So, you're wondering how to handle an extramarital affair. Well, you've come to the right place. Here, I'll cover what an affair is, the mental health effects it can have, primary reasons for affairs, and more. Plus, I'll impart some coping strategies to help rebuild a relationship impacted by cheating.
What Is An Affair?
If you're reading this, you might already know what an extramarital affair is. But for those who aren't familiar with the term, an affair is "a sexual liaison or romantic involvement between two people other than a married couple." So, basically any sexual or romantic relationship outside of the relationship or relationships to which you're currently committed.
An extramarital affair can happen with a co-worker, friend, total stranger, or anyone, really. The point to remember is that an affair pretty much always involves deception. That's one of the main (and many) things that separates polyamorous relationships from affairs; an affair is not consensual among all parties. That's why it's called cheating.
Extramarital affairs are incredibly common, and are often symptomatic of poor communication or other destructive relationship dynamics. To gain a clearer understanding of why an extramarital affair might occur, let's examine some of the most common reasons for cheating.
Why Do Extramarital Relationships Happen?
There are myriad reasons for someone to cheat, and every circumstance is different. However, certain situations tend to be more common when it comes to marital infidelity, though the underlying issues are almost always rooted in communication.
Potential reasons for cheating include:
- Unmet needs. Feeling like your needs are not being met is perhaps the most common underlying cause of extramarital affairs. Essentially, one person feels like they are not being satisfied emotionally, sexually, or otherwise, and therefore venture outside of their current relationship to find fulfillment elsewhere.
- Conflict avoidance. Cheating can happen when people are feeling unhappy in their relationship, but would rather avoid conflict than discuss the issues at hand. In this scenario, resentment and toxic relationship dynamics are likely to build over time, and can ultimately result in infidelity. The irony here is that effectively addressing the "conflict" often strengthens the relationship, and shouldn't be something to be feared.
- Partnership inequality. In many relationships, it is often the case that one person feels burdened by homemaking and childcare, and perceives their partner as lazy or complacent. In these situations, the person who feels like they're doing all the work might build resentment and/or seek comfort from someone who doesn't expect/need anything from them.
- Lack of commitment. People who aren't committed to their relationships are more likely to cheat on their on their partners. This can be particularly common in rebound relationships, as one or both partners are emotionally unavailable and/or still hung up on their ex-partners.
- Falling out of love. It's not a romantic concept, but the truth is that people fall out of love. Relationships expire. It's not always indicative of a toxic dynamic; sometimes it just happens. That said, sometimes folks feel compelled to stay in the relationships, regardless of love, whether it be for the sake of their children, maintaining the status quo, etc. In these situations, people may be more likely to cheat simply because their hearts are no longer in it; they've become emotionally detached.
- Mismatched libidos. More often than not, couples do not have the exact same sex drive. This is totally normal! But for some folks, perhaps especially those with dramatically different libidos, staying sexually faithful can be particularly challenging. In this situation, couples counseling can be very helpful.
- Revenge. If one person cheated or damaged their partner in any way, then the other person might want to get back at them by doing something hurtful. Ultimately, this is a cycle of feeling betrayed and wanting some kind of revenge. Unfortunately, neither person typically feels good after vengeful actions against their partner.
These causes are all deeply rooted in communication issues. That's not the only factor at play, of course, but solid lines of honest communication is one of the key ways to keep a relationship healthy over time.
Mental Health Effects of Cheating
Extramarital affairs and infidelity can affect your social life, family relationships, and just about every facet of your life. Let's look at some of the effects cheating can have on one's mental health and wellbeing.
- Guilt. Much of the time, the person who is committing the act of infidelity loves the person they're cheating on. Yes, you can hurt someone you love, I'm afraid. In this situation, the person cheating can feel tremendous amount of guilt, stress, and self-loathing. All of these things combined can wreak havoc on one's mental health.
- Fear. Folks engaging in lies, deception, and cheating can spend much of their time in fear of being caught. Imagine looking over your shoulder around every corner, expecting to bump into someone who knows you and will blow the lid off all the lies you've been telling your partner. Sounds pretty stressful, right? Living in fear of being found out can significantly affect your mental wellbeing.
- Exhaustion. Cheating usually involves a lot of deception. This means that the person cheating will have to keep track of all the lies they've told, and to whom. That kind of mental labor is extremely exhausting, and can diminish mental capacity to focus on other facets of one's life.
- Self-worth. Oftentimes, the swell guilt, fear, and exhaustion feed right into depression. It's not uncommon for those engaging in extramarital affairs to experience feelings of self-loathing, identity crisis, and general self-esteem issues.
Ultimately, every relationship is different, and no extramarital affair is exactly the same. But one thing is for sure: without healthy communication, a relationship is doomed to fail. And no, cheating is not a guaranteed death sentence for a relationship, but it can have serious affects on mental health, intimacy, and more.
If you're currently embroiled in an extramarital affair, I have a few pieces of advice. First, be easy on yourself. You're human. Humans make mistakes. Secondly, tell the truth. The sooner you stop harboring lies and clinging to the tangled web you weaved, the sooner you and your partner can both begin healing.