Types of Affairs and Coping With Infidelity

Finding out that your spouse has been having an affair can be devastating. If it has happened to you, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association has estimated that infidelity impacts 20 to 40 percent of all marriages in the United States. 

Marriage in our culture typically means we promise to be monogamous with our chosen partner – to love, honor, and cherish one person until “death do us part.” Given this, why is the divorce rate nearly 50 percent? What makes some people “cheaters”? And if your spouse cheats – or you cheat – can your marriage survive?

Types of affairs

Cheating spouses often use an affair to fill a hole in their life they haven’t been able to fill through their relationship. As such, there are several types of infidelity. Let’s take a look.

Physical affair

A physical affair is a sexual relationship outside the marriage. It can be a long-term physical affair or a series of short-term encounters, but physical affairs usually focus on sex with little emotional attachment. The motivation usually revolves around the sexual encounter itself. The “high” that the unfaithful spouse feels comes from the conquest or from an experience of sexual compatibility or adventurousness that might be missing at home. 

One-time affair

A one-time affair, or a one-night stand, often stems from an unanticipated opportunity. Alcohol or drugs may factor in. One spouse has a sexual encounter they regret the next day. They may spend the next months or years hoping not to be found out. Spouses who feel a lack of attention or positive affirmation at home tend to fall prey to these kinds of affairs. 

Serial affair

Those who embark on a series of affairs, or chronic “philanderers,” are typically people who need sexual partners to affirm them and make them feel powerful. It’s not necessary that they like or even feel attracted to their sexual partners. They usually see their extramarital relationships as a series of conquests that prove their own self-worth. 

Emotional affair 

An emotional affair is intimacy with another person outside the marriage and may or may not include sexual involvement. It might begin as an innocent friendship or online relationship. Although some people feel these are harmless unless sex is involved, they can be far more harmful to a marriage than one centered around sex because of the level of sharing and intimacy involved.

Coping with your spouse’s affair

The reasons behind an affair can be complicated, and it may be difficult to understand a spouse’s infidelity without first understanding the uncommunicated aspects of your relationship. 

A spouse’s infidelity can be sparked by any of the following:

Misunderstanding what love is

Successful long-term relationships take time and commitment. Some people confuse being “in love” – the short-term “honeymoon phase” of a relationship – with genuine love or the long-term hard work of maintaining a mature relationship.

A romantic flirtation that gets out of hand

Many people spend more time with co-workers than with loved ones. What begins as a workplace flirtation can easily become an affair when people who spend a lot of time together don’t maintain essential boundaries

Emotional disconnection

Couples who do not communicate their needs, validate each other’s needs, and work on their differences often fall prey to feelings of disconnection. All it takes is another willing ear to feel emotionally validated by someone else. 

Feeling judged and unappreciated

A person who feels criticized, judged, and disrespected by their spouse may gravitate toward someone else who makes them feel more valuable.

The “high” of the chase

An affair can rev the brain’s chemistry like a drug. For some people, it creates a flood of dopamine and an experience similar to addiction. 

If your spouse has had an affair, perhaps the last thing you want to do is understand it. Your first priority will be to protect yourself from more betrayal. You may even consider how you will get back at them. You may wonder how you could ever make your marriage work or trust them again.

In the midst of all this hurt and betrayal, you must decide if you’re willing to stay and work through the issues, separate or divorce.  

You don’t have to make a decision now. Getting the help of a licensed marriage counselor may help you and your spouse weather the storm and gain some insight. When you’re able to move beyond your immediate feelings of anger and betrayal, you can make better decisions for yourself and your future – with or without your spouse. 


If you’re the one having the affair

If you’re the one who is having an affair, you will want to understand why. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • Are you looking for a way to exit your marriage, or do you still love your partner? 
  • Do you feel unappreciated in your marriage? Does the new relationship fill this hole?
  • Is there a future in this new relationship? Do you want it to be a long-term relationship? 
  • Are there children or other family members who may be affected by this? 
  • Do you feel caught in a situation you don’t know how to resolve?

The behavior of one unfaithful partner doesn’t always mean divorce. Regardless of your reasons for having an affair, it’s important to take responsibility, understand your motives, and be respectful of the other people involved, including yourself. You may want to get the assistance of a therapist who can help you work through your feelings and make decisions about your next move. 

Relationships are complicated. An extramarital affair elevates that complexity. If your marriage is worth saving, this difficult time can help you develop a deeper understanding of your relationship and how to nurture a healthy relationship through better communication with your spouse. 

At Hello Divorce, we offer a platform to help you navigate the hard stuff, from deciding whether to patch up your relationship to initiating the divorce process. We have online divorce plans, professional services, and a library of resources to help you navigate this confusing time. Need help? Contact us for a free 15-minute phone call

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Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.