What are the Types of Affairs?

8 Types of Affairs

Infidelity shatters marriages.

The bond of “‘til death do us part” has been violated.  But it’s not as simple as pointing fingers at who the perpetrator is and who the victim is when an affair happens.

Like many things in marriage, an affair is rarely black and white.  Relationships are so complicated that nuances will always color the reasons why one spouse chooses to cheat.

This is not to justify having an affair as being okay.  It’s simply a means for digging deeper into why affairs happen in the first place.  Part of the “why” is understanding that not all affairs are alike. Different motivations drive people into affairs.

Understanding these motivations can be a key to healing and staying in a relationship, or it can be a way to heal after your break up and leaving the relationship.

Researchers and experts have identified several “types” of affairs in trying to unlock the mysteries of infidelity.  If you’re involved in an affair, identifying with one of these types may provide you with greater insights into your own behavior or your spouse’s behavior.

Let’s take a look at the most common types of affairs:


1. The Emotional Affair That’s Non-Physical

It may start out as just a “special friendship” with a co-worker, a neighbor, or a parent at one of your kid’s activities.  But eventually, that friendship can morph into something more emotionally intimate, and in many cases, it does.

This is supported by the fact that a survey by Simply Hired revealed that 50% of female employees and 44% of male employees admitted to having a “work spouse” at some point in their careers.  Part of the reason for this is offloading problems on a work spouse tends to increase job satisfaction supported by the fact that hours and hours spent in close proximity will build a close relationship in many cases.

You may be especially vulnerable if your existing marriage is on the rocks, or you’re not getting emotional validation at home.  In a marriage where your spouse is quick to point out your flaws, an emotional affair can prop you up as your friend showers you with compliments that highlight the good parts about you instead.

Many people think that just because physical sex is not involved, that an affair is not really happening.  The “technicalities” of not having sex betray the real issue of intimacy that an emotional affair provides.  Emotional affairs are born out of a basic human need of wanting affection and admiration.  Emotional affairs satisfy those needs.

And just because no sex is involved, that doesn’t lessen the devastation that can be wreaked on a partner when they find out about your relationship.  Some people even argue that emotional affairs are physical affairs that have not yet turned physical.

People in emotional affairs may also become indignant at the suggestion an affair is taking place with a best friend who just happens to be someone of the opposite sex.  This, despite the fact that there may be flirting, sexual tension or discussions about sex.

Just like in other affairs, an unfaithful spouse in an emotional affair will try to hide their interactions with the other person.  But these types of affairs are often unmasked when a spouse overhears an inappropriate conversation or intercepts a text or email that also oversteps boundaries.

Emotional affairs may not be characterized by a physical component, but this type of affair can also exist when an unfaithful spouse crosses the line and shares information that should be exclusive to marriage.  In fact, the offloading of personal information decimates the intensity of the core marriage and destroys an implied trust that is part of the marriage bond.

2. The Romantic Affair That Comes With Attachment

Romantic Affair That Comes With Attachment

When people think of traditional affairs, this is generally the type of affair they identify with.

The romantic affair stems from one spouse having an intense attraction to another person.  So much so, that they believe they’ve fallen in love and can’t control their emotions.

There may be a level of guilt associated with this type of affair, but it’s justified by rationalizing the affair in a couple of different ways.  When emotions are intense, a person may believe that feeling so strong means there’s no way this affair can be wrong.

Friendships can grow into romantic affairs over time, or they may simply be cases of “love at first sight” accompanied by instant infatuation.  This supplants what may be ambivalence in a current marriage or a marriage that has grown stale over time.

A person may be willing to exchange a romantic affair with guilt at the cost of harming a marriage where they are miserable.  These marital defects serve as justifications to continue a romantic affair.

There may also be a struggle going on inside of the spouse who will swing back and forth from the romantic affair to trying to fix what’s wrong in their current marriage.  This could be a physical separation or an emotional separation that can go on for a long time.

Indecision about what to do can be complicated by other factors in the marriage.  Oftentimes, you may know that their marriage is over, but not want to end the marriage for sake of your children, financial security, or feelings of failure.

If you’re struggling emotionally, be sure to get the support you need. Taking care of your mental health is more important than ever. It takes strength to ask for help. Consider trying therapy online – wherever and whenever it’s convenient for you. Sites like BetterHelp match you with a licensed therapist that’s right for you. You can connect with your therapist via live sessions on your phone or video chat – or text your therapist whenever you want throughout the day. Check out BetterHelp to get started and get 10% off >>

Learn More: 29 Red Flags That Your Marriage is in Trouble

3. The “Accidental” One Night Stand

Oops!  Accidental is in quotation marks for a reason.

If you consciously decide to engage in a one night stand, there’s nothing accidental about it.

However, this doesn’t stop the accidental cheater from being genuinely surprised that they cheated.  They’ll often convince themselves that they have no idea in some cases how it happened. It’s not uncommon to say things like “it just happened” to describe the affair.

Impulsive one-night stands can be justified by temporary insanity, the heat of the moment, lots of alcohol, a belief you can get away with it if only for one night or several other rationalizations.  It’s an event born out of convenience or opportunity.  There is no emotional attachment.

Business trips provide the perfect setting for a one night stand.  Lonely travelers are often set upon by others in the same situation.  Or they may enjoy the company of a paid professional sex worker.

Workers in a shared office setting are also vulnerable as well.  Working in close proximity and achieving certain work goals can release endorphins that can eventually lead to other shared pleasurable experiences.

Most all people who engage in one night stands stay in their marriages but suffer from guilt or the fear they’re going to be found out.  In fact, wanting to stay in their marriage is one of the defining characteristics of this type of affair.  Often, there’s no dissatisfaction in a spouse’s current marriage whatsoever.

Key Point:  People in these types of affairs actually go to great lengths to hide them because they don’t want to hurt their spouses.

People with low self-esteem often engage in one night stands to prop up their own self-image.  The problem arises when a person becomes a serial one night stand participant, constantly seeking that emotional boost.  This is when their type of affair can turn into an Addiction affair.

Curiosity may also be another contributing factor.  Someone who got married early or who are sexually inexperienced may develop a strong sense of wondering what it’s like to have sex with someone else.  If others in a person’s peer group are engaging in this kind of activity, it may also arouse curiosity as well.

4. The Repeat Offender Sex Addict’s Affair

When one night stands turn into extended affairs with multiple partners, this can be due to sexual addiction.

There are several high profile examples of this type of behavior.  Tiger Woods’ addiction caused him to have several extramarital affairs.  Bill Clinton is also another example of sexual addiction leading to inappropriate repeated behaviors.

In other cases, infidelity and sex addiction is a legacy passed down through the generations in families such as the Kennedys where the men are committed to family life but are also known for having affairs that are well documented.

A sex addict’s compulsions mean they may never find true fulfillment no matter how many times they cheat on a spouse.  They are trapped by their own obsessive needs and may feel powerless to control their desires.

Like one night stands, sex addicts rarely want their marriages to fail.  But they also recognize that a marriage can’t meet all of their sexual needs.  It’s an internally destructive pattern that can cause significant problems if left untreated.

Spouses of sex addicts have a difficult time coming to grips with this type of affair because it happens a lot.  It’s also difficult to justify having empathy for sexual addiction, even though people do just that for other types of addictions, such as with drugs or alcohol. It is hard for some spouses to fully understand what drives this kind of behavior.  That said, sexual addiction is real and requires treatment for recovery.

One way to make more sense of sex addiction is that the body produces a lot of hormones and neurotransmitters during sex.  This produces the same chemical “high” like drugs or alcohol. An ongoing pursuit of that high can lead to repeated behaviors despite escalating risks.

Addiction can also extend to sexual behaviors such as viewing pornography, cybersex, going to strip clubs, prostitution, masturbation or other destructive behaviors.  Sex addicts are overcome by their desire to fulfill their longings in any way possible.  They repeatedly attach themselves to people and behaviors to meet their needs.

Are You a Sex Addict?

These questions may help you to identify possible signs of sex addiction.

  • Do you think your sexual behavior is out of control?
  • Do you use the internet for erotic or sexual purposes?
  • Have you ever engaged in sexual activity in exchange for money or gifts?
  • Have you tried to stop or reduce certain sexual behaviors?
  • Do you keep your sexual behaviors hidden from your spouse?
  • Would you experience negative consequences if others found out about your sexual habits?
  • Do you ever have cruel, abusive, and even violent to the other sex as a means of trying to gain control over them?
  • Has sexual behavior impacted other parts of your life such as your job, friends or leisure activities?
  • Have sexual fantasies become a way for you to escape your problems?
  • Do you ever feel bad or guilty about your sexual behavior?
  • Are you preoccupied with sexual thoughts or behaviors?
  • Do you have no emotional attachment to your affair partners but view them only as conquests?
  • Are you insecure or a habitual liar?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you may have a sexual addiction problem.  Consider seeking treatment from a trained professional to resolve these issues.

5. The Love Addict’s Affair

There is a difference between love and sex, and that means there are also two different types of addiction affairs.

Although love addiction affairs do involve sex, the compulsion and obsession are centered on the relationship and not the physical interaction.

You might also call this the eternal search for “the one,” the soulmate, or Mr. or Mrs. Right.

The problem is that it’s pretty much impossible to sustain the intensity of the emotions that happen during the initial stages of the relationship.  This ongoing search leads to frustration, depression and the hope that a future relationship will be even more satisfying, which is never the case.

These types of affairs tend to happen more with females who are indifferent about their marriages.  They typically aren’t capable of rationally judging the shortcomings of an affair partner, or if they do, they tend to undervalue what those shortcomings are.

A love addict will often complain about the lack of love in their current marriage and may even admit that they married the wrong person.  In some cases, they may be okay with their marriage, but feel they can do better.

The love addict will spend inordinate amounts of time also obsessing over what their affair partner thinks of them, trying to get a read on their feelings.  This can lead to wholly unrealistic expectations that end in disaster.

6. The “Screw You” Revenge Affair

Revenge Affair

You’ve heard the phrase, “don’t get mad, get even”?

In this type of affair, that’s modified to “get mad AND get even.”

Marital affairs that take place as a form of revenge or retaliation against a current spouse can be dangerous.  That’s because there’s often an element of making sure the spouse in the affair lets the other spouse know they’ve been cheated on.

As you might guess, these can lead to ugly separations and contentious divorces.

Narcissists often will initiate these kinds of affairs as a way to maintain an upper hand in a relationship.  It’s messed up when this kind of thinking goes on, but it does happen.  In fact, a narcissist is more likely to have an affair with a spouse’s close relative or friend so that when the affair is uncovered, the damage is especially traumatic and devastating.

Regardless of the situation, revenge affairs are always about making the other spouse pay in pain.  A spouse will no longer play by any kind of rules and if their self-esteem has been damaged, a revenge affair is a perfect way to feel better by knowing they are desired by someone else.

“Revenge affairs are always about making the other spouse pay in pain.”

The problem is, revenge affairs have just the opposite effect.  You feel worse after this type of affair, not better.  Essentially, it’s a case of “two wrongs don’t make a right.”  Even if your spouse gives up their dignity, giving up yours is not a solution.

Most other types of affairs are not done intentionally to hurt the other spouse.  In fact, many times a spouse will go to great lengths to avoid discovery that would lead to a devastating emotional blow to their mate.

But a revenge affair is different.  It’s entered into specifically with the intention of hurting their spouse.

There is another victim in a revenge affair.  The person you have the affair with is being used by you in a selfish way.  The person probably didn’t do anything to you to deserve being used in that way.  You may lie to that person in the throes of passion, but you’re still going to carry around a big bundle of guilt regardless.

One interesting sidebar to note is that after men find out their partners have had an affair, they’re more apt to commit domestic violence.  Women, more often than not, are the ones who resort to revenge affairs.

7. The Strictly Online Cyber Affair

It’s a thoroughly modern type of affair.

Cyber affairs, even though they take place strictly online, are no less dangerous or damaging than any other kind of affair.

It may be anonymous in many cases, but the same emotional and sexual overtones are present.  When you invest in an affair online, by texting, email or a webcam, you’re still sucking energy out of your existing marriage.

However, instead of winding up at a seedy motel, you may wind up in a seedy chatroom.

Some people do challenge the notion that if there is no physical contact or actual sex, is it still an affair?

Ummmmm, yes.

Cheating is cheating.  No matter how you slice it.

Intimate chat sessions, cybersex, filming sex acts with a webcam or other similar actions still trigger the same feelings as they would in a face-to-face affair.

The benefit of cyber affairs is that cheaters can create any persona they want.  You can take time in choosing what you want to say, create an avatar that hides your flaws and move at whatever speed you feel comfortable.  Fantasy is a significant element of cyber affairs.

8. The “Out-The-Door” Exit Strategy Affair

Exit Strategy Affair

This type of affair happens when you want to expedite the end of your marriage.  It’s not exactly self-sabotage for your relationship, but then again, it is.  This may be the result of tension, resentment, and distrust that builds over a long timeframe.

Despite the vows of marriage, some are destined to end before death do us part.  You may realize you’ve changed, or that you married the wrong person for the wrong reason.  The affair is simply your exit strategy.  It’s also a way of starting to mentally and emotionally prepare for the next chapter in your life.

These types of affairs help to make up what may be lacking in a marriage for a long time.  In some cases, these types of affairs can last a long time as a marriage slowly dies.  The affair partners may often talk about starting a new life together but only after current commitments end.

Having these types of affairs also dramatically undercuts the ability to try and save an existing marriage.  However, affairs of this nature end up being just as unsatisfying, and a partner may go back to trying to make their existing marriage work.

In some cases, an out-the-door affair may be the result of some major life change, such as all the kids finally leaving home, or when one spouse retires. Grey divorce often accompanies this type of affair.

Other times, a spouse may have been contemplating leaving for years, and finally works up enough courage to take the steps necessary to leave, including having an affair.

One other thing to note.  Statistics indicate that people in these types of affairs rarely end up married to each other.  And even when they do, the marriage doesn’t last very long.  That’s because the lover is simply the tool the cheater used to leave the marriage.

Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity has all the same looks, feelings and emotions as traditional sexual affairs.

Betrayal.  Loss of trust.  Guilt.  Shame.

And the added dimension of financial insecurity as well.

Just like other types of affairs, financial cheating results from one spouse hiding bad behavior from the other.  This can be much easier when one spouse is put in charge of family finances and the other spouse trusts that the spouse in charge will do the right thing.

Sometimes, there is a compulsive spending behavior, gambling problems, or a blind spot when it comes to understanding how money and finances work.

Warning: Expect your spouse to juggle accounts and funds around if you start asking questions. If pressed, you’re likely to hear vague generalizations or rationalizations.  

More than likely, there will be attempts to cover financial misdeeds.  Multiple credit cards may be opened.  Or secret accounts will be established.  Monitoring mail for monthly credit card statements may be the norm as a way of hiding problems.

If you suspect a financial affair is taking place, look for evidence in receipts, bank statements and other types of proof so that you can confront your spouse.  Just like any other type of affair, expect denials.  This is why you need to back up your claims with facts.

It’s not uncommon for both spouses to be financial cheaters.  Depending on the rules of the marriage, each may have their own separate accounts, hopefully, known to the other spouse, but not always.  It can be just as devastating to find your spouse has been hoarding thousands of dollars as it can be when you find out they’ve been sleeping with somebody else.

Like sexual and emotional affairs, money affairs do break up marriages.  When you discover a financial affair that has been taking place, you need to take stock and decide how to best recover.  Start by looking at the root causes, including how you may have contributed to the problem.  It’s a process that’s going to take time to fix.

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