Yes, there are different types of affairs! It’s occurred to me how much on blogs and forums we throw around the word “affair” as if they are all about the same. As if a one-night stand is the same as 5-year, deeply emotional and physical affair. I think that properly identifying the type of affair that has occurred or is occurring is important because it will lead the betrayed spouse to make the right decision – should I stay or should I go? Answer the question of who they are really married to?
There are MANY opinions on the different types. Below is really my own hybrid. I pulled this together from similarities in 3 different lists/articles, and some of my own summary and understanding of each (my words).
All of these types of affairs are dangerous, but in different ways. What struck me was the idea that the type of affair (or affairs) that occur definitely affects the likelihood of being able to recover a marriage. I also see that there are hybrid affairs — having the characteristics of more than one, especially over time (which was my case).
THE SEVEN TYPES OF AFFAIRS
1. The Double Life Affair
This type of infidelity occurs when the cheater has very little emotional attachment to his/her spouse. Their marriage is more like a business partnership. They are committed to their marriage and making it work, but they long something they don’t have in their marriage: An intimate, loving, emotional connection. Romance. To be understood, loved and adored. But, more than likely, their commitment to the marriage will prevent them from ever leaving their spouse. They may very well be in the “Semi-Happy Marriage” – too safe to leave, too boring to stay. So in this type of marriage, if opportunities present themselves, this spouse will likely get their unmet needs met…by someone else…and try to keep it secret so that their marital arrangement, even as imperfect as it is, is not disturbed. They compartmentalize the affair. Rationalize it in their minds. And become masters of lying and deception to make it possible and keep it going.
This type of affair almost always means pain for the OM/OW and the cheating spouse. Rarely does it turn into a long-term, committed relationship. Marital problems have to be quite severe before a spouse will leave the marriage for another person.
A double life is led. One with the spouse which may revolve around “real life” activities like raising the kids, paying the mortgage, etc… and a second life with the affair partner which may revolve around “fun life” and romantic activities. The cheating spouse may be very content in this type of arrangement. Between the two (or more) people in his/her life, their needs are likely being completely met because no one of them could meet them alone.
You will often hear such a cheating spouse say, “But my wife/husband is happy! In fact, I’m a better spouse because I’m having the affair.” They don’t feel that they are depriving their spouse of anything, and in fact, their double-life allows them to stay in their marriage (by defusing some of their discontent). If they find a willing Affair Partner, and are careful to not be discovered, these can go on for a very long time without the Betrayed Spouse being aware.
This type of marital affair can be just as, if not more so, shocking and destructive as a sexual affair. The lack of sexual involvement is often used as a rationalization as to why it’s not it’s not an affair. People involved in emotional affairs will oftentimes become indignant at the suggestion that an affair may be occurring with “my best friend who just happens to be someone of the opposite sex”. And, in fairness, people are so good at rationalizing that they may be deeply involved in an emotional affair and truly believe that it is simply a very close friendship. However, the emotional intensity of this type of relationship and what it drains from the marital relationship is much more than what happens with a best friend.
This is NOT a friendship — close friendships do occur between married people of the opposite sex and are not cheating. However in this type of affair, the emotional attachment goes deeper than a friendship. And there is flirting, sexual tension, and likely even sexual discussion, even if, for whatever reason (distance, circumstance, conscience) prevents the two from consummating the affair. It is an affair nevertheless. It may be the hardest one for a Betrayed Spouse to actually discover because the Wayward has “plausible deniability.” This type of affair is most frequently uncovered when an errant email or text is discovered which shows an emotional involvement that goes beyond “friendship.”
3. The Opportunistic/One Night Stand Affair
This type of affair is usually unplanned and are usually due to an impulsive decision in which one was lost in the moment. Business trips or nights out on the town are often when these occur and, while one night stands can sometimes happen with someone known, the majority of the them involve a relative stranger. Alcohol or other recreational drugs may contribute to the situation.
The vast majority of people who have one night stands want to stay in their marriages and are plagued with guilt or a fear of being found out. Frequently the opportunistic affair is associated with a person with low self-esteem who needs the attention of a stranger to feel better about themselves and feel desirable and attractive. This type of affair, because of the type of person it attracts, is among the most dangerous and can often become “serial” in nature (eg, one encounter after another as opportunity arises).
As indicated by the name, in this type of marital affair the partner who strays is unhappy in the marriage and may feel as if s/he is no longer in love with their spouse. Or, they may say that they love their spouse as a brother or sister but no longer are “in love” with their spouse. They may see their marriage as a dead end. The affair may be an “exit strategy” to get out of their marriage — unwilling to let go of one vine until firmly grasping the next vine (a typical thought-process of the female cheater). The Wayward Spouse has gone out and “tested the waters” to see if “something better” is out there for them to provide a “soft landing” after leaving their spouse.
These types of affairs typically have their roots in friendship which become romanticized over time. They may start with a mutual disclosure of unhappiness in their respective marriages.
While these relationships will usually be sexualized, their real power comes from the emotional needs that are being met that are lacking in the marriage. They are usually long-term romances in which the affair partners feel that they are in love with one another and may be talking about a new life together. Happiness can only be found when they are together.
Although they are oftentimes not aware of it, the feelings generated by this type of marital affair are often intensified by the illicit nature of the affair. Although people in this type of affair don’t like hearing this, the odds of them having a successful long term relationship are very low.
The marital problems combined with the seeming fulfillment of the affair oftentimes make these people very reluctant to work on marital recovery. However, all is not lost. In virtually every relationship no matter how bad, there remains some good. Helping the straying partner focus on the remaining good, the tendency for humans to use a self confirmation bias to prove to themselves that all is bad when it really is not and helping them realize what they may actually lose oftentimes at least helps bring them to the point of being willing to give the marriage one last try.
These marriages have a surprisingly high survival rate if the partner is willing to commit him or herself to a period of time to restore the marriage. Sometimes asking for a initial commitment to try of say 15 weeks and they re-evaluate is more likely to work than asking for a complete commitment because it gives them some sense of freedom.
5. The Serial Cheater/ Sex Addict/ Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton Types
Most people are familiar with how Tiger Woods’ sexual addiction drove him to have an extraordinary number of affairs. Many people who have Tiger Woods types of affairs describe themselves as relatively happy in their relationship. However, they’ve never been able to find complete fulfillment from it because they are enslaved by obsessive needs and compulsive behaviors. Hard as it is for many to believe, sex addicts truly feel powerless in their ability to control their desires.
Just like Tiger, more often than not the sex addict does not want his/her marriage to fail. Its about something inside of them, not the marriage. Usually they were addicts before the marriage and may have stopped for awhile when first married only to be pick up again when they realize that the marriage can’t meet the needs of their addiction.
They may feel trapped in a destructive cycle of feeling hopelessly trapped by their behaviors and at times by their marriages, but are afraid to come clean because they don’t want to lose their marriage or their addictive behavior.
This type of betrayal can be very difficult for the spouse because a) the breadth of the betrayal can seem so enormous and b) while most people can understand alcohol or drug addiction, sexual addiction is a tough one for most to have much empathy for.
Love addiction marital affairs differ from Tiger Woods types of marital affairs in that, although they have an addictive quality to them, they are more about the intensity of a new relationship than sex (although sex is often involved). Love addicts tend to move from one relationship to the next and they will oftentimes feel very uncomfortable or lost if they are not involved in an intense relationship.
The goal of the love addict is to find that one right person, except they never seem to be able to find that person. They may have a some sense of security in their marriage, but it just doesn’t feel 100% right to them. They may feel as if they married the wrong person and have a one foot in one foot out feeling about the marriage as they search for their perfect mate.
This describes affairs done in retaliation for a partner’s affair or due to mistreatment by the marital partner. In some cases, a Betrayed Spouse has an affair to “even the score” — and may make sure that their Wayward Spouse knows they did it. These actions almost always lead to separation and divorce.
In extreme cases, you have the narcissistic explanation for an affair. If the narcissist thinks his or her spouse has flirted with someone or is likely to have an affair, the narcissist can begin an affair as a pre-emptive strike against his or her spouse to maintain the upper hand in the relationship. Narcissistic rage is fueled by thoughts such as “How dare they do that to ME?!” The narcissist is also likely to have an affair with a spouse’s relative or someone whose closeness with the spouse would make the discovery of the affair especially traumatic.
The Type of Affair Affects the Likelihood of Recovery (my view)
Personally, I think the ones hardest to reconcile with someone would be certainly the Sex Addict type married partner, and frankly, the one-night stand/attention whore type partner, as well as the “Love is the Drug” type. I don’t know how you ‘reconcile’ from those. The affairs are so much more about who THEY are and less about what your marriage is. The Betrayed Spouse can’t really do much to fix things in this case- only the Wayward can — and they must fundamentally “change”, which is extremely hard for most adults. In all other types of affairs, the root cause is more in the marriage than in the person. At least the Betrayed in these cases can work with the Wayward to correct whatever had gone wrong (or at least to take a shot at it).
And of course, because many times an affair is a hybrid of one or more, there are frequently issues both within the cheater and within the marriage that need to be addressed to really reconcile. And addressed simultaneously. Plus often the huge overlay of a history with the couple, and lists of other grievances and judgments upon each other. And the likely very different personalities of both parties and their personal histories to overlay on top of that. Not a simple task.
Fixing these things is just not simple or even as simple as people like Dr. Harley would even have you believe. It can be done. But it can be a lot to deal with.
So what was MY affair? Not just one, but three of them.
And stressful at each and every point. Looking back, I see mine as sharing the characteristics of three of the categories — it changed over time. For the first month or two, we were just friends, but flirting. I hardly knew her. We didn’t even speak on the phone until almost 3 months went by. Then from month 3-6, it became an “Emotional Affair”. Heavy flirtation. Discussion of sex. Sharing fantasies and naughty photos. At month 6, it became physical as we met for the first time since our initial meeting.
For the next 6 or so months, I was in a “Double Life Affair”
Not wanting to leave my marriage (and outwardly seeming to be content and participating cooperatively in my home life, for the most part), but I had found someone who filled in the missing pieces. Who seemed to “get” me. Interested in me as a man, person and sexual being. Who liked doing activities with me that my wife seemed uninterested in. I had no interest in either leaving it or pushing it to “the next level” (although my OW definitely started pushing it to this level at about month 8, which became ultimately her undoing and the reason it was discovered).
After about a year, eventually it morphed into the “Exit Strategy/Deep Unhappiness with Marriage Affair.”
The longer it went on, the more unhappy with my life I became and the more I started to believe that this OW was the “vine” I needed to get out of my miserable marriage. It’s true power was not in the sex, but in how completely my emotional needs were being met by the OW. And I started to believe in my mind what my OW was telling me. That not only was it right to follow my heart (by leaving my marriage for her), but that it was “humane” to let my wife go. I definitely started going in this direction the last 6-7 months of it, although I was deeply conflicted and troubled about it all. But like an addict, I was only happy when I was talking to her and with her and I spent most of my time wanting her, even if I was torn. Even if I was troubled. I couldn’t go without my “fix.”
Fortunately, my mind swung away from that and I figured out what I had been thinking was wrong. And the characteristics I was projecting on my OW were largely wrong. She was not who I thought she was. In combination with D-Day, and the fact that my wife had the month before finally really started to talk, I got out.
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