Marriage and Affairs: Think Before You Act

Almost every marriage hits a point in the relationship when one of the partners develops a wandering eye. The wandering eye can be fun, if that’s all that it is. When the married partner goes beyond innocent flirtation or appreciative glances, the spouse can put themselves at risk. If he/she starts feeling a real sense of desire, or actually acts upon their lust, then an affair can crack the foundation of the marriage. Secrets enter the couple’s lives and the marriages can be heading down a difficult road.

As a psychologist, I don’t take a moral stand about whether one should or shouldn’t have an affair. It is not my place to pass judgment, but rather to educate people about how to make decisions that they can live with when they look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. I do understand that there are times when the grass seems greener on the other side. However, the choice to cross over that fence to see if the grass is indeed greener is rarely easy.

I have also found that affairs are rarely purely sexual events, and also rarely break up a marriage. Affairs are more often symptoms of an individual’s personal search, such as what is euphemistically called a mid-life change. (I dislike the word ‘crisis’ because in my view, it is usually anything but.) Affairs happen because one partner, or both, may not be communicating and understanding each other. They may have unspoken anger, are mired down in the daily grind, or simply crave change. Sometimes a partner simply wants to feel desired and longs for the rush of being wanted again.

Harmless flirting is done every day. Done within bounds, it tends to keep your juices flowing.  It’s usually somewhere between fantasy and safe fun. An actual “bulb in the socket” affair is a different act and there are almost always consequences, either positive and negative. The biggest decision making questions are:

  1. “What are the consequences if I have this affair?
  2. “How will I feel in the morning?”

Ask the next five questions for added clarity:

  1. What am I really seeking?
  2. What am I missing?
  3. Do I love my partner and if so, do I want to risk hurting him or her?
  4. How will I feel living with a secret / and am I put together so that I am capable of living with one?
  5. Am I willing to live with this act the rest of my life?

I know of many cases where there is an “accidental” and probably subconscious slip-up and the other partner finds out about the affair. Then, the couple is forced to deal with the real intimacy and /or unspoken conflict issues that are plaguing the relationship.

If you are getting restless and the pull to have an affair becomes strong, ask yourself what you are missing at home. Then, try to address those issues with your partner. If you find it too difficult to talk with your partner, consider therapy to improve any current situations that are not fulfilling your needs. Or, figure out for yourself if playing outside the marriage vows is something that you want, just for you? If that’s so, why? And can you handle the experience with no fall out?

I’ve known people, both men and women, who make a wide range of choices, for a wide variety of reasons. The most important and responsible thing to do is to first ask yourself the seven questions listed in this article. It’s wise to lock and load before you fire. Meaning, think first, and then act. The choices you make can change your life forever. As one of my clients said, “I used to be ready, fire, and then aim. I’d wind up with ‘women trouble’ just because I didn’t think about consequences. Sure I had a good time, but my fun during those days is nothing compared to the way that I feel about myself now. I’m far more satisfied, and I simply don’t make the emotional and sometimes ‘real life’ marriage messes that I once did. I’ve remarried for the third time and now I know how to work on a happy and satisfying marriage. And it is effort. I really love my wife with a depth I never conceived as possible.”

Previously Published in 2008