I am setting up this blog because I find myself increasingly moved by the efforts of my clients who chose to work through the devastating effects of affairs, whether individually, or in couples and by the profoundly deepening connections that this work can bring, almost as if the couple is discovering each other for the first time. I would like to create a space where those concerned with extramarital or extra-relationship affairs can learn about them and share their own thoughts and feelings. I will join in with comments also, as well as more extensive entries. However, I cannot provide any advice or analysis for individual situations on this site. I am a psychotherapist in Walnut Creek with 27 years of experience in private practice.

To start, you may wonder how prevalent extramarital affairs are. Unfortunately, there are no good answers, as studies conducted on the frequency of occurrence in marriages show results ranging from 15 – 75%! The data also shows that the more dating one has done, the more likely one is to have an affair.

Is It An Affair?

The defining feature of an affair is secrecy. If either partner is having a relationship with another person that is in whole or part secret from his or her partner, then that is an affair. The presence or absence of sex is not a defining feature. Affairs that are emotional can also be devastating. The key factor is whether the relationship violates the (sometimes unspoken) agreements that the couple has about the intimacy boundaries around their relationship. Thus, what constitutes an affair in one marriage or relationship, might not constitute an affair in another. Some couples feel secure with each having intense emotional relationships with others and others do not. There is no right or wrong here; there are all kinds of relationships, the key is the agreement about how far these relationships can go, that both partners are truly in agreement, and that the agreement is being respected.


Upon discovery, both partners can feel shaken to the core. It is normal to experience this time as traumatic, to experience rage, fear of abandonment, seemingly unbearable pain, and exhaustion from trying to deal with it all. Arguments can go around in circles endlessly. Affairs are so stressful and exhausting that they can lead to health problems and emotional breakdown, not to mention the possibility of STDs. The time of discovery is a time when the need for support is extremely high, yet it is sometimes difficult to tell others because of fear of their judgments of you or your partner. You might be urged to “be strong and leave the bitch/bastard” when you are not quite convinced deep down that this is the way. It is true that leaving takes strength, but staying in and working it out also takes tremendous strength, though of a different kind. A good question to sit with at this time is “am I hanging in or hanging on?”

Why Affairs Occur

Unhappy marriages do not cause affairs. First of all, couples try to “solve” relationship problems in many ways, for example, putting more energy into communication, or insisting on couple’s therapy. Some couples have children in hopes of making things better. Unfortunately, many resort to substance abuse, domestic violence, or complete emotional withdrawal. An affair is only one available alternative. There does not appear to be any data that correlate any particular types of marital problems to affairs. Furthermore, there are many marriages that seem perfect, or very happy to one or both spouses and an affair still occurs. It can be very upsetting to scratch the surface of such a relationship because the discoverer of the affair may feel like he or she is being blamed.

Long term affairs can be the result of an internal split in the betrayer, who has always performed according to everyone else’s expectations and has kept his or her emotions separated from his or her experience of life. The new partner represents a completely new experience of emotional freedom, but the old partner represents security. This is particularly excruciating for everyone involved because both of these ties are extremely difficult to cut. The problem seems to be which lover to choose, but is really about how thinking and feeling have become separated that is best worked with in individual therapy over a period of time. If this is not done, it is not unusual for the person in the affair to swing back and forth between the two lovers without any resolution.

Long term “love affairs” sometimes occur when the marriage never had a strong foundation in the first place. Unfortunately, some couples marry because “it seemed like the thing to do at the time,” because of a shared desire for children or because remaining alone was too frightening. Some couples marry without sufficient time to really get to know each other. Others unconsciously choose partners who are stand-ins for a childhood caretaker that was neglectful or abusive in an attempt to make things come out differently this time, which usually doesn’t work.

“Exit affairs” occur when one cannot allow oneself to come to terms with their desire to end the relationship. These kinds of affairs make everything seem like it’s just happening, not like any decisions are being made.

Casual short-term affairs can occur as an act of revenge by an angry partner who feels powerless to communicate in any other way.

A one night fling can represent a lack of understanding of the true nature of the couple’s attachment to each other which underlies the belief that it won’t really matter. There may be an inability to maintain a felt sense of connection to the partner when they are not present physically.

Affairs frequently occur when there is a blow to the self esteem of the unfaithful partner in an otherwise healthy marriage. This can happen with job loss or business failure, or with the loss of attention one receives from their partner following the birth of a new child.

In some cases affairs can be a sign of mental breakdown, or a response to mental or physical breakdown of a partner.

Substance abuse can alter one’s judgment and lead to affairs also, but frequently the substance abuse is a symptom of other issues, either marital or personal. However, being intoxicated can be just the ingredient that pushes one over the edge.

Cultural factors can also influence affairs. One or both partner may have grown up not knowing any families where there were not affairs; it may seem like a normal part of married life.

These are just some of the more common scenarios, every affair is different and has it’s own reasons.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Susan

    I am having an affair with a woman who has been emotionally abused throughout her 35 year marriage. She had opportunities to divorce but didn’t because of the children (good reason).
    She told me that she was not sleeping with her husband and has not had sex with him for nearly 20 years.
    I believe I have recently found out that after 3 years of our loving relationship during which she told me she was not sleeping with her husband for many years that she actually is. From that, I extrapolate that they are also having sex.
    But, yet I truly love her. Do I forgive and move on from there, or what?

  2. Anonymous

    I suffered a mental breakdown last year due to several big life events that set the ball rolling.
    I was physically, mentally and emotionally abused as a child by my stepfather, when he died I felt like I could never get the closure I needed. Then 4 weeks later I lost the one person I called dad, my grandfather, then a few months later my nan. ( they had both pretty much brought me up until my mom married my step father.)
    I was 16 weeks pregnant at the time of my stepfather’s death and in a very stressful job.
    I buried everything down so as not to let the stress affect my pregnancy as I was terrified I would lose the baby.
    Once my daughter was born my partner and I moved when she was 2 weeks old, then a year later we got married.
    Things were lovely for a few weeks but we moved to the countryside and my husband became withdrawn and depressed.
    I went back to work when my daughter was 2 months old as my partner didn’t work and was too proud to claim benefits.
    All he ever did was tell me to quit my job, which added more pressure.
    He completely shut me out, starved me of affection and was constantly emotionally withdrawn.
    I’m ashamed to admit it but I started an emotional affair with a friend of his.
    He listened and supported me. He even tried to help my husband in numerous ways, but to no avail.
    This emotional affair lasted only a month but my husband found out and threw me out.
    I ended up living with friends until I could sort myself out, and started a relationship with my husband’s friend.
    To cut a long story short the relationship lasted 6 months. I ended it as I realized after professional help that I’d had a breakdown, and still loved my husband and wanted my family back. (He had our daughter full time.)
    We’ve been split up a year now but I’m desperate to get my marriage back on track.
    My husband and I both still have feelings for each other but we’re both stubborn.
    My husband says I have to prove to him that I still want him, which I’m doing everything I can to show him, I’ve read every method of how to win back a lover, etc and have tried everything.
    My husband still shuts me out and says he doesn’t have to try to make things work as I’m the one who cheated and I should just be happy that he is letting me be around him and spend time with him.
    All I’m asking is a tiny bit of affection from him, just to let me know I’m doing the right thing.
    But nothing.
    He says he doesn’t know if he wants to try again but says I still have to try to prove this to him, but he still might decide he doesn’t want to try again, even after what could be months/years he might still say no.
    Am I being unreasonable? Or should I do as he wants?
    Please help I’m at my wits end.
    I’m suicidal because of all this but he doesn’t seem to care.

  3. Anonymous

    It started as a professional relationship that turned into a personal friendship. We just started mixing it. We were both confused and been with our spouses for 10 years. We felt that we missed out because we married young. I don’t want to leave my husband, but the affair fills a physical void. It was exciting in the beginning, but all the hiding leaves us drained and tired. Almost becoming too much trouble to do yet we keep coming back because we know it will be temporary. Maybe we are just fooling ourselves. I don’t know anymore. It may be running its course, but he still want to remain friends. Is that even possible? I’m not sure after everything we have done. Now it feels like we are aomewhat together because of this weird bond if wanting to explore but being trapped. Neither of us want to marry each other, but we do have this weird understanding.

  4. Anonymous

    i am the other woman ! not proud but i really have feelings for a man that i know has cheated on his wife before..he admits to sex with 3 other women,cheating for 18 years of a 30 year marriage,who would want this man ?.His wife knew about one 3 month relationship,two were never discovered & i was found out but we both lied about how far we had gone.We never stopped seeing each other,she thinks its over & that we never had sex.She found my phone number & read some text messages between her hubby & me…obvious that we had met so we owned up to that part.i too was cheated on,more & more people are doing it,i’m not condoning it…i think in his head he has already separated from his wife,he is so busy living up to everyone elses expectations that he can’t leave her,grown up children shouldn’t be holding him back but are ?,a small business hardly worth anything making him stay ?,i have much more to offer financially so i know he is staying for other reasons than money!, i am separated but wasn’t when we met so a cheater myself…LOVE ?? i don’t know,Happiness plays a big part,he makes me happy..not just sex!, we talk we laugh we communicate on all levels.Together for a year now & i don’t see it changing. He wants to have his cake & eat it or is he protecting his wife ??, Could i let him go ?, i have tried to break it off with him,it seems like he can’t stand the thought of me with another man…maybe thats the deal with his wife too….some of this is revealing itself as i write,i am a nice person,so is he. We are not all bad people although we cheat.Obviously there is something NOT RIGHT about his marriage. I have thought about talking to his wife but to what end …she suspects him & tries to keep tabs on him,if she can’t watch him she makes sure someone else can …that can’t be right. He is too nice to leave her but not too nice to not cheat on her…go figure !.

  5. Anonymous

    I’m talking about emotional affair. I have a secret feeling to my boss because he’s more concern about me than my husband. For even years of our marriage, I felt sad because when I was sick, he didn’t care and upset buying medicine since that time I had no job. It’s been many years I waited for any changes. when he’s sick I treated him like a child, taking care of him because I loved him. He wasn’t there for me in my bad time, instead in good time only. I was so tired to think it’s so unfair when you love and care a spouse but in return he doesn’t care. I want to leave him for me to be free and be happy but he can’t stand alone financially and I don’t like to leave him in such situation. I still care about him but doesn’t love him like I did before.

  6. Anonymous

    I found out my husband of 33 years is having an affair. We have three grown children, one with significant special needs that necessitated me to stay home (although we had already agreed that I would because of our traditional values). I can’t describe the horrible feelings I am going through. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I feel like my inner core is trembling all the time and I can’t stop moving. He says he loves me and was about to end it with her but based on the text messages I read I don’t know if I can believe him. They were sexual in nature, full of endearments and looking forward to the next time. The number of texts and phone calls were staggering. I can’t believe this is happening. He says he tried to end it once but she contacted him again and wormed her way back into his life. She is a lonely widow and my husband felt compassion at first, then handyman stuff and before u know it…… He probably felt he was “rescuing” her while all the while she was destroying his marriage and personal integrity. Hard things to recover. He said he was about to end it for a second time (when his job moved him again) when I found the texts very accidentally. I would encourage anyone who is in or planning adultery and has a casual attitude toward adultery to stop and try to imagine the faceless, clueless spouse and children and the impact on them to learn that the person they loved and trusted and respected most would choose to do the most selfish and hurtful act possible in a marriage. I can forgive him and work on our marriage so that both of us can have our needs met. (And he has his share of issues to work on too including a lifelong coping pattern of avoiding conflict and intimacy with lies and mi imizing). It just makes me feel so incredibly lonely and sad that he made this choice.

  7. Anonymous

    Affairs happen when one or both prrnteas are not serious about the relationship and do not care about how their actions affect the other person. Perhaps their needs are not being met physically or emotionally and that has affected their bond to each other. No telling.I dont think affairs happen more often with people who have more free time I think it happens more often with couples who get into a routine and fail to make time to meet each others needs. Humans are not really creatures of habit, we need excitement to make our lives feel worth living.I see so often marriages where the husband and wife come home, then just sit around and watch tv then go to sleep. Life should be fun. Talk, play a board game, read together, play with your children if you have any, go on dates, cook as a family, etc. That is what keeps bonds tight.

  8. Anonymous

    #11 I know exactly how you feel. My husband too sat next to me texting her. In bed. At baseball games for our kids. Easter and Christmas morning. My Birthday. While out to dinner with me. Always texting her. I was so stupid for so long. It lasted six years! I feel your pain and I needed to tell you that. I found out nine months ago. We have been attempting to reconcile. Although he is angry that I haven’t gotten over it yet! I am so sorry for your pain. I wish I could wrap my arms around you and hug you!

  9. Anonymous

    Hi ther,
    This is the 1st time I have ever added to a blog but so much of what I have read is exactly what has happened to me that I feel safe too, my husband was the most amazing wonderful man I had ever met, my real father left me when I was small, my adoptive father only really ever wanted a relationship with me as long as I did whatever my mum wanted, to my own detriment, so it wasn’t ever really a relationship. So the man I married for a long long time made me so very truly happy, I felt loved, I think for the 1st time ever. We had what I thought was an enviably close relationship, I could talk to him about anything,and everything and well……the tears stream as I write because about 10 months ago my life was completely and utterly shattered!, I was sitting in bed next to him, and he was on his phone texting his girlfriend!! In our marriage bed calling her gorgeous with me sitting right next to him!!!,!,

  10. Anonymous

    I just found out that my husband was having an affair with someone i thought was my friend. She has has issues with her spouse over the years and it has gotten really bad for her. My husband and her startesd out with an emotional affair than after we moved back to the area she and I became reaquainted she even helped me get a job at her place of wk all the whileknowing she was having an emotional affair with my husband. I comforted her and listened to her with the woes of her marriage and her fears but it wasnt enough she kept the texting with my husband which led tothe affair. I have been betrayed by a friend and spouse. I love my husband and we have talked raw truth. Whatever I ask he answers no matter how painful for both of us. I am dealing with it ok till I found out it happened in our bed. I took two days off from wk and we will be going to counciling but iam still in shock and I feel the stirrings of a deep anger building towards her for the manipulation and betrayal and towards him for his choices and deceit. I cant eat and i sleep on the floor now till he replaces the bed, I am so calm and yet I will cry at any given time and feel numb, and hurt and yet I love him so much my senses say I should run and never look back but my heart says the man I married is still there and I know it is not all her or him or me. I asked him if he loves me he said yes I asked if he loved her he said yes. He wants to make it work with me and has agreed to go to counciling…..I hope i can survie this

  11. Anonymous

    #7-I feel this exact same way,and it has been 1 and a half years since the discovery of his affair. I fear I will never know true love again and this makes me so sad. I don’t want to hurt my two kids.They love the family we have, and so did I up until this happenned. The other woman (an old high school friend of his who lives in our same town) has tormented me on numerous occassions. How can I saty married to someone who I thought adored me- and then stabbed me in the back…
    what to do? he is begging me to get over it…

  12. Anonymous

    #7 Continued…
    As I stand here in the middle of the devastation caused by my spouse’s affair, I wonder if things will ever heal. The anger of my child, my anger, my spouse’s anger and all of the things in between. The horrible things that have happened as a direct result of the pain, anger and neglect of the family will scar our lives forever. This needs to be turned into something positive, but I have no idea how to do this. That’s why I ask the question over and over…was I hanging in or hanging on to something that will never be the same again. It’s time for me to change my life and my child’s life for the better.

    For the OP…you don’t have the right to interfere in my life. You don’t have rights to my spouse. You don’t deserve anything but my contempt for you. You and my spouse have caused such devastation in our lives and you hide behind the excuse that you are in love. You are weak and contemptable. But now, you can have my spouse…and the dirty laundry, and the nasty habits and everything else that comes with the package. When you wake up every day with him, I dare say that you will come to the realization that the partying and drinking can’t go on and REAL LIFE will invade your fantasy world.

    Your assestment, Ms. Berger, is correct about the substance abuse. It seems to be the thing that they have in common. Any time that they have been together, my spouse is intoxicated when he comes home. I know that is what pushed him over the edge and she orchestrated it…at the beginning. Your blog has helped me to understand all of the facets of the affair, and with knowledge comes power. Thank you for all of this very useful information. I hope that I will be able to move forward, forgive my spouse and create a happy life for myself and my child. I don’t want to hang on anymore. I DESERVE BETTER!

  13. Anonymous

    “Hanging in or Hanging on”? That is a very difficult question to answer. It’s even more difficult when your spouse won’t communicate with you except to say that he/she wants their freedom, but does nothing about it. Is your spouse waiting on you to pull the plug and end it all? OK, so you hang in there and a few years later realize that you made a huge mistake. Your life could be so different in the here and now. Is it common for the betrayed spouse to find out a few years after the affair is blown out of the water and made public, that he/she doesn’t want this marriage anymore? Is this normal or has the betrayed spouse finally realized that they were just hanging on and not hanging in?

  14. Anonymous

    I thoroughly understand you, #5 (Remorseful Mistress). It’s one big double-edged sword when a fun affair turns into something serious. Good luck to you.

  15. Anonymous

    I became involved with a married man and he left his wife to be with me. I didn’t want him to. He said he hasn’t been happy ever, doesn’t love her and he’s never felt this way before for another person. I would have been happy with just a date with him, with no harm done. But he was convinced I was everything he ever wanted and couldnt bear to lie to his wife. He left after a week of us getting to know eachother. I don’t think I could be someones mistress. I can’t say I’m above pursuing a married man because I obviously have. But I could never grow to love some one and let him go home to another woman every night. But what we felt for eachother made it seem worth it. Two years later, I know we love eachother on a very deep level but I cannot forgive myself and will never be forgiven by his ex and kids. Well, just the kids. I don’t ever expect her to let it go. But the layers of grief and problems with this relationship are harsh and unending. It’s opened the biggest can of worms, thrown us out of the pan into the fire, flushed us down the drain and shot our own foot. What do you say to the remorseful mistress? Nothing. She’s the most paranoid person on earth and is scared of the topic. Unless its annoymously of course. Thanks for letting me ramble.

  16. Anonymous

    I have the unique, or maybe not so unique, of experiencing this from both sides of the fence. My husband of 19 years had what was first an “emotional affair,” which later became physical as soon as I left our home. I went through all the emotions of the woman betrayed, although I have never really felt contempt for the other woman. I felt that my husband was the one who betrayed me and that the other person, although disrespecful of me, didn’t ever promise me anything. It has been 8 months since I moved out and my divorce is just waiting for a judges signature to make it final.

    And now the other side of the fence… One month ago I began corresponding with a man that I knew in high school. Although we were friends back then, there was never any romantic involvement. As we began talking we found that we have a lot in common, including many aspects of our unhappy long-term marriages. At this point, our relationship would be considered an “emotional affair”. But I feel that it could move beyond that with just a tiny little push.

    Having been the wife in this situation and now the other woman, I am deeply conflicted about the relationship. I am searching for answers enough to search for information on the internet, which led me here. There are no easy answers here. Unfortunatelly, my feelings are as tangled up in the relationship with my married friend as they seemed to be when I was the spouse of the cheater. In both situations I feel like I am playing second fiddle to another woman. Still, I am trying to make decisions based on more than just my emotions by searching for information and learning from other’s in my situation(s). The old adage that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence seems especially appropriate for me. I realize now how painful and confusing this must have been for my soon-to-be ex-husband and his now ex-girlfriend. It is empathy that I would just as soon not learned from first hand experience.

  17. Anonymous

    I just hope not too harshly. Maybe someone can help. I gave birth to a baby at 6 months and a year later had an affair for a year and a half. My husband wouldn’t let go. Last week I filed a legal separation with him. I don’t have the feelings I should have for him, and I never have experienced what I had with my lover. I don’t think I will again. My lover doesn’t understand the pain and torment I have experienced trying to figure out my feelings. The counselors, my husband, and my family have made it impossible for me to figure out my true feelings. I miss my husband’s company, but I believe that I am truly in love with my lover. I feel detriment that he doesn’t understand and that because of listening to everyone I have lost him. My husband seems like an allstar to everyone but me. He tells me I can’t make is on my own and I feel that he is right. I feel like I deserve it. I just can’t believe that the person I truly loved I sacrificed. I don’t even feel like living life. If every relationship is going to be like this I will be on my own forever. I know I will be judged, but I my only wish is for some help.

  18. admin

    Thanks for your comments, Don. I hope to write about sexual addiction and particularly internet porn addiction soon. Susan Berger, MFT

  19. Anonymous

    As you pointed out “Affairs can occur for many reasons” Sex Addiction (which will most likely be in the next DSM) does explain compulsive sexual affairs …..those that seem to constantly be on the ‘look out’ for more ‘potential’ partners. The person that needs to be on the “hunt” for the ‘high’ as many of the men I work with do. As you pointed out….sex may not be the primary motive. A good history intake usually (not always) clarifies the “function” of the affair/s. The treatment for the compulsive/addictive behavior aspect is usually group therapy…..developing a support system to manage impulses. Very informative, well done website!

    Don Mathews MFT, Director
    Impulse Treatment Center

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