation, but we may have heard of these types of affairs in the press or public eye, when it’s obvious that a partner will never leave, but an affair continues; the notice me affair, this could be a one night stand or maybe not even a sexual affair, but when perhaps a couple have lost connection temporarily but when an affair is revealed, they want to try and stay together; the avoidance affair, this may occur when someone avoids emotional connection with a partner and seeks out affairs as a distraction but will often come back to the partner to try and make it work again; the experimental affair, this can happen when sex in a couple relationship is limited or routine and they take advantage of an opportunity. (After the Affair, by Julia Cole)

Often couples will tell me in the aftermath of an affair that the sex doesn’t matter as much as the lack of trust. So building on trust in moving forward is key. If you decide to stay together, I often say to clients that it is like starting a new relationship with the same partner. It won’t be the same and it definitely won’t be going back to the way it was before, but actually it could be, in time, that the relationship is even stronger as a result of this trauma they have both experienced. Counselling gives a couple opportunity to share how they’re feeling in a confidential setting without judgement, and space to try and regain trust. Or it can help couples talk through the prospect of separation. Remember, communication is key, either talking or writing to each other and seek professional help when the time is right, don’t suppress how you’re feeling as it’s likely to seep out in various ways eventually. Take care of yourself and know this turmoil will pass, but it’s really tough at the time.

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