What Everyone Needs to Know About Extramarital
Affairs... and What You Can Do To Help
By Dr. Robert Huizenga
Recent statistics suggest that 40% of women (and
that number is increasing) and 60% of men at one
point indulge in extramarital affairs. Put those
numbers together and it is estimated that 80% of
the marriages will have one spouse at one point
or another involved in marital infidelity.
That may seem like a very steep number. However,
after two decades plus of full-time work as a marriage
and family therapist, I don't believe that number
is off the charts. I worked with a great number
of people involved in infidelity who were never
The possibility that someone close to you is or
soon will be involved in an extramarital affair
(any of the three parties) is extremely high.
Maybe you will know. You will see telltale signs.
You will notice changes in the person's habits
and behavioral patterns as well as a detachment,
lack of focus and reduced productivity. Maybe you
will sense something "out of character" but
be unable to pinpoint what it is.
It is not a given that he/she will tell you. Those
hiding the affair will continue to hide. The "victim" of
the extramarital affair often, at least initially,
is racked with anger, hurt, embarrassment and thoughts
of failing that preclude divulging the crisis.
It might be important to confront the person with
your observations, depending on the status of your
relationship with the person. It is important to
understand that extramarital affairs are different
and serve different purposes.
Out of my study and experience with hundreds of
couples I've identified 7 different kinds of infidelity.
Briefly, some extramarital affairs are reactivity
to a perceived lack of intimacy in the marriage.
Others arise out of addictive tendencies or a history
of sexual confusion or trauma.
Some in our culture play out issues of entitlement
and power by becoming "trophy chasers." This "boys
will be boys" mentality is subtly encouraged
in some contexts.
Some become involved in marital infidelity because
of a high need for drama and excitement and are
enthralled with the idea of "being in love" and
having that "loving feeling."
An extramarital affair might be for revenge either
because the spouse did or did not do something.
Or the revenge may stem from rage. Although revenge
is the motive for both, they look and feel very
Another form of infidelity serves the purpose of
affirming personal desirability. A nagging question
of being "OK" may lead to usually a short-term
and one-person affair. And finally, some affairs
are a dance that attempts to balance needs for
distance and intimacy in the marriage, often with
collusion from the spouse.
The prognosis for survivability of the marriage
is different for each. Some affairs are the best
thing that happens to a marriage. Others serve
a death knell. As well, different extramarital
affairs demand different strategies on the part
of the spouse or others. Some demand toughness
and movement. Others demand patience and understanding.
The emotional impact of the discovery infidelity
is usually profound. Days and weeks of sleeplessness,
rumination, fantasies (many sexual) and unproductively
follow. It typically takes 2 – 4 years to "work
through" the implications. A good coach or
therapist can accelerate and mollify the process.
I don't recommend "marriage" counseling,
at least initially.
The devastating emotional impact results from a
couple powerful dynamics. Trust is shattered – of
one's ability to discern the truth. The most important
step is NOT to learn to trust the other person,
but to learn to trust one's self. Another is the
power that a secret plays in relationships. THE
secret exacts an emotional and sometimes physical
toll that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.
How can you help?
Those in the midst of their affair crisis told
me they need this from you:
1. Sometimes I want to vent, get it out without
censor. I know sometimes I will say what I shouldn't
be saying. It may not be nice, pretty or mild.
Please know that I know better, but I need to get
it off my chest.
2. Every so often I want to hear something like, "This
too shall pass." Remind me that this is not
3. I want to be validated. I want to know that
I am OK. You can best do that by nodding acceptance
when I talk about the pain or confusion.
4. I want to hear sometimes, "What are you
learning? What are you doing to take care of yourself?" I
may need that little jolt that moves me beyond
my pain to see the larger picture.
5. I may want space. I may want you to be quiet
and patient as I attempt to sort through and express
my thoughts and feelings. Give me some time to
stammer, stutter and stumble my way through this.
6. I want someone to point out some new options
or different roads that I might take. But before
you do this, make sure I am first heard and validated.
7. When they pop into your mind, recommend books
or other resources that you think I might find
8. I want to hear every so often, "How's it
going?" And, I may want this to be more than
an informal greeting. Give me time and space to
let you know exactly how it IS going.
9. I want you to understand and welcome the ambivalent
feelings and desires. I would like you to be fairly
comfortable with the gray areas and the contradictions
about how I feel and what I may want.
10. I want you to be predictable. I want to be
able to count on you to be there, listen and speak
consistently or let me know when you are unable
to do that. I will honor that.
Extramarital affairs are powerful. Affairs are
costly. They affect family, friends, colleagues
and employers. Infidelity is also an opportunity – to
redesign one's life and love relationships in ways
that create honor, joy and true intimacy.
Dr. Huizenga, The Infidelity Coach, is a respected
Marriage and Family Therapist with over two decades
of clinical experience, study and research. He
is an expert on infidelity and extramarital affairs
and author of “Break Free From the Affair” – a
groundbreaking and best selling e-book offering
hard-hitting strategies for 7 kinds of affairs.
He offers personal coaching and resources for those
facing infidelity that result in marriage problems
and possible divorce.
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