[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series on how to affair-proof your marriage. Part 1 can be found here. Look for the rest of the series in the coming weeks.]
In this series we are looking at how to affair-proof your marriage. In order to avoid marital affairs, however, it is first important to understand the different types of affairs. Typical stereotypes of affairs include: a spouse cheating out of boredom with the marriage, or “falling out of love” with his spouse, or falling in love with someone else. In some cases these reasons might be true. However, there are numerous other reasons that a spouse decides to break his or her solemn vows. In this article, I will introduce ten different types of affairs, along with discussing why these affairs develop.
Types 1-4: Avoidance Affairs
Four common types of affairs, according to researcher Emily M. Brown, LCSW, are the following:
1) The Conflict Avoidance Affair
2) The Intimacy Avoidance Affair
3) The Split-Self Affair
4) The Exit Affair.
Conflict avoidance affairs center on one or both of the spouses’ deep aversion to tension and talking about issues within their marriage. Thus, in an effort to force a conversation about the couple’s conflict dodging and forced affability the offending spouse has an affair where they make it easy to be caught. Intimacy avoidance affairs chart an identical course except that an added dynamic within this type of affair is that one or both spouses greatly fear the security which monogamy brings to a person. The split-self affair is more commonly known as the “midlife crisis.” Within this affair, the offending spouse feels that since they have spent their life doing the “right thing,” that now they deserve to have “some fun.” Finally, the exit affair is used by the offending spouse as an excuse to end the marriage, with the hope that the offended spouse will initiate the divorce proceedings.
Types 5-9: Escapist Affairs
Another researcher, Dennis A. Bagarozzi, proposes that there are five additional types of affairs:
5) The Brief Encounter Affair
6) The Periodic Sexual Encounter Affair
7) The Employment Advantage Affair
8) The Revenge Affair
9) The Significant Life Change Affair
Brief encounters are the stereotypical one night stand with a stranger, while periodic encounters are usually more about being able to act out sexual fantasies that one’s spouse may disapprove. Employment advantage affairs are normally used when one spouse believes that having sex with a boss or colleague will improve his or her career. Revenge affairs serve to communicate retaliation against a spouse for some wrong done, such as not being present at a meaningful event. Finally, significant life change affairs usually occur when a person’s spouse becomes terminally ill or after too many moves because of a spouse’s job.
Type 10: Pious Affairs
In my own work, I have found one additional type of affair that is not present in the research:
10) The Vocationally Confused Affair
Within the vocationally confused affair, a seemingly pious spouse announces that he would like to live a more monastic way of life, which includes dramatically decreasing the couple’s conjugal life. What makes this affair acceptable to the wider faith community is that many Catholics continue to view sexuality as fundamentally dirty instead of something sublime. More importantly, no spouse can unilaterally decide to abandon his responsibilities towards the couple’s conjugal life. Doing so constitutes a significant breach within the marital vows both in word and in spirit. When someone receives the news that a spouse wishes to renounce the marriage bed, the spouse who is given this news may feel trapped and angry. With such feelings and with such a situation, the revenge affair type is then easily enacted.
The Common Thread
Each of these affairs shows us a very important reality: affairs communicate something to the offended spouse about the marriage. In other words, affairs are red flags signaling that the marriage is in severe distress, but affairs are never the sole reason why marriages are in distress. Within each affair type, we can see that the affair was in response to something more deeply wrong within the marriage. The affair was simply on the surface. Nevertheless, let me be clear, the offended spouse in no way asked for the affair to happen, nor is it her fault. Understanding affairs require focusing on personal responsibility instead of who is at fault. A marriage decays when two people have either made poor choices during the marriage or by deciding to marry a particular person whom they expected to change during the marriage.
Still, there are some types of affairs where only one spouse shoulders any responsibility for the marriage’s decay. Such affairs are sexual addiction affairs, affairs where one spouse has a severe personality deficiency, and sexual perversion affairs. Within sexual addiction, the offended spouse can never be expected to take any responsibility for the affair seeing as the addiction normally begins prior to the marriage. The same is the case with severe personality problems along with sexual deviant affairs. However, such affairs call us to remember how vitally important the marriage preparation process is since the marriages which are plagued by affairs such as those above could have been prevented.
Ultimately, affair typology is an attempt to categorize affairs so that both therapists and lay individuals can better understand, treat, and prevent affairs from occurring. While never a happy subject, it is a necessary subject for we can only defeat the enemy by knowing how the enemy works. Finally, while the state of some marriages that led to an affair are the responsibility of only one spouse, the vast majority of marital decay which leads to affairs is the responsibility of both spouses. It is this topic that we will take up in the next article in this series.