Affairs happen. Affairs are exciting in the beginning. Affairs make you feel loved, sexual, and attractive. Affairs allow you to experience emotional closeness that may have petered out in your marriage. All this sounds great, so if no one finds out, why not have one?
I have worked with many clients over the years who find themselves in extramarital affairs. For the most part they present as stressed out, conflicted, guilt-ridden and ready to blow an emotional gasket. They don’t usually seek help in the beginning when everything is fun and exciting. It is later when the dishonesty and balancing act begin to take a toll that they feel in over their heads and come for help with matters.
The most common phrase I hear is, “It just happened, I didn’t plan it.” This is usually true, however it indicates they were not well-armed with their boundaries. I assume most of you reading this are not murderers or thieves. You do not walk into Walmart one day, grab something and put it in your pocket and walk out. Nor do you decide on the highway to shoot someone for the heck of it. Neither of those things “just happen.” This is because you have already decided you are not a thief or a murderer. You probably decided this early on in life. Now you have to decide if you are an adulterer. You can make this decision and adhere to it just as easily as the other two once you have incorporated this as part of your identity. I doubt that most of you struggle daily with the urge to steal or kill.
The next most common things I hear have to do with blaming the spouse. These are dysfunctional thinking patterns as it is not the spouse having the affair, it is you. To say they deserve it as they are not meeting your needs, not attractive to you anymore, not nice to you, or any number of problems there may be are not reasons. You have to focus on you and your behavior. Projection, blame, and justifying are all defense mechanisms used to excuse yourself.
Knowing the emotional damage an affair can create for you, your spouse, your children, and those of the other person having the affair with you, it is also a behavior that deserves some thought early on. This is not from a moral standpoint but from the standpoint of a mental health professional who helps pick up the wreckage after the affairs. From what I have seen and the families I have worked with, I don’t see it as advantageous to anyone involved.
Some of the “wreckage” that I have helped navigate includes the following:
- Stress and guilt so severe it affects the health of the person having the affair. This can start right away or later when the affair gets more intense or part of daily life.
- Downward spiral of work performance due to inability to concentrate.
- Irreversible pain caused to loved ones; yours and theirs.
- Alienation of children of all ages when they find out.
- Legal divorce battles made worse by the betrayal and emotional intensity.
- Alienation of parents.
- Severe emotional problems including depression and anxiety in the children involved.
- Self hatred.
- Never being able to enjoy the person you are having the affair with or your family as this is always on your mind.
- Conflict with the person you are in the affair with due to mismatched expectations of where the affair will lead.
- Divorce that can affect your financial life forever, including child support or alimony.
- The person you are in the affair with or their family members may seek revenge of some sort on you or your family.
I could go on but I think you get the idea.
So what do you do to help inoculate yourself against the threat of an affair? Here are a few suggestions.
- Decide whether you would like the label of adulterer applied to you. (Remember thief and murderer). Is this who you really are? Did you mean it when you said your marriage vows? Do you normally keep your word? Think through these things now, not when presented with the opportunity to go astray. Make this decision now.
- If you are having marital problems, go get help; don’t wait till the problems are huge.
- If the problems can’t be helped, decide whether a divorce is the best option.
- If divorce is not an option right now, decide what types of things you need in place to get your emotional needs met. Friends, groups, whatever. Can the person who you would like to have an affair with be just a friend? Does it need to go further?
- Don’t place yourself in situations that make it more likely for something to “just happen.” Having drinks with someone you are attracted to falls in this category.
- Enjoy the attention of the person without acting on it. You don’t need to have sex to know another person is attracted to you; this helps with feeling excited and sexy again.
- Ask yourself what it is you are looking for in the affair, what purpose will it serve, and is an affair the best way to achieve your goal? There are other ways to pump up your self-esteem and self-confidence.
I hope this helps some of you who may be struggling with this issue; it can drain the life out of you. Employ some of these suggestions and protect yourself from a damaging affair.
If you would like some free resources on dysfunctional thinking patterns and relationships visit us at PsychSkills.com. We can help get you started in the right direction.
Feel Good For Life!