Affairs are not restricted to just chronic philanderers. It would be overly simplistic to view affairs as just acts of betrayal without considering other motives. Affairs can also represent an expression of longing and loss. Individuals who would consider themselves ordinarily deeply monogamous in their belief system can also have affairs too. They can encounter a conflict between their internal belief system and their external behaviour that leads them to cross a line as they become overcome with a surge of excitement.
People often have affairs when there has been bereavement or serious illness in their own lives or in their family network. Awareness of the issues associated with death and mortality can often reside in the underbelly of an affair. At such times individuals end up asking themselves if there is more to life. This can lead to people gambling, however unconsciously, that life can be fun and adventurous once more. When you think about it, fun and adventure are the perfect antidotes to death and provide the fuel for the lust for life. Affairs when seen in this light are invariably less about the actual sex but more about desire; whether that is desire for attention, to feel special, to feel important and to feel wanted.
It has perhaps never been so easy to cheat in this era of fast mobile telephony involving dating apps, digital social networking and anonymous browsing. The central ingredient of an affair, after all, is that the liaison is secret. However, it has never been so hard to keep a secret in the digital age given the enormous potential for leaving incriminating digital fingerprints.
People engage in affairs for numerous reasons. For some it is acting out on addictive behaviour where there is loss of control and increasing preoccupation with risky activity. For others there is a search for a self-validating experience where one feels needed, respected and sexy and where there is re-enactment of attachment issues from early life. There might also be an attraction to a part of them that is naughty, spontaneous and wild and it is this that finds expression in the energy offered by the prospect of an affair. Anticipation is the motor of desire and that’s why an affair can promise great emotional excitement as it fuels a sense of adventure and exhilaration.
When you can engage fully with your partner and all aspects of your self, you are less likely to be drawn to the idea of the forbidden. Bringing some of the exhilaration from the prospect of an affair into the energy with your partner will help to rebuild your relationship. Exploring sexuality with your partner is not just about new techniques in the bedroom. Real exploration involves novelty and allowing different parts of you to flourish. This is where couples counselling can help. A counsellor will guide a couple to recognise and discover what they really want, facilitate the healing of historical anger and how to manage the ongoing issues of emotional intimacy.
The challenge of a relationship is to practice and maintain unconditional love. A useful exercise for couples is to agree their deal breakers and red lines for conduct within their relationship. For example, sleeping with another person might represent a clear boundary violation but what about sexting with someone else? Or is email chatting with a work colleague involving some flirtatious text part of the contract? Even couples who have an open relationship need to define their boundaries for what is considered appropriate behaviour. Infidelity still occurs within open relationships when one party decides to act outside their agreement for what is considered acceptable behaviour.