SEX, LIES, AFFAIRS & RELATIONSHIPS
BY KALI MUNRO, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2000
Originally published in Siren Magazine, June/July 2000
Have you ever had a strong desire to have sex with someone other than your partner, and didn’t know what to do with it? Maybe you’ve had an affair, but are scared to tell your partner, or you think s/he is better off not knowing. Maybe s/he already knows, and it’s blown up in an ugly mess. You don’t want to lose your relationship, and you don’t want to feel stuck in this place either.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling attracted, even strongly attracted, to another person. Some couples have fun sharing their stories of attraction and desire. Others just want to be open to all that they are feeling without acting on it, to see what they can learn about themselves. Sometimes, it’s just fun to indulge in fantasies without worrying about what they mean.
But what about the situation when there is an agreement to be monogamous, and someone has an affair? How does this affect both partners? Does it mean the end of the relationship?
It’s possible for a relationship to last after an affair, but whether it really heals or not is another question. It’s very tempting to try to put an affair behind you, but the reality is that it will continue to surface in different ways in your relationship if it’s not adequately addressed. When couples take the time to talk it through, usually many times, and offer true understanding to each other, they have a better chance of moving on in a real way.
Sometimes an affair is the beginning of the end to a relationship that was already coming apart. Other times, an affair can lead to a breakup, when one partner falls in love with someone else.
If you are considering having an affair, or have had one already, it’s important to sort through how you are feeling and what those feelings mean. Some people say it doesn’t mean anything, but I think it always means something, even if it means that you and your partner don’t agree on the monogamy issue. If you don’t know, it might help to ask yourself some questions about the larger context:
- When, where, with whom, and under what circumstances do you want, to have an affair, or did you have an affair?
- What were you thinking and feeling at those times?
- What were you hoping to feel (besides turned on)?
- Would you say that there is anything missing or bothering you about your relationship or yourself?
- Does the affair offset that somehow?
- What makes the affair or the person attractive to you?
- Is there something you need to learn about yourself or your relationship that will be missing, or was missing, by acting on your feelings?
When an affair is out in the open, both partners need to talk about what it means and how they feel. Some people who’ve had affairs describe the experience as having no impact on how they feel about their partner. Some experience it as a wake-up call, an indication of how they’re feeling in the relationship, pointing to what is missing for them and what they want to see changed. Others see it as a huge mistake, happening at a time when they or their relationship was vulnerable. They wish they had never done it.
Sometimes affairs are a form of abuse, in which case they need to be seen in that light — someone being abusive needs to take full responsibility and get help.
People whose partner had an affair usually feel confused, hurt, betrayed, and angry. For the relationship to last, their feelings need to be heard and understood by their partner, many times. S/he may have all sorts of questions in order to make sense of what happened. Her/his trust will need to be rebuilt slowly.
While affairs hurt relationships, so do lies and a lack of honesty. Often the biggest hurdle is being honest and facing not only your own feelings, but your partner’s. No one wants to feel responsible for someone else’s pain, but being able to be there for your partner in her/his pain is vitally important. A relationship can survive an affair; it can even grow stronger. But it takes both partners being gentle and patient (with space for anger), facing their fears and vulnerabilities, and voicing what is true for both of them.