Thinking about Having an Affair

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Seriously considering an extra-marital affair

December 2004

I have been seriously considering an extra-marital affair. I don't want to break up my family or leave my husband, who is a good partner in many ways, but I do want to be desired, admired, and excited, none of which has been happening in my marriage for a long time. I have fallen for a man significantly younger than myself who might, I suspect, be a willing partner -- what I am wondering is this: do any of you have experience in having affairs, either negative or positive? I am not interested in moralizing, just an account of experience. And I wonder how alone I am out here.
curious and yellow

I am in a very loving and respectful relationship of a number of years. We have two beautiful kids and are quite content with our lives. My husband does everything that I want him to do in the bedroom and he tells me that I satisfy him. Additionally, neither one of us is particularly jealous of each other. He tells me about crushes that he has on other women and if I have a crush I let him know. There is a very clear line that neither one of us crosses (physical) with anyone else. I have made it clear that I don't care what he thinks about as long as he is happy with me. He, however, is much more open about my ''exploration'' if that is something that I would like. His only requirement is that he is the one that I ''come home to''. If I were to be in love with someone else, that would be an issue. To take this even further, he often fantasizes about me with someone else when we are having sex. His ultimate is to have me after someone else has. He has experimented a little with this when he was younger (3-way with a girlfriend, and no jealousy when an ex - whom he was in love with - fooled around with someone else).

So, my question is this: has anyone else been in this situation and crossed that line? I have expressed my crush to my husband and he is excited at the prospect. I am, of course, a little suspicious that he doesn't know himself as well as he thinks he does and would be disappointed if I were to take advantage of his statements. Though, I only say that because few people are as ''open'' as he, not because he acts in any way doubtful.

I'm not interested in a bunch of responses from people telling me strictly not to unless they have been in my situation (honestly believing that it would come to no harm). What I want instead, is opinions from couples who have done this and whether it was good/bad/exciting/destructive/etc.... How did you manage the relationship? Did they meet? How discrete were you? Did both of you have the same agreement (I know this is one-sided, but I would not be happy thinking about him with another woman)?

I am having an extra-marital affair as I write this and so am very well-qualified to address your concerns. My husband, due to depression and an online porn addiction, stopped having sex with me three years ago. He wouldn't or couldn't talk about the situation with me, nor would he go get help. I assumed the problem was me, and that he no longer desired me or cared. He is a good friend and a good father, but our relationship was that of roommates. This summer I met a man who expressed great interest in me and guess what I did? It's been four months, I'm having great sex, and my female self-esteem has been returned. However, I told my husband, thinking he didn't care much anyway, and was suprised to learn that he did care. He's now in psychotherapy and wants to remedy other areas of our marriage and has asked me to stop seeing my lover. And here's the rub...I don't want to. It's beautiful and passionate and it makes me feel good after YEARS of total physical deprivation. I'm realizing I have a lot of anger issues toward my husband that I'm going to have to work out if we're going to move forward. Meanwhile, my unwillingness (inability?) to stop seeing my lover has pushed us to the brink of separation. All I wanted was a husband. My husband.

So. I would say to you: think long and hard about the ramifications of an affair before you start one. Can it be a one-off fling or is there a chance you might fall in love with this guy, no matter how unlikely is seems now, before you've started having sex with him? As much as we educated grown-up types like to think we can handle the informal affair, sex is a powerful act. The emotions it produces can be all-consuming and destructive. It clouds your sense. Thnk about what you want before you start. Maybe you could just tell your husband what you really need from him (I did this in vain). Think about all possible outcomes. In the end, having my affair did finally blow a door open into our marriage and compelled my husband to both start talking about what was going on with us as well as get help for himself. Good things. But it's also been very painful (for all three involved) and how it's going to resolve, I still don't know.

My two cents from the trenches. Good luck to you in whatever you decide. anonymous

Before my marriage, I was in a couple of long-term live-in committed partnerships. In the earlier one (yikes! 25 years ago!), my partner and I were explicitly mutually non-monogamous in principle and, eventually, in practice. We both ended up having 'affairs' (his were more like flings, mine were more like alternative relationships). Despite our being about as open-minded and respectful as one could get, he ended up getting pretty hurt by my growing emotional attachment to my 'lover.' In the end we ALL broke up, for many reasons beyond this. But I learned that 'open' relationships are more psychologically complicated and delicate than theory or fantasy would suggest. In my second long-term partnership, I ended up having a secret affair to explore my desirability to another, my ability to enjoy another relationship, my commitment to my partner. Eventually my partner discovered my unfaithfulness and was devastated. I realize now it was my way of ending that relationship and leaving but I wish I had been courageous enough to do it without the disrespect of having an affair.

Finally, I met my now-husband when he was in his first marriage. Initially I thought we would be (non-sexual) friends. I had NO intention of falling in love with him, going to bed with him, or getting mixed up in his marriage. Six weeks later, I was unexpectedly, deeply, irrevocably in love (as was he) -- which eventually led to his divorce. Although divorcing was probably the right thing for both him and his ex, it was a million times more messy and painful and costly because of his affair with me before ending his first marriage. If I could do it over again, I would have done things VERY differently. So, in sum, the lessons I've drawn from my experience are that I would NEVER EVER advocate either having an affair with a married person or, as a married person, having an affair. The chances of unforeseen heartbreak -- yours and/or another's -- are just too great.

(Oh, and the opposite side of the coin? Having an affair where passions do not run too deep or become too intense? My feeling is, why bother? In the end, it's a waste of time, energy, and probably self-esteem.)
Been there, won't do that again

Dear ''curious and yellow'': Although I have never responded to the advice list before, your post rings so many bells that I am compelled to do so. I am in a satisfying and healthy marriage, have a young child, and recently had an affair. I was not aware enough of my desire to be with someone else to consider the decision as carefully as you are. It ''just happened''--only once. Though my sense of guilt did take away from the pleasure of the experience somewhat, it was, as you say, exciting, and it was thrilling to feel desired and wanted. If you pursue a sexual relationship with the man you have met, I imagine that you will feel similarly. The question is at what cost. I certainly gained, in many ways, from my experience. A few examples: I feel more confident about my appearance and sexuality and am more ''tuned in'' to flirtatious energy generally. I am aware that I need outlets for emotional and physical expression other than those that I can gain through my partner and family. But my partner was devastated (they almost always find out--don't kid yourself). We are still together, very much in love, and perhaps even closer as a result, but none of the silver linings have been worth the pain, self-doubt, disillusionment, and despair caused by my exciting self-indulgence. If I had it to do over, I would explore ways of engaging intensely with others and with my environment that would not create my partner such pain. I'd flirt more with others (but stop short of the physical), go out more as a couple (dancing, drinking, whatever), pursue creative activities such as dancing, singing, and writing, and be more experimental sexually at home. I would spend more time by myself, read more fiction, and experience some of the excitement that I craved vicariously. Realistically, none of these experiences would approximate the intensity of the affair. I know that, and yet I am determined not to cause someone I love, who has been very good to me as a spouse and a co-parent, such pain again. Obviously, the degree of pain that an affair causes a spouse varies widely and depends on many factors, but I would go very slowly here. Though it is extremely difficult to get any distance from the feelings that lead to an affair, my one piece of advice would be to try to get some perspective and to seriously consider the feelings and needs of your husband. Don't convince yourself that he won't find out--make the decision with the big picture in mind. Talking with a therapist, or even a close friend, might help inspire a larger perspective. Good luck to you. anon.
You say in your post ''I don't want to break up my family or leave my husband''. I have so much awful experience with these situations, both through my parents (my mother's behavior eventually ended their marriage) and my own behavior as a younger person. I will only say, if you don't want to end your marriage, don't do this. Your spouse will find out. They always do - months or years later. Your children may very well find out, even if your spouse trys to cover for you. You run the risk of losing everything that matters most in your life, and it isn't worth it. Thankfully I am happily married with a child of my own now, but I have caused so much pain to other people in my past with extra-relationship affairs, and the guilt doesn't go away. And my relationship with my mother is not much to speak of. If your children find out they will not understand, even when they are adults. You will always be the person that cheated on their mother/father, and they will always feel torn in their feelings towards you. If you really feel like you want someone else that badly, be honest and end your marriage. At least your children will later be able to respect you for being truthful. Think about this seriously before you make a decision. been there
Oddly, I have been in both you ladies positions. I did have an affair with a younger man, and I have never gotten over the both the excitment of it, and the guilt. I can't recommend it, unless you're really feeling it's worth it.

On the second ''affair'' issue, I would only say, think it out very, very carefully. I had no residual problems, and hey, it was an extremely cool way of going outside the box, but there has to be so much trust involved. It sounds like you are more worried than your husband, and I would ask myself (if I were you), whether you are really doing it for yourself (maybe and your husbad), or are you doing it for your husband. He sounds very excited by the idea, and if you do,too, and you have set very solid boundaries (what is acceptable, what is not, etc.) as well as choosing the right person, than why the heck not?

Of course, you are also involving a third (or even a fourth) party, which means you have extra emotions, extra personalities, extra bodies, extra everything to contend with and be considerate for. Is everyone involved ready for the boundaries you and your husband have set forth? Do they have their own boundaries that you need to respect? Does everyone understand what the relationship is going to be like in the future (or if there will be a future at all)? Is everyone ready for the emotions that can come from this kind of exchange?

On the other hand, there is alway that one night of really hot, taboo threesomes that come about naturally in the course of an evening's hanging out and are executed with an unspoken understanding that it's heat of the moment and one night is all it's about. Unfortunately, anything that is unspoken leaves room for misinterpretation or muddled expectations. More than one time, and you have to be more careful about considering what happens.

I've had good and not so good experiences. I don't regret any one of them, but have learned from each. It's very important that you don't hurt yourself, or anyone else in this, and sometimes that's very hard to do.

As for it being one-sided -- I, too, felt that it was more okay for me than my partner to have the interaction (jealousy rears it's ugly head). I had a few hurt feelings when things got out of hand and I had to deal with the fact that I was being hypocritical. It still hurt when there was more interest in the third party than in me, and unfortunately, that happens sometime. Which means you have to be very honest with yourself and your partner(s) about what you can handle and what you can't, and know that sometimes it gets a little sticky (no pun intended). On being discrete: I would ask what you mean by that, because most couples would feel the necessity in being discrete. In my case, it wasn't an issue.

By the way, it was really fun, though I wouldn't chose to do it very often because I would start to feel weird (I mean out of synch within my relationship) if it became a routine part of our sex life. But that's just me...
Anon for reasons other than shame

After having been on both ends of this, and going through a divorce, I'd say it's not worth it. The initial excitement and fantasy always gives way to some ugly reality. Ask yourself what you really want from your partner, and whether you really want the kind of relationship that requires you to lie. At the very least, I'd recommend exhausting all straightforward avenues to get what you want first. I do know of others who've gone the way of having affairs, but I don't actually know anyone who stayed in their marriage with it, and those who were caught went through messes and breakups. A desire to have an affair, whether conscious or unconscious, is (in my opinion) a symptom of significant problems, but not necessarily and end to the relationship or and end in itself, and it can create more problems than it solves. anon
For both parties interested in affairs. First I hope people respected your wishes and did not jump on their moral soap box. The nice part about your life is you get to live it your way. That being said I know of several VERY HAPPY, well adjusted LOVING couples that have agreed that they do not need a monogamous partnership in order to be happy in their marriage. Both couples have children as well which makes things a little more complicated in terms of discretion. There are ground rules that need to be established and agreed to and the most important aspect for the couples that are interested in letting their partner seek other ''playmates'' is honest open discussion. For the person considering the affair where your spouse does not know...this is a very slippery path. You run major, major risks with your husband, family and friends never wanting to speak to you again. No one likes to be lied to and once trust is broken good luck getting it back. I had an affair once and it was very hurtful to my partner who I did eventually marry. I still feel badly thinking back on the time when I did that to a partner that deserved better. If your marriage is in a slump the best thing you can do for yourself and your husband is to try talking honeslty about your feelings, if that doesn't make any improvements then try counseling, then try laying it on the line and letting him know that if things don't improve you may feel compelled to go elsewhere. If this leads to divorce then so be it but having an illict affair involves too many people that are innocent who can be hurt. Especially your children. I can't tell you how many kids I know who's parent had an affair and have serious trust issues in their own relationships. AT the end of the day it's selfish and I regret my affair. The only thing that was good that came of it was when I told by partner that I had an affair he suddenly became very interested in my needs and what it would take to make us happy. But I think if I had just been really honest about how I was feeling that I might have gotten the same results. Your life...your call. Good luck. Anon
I cannot say I have never fantasized about a extra-martial romance. I think that is normal. Married life brings familiarity and normalcy. A romance is exciting and deviant. But I know the boundaries and I can say having two parents who BOTH had affairs it is incredibly destructive for the children not to mention the marriage. If you decide your happiness exceeds the happiness and well being of your children, go for it. I can say though there is a reason you post your question. You know, soon or later, it will be destructive. Marriage and children are stressful enough why would anyone want to add another stressful element. An affair is the most self-centered thing one can do to a family. Anon
I'm 37 and happily married now. When I was in my mid-20s, I dated a married man for about a year. Bad news. It wasn't fair to myself, the man or his wife. It damaged my self-esteem and made me feel ashamed, which I still feel today and will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Sneaking around with someone loses its appeal fast. It's not as fulfilling or fun as it sounds. You are always worried about being caught, and you can't eat out and travel without worrying about bumping into someone you know. I got so tired of all the lying and deceit, and I felt so bad about myself (actually, that's why I dated the guy to begin with). I couldn't tell people about what was going on in my life. Your family will probably eventually find out, and even if not, the guilt could eat you alive. If your family does find out, it will do serious damage to everyone.

I urge you to read ''Surrendering to Marriage: Husbands, Wives and Other Imperfections'' by Iris Krasnow (not to be mistaken for ''the surrendered wife'', a VERY different book) and to start marriage counseling. I advise not having the affair because they really aren't that fulfilling and are very damaging to everyone involved, whether they know about it or not. Don't risk doing permanent damage to your own self-esteem. People have affairs because they feel so bad about themselves. You can see a counselor alone to deal with why you are so unhappy and unfulfilled. That will help you reach happiness and fulfillment, where an affair will just make you feel worse. If you do pursue this affair, please use condoms to protect your husband from sexually transmitted diseases. Anon

I had an affair a few years ago and it did not turn out the way I expected at all. I had been living with my husband for nearly 20 years. During all that time I had never been disloyal and as far as I knew, neither had he. We had children, and I thought my marriage was pretty happy, pretty stable. But I decided that I wanted to have an affair. I found myself at a point in my life where, for the first time, I was thinking about sex all the time, just constantly, and nothing was happening at home. I wanted to feel desired again, I wanted the excitement, and I thought I was getting old and might not ever have the chance again to enjoy sex. I had a close male friend. I wasn't particularly attracted to him but I liked him, and he agreed. This would be just a physical thing - he had a girlfriend, and I was married, and we both agreed it would not be a romantic thing, just sex. This turned out to be a very naive assumption. Within 6 months we were totally in love with each other. He broke it off several times because our relationship was becoming so serious and he felt guilty about my kids and he did not want to be the ''other man'' who broke up their parents' marriage. Each time he left I was devastated. After one of these times my husband found me crying uncontrollably and I had to make up a story. When I was with the other man, I felt I had never been so happy, never been so in love. I felt I could not live without him. Long story short, I moved out, divorced my husband, and married the other man. That was years ago. I am very, very happy. But at the time, it was extremely traumatic for everyone - my ex, my kids, my friends, my family. Looking back, it seems so stupid that I thought I could have a physical relationship with no strings attached. On the other hand, I had no idea how unhappy I was in my first marriage until I saw how life could be with someone else. I'm sure I would never have left my husband if I had not started the affair. I am very thankful that I did have that affair, but not for the reasons I thought originally. So my advice is to think very carefully about what you'll do if you find yourself falling in love with the other man. Are you prepared to break up your marriage if that happens? Can you walk away from the affair if things start getting serious? Anon
I refrain from moralizing. While I have had no direct experience with what you are considering, here are my two concerns for you:

1) STDs--someone who entertains multiple partners, open relationships, might be more vulnerable to giving or contracting an STD, and know that condoms, dental dams, etc. are not fully protective against HIV, HEP C, Herpes, HPV, Gonorrhea, Syphillis, etc., etc;, etc.

2) My other concern is an emotional one, and something akin to this did happen to a friend's friend--a couple whom my friend considered divorce-proof, and, at the time, the couple had a 5-year old daughter. Although the intention was sex, the new partner and the wife fell in love with each other. The married couple divorced,the ''new'' couple did not stay together, and the situation was messy and unresolved and traumatic for everyone involved, mostly, sadly enough, the child involved Another variation on this theme is that there could be assymetrical interest. One-half of the dyad gets obsessed with, falls in love with, pines, yearns for the other half, who may or may not be willing to leave a marriage.

Most of all, despite one's sure knowledge about oneself or one's partner, ya never really do know until you are in the situation. And, what about the possibility of the ''unincluded'' partner starting to get obsessed, crazed, jealous, depressed, voyeuristic, etc.?

Just some things to contemplate, esp. if there is a child's welfare involved. Frea

To the person ''seriously considering'' having an affair. I feel compelled to respond, as I am currently in the midst of my learning experience. I say with understanding and total lack of judgement - don't do it. After over a decade of a perfect, but perhaps too comfortable marriage, I found myself seriously considering the same thing. I had an opportunity with a very attractive, interesting man, and convinced myself that my marriage was lacking in 'something' and I needed this affair. I never wanted to lose my life partner and best friend, or my home, or my stability, self- respect and respect from our community of people; nor did I desire to lose having somebody to talk to over dinner every night, or somebody to take vacations with whenever I wanted; nor did I want to lose that special person who takes me to dinner every year on my birthday, or makes me dinner on Valentine's Day; and I didn't intend to lose my retirement and medical benefits, or my freedom to be out of work for a while when I don't know what I WANT to do with my life; and I certainly never meant to leave my young child fatherless. It never occured to me in a second that ALL of that might happen if I stuck one foot out of my marriage to experience the excitement I felt as a 20 year old once again. However, all of that did happen, and to this day, I still do NOT believe it. My life was ruined by this mistake, and I implore you to not make the same mistake. If you are genuinely unhappy in your marriage, leave with dignity before you lose everything this way. If you do NOT want to lose your marriage, don't do this. Your spouse WILL find out, and you WILL regret it. I say this to help you, and I have been there and understand. Just don't do it.
If I could only go back in time...