Joseph W. James, Ph.D.
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Bethesda, MD 20814
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Maryland Affair Recovery Center
Maryland Affair Recovery: Types of Affairs
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Types of Marital Affairs

There are as many types of affairs as there are couples who are involved in them. While each is unique and needs to be treated as such there are some broad similarites across many affairs. Here are some brief descriptions of the types of affairs I've seen over the years.

“The Leading Two Lives” Marital Affair

In this type of marital affair the person who strays may have some unhappiness in the marriage but not necessarily enough for them to want to leave. Instead, they find an affair partner who shares many of the same interests, most often those which are not shared with their spouse.

Oftentimes these shared interests are of a spiritual, artistic or hobby type of nature that the straying partner feels essential to his or her fulfillment as a human being. This may make the affair partner seem like a soul mate of sorts.

Its almost as if two lives are developed – 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” activities.

“Emotional” Marital Affairs

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.

How do you distinguish between a friendship and an emotional affair? Two questions you can ask are: a) Does your partner’s “best friend” have more information or insight into your partner’s everyday or emotional life than you? b) Does their “friend” know more about your marriage than you? 

“One Night Stand” Marital Affairs

Unlike other types of marital affairs, one night stands are not always indicators that there are problems in the marriage, although its not unusual for the partner who strays to been having fantasies about being sexual with someone else.

More often than not, one night stands are unplanned and spontaneous. They are usually rooted in impulsive choices combined with opportunity. They may occur on a business trip or while out on the town and the majority of the time involve a relative stranger although sometimes one night stands can happen with someone known. 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.

“I’m Deeply Unhappy with My Marriage” Marital Affairs

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.

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. Research has indicated that only about 10% of affair couples are together after several years.

The marital problems combined with the seeming fulfillment of the affair oftentimes make these people very reluctant to work on saving the marriage. 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.

“Tiger Woods” Marital Affairs

I chose the name “Tiger Woods” for this type of marital affair because most people are familiar with how his sexual addictions drove him to have affairs in the extreme. Although they may not describe themselves as unhappy in their marriages, people who engage in Tiger Woods types of affairs have never been able to find complete fulfillment from the marriage. Instead they are driven by obsessive needs and compulsive behaviors and may describe themselves as powerless over their own desires.

Just like Tiger, more often than not the one who strays usually don't want their marriage to fail. Its about something inside of them, not the marriage. Oftentimes they behaviors began before the marriage and may have stopped for awhile when first married only to be picked up again when they realize that the marriage can’t meet the needs of their addiction.

They often feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t in that they may feel alternately hopelessly trapped by their behaviors and at times by their marriages, but are afraid to open up 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 wrap their minds around.

“Love Addiction” Marital Affairs

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.

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