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What to do if you are having an affair?


While the world looks at someone involved in an extramarital relationship as a culprit, as psychologists we understand that it is no easy space to be in. There are real psychological struggles involved.

In this article, which is part II of our series of three articles on extramarital affairs, we have focused on the struggles of the person who is involved in an extramarital relationship and have offered some  insights to work towards a possible resolution.

We recommend that you also read Part I which described important psychological reasons why people seek relationships outside their marriage.

An Extra-Marital Affair – A Call for Introspection

Maybe it is the beginning of an affair where you are attracted to someone and seeking deeper involvement, maybe you are involved in an ongoing extramarital relationship or maybe you had an affair in the past.  Maybe your partner knows about it, maybe he or she doesn’t.

Irrespective of which of these you are going through, each one is a signal to ‘look within’. It is important that you understand what you are going through. Only then will you be in a better place to decide how you want to take things forward.

 “ The realization of an affair is painful and involves a whirlwind of emotions for both partners. The relationship then tends to be viewed through a thick lens of pain and anxiety, which destabilizes trust and communication. However, an affair is merely a symptom of what the relationship is currently going through. It shows that all is not well.” – Anusha

Turning a blind eye to it or simply blaming your partner for all the problems won’t help. Acceptance of these deeper issues is the key to working towards resolution.

Having a Healthy Attitude towards Introspection

Many of you might feel you are already introspecting, spending hours thinking about the situation, but that this introspection does not lead to insight. Cheating, or having an extra marital affair as a concept is laden with a lot of judgment and moral values. This stops you from freely introspecting what you are going through.

“You might feel extremely broken and guilty, or then you might get defensive and come up with justifications for what you do. While both reactions are fairly natural, they block you from introspecting and truly understanding yourself better.” – Malini

Instead, try to objectively, dispassionately view what is happening within you. Allow yourself to look within with openness.

Working Towards Resolution: Factors You Need To Think About

What follows are some factors you might want to deeply think about, so you gain more clarity about the space that you are in and move towards resolution.

Accepting Imperfection In Relationships

Often, extramarital affairs are fuelled by a desire to meet the ‘perfect match’ or have the ‘perfect relationship’. However, this only leads to a perpetual search for better relationships with no solution.  It is important to remember that relationships or people are never perfect. The flaws in one are different from flaws in another but nevertheless imperfection and some degree of unhappiness is in store no matter what relationship you are in.

Meditate And Introspect. 

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Unhooking From Relationships As The Main Source Of Happiness

Are you making your relationships the prime cause of your happiness?

“Many people knowingly or unknowingly start to depend on their relationships for a basic sense of happiness. If this happens, then disappointment is likely because you are dependent on someone else for your joy. When he or she is unable to provide that, you start to look elsewhere for joy.” – Sadia

Think about it. At times, people find it difficult to keep themselves happy, since humans are essentially imperfect. Can people therefore be depended upon to keep someone else constantly happy? Maybe what is important is to look within and see what you as a person are truly doing to be joyful for yourself be it changing your beliefs, changing lifestyles, taking up a hobby, doing something good for yourself. Searching for joy in external sources without finding joy within is like having a fulcrum outside the machine.  It leads to imbalance.

Most of us look out for partners to ‘complete’ us. However, other people do not complete us (this is because of some very interesting things that happen at an unconscious level. If you are interested in knowing more and want to read something more exhaustive, click here). Then the question arises – what does? Well, the answer lies in our own individual lives. There are areas in our life we have been able to give attention to, and progressed. Similarly, there are areas in our life we may have been neglecting. This in turn leads to stagnation and repetitive patterns. We need to become aware of what these neglected areas are and address them in our own lives. That leads to a deep sense of completion and fulfillment.

Working With Your Internal Stress

The root cause of needing affairs is stress and frustration within your own mind and body. So without resolving this, taking any decision is meaningless. Aim to handle this frustration and stress first.

“Usually, when I see people who are undergoing such a situation in therapy, I help them focus solely on themselves and their own lives for a while. I help them work with their own thoughts, emotions and changes. The decision almost automatically results from such focus as thinking becomes clearer and people feel emotionally more grounded and settled. – Sadia”

Dealing With Resistance To Take A Decision

At some point, you will have to make a choice between your marriage and your current relationship. Whatever choice you make, you will have to let go of one of your relationships and it is going to be difficult.

“You might tend to think that you will not be happy anymore if you let go of either relationship, since each relationship is offering something to you. But it becomes important to realize that these relationships together are actually pulling a lot of energy out of you.” – Megha

You tend to believe that these relationships together are your source of happiness and so you cling to them. But it becomes important for you to get back your peace of mind and create a space for yourself where energy is not constantly being sucked out of you.

In order to make a choice, assess where you feel a more permanent sense of comfort and security. Once you have made your choice, you might miss the other partner every now and then. A constant reminder to yourself that you have chosen to let go of that relationship for your own long term happiness is important. Making yourself aware and cautioning yourself to not fall into the same pattern again helps.

If You Decide to Stay in the Marriage – Working through Unhealthy Patterns

While introspecting on a deeper level is crucial to help you make internal changes, it also helps to change certain unhealthy, frustrating patterns in your marriage, so that your marriage becomes a happier space for both of you.

Changing Habit Patterns in Relationships

If you feel that monotony and boredom have become part of your marriage, working on that space might help. Change some monotonous routines that have become habit patterns. Introduce some fun in the relationship. Do things together. You don’t need to find a perfect match of things you can do but just doing a few things with positivity and enthusiasm can help.

“Having some time just for the both of you in the day, where you don’t discuss mundane issues but share something about your feelings and thoughts can be of help. You could even discuss a book or a movie and how you really felt about it. At times, deliberately planning outings together can give you a much needed break. – Nandita”

Adapting to Role Shifts

Roles change post marriage and therefore, personalities and the way one partner perceives the other partner change too. “Instead of these role shifts causing distance between partners, both partners can take a stock of how their personality traits have changed and consciously take a call as to what traits they would like to keep and what traits they would like to leave behind”, says Kunjal.

Working on Tendencies to Avoid Conflict

A tendency to avoid conflict usually builds frustration, since internal needs go unexpressed. Moreover, it could create barriers to your progress as a person and make you seek completion outside.

“Leaving your needs ignored with your partner out of a fear of confronting them, or of disturbing the peace of the marriage will stop you from understanding your own needs better. If your needs remain unexpressed, you no longer have opportunity to understand these needs and resolve them within yourself.” – Kunjal


If You Wish to Leave the Marriage – Working Through the Transition

Communicating Difficult Decisions

If you realize after introspection that you truly yearn to leave the marriage and are certain of why, it is important that you initiate communication on these lines with your spouse. At times, one could repeatedly get involved with people outside the marriage when one internally does not wish to continue in the marriage. If this is the case, it is healthy and advisable to communicate this to the spouse. Otherwise, one has to hide one’s true self and be false, both with the spouse and with the partner. It restricts freedom of being and expression. Also, it postpones a process that is inevitable. Though this would undoubtedly be difficult to communicate, the sooner one does so, the healthier it will be for each spouse to work through their emotions and cope with reality.

Not to Forget – Working with Yourself

While leaving a marriage in itself is a big step, it is important to remember that you will carry yourself wherever you go. Unresolved issues can be like baggage that interferes with every connection you make with others. To prevent this and to approach your future anew, it is important that you introspect and work on the factors described above – such as accepting imperfection in relationships, unhooking from relationships as the main source of happiness and not to mention, working with your own stress.

On A Final Note, Do Not Hesitate to Seek Help

Going through this process of introspection, decision making and change is difficult and could sometimes become overwhelming. During such times, it is advisable to seek support through counseling. If you’re feeling confused and helpless in your situation, seek help. An empathic yet neutral perspective from a counselor can help you shape your decisions with more clarity of mind.

In part III of this series, we will write about how one can cope if one’s spouse is having an extramarital relationship, which is also a very important aspect to look at and work through. Until then, continue to share your experiences and viewpoints with us. Your participation always helps to shape our efforts 🙂

Image Credit: Tommie Hansen

post contributed by

Inner Space Team

Sadia, Kunjal, Nandita, Megha, Anusha, Malini

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  1. Dear Sharmistha,
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