Affairs: the 7 reasons why they happen

Affairs: the 7 reasons why they happen

Most people entering a marriage or long term relationship are doing so hoping and trusting that it will be a monogamous relationship; so the discovery of an affair is a huge betrayal of that bond and trust with devastating effects on the partner and the relationship.

An affair certainly signals that there is a problem in the relationship, but most affairs are symptoms rather than the cause of the problems.

A key question to ask is “What problem in your relationship did the affair solve?”


Julia Cole in her recently revised book “After the Affair” has noted that there are 7 types of affairs each with their own associated reasons. They are:

1. The Door opener Affair:

This usually happens when a partner feels they have had enough of their relationship and is looking to set up another one because they are no longer emotionally connected or committed to their current partner. It provides someone to hold their hand as they exit their relationship.


2. The 3 legged stool Affair:

This is usually a long term affair that the partner knows about. When pressures get too much to handle in a relationship, one partner has an affair which gives him/her an emotional safety valve and relieves this pressure, and then the couple can spend their time wrangling about his/her unfaithfulness, rather than the original issues.


3 The Revenge Affair:

This is usually a short affair, but comes about because one partner has been hurt or betrayed, often by their partner being unfaithful. It can be experienced as a way to re-establish a sense of self esteem, or of a way to express their deep hurt for 8164886_mwhat their partner has done.


Stay tuned for the next 4 reasons affairs happen in my next blog next week.

If you have had an affair, or your partner has, you can be helped to work through this by seeing a relationship counsellor.



Recovering from an affair

The latest research reveals that 22 – 40% of married men and 11 – 25 % of married women are involved in an affair at any one time.

An affair is seen as a violation of a couple’s assumed or stated contract for emotional and or sexual exclusivity, and has a very destructive influence on the relationship. Understandably, affairs are one of the leading reasons for divorce.

Why do we have affairs?

marriage counselling for affairs

Studies show that women tend more toward emotional affairs, and are usually more thoughtful and premeditated about starting an affair.

Men, on the other hand, tend to be more opportunistic, often while away from home, and more than 50% of them will do so even though they regard themselves as happy in their marriage.

Secrecy, deception and minimisation abound while an affair is taking place.

Can a relationship or marriage survive an affair?

relationship problems

The short answer is yes, but it takes a lot of work by both partners, particularly the partner who has cheated.

Counselling over at least the medium term is an absolute necessity in order to rebuild the trust and the relationship.

The 5 Essential stages to recovering from an Affair

couples counselling for recovering from an affair

To fully recover from an affair:

  1. The affair must stop. The partner having the extra relationship must have no more contact, in any form if the marriage is to survive and rebuild.
  1. The hurt partner must be given the opportunity to express their varied emotions ( shock, denial, hurt, anger, sadness, turmoil, betrayal, loss of face) while it is important for the affair partner to listen, accept and validate his or her feelings, and also provide reassurance that he or she indeed wants and values this relationship.
  1. The affair partner must take on the responsibility to rebuild the trust by being transparent and accountable. This means comings and goings, be findable at all times and be willing to have phone and emails open to share with his or her partner. This needs to happen for as long as it takes for the partner to feel that the trust has been rebuilt.
  1. Finding meaning. Both partners need to explore why this affair has happened so that it doesn’t reoccur again in the future.
  1. Forgiveness. In order for this to occur, the partner having had the affair needs to feel a very high level of humility, and deep sorrow for what he or she has done, as well as true empathy for the hurt the partner has been put through. In addition, there needs to be a commitment and hope for a better future together. Only then is it possible for the other partner to be able to forgive fully.
  1. Restructuring the relationship. In this stage the couple needs to work actively on fixing the problem and restoring and growing a healthy relationship so that the couple feel complete and whole.

I would urge you not to try and complete this process on your own. Almost all couples need help from a trained counsellor to successfully complete these steps.

In doing so, it is possible to heal and re-establish your relationship to an even healthier level than before, but it will take time and work, by both partners.

If you would like help in working through this process you can use our Search box to the right of this page to find our Psychologist closest to you. We have experienced Relationship Psychologists in Sydney and all capital and large regional cities. Call us now for an appointment

relationship counselling

Why do Affairs Happen?

Last week I mentioned that there are 7 basic reasons why affairs happen.

The first three were the Door opening affair, which helps a partner leave and gives a level of safety straight into the next relationship; then the 3 legged stool, which can distract the focus from the real issues in the relationship, and then also the Revenge affair which is used to “get back” at a partner who has already had an affair, or has hurt you.

The 4th reason for an affair is the “Notice Me  Affair”. This usually happens as a result of trying to communicate unhappiness in the relationship to your partner but feeling that you haven’t been heard.This can be either a sexual one night stand, or even an emotional affair, and is an attempt to communicate to your partner that things aren’t right for you when talking hasn’t worked. The partner is not looking to leave the relationship, but to wake up the partner.

The 5th kind of affair is the Avoidance affair. This occurs as a way to avoid intimacy and commitment in your relationship. Usually one affair follows another as a continuing way of avoiding being close and vulnerable with your partner. Or it can occur when you feel that you can’t deliver what your partner is asking for. For some, this can feel like a kind of addiction, as you know you shouldn’t be having affairs, but can’t seem to stop.why affairs happen

The 6th type of affair is the Experimental affair. This is usually just about sex. Often if a couple has not had any or many sexual partners before the relationship, and/or the sex has become very limited and routine, a partner will feel tempted to discover what sex would be like with another person. The person having the affair can feel like it it meaningless sex, but this is not usually how the partner will view it.

The 7th and last reason for an affair to happen is the Opportunistic one. Usually this is a sexual encounter that happens usually after drinking too much, where you find yourself together and often away from home, or given in to a seduction from a friend or acquaintance; or it could be an on-line contact where things have started seemingly harmlessly but have moved into something more erotic. This kind of affair can feed the ego, allowing you to feel good about yourself and attractive and sexy, but is usually the most quickly regretted.

No matter how and why they occur, affairs always have emotionally devastating effects on a couple’s relationship. With help from an experienced relationship counsellor, couples can learn about the reasons behind the affair and gradually repair their relationship, and with a commitment from each partner, can in time use this experience as a catalyst to create an even better relationship than they had before.

This takes time and commitment, but overwhelmingly, couples who have taken this path are extremely satisfied with their relationship at the end of the period, and have found it is in fact, work worth doing.

More next week

Warm regards

Julie Hart