In any long-term relationship or marriage, you’re bound to have infidelity fantasies. That attractive colleague you flirt with in the kitchen, do you go there at the Christmas party? They might seem like a fun flirtation with danger, but if you actually follow through it can become a lot more complicated that a mindless fantasy to get you through a dull day.
So, what happens when you do? Is it the risqué adreline-filled rollercoaster TV would have us believe or is it just an absolute shit-show of bad sex and guilty walks home? We spoke to women who’ve had affairs, and relationship counsellor Alison Tinsley to find out what you should be asking yourself if you’ve ever wondered whether to go there…
1. What type of affair are you considering?
'Sex is widely considered the main type of cheating,' says counselling-directory member, Alison, 'However, affairs come in many forms, such as emotional infidelity where a close attachment to someone else develops without their partner’s knowledge or virtual affairs using technology without actually meeting in person.'
‘I didn’t consider my own affair to actually be one till my husband did the same thing,’ says Victoria_, 36._ ‘I’d start confiding in someone from work, James, we’d spending hours on the phone, go for dinner after work. At the time I knew I was doing something wrong because I hid it from my husband, but I didn’t think of it as an affair at all because weren’t having sex__
‘Then I found texts in my husband’s phone from someone at his work,’ she continued, ‘talking about things he would never discuss with me. They’d talk for hours - just like James and I did - and I felt so betrayed that I never knew who this person was or how long he’d been seeing her. I think that hurt more than if he’d just had a drunken one-night stand.’
2. What impact might an affair have on your wellbeing?
'Will an affair increase your self-esteem and confidence or lower it', Alison encourages you to ask, 'question, will it develop your sense of identity or diminish it? Strengthen your integrity or damage it? Improve your mental, physical or sexual health or adversely affect it?'
‘A lot of my friends were completely liberated by having sex with someone else,’ says Anna*, 52, ‘because suddenly all of the flaws they thought they had, that they needed to lose weight, they didn’t dress sexy enough, they weren’t smart enough, anything that their husbands had made them feel, their new lovers didn’t care about and so there’s a certain liberation in that.’
3. Could it affect your working environment?
With one third of relationships starting at work, you can bet there are plenty of affairs that start there too. But is it ever a good idea to start having quickies with your colleague when you’re both married?
‘One of my work friends that I managed had an affair with my line manager once,’ says Anna, ‘when she realised she could get away with murder she really started to take the piss. She would turn up at 10am with the boss, while the rest of her team had to be in at 8am, and they all started having a go at me - as her boss - for not setting her straight.
‘Then, my manager took her to an awards ceremony where we’d won a massive award because of a project that I’d run, and I didn’t receive any credit at all,’ she continues, ‘that’s when our friendship deteriorated massively, because my career was being affected by her affair. When the affair ended, she’d lost her lover, friends at work and the respect of her colleagues.’
4. What if you become pregnant?
‘What decisions might you take if this scenario becomes a reality?’, Alison would ask her clients, ‘Even the best precautions are not fail safe. What starts out as a dream come true can rapidly develop into a nightmare.’
‘I was having an affair with my boss when my husband decided we should start trying for a baby,’ says Susan*, 56, ‘he wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t ready, and I didn’t want to end my affair, so I carried on taking the pill in secret. Then, my husband found the pill packet in my draw and confronted me with them. I told him they were for period pains and I was coming off them soon, that was a real low moment and pretty much when I realised I needed to end my marriage or my affair.’
5. What if you decide to leave your partner for your lover?
'Huge consequences can follow if you drift into staying with your new love,' says Alison, 'Family and friends often take sides. Stress can increase, and the grass may not seem so green. Wisdom might suggest that you end the couple relationship first, before embarking on another with your new love.'
‘I think this depends on whether your new lover is also married, but if they are it almost always ends in disaster’, says Anna, ‘the man I had an affair with was so attentive, caring, amazing at first but then a few months in he became paranoid his wife would find out and unceremoniously cut me off… can you imagine if I’d of left my husband for him?
‘It’s a dream at the beginning,’ she continues, ‘but as soon as it gets complicated everyone’s true colours show.’
6. Would you still do it if you knew the sex was going to be bad?
The affairs we see in popular culture might always look hot and steamy, but in real life you could end up sneaking around all for an awkward fumble and a frustrated drive home...
‘I slept with a man I’d fancied for years during my second marriage,’ says Susan, ‘I’d literally fantasised about this man so many times, and then in reality he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. Afterwards, I was so furious with myself. I’d just risked my marriage for the worst sex of my life, what was the point?’
7. What happens if you get an STI?
This is where your ability to be devious is tested, and where you might begin to ask yourself whether you should stay with your partner if you’re going to the lengths Elizabeth’s friend did...
‘My best friend was having an affair after eight years with the same guy,’ says Elizabeth*, 28, ‘and then the guy she was sleeping with told her he had chlamydia and she needed to get tested. She had it. She didn’t want to tell her partner, so she got the medication from the clinic, took it, then went back an hour later and told them she’d thrown up to get a second set. She crushed the pills into her boyfriend’s drink that evening and he still to this day doesn’t know.’
8. How might it affect your friendships?
‘The most uncomfortable affairs are when your friends with both people in the couple,’ says Anna, ‘Having to lie for your friend when you’ve been having dinner parties with their husband for years is really awkward, especially if you’re not that good at it.
'Once my friends husband rang me thinking his wife was at mine for a “girls’ night” but she’d forgot to tell me and I completely dropped her in it,' she continues, 'As it happens he was already suspicious but you can imagine how the conversation went when she rang me asking why I hadn’t covered for her.’
9. What happens when the affair ends? Or worse, if only one of you wants it to end?
‘Once the fun and games are over, you have no control about what happens next,’ says Alison, ‘Are you willing to run the risk of having the affair exposed by a scorned lover? Remember Fatal Attraction, do you continue the affair to keep them quiet or just cross your fingers and hope for the best?’
‘One of the lowest moments of my life was when I found out the man I was having an affair with was also married, I was in the midst of separating but he certainly wasn't,’ says Harriet*, 47, ‘I was so angry I actually did something insane. I didn’t drive at the time, so I got a taxi to his house, made the cab driver wait and went and bashed in his car with a hammer. When I got back in that taxi the driver was like “do you feel better now love?” and to be honest, I really did.’
10. Are you prepared for your marriage to end?
‘Having an affair is like opening Pandora’s box,’ says Anna, ‘it’s scary because you don’t know what you’re going to get. It could completely ruin your life, your husband could find out and leave, your kids may never forgive you. You have to be prepared for it to get out because most likely, as far as all my friends experiences, it will.’
Ultimately, it seems that if you’re considering having an affair, your needs aren’t being met by one partner. That doesn’t have to mean going behind their back, or that the relationship has to end. In actuality, as long as you’re communicating your feelings to your partner, there are plenty of opportunities open to you.
You could begin an open relationship, if it’s sex your missing, try different sexual experiences like swinging, there are plenty of options outside the bounds of monogamy. It might not be what you were expecting when you got married, but if being happy is the priority, why not go outside the norm rather than deceiving your partner?
‘Before embarking on an affair, THINK,’ advises Alison, ‘Think about how else your needs could be met with less risky consequences. Relying on your feelings for clarity is like depending on sinking sand. Who else might support or wisely advice you? Consider talking over your concerns with your partner, you might even be surprised.’
If you're considering having an affair, counselling might help get your relationship back on track. Visit the Counselling Directory for more information.
*names have been changed