It’s definitely what most people believe, and tell their spouses early on. “If you ever have an affair, it’s over!” There are many reasons some find it important to take this stand at the outset. But sometimes, once it happens, it all seems more complicated.
For a long time it was commonly believed that affairs were actually the leading cause of divorce. But now we know that is not true. The most recent studies show that only about 25% of divorces are attributed to affairs.
So what is causing so many divorces? Several recent studies answer this question. It is, simply put, a breakdown in communication. John Gottman studied these breakdowns in detail and discovered four aspects that destroy relationship; defensiveness, stonewalling (withdrawing and shutting down), criticism and contempt. In his study well over 90% of the couples that reported these experiences in their marriages (and didn’t get help) ended up divorcing.
So, the affair doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is over. It does mean that there are going to be a lot of tumultuos emotions. If you still have hope for your marriage it will be important to work together to understand in depth why the affair occurred. A study by Peggy Vaughn found that when the person who had the affair reveals everything and takes responsibility for what has happened, 88% of the marriages were healed. However, when the person who had the affair clams up, blames the affair on the marriage or lover and does not take responsibility or answer questions there is only a 55% success rate.
And yes, it might become apparent that the affair was, after all, an “exit affair.” But this is only one possibility. People have affairs for so many different reasons. A lot of these reasons have to do with not knowing how to deal with a sense (which might be conscious or unconscious) that something is missing in the connection between spouses. This is nobody’s fault. It just might mean that there appeared to be no way to address this. But there still might be love. Unfortunately, when it comes to affairs, loneliness trumps love.
For a more complete discussion of different types of affairs read “What Type of Affair is This?”