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Understanding Infidelity: a Sexual Affair, an Emotional Affair, an Affair Online

When counseling couples who are trying to survive infidelity, one of the first tasks for the therapist helping the couple through affair recovery is to help the couple define what exactly happened, and what is meant by uttering the word, “affair?”

Was it an affair if the offending partner only had sex with the paramour one time and there are no lingering affectionate feelings?

Was it an affair if the offending partner shared intimate details about the relationship, kept meetings and communications a secret from the non-offending partner, but never had sex (usually coined as an emotional affair)?

Was it an affair online, where the offending partner never actually met the paramour face to face? Affairs are the cause of anywhere between 50% and 60% of divorces yet a commonly accepted definition for the term “affair” is elusive.

Like a disease that can only be accurately diagnosed post mortem, one way to diagnose an affair is to examine the resulting damage. In almost all cases the non-offending partner reports feelings of betrayal, trauma, and insecurity. Diseases are common due to unprotected sex. Divorce can follow.

Another way to determine whether or not a relationship qualifies as an affair by definition is to determine the level of secrecy. Were instant messages from the paramour deleted? Were the passwords to Facebook and email accounts kept a secret from the non-offending partner? Were meetings with the paramour conveniently omitted when describing daily activities? If a relationship outside the committed relationship elicits overt lies or lies of omission, then with or without sex the relationship has the trappings of an affair.

A commonly accepted definition for infidelity is difficult because the feelings and post-discovery reactions are so personal. Regardless of the definition one assigns to an affair, if an outside relationship has the potential for trauma, disease, and emotional damage to the partner in the committed relationship, or, if lies are necessary to maintain it, it is probably wise to avoid it.

Infidelity, however defined, is a destructive force. Never the less, when faced with the reality of it, what is done is done. Yet affair recovery is possible if the couple is determined to build strong roads of trust and faithfulness once more. A licensed and certified therapist in marital counseling will be an invaluable assistant in the process.

Dr. Kate Walker Ph.D. is owner and CEO of found in The Woodlands TX.  A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Supervisor, she is trained as a marriage and family expert. Dr. Walker specializes in couples and families, especially those struggling to survive addictions and infidelity.

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