affair noun af·fair \ə-ˈfer\
That is a gut-wrenching word that no married person wants associated with their own marriage.
How many people cheat? That’s a difficult number to pinpoint yet studies indicate roughly 35% of women and 50+% of men have at least 1 affair during their marriage. Ruth Houston (founder of InfidelityAdvice.com) cites that 1 in every 3 couples will be affected by an affair.
The #1 setting for affairs to emerge — the workplace.
Dr. Shirley Glass (author of Not Just Friends) gives a clear definition of cheating:
Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust.
Research shows there are distinct stages to an affair:
1) Emotional bond (talking, texting, sharing stories),
2) Secrets/Lies in order to protect and guard the relationship
3) Courtship and Dates (meeting for coffee, playing golf, walks in the park, taking a drive together)
4) Sexual connection
Not all affairs progress to sexual intimacy and not all affairs include an emotional bond. All affairs do wound.
When working with couples, I refer to an affair as (1) toxic and destructive and (2) a formidable catalyst for change. That change unfolds when they both choose to work on the marriage or at least begin the journey together to see what’s left of the marriage.
After the Affair is Discovered
It’s common that the betrayed partner demands to know everything and gives directives that the affair must stop – as he/she cycles through feelings of hurt, anger, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, confusion and disbelief.
The unfaithful partner also experiences great depths of suffering. They experience pain and shame (for what they did and/or for getting caught). They might feel trapped under the weight of ultimatums to choose between the betrayed partner and the affair partner. They can be overwhelmed trying to navigate their own feelings along with others who know about the affair, including their children.
Step One: Stop the Affair & Share
Recovery takes time and is similar to any natural disaster – what happens immediately after the discovery of the affair is key.
In my office I say, “All walls must turn to windows – what was hidden must be seen.” What does that mean? All contact between the unfaithful partner and affair partner – must stop. No new lies or secrets can occur.
This is an essential building block. Without it, the betrayed partner cannot move forward.
Stephen Judah Ph.D. (author of Staying Together When an Affair Pulls You Apart) outlines the essential information that should be shared:
- What happened (in general terms)
- Where (especially if anything happened on sacred turf)
- Current status (terminated or still going on)
- Who else knows
It is common for the betrayed partner to want to know specific details related to the sexual acts and performance comparisons. No — this topic needs to be taken off the table. What is heard can never be unheard. Sorid details can push the affair partner into new lies and ignite new pain for the betrayed partner.
A key component to life after an affair is to seek professional help in the recovery process — even if the journey is moving toward divorce.
- Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass, Ph.D.
- Staying Together When an Affair Pulls You Apart by Stephen Judah, Ph.D
- Private Lies by Frank Pittman, M.D.
- Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson, Ph.D