How do Affairs Begin?

The most common reason for marital breakdown is infidelity. Affairs are so common in marriage, but we tend to think it is just us… we are all alone in this.

They are so common that your marriage is more likely to have an affair than divorce. Considering that roughly 50% of all marriages end in divorce, that means more than half the couples you know have experienced an affair, or will.

An affair is earth-shattering to everyone involved. It’s often said that it is so painful for the betrayed spouse, that the kind of suffering they will go through is usually worse than if their spouse had died. It is typically the most devastating experience a person will ever have. To take it a step further, it has a large blast radius, directly impacting the children, and then friends and family.

Both Spouses Are Hurt #

Most people think of affairs in terms of one person being the victim, and the other the villain. But it isn’t that simple, and to look at it in those terms will not likely help the situation. The truth is that in almost all cases, the unfaithful spouse and the lover are also hurt by the trauma of experience.

It almost always causes them to suffer acute depression, thoughts of suicide, and utter despair.

So Why Do They Happen? #

It generally starts with loneliness. Earlier in the relationship, both spouses were putting each other on a pedestal, somehow innately knowing and satisfying the deep emotional needs of the other. By as time goes by, we shift our focus more to ourselves and our own personal emotional needs. In doing so, we are no longer giving our spouse what he or she needs.

For many people, this goes on for so long, that one spouse eventually is so emotionally empty, that they are starving.

Usually it is someone you already know. Someone at work, a close friend, someone you see somewhat frequently. Innocently, it tends to start when they affirm you, telling you things you so desperately need to hear. These words of affirmation, this attention, can be intoxicating for someone starving for attention. That is how it can start, and quickly becomes like a drug, finding you in need of more and more to keep the “high” going.

Some Example of How an Affair May Begin #

Example #1: Jane’s Affair #

Jane has been married to John for 20 years. She has kept busy with work and kids, but all along she has felt ignored by her husband, John. She tries to hide these feelings, but they keep surfacing to the top. After all, John works hard and has always provided for the family. By all traditional standards, John is a good husband and father.

But John works long hours, spends a great deal of time during the weekends out with the guys, or working in the garage. During the evenings, he spends most of his time watching TV. He rarely talks to Jane about anything more than typical day to day stuff that needs to get done.

Jane has these feelings of loneliness, but doesn’t know how to approach John with them. Maybe it is just her? Instead, she shares them with her other friends. Those friends share similar feelings in their own marriages, and they all more or less pile on. Men will be men, of course.

Nut Jane has a coworker named Bob at the office that had would regularly pass by her desk and pay her little compliments. It might be that he noticed her hair, or that new outfit she was wearing. He’s a really nice and thoughtful guy, but she thinks nothing of it.

After a while, one day it is lunch hour, and Bob asks Jane if she would like o grab a bite to eat. She thinks nothing of stand agrees. That day, they have casual conversation, and Jane finds herself laughing and enjoying Bob’s company. Bob us becoming more than a coworker. He is becoming a friend.

As friends do, they wind up having lunch together more and more often, but there is nothing going on, of course. They are just friends. But over time, confidence begins to build, and Jane finds herself talking to Bob about some of the onliness she is feeling at home, just as she had with her other friends. But while her other friends just piled on with the “Men will be men” attitude, Bob was more sensitive to her.

In fact, Bob would share some of the same feelings he had at home with his wife. Before they knew it, Bob was something more than a friend. He was also a confidant. Someone that understood her and validated her feelings.

When Jane would go home, she couldn’t help wondering why John couldn’t be more understanding of her. More like Bob. She would think about Bob more and more at home, and look forward to their lunches together as the highlight of her day.

Finally, one day air lunch, Bob touches her arm as they are sitting down to lunch. Jane feels something that she had not felt in ages, and she remembers when she felt that with John. They have their lunch, laugh, and have another wonderful time together.

As they leave to go back to the office, they touch again, and find themselves holding hands, and seemingly at the same time, they move to kiss one another. Chills run up and down Jane’s spine as she experiences a rush of feelings she thought she could never feel again.

The following day, instead fo going to the restaurant for lunch, Jane and Bob find themselves going to a hotel.

When did Jane’s Affair Happen? #

Most would say the affair began at that last lunch, or the following day at the hotel. Sure, that is when it became a physical affair, but Jane had betrayed her vows long before that. She had been actively engaged in an emotional affair from the moment she and Bob went to that first lunch. Make no mistake, both are betrayals. Both are cheating. Both are infidelity. More importantly, it was all avoidable, and the marriage with John can be salvaged.

Why did Jane’s Affair Happen? #

To salvage the John and Jane’s marriage, the real “why” is extremely important for both John and Jane to embrace.

Jane was in a stage of misery in her marriage, and John probably had no idea. He also likely had no idea that he was not meeting Jane’s essential emotional need for conversation and an emotional connection. In fact, this is the most common reason women have affairs. Jane had a desperate need to talk to her husband, and no matter how wonderful he may be in other ways, this need is essential.

John surely loves Jane, and shows it in way that he best understands. But he doesn’t give her what she needs most. He has not met her need for meaningful conversation, and that makes here very vulnerable to an affair if another man fills that need, especially at a time when she is emotionally vulnerable.

But what about Bob? #

How does he factor into all of this? He is clearly also married, and in a dissatisfying relationship as well. Is he simply evil? Was he a predator? Maybe, and maybe not.

It is entirely possible that he was just being a nice guy, and had no idea he was meeting her emotional needs whenever he made a passing comment when he would walk by her.

Even when they went to lunch, he may have just been having conversations with her as he would have with anyone else. But whether he was a predator or just a nice guy, he was meeting those needs Jane was suffering a lack of. He may never have realized how this was affecting her. Assuming he may have just been a nice guy, over time as she was getting all she needed, she in turn began treating him differently, satisfying emotional needs of his that he may have been entirely unaware of.

One thing is certain here. Jane had no intention of starting an affair with Bob. She had no idea those feeling would come out, and she was taken back by them, even confused. She even knows there is something wrong, and these feelings begin to shine a brighter light on her woes. Those feelings become an extremely powerful and addictive drug for her. She simply cannot help but get as much of it as she can. It quite literally feels like a source of life to her.

Worse yet, every moment she is with John, she feels ever more starved of that life.

None of this is an excuse or makes Jane’s actions ok. Jane is an adult who knows right from wrong, and this is very wrong.

Even if Bob didn’t have bad intentions, he was sleeping with a married woman, so there is no innocence to protect on his part, so let’s not feel sorry for Bob. Jane has a husband that is unknowingly experiencing the worst possible betrayal. She also may have kids who risk having their entire foundational beliefs of life shattered. Jane is addicted to Bob, and Bob is a nuclear bomb that can detonate at any time and create catastrophic damage to Jane’s family. So while Jane can keep going on with the affair, that is like telling a drug addict the best way to deal with their heroin addiction is to keep shooting up. Bob needs to go.

Jane’s Options #

This is where many simply make a decision to end their marriage. Jane could simply pack her bags and tell John she is no longer in love with him, and that could be the end of the story, except that Bob is almost certainly going to eventually fail Jane’s expectations, and be the new John.

The truth is that our emotions subconsciously move us to surround ourselves by people that meet our emotional needs. But if we simply let our emotions control us, our lives would quickly fall into chaos while we hurt everyone around us. It is a quick path to being completely alone in life.

Jane had another option long before she even met Bob. She could have been honest with John. She could have learned how to help John understand these needs and give him an opportunity to meet them.

Bob’s compliments would not have touched her the way they did. Bob’s invitation to lunch might have been rejected as inappropriate. Even after she had started this emotional affair with Bob, she always had the option of honesty available to her. The further along the affair went, the bigger the crisis, but total honesty was always an option on the table.

But now Jane is in a full-fledged affair, and if she decides to end it and continue with John, she has two options:

  1. She can admit the affair to John
  2. She can try to hide it and hope it will never surface.

Just like everything in the world, what seems like the easy option usually backfires sooner or later. Sure, Jane can end the affair and never tell John. But she will being living with a dark secret, always wondering if he will find out somehow. She also cannot just go back to normal, because none of the problems in her marriage that got her to that point in the first place will ever be dealt with in any meaningful way. So she can take the easy way, but she will forever be living a lie. John may be oblivious, but it is likely to haunt Jane.

On the other hand, she can tell John about it. There is no doubt that it will be a massive storm, and you don’t know how John will react. It may even end the marriage right there, but if she handles this well, and they both get the right kind of help, it will be a huge storm that they can get through. More importantly, it may actually make their relationship stronger than ever once they get through it, giving them the opportunity to address and cure all of the root problems in their marriage that made the affair attractive to Jane in the first place. Moreover, all along, it is highly likely that John has been suffering alone, not getting what he needed from his marriage, and this can benefit him as well.

If you are reading this as someone that relates to Jane, and you choose to keep it a secret or go on with the affair, there is nothing more that reading this series can do for you. But if you choose to end it and admit it to John, or are at least considering the option, please continue to the next part: Ending the Affair.