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Before You Have an Affair, Read This

As a couples therapist, I sometimes work with couples recovering from infidelity.  But I also work with individuals who are heading down the slippery slope to having an affair and maybe becoming one of those couples.

There’s a moment (well, a bunch of moments) before that decision is made.  If you’re in a state of indecision, read on.1)  Recognize that engaging in an affair is making a choice.

Too often, people enter into self-serving denial.  They conveniently forget all the things they’re doing to take the choice out of their own hands.  For example, if you’re purposely running into someone you’re attracted to, or you’re sending flirty e-mails or texts, or doing any one of a hundred different things that are a precursor to betraying your partner, then you are making choices.  Every single time.

Those choices then cumulatively create a sense of inevitability.  Don’t fool yourself.  You are an active agent in this process, and your conscience should be made aware of this.

2)  Consider why you’re attracted to someone else.

Were you already unhappy in your relationship?  Was it starting to feel old and stale and this new person brings spark and energy?  Are you bored by your life in general?  Are you depressed and hoping this new person will save you?

Sometimes infidelity is a catalyst for change.  People have epiphanies and end relationships where inertia has set in.  But you can make changes without the betrayal.  Start by being honest with yourself.

3)  Be honest with your partner.

This will hopefully start a dialogue about where you are in your relationship, what each of you wants, and what you’re willing to do to get it.

Also, if you tell your partner that you’re attracted to someone else, it decreases the odds of you pursuing that other person.  For one thing, your partner will be more vigilant.  If you say you’re working late when you never do, your partner will call you on it.

This is something of a failsafe–a way of resisting temptation and keeping your own integrity.

4)  Because really, is there any honor in cheating?

There’s excitement, sure.  And if excitement is the only reason you’re doing it (see #2), then you’ve got other problems.

The key is to figure out whether the issue lies within you, or your relationship, or both.

I know there are situations where you made a match, thought it was good, and then you come across someone else who is such a staggeringly good match that it feels like you’ve been hit by lightning.  It feels like one in a million.  And in rare cases, that’s true.  People do sometimes leave their partners for someone else and everyone involved is much happier.

But as I said, those are rare.  So do the soul-searching first so you can tell which category you’re falling into.

5)  Recognize that the fact that something is hard is not an excuse for betrayal, and for demeaning yourself, your partner, and this new person to whom you are attracted.

What I mean is, sometimes it is very difficult to extricate yourself from a relationship.  There might be kids involved, or other long-standing obligations.  In some cases, perhaps honesty and an open relationship is the solution.  I’ve seen this work in unusual circumstances (for example, when the partner is physically sick).

Think about the kind of person you are, and the kind of person you want to be, and how this squares with what you’re about to do.  Then go back and read #1.

Before You Have an Affair, Read This

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Before You Have an Affair, Read This. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Nov 2014
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