Exploring new connections may seem tempting when feeling bored or disconnected in a relationship, but be mindful of consequences. Honesty with yourself and partner is key. An affair won't solve problems, it could cause harm. Start with self-honesty and have open, honest conversations for informed future decisions together.
Uncovering the hidden motives behind affairs
There are so many reasons someone might have an affair. Boredom, curiosity, lack of feeling connected with yourself or your partner and sometimes ‘just because you can’. Seeking out or just being very receptive to someone else's attentions can feel like an escape from the more mundane or intractable problems either in your existing relationship or just life in general.
Different life events like having a baby, moving in together, ill health, wider family problems and so on are often times when the eye on the relationship ball shifts to what looks like new and exciting opportunities. Social media makes it so easy to get in touch with others and although you might tell yourself it’s all harmless, before you know it your partner is broken hearted because you’ve wrecked their trust.
Is your definition of an affair aligned with your partner's?
So often, partners have a different take from each other on what ‘having an affair’ actually means. For some, social media encounters with a few selfies thrown in mean nothing other than just passing the time or having a laugh. You might be at a loss to see why, even though you keep reassuring them ‘it was nothing’, your partner is still so upset. Often too, whether it was those coffees with a work colleague or the few drinks after work ‘and nothing more' and that ‘harmless fun’ was only ever going to be just that, getting drawn in deeper and deeper until there’s something really serious going on is often what brings partners to relationship counselling.
Some people take the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ position with affairs. But telling yourself that if your partner doesn't know about what’s been happening with someone else, then they can’t possibly be hurt is really based on a false premise. Partners often do find out or suspect something and the pain and distress from that alone is usually immense. And the bottom line is that basically you’re treating your partner as worthless because by keeping everything secret, they don’t get the chance to decide if they really want to stay with someone who is breaking their trust.
Do you want to have an affair?
Whatever stage you’re at, being honest with yourself about what's happening is the first step to deciding what you really want to do. Being able to ‘own’ that you have do have choices about whether to continue or not might help you to focus on the ‘what if’s’ of either starting or carrying on with the affair or stopping and focusing on the relationship with your partner, or sometimes, where necessary, with yourself.
The bottom line is an affair or ‘fling’ or whatever you want to call it may feel like the much-needed quick fix but it’s rarely the answer to relationship woes. If you and your partner have issues in your relationship, then it will take work and commitment to sort out whatever’s not OK, but it’s the best way to give your relationship the chance to grow and change in a more honest and straightforward way. It’s impossible to overestimate the grief and betrayal a partner may well feel on hearing directly or finding out from someone else that you’ve had or were thinking about having an affair. Rebuilding trust and belief in the relationship takes time and is not always possible but being honest with a partner gives both of you the chance to make choices about the best way forward.
Talking to your partner about an affair
It can feel difficult to start what’s likely to be a painful conversation. Whether something has already happened and you want to be honest about that or you’re seeking to share concerns about your relationship because you’re aware you’re attracted to the thought of an affair (or maybe an opportunity has presented itself but you’ve yet to engage with it), finding the right words to start off is tough but the following ideas might help...
Set aside a time and place
Let your partner know you’d like to speak with them about something. It can be a good idea to set aside time in advance, saying: ‘I’ve had something on my mind. Would it be okay if we talked about it this evening?’ Finding time when you won’t be distracted is important too.
If you’re going to come clean about something that's happened, expect your partner to be very distressed and angry. Even where they may have suspected something, having it confirmed turns world’s upside down. Don’t be tempted to down play what’s happened along the lines that “it wasn’t sexual” or “it was just sex, nothing else” because whatever it was, your partner is likely to feel their trust has been broken.
It’s about how you say it, not just what you say
Be honest. What you’re about to say may come as a complete surprise or as confirmation of what’s been suspected or maybe ‘felt’ within the relationship. Don’t blame your partner for what you think they may have done towards creating a situation where an affair or thinking about an affair has happened either. Remember, no one made you do it. Using ‘I’ statements may help you to ‘own’ what's happened, express your feelings and the wish to talk about things together as positively as possible. Try to avoid ‘you’ phrases (‘you never show me you love me’), which are more likely to sound like accusations and get you nowhere.
Be prepared to listen
Good conversations are a two-way street. Be prepared to hear your partner’s perspective on things – even if you feel hurt or upset. Try to hear rather than react as this can lead to just trading blows (‘You do this!’ ‘Well, you do this!’), which is only likely to escalate things.
Identify what the issues are together
Principle amongst these will be how to talk about what’s happened in a way that enables the distress to be heard and held. Your partner may not feel able to engage with any conversation other than ‘why did you do it’ and it’s often this stage that becomes so hard to deal with. For you, that’s because you feel you’ve been honest and perhaps said as much as you can about the whys and wherefores. For you partner, even if they agree that the relationship may have been in difficulties, the sense of loss of what they thought they had can be profound and it take time to work through these conversations. It’s often at this point that partners seek out couple counselling. It may in time be possible to decide together to explore how your relationship has been working and to consider what changes one or both of you may need to make. Rushing to the ‘solution’ though, before the distress and sadness has as far as possible been worked through often means that really coming together again becomes even more difficult.
Keep trying and consider getting some professional help
Being drawn to an affair can be the result of issues that have nothing to do with your relationship. Early life experiences, feelings of lack of self-worth are just a couple of factors that can result in almost wanting to test your partner’s resolve to stay with you. These are issues that can be explored in individual counselling.
Remember affairs are different to having a mutually agreed open relationship with your partner
Many people and couples enjoy non-exclusive relationships which can work well for every concerned the determinator of success being that everyone has agreed with and signed up to how things will work. Affairs are different because they are usually all about keeping secrets from a partner and often feature repeated denials that anything is happening when in fact, it is.
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