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Committed couples sail through life’s high seas, some smoothly and some roughly. Except for a few eccentric eddies in the stream, most people adhere to the moral code of monogamy with their spouse. The creed of most Americans is to have one sexual partner at a time. But the fact is, another sexual partner may lurk below deck. More than other martial arguments, an affair rocks the boat violently. The marriage is stranded ashore, shipwrecked, or goes immediately into the repair dock. Marriage therapists are the mechanics when your relationship is struggling with multiple sexual relationships.
Few fixed statistics show how often affairs occur. The nature of affairs prevents honesty. (What respectable father who talks to his son about the ‘facts of life’ would admit to sleeping around?) Is an affair dishonest when nobody knows about it? Social scientists say grossly that about a third of married men and a fifth of married women have had an affair, a lover, a paramour. Within the US, about 1 in every 2.7 couples is touched by infidelity. (p. 1 Abrahms Spring, 2012)
There are many therapists who won’t do couple therapy unless the unfaithful partner agrees to end the affair. “Just say no.” is easy to say, but the impact of ending abruptly is devastating. Going ‘cold turkey’ doesn’t always work- the affair can go deeper underground or seep emotionally sideways. Many marriages sink into depression. Sometimes its hard to let go of an affair which has brought some love and joy into life.
As a therapist I ask the unfaithful partner, “Would it do more good, or more harm to confess the affair?” and “What’s the meaning of the extra-marital relationship?” Leaving a lover involves discernment.
There are four stages of how a relationship develops into an affair.
I Emotional excitement
II Keeping a Secret
III Surreptitious Dating
IV The Act …Well, you know
For the lover, the third wheel in the triangle, as the relationship continues over years, I predict that there will be moments of pure bliss and hours, many hours of sorrow. Affairs need to be assessed with the tape measure called regret. From the perspective of time, will you regret leaving your husband, or leaving your lover? What doors are open and what are closed in this matrimony?
When a two-some enter therapy, there is hope for the relationship to survive the shipwreck of an affair. Repairing the damage is critical for any children aboard. There are many ways that the love can be even stronger after the affair.
Hope is my middle name as a certified marriage counselor. I encourage you to adopt it also.