What is an Affair?

by Steven W. Harley, M.S.


Steven W. Harley, M.S. Just the other day, I again found myself thinking about the question "What is an affair?" Understanding that the left hemisphere of the brain is used for more logic and systematic thinking and the right hemisphere of the brain is used for more abstract and emotional thinking, here is how I processed the question. (Please, no email offering assessments on possible mental disorders that I may have.)

Left Brain: In the context of marital infidelity, an affair is when a married individual has intercourse with a person to whom they are not married.

Right Brain: No, wait. Must it be intercourse? Or, could it include any kind of "sexual contact?"

Left Brain: Hmm... Alright. How about this: In the context of marital infidelity, an affair is when a married individual has sexual contact with a person to whom they are not married.

Right Brain: No, wait. What about the emotional element. What about the feeling?

Left Brain: Hmm... Alright. How about this: In the context of marital infidelity, an affair is when a married individual has sexual contact and emotional attraction to a person to whom they are not married.

Right Brain: No, wait. What about a "one night stand?" Emotional? Lust, maybe. But, emotional? Apples and oranges.

Left Brain: Hmm... Alright. How about this: In the context of marital infidelity, an affair is when a married individual has sexual contact and/or emotional attraction to a person to whom they are not married.

Right Brain: Emotional attraction? Any emotional attraction? Really?

Left Brain: Hmm... Alright. How about this: In the context of marital infidelity, an affair is when a married individual has sexual contact and/or inappropriate emotional attraction to a person to whom they are not married.

Right Brain: Wait! Why are we doing this?

Left Brain: You know. We get asked this question all the time. People want to know if they or their spouse is guilty of committing an "affair" in order to understand what just happened and then to begin the recovery process.

Right Brain: Hmm... How about this: In the context of marital infidelity, an affair is however the offended spouse defines it.

Left Brain: I hate it when you do that.

(Again, please, no email offering assessments on possible mental disorders that I may have. I already know of them.)

Discussions (or arguments) about what to include or exclude from the definition of marital infidelity is an effective way to get lost down a path where "Left Brainers" typically dwell and where "Right Brainers" typically get offended. The bottom line to the question is, "Specifically, what was it about the inappropriate relationship' that caused the damage in the marriage?" Was it the sex ([insert definition here]), the emotional bond, the amount of time spent together, the physical attraction? What was it? Talk about it. Get a clear understanding. If you don't understand how or why it happened and why it hurt the spouse, the probability of it happening again is very high.

Asking others to define the term for you is not the answer. If you boil it all down, you are left with the fact that you both need to work together in developing a plan to prevent this "beast" from ever attacking your marriage again. If you don't know what it looks like, if you don't know where it hides, if you don't know what its touch feels like, then how will you ever protect your marriage from its venom again?

Food for thought...

Steven W. Harley, M.S. is the Director of the Marriage Builders® Counseling Center.

 
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