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Common Patterns in Dealing with Affairs

Based on hearing the personal experiences of so many people during the past 17 years, I have come to recognize some typical patterns that often appear, regardless of the specific situation. Here are a few key points that seem to be quite common (both for the person having an affair and for the spouse):
1. Person having an affair: Keeping the affair "separate" from the rest of life. Many people having affairs "compartmentalize" their lives and keep their family relationship and "outside" relationships separate in their own mind—as if one has nothing to do with the other.
2. Spouse: Being "crushed, humiliated and in pain" are almost always the reactions to learning of a partner's affair (even if there was a suspicion beforehand, but even more so if there was no suspicion). The most common word used is "devastation."
3. Person having an affair: Flatly denying an affair and/or not communicating about the affair once it's discovered. There seems to be an unwritten rule among people having affairs: "Never tell. If questioned, deny it. If caught, say as little as possible."
4. Spouse: Having a difficult time understanding how/why this happened; struggling with the feeling that this doesn't "make sense." (Affairs are not based on being rational; in fact, people having affairs tend to "rationalize" their behavior in order to feel OK about themselves.)
5. Person having an affair: Wanting to "put it behind us" and go on instead of dealing with it and trying to work through it.
6. Spouse: Losing a lot of weight and having a hard time simply functioning. In fact, the struggle to physically deal with the pain and loss is the first order of business for most people.
7. Both: Wanting to find a quick/easy solution to the upheaval caused by an affair. Seeing a therapist can help, but getting over the pain of the situation and rebuilding trust takes a lot of time and work. It can't be rushed. Some factors that make a difference are: willingness to answer questions, hanging in through the inevitable emotional impact, and severing contact with the third party. (These are not absolute, but usually indicate a willingness to resolve this issue instead of trying to bury it alive, where it just keeps coming back.)
8. Both: Wanting some "guarantee" that it won't happen again. There is no simple one-time action that can provide protection. Preventing an affair in the future requires a commitment to ongoing honest communication.

For more perspective on the issues related to understanding and recovering from affairs, see The Monogamy Myth.

Tip by Peggy Vaughan

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- How Can You Ever Rebuild Trust after an Affair?
- "Clues" that your Partner is Having an Affair
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