Affairs are loaded with romanticism, morality, mythology, and intense emotions. They're not really about sex, but about pain and fear and the desire to feel alive. They're also about betrayal. Most people enter marriage believing they would never have an affair. A great many of them have one or more affairs. Before you can decide what to do with the affair in your life you need to know what it means. These are the different types of affairs:
Type of Affairs
Conflict Avoiders are nice -- they're terrified to be anything but nice, for fear that conflict will lead to abandonment or losing control. They don't have a way to stand up to each other when there's a problem, so they can't resolve their difference and the marriage erodes. An "equal opportunity" affair.
Intimacy Avoiders are frightened of getting too close, so they keep the barriers high between them. Conflict is one barrier, affairs are another. Their emotional connection with each other is through frequent and intense conflict. Often, each spouse becomes involved in an affair. These couples are the mirror opposite of the Conflict Avoiders.
Sexual Addicts use sex over and over again to numb inner pain and emptiness, much like alcoholics use alcohol. Among married people, men are sexual addicts more often than women.
The Split Selves have tried to do marriage right. Both spouses have sacrificed their own feelings and needs to take care of others, and the deprivation has caught up with one of them. The affair is serious, long-term and passionate. The spouse who is having the affair focuses on deciding between the marriage and the affair partner and avoids looking at the inner split. Most often this is a man's affair, but that may be changing.
The Entitlement Affair is usually a serious, long-term one in which the straying partner is charming, popular, successful, and powerful. Professional interests become more important than family relationships, and the spouses live somewhat separate lives. The third party is attracted to the power and the perks of the straying partner, and may have more in common with the straying partner than does the spouse. When the affair comes to light, we often wonder "what are they thinking?" Actually they weren't thinking - they were assuming that their hard work entitled them to the power and related perks. Frank Bruni, in the New York Times (Nov. 12, 2012) states that the "adulation in the public arena probably isn't mirrored in their marriages. A spouse is unlikely to provide it. A spouse knows you too well for that."
Exiters are Conflict Avoiders at heart, but they take it further. One spouse has already decided to leave the marriage and the affair provides the justification. The other partner usually blames the affair rather than looking at how their marriage got to this point. Another "equal opportunity" affair.