Five New Proposed Categories of Infidelity-Defined
D. Charles Williams, Ph.D.
Treating couples in the crisis of infidelity requires an experienced marital therapist who can intervene quickly to facilitate repair of the marriage. In order to do this effectively, a counselor must have a thorough understanding of the clinical relevance and implications of the kind of betrayal that has occurred. Treatment interventions can be enhanced if clinicians recognize the type of affair as well as what category of infidelity is presenting. This determination enables the therapist to zero in more accurately on what the true therapeutic needs of the individuals in the relationship are. Failure to recognize this could risk the betrayed spouse giving up prematurely on the marriage. It could also risk an incomplete assessment of the motivations and issues behind the actions of the betraying spouse.
To that end, the author has compiled almost 30 types of affairs and has developed 5 proposed categories of infidelity to assist in the assessment and treatment of couples who have experienced betrayal. By identifying the type of affair that has occurred as well as the category of the infidelity, a clinician can identify the influences and motivations behind the affair, the personal needs of both individuals, and the context in which the affair occurred. It also provides answers to the following questions:
What caused this encounter to occur? Why did it occur when it did? Was it a need, vulnerability or personal issue within the betrayer? Was this the first time an affair has occurred? Was it a “perfect storm” of random influences? Was it a reflection of problems in the marriage? What boundaries broke down and why?
A quicker, more effective intervention strategy can then be honed to assist the couple in crisis when the answers to these questions are determined. Without this conceptual framework of “type of affair and category of infidelity,” countless therapy hours can be wasted before intervening effectively in treating the relationship. This approach is equivalent to triaging a patient in the ER who has life threatening injuries. It sometimes can mean the difference between a divorce or helping to rebuild a better marriage.
Below are the 5 new proposed categories of infidelity and the types of affairs subsumed under each:
Impulse affairs typically refer to unplanned, spur-of-the-moment encounters that lead to sexual involvement, typically between at least one married or committed person and another individual. They are often opportunistic and occur in anonymous circumstances where their discovery would be difficult to detect. People who travel in their jobs are often susceptible to these moments of reckless abandon. Many times, alcohol has fueled the inhibition of acting on an impulse. There is usually no agenda, long-term goal, or plan for a relationship. It is just sex for sex’s sake. It may be a brief encounter, although it sometimes turns into something more involved given the impulsive, passionate nature of the affair. Impulse affairs include one-night stands, retaliatory cheating, cheating while dating or engagement affairs.
It is not uncommon to forge relationships with the people we spend the most time with. If we share common interests and enjoy the same things, it is only natural to feel inclined to seek them out. Similarities seem to always bring others together and foster admiration and fondness. People who spend a great deal of time together, but lose sight of appropriate boundaries between each other, can easily end up in potentially compromising situations. This slippery slope of attraction can go undetected until friendly feelings for one another turn into something more. These affairs are often accidental but wreak much havoc because of the number of other people who are impacted. They usually occur between friends, family, or coworkers. Proximity affairs include emotional, close-friend, celebrity, mate-poaching or coveting, workplace, in-law, family, and genetic sexual attraction (GSA) affairs.
This category encompasses a large number of affairs because of the motivations that exist within it. Most of these affairs result because of the married couple’s avoidance in dealing with significant problems within the individual or their marriage. They may ignore issues, hope they will go away, but inevitably they end up drifting apart. They may have conflict that is rarely resolved and be locked in an impasse. In any case, these couples are not emotionally well connected, and their avoidance gradually erodes their desire to keep trying. They may channel their energies into their children or job and ignore the emotional distance that is growing within the marriage. Sometimes couples accept the status quo because one partner is unmotivated to change or sees no need to be different. It eventually may seem simpler to find another partner who shows more interest. Avoidance affairs include exploratory, ulterior motive, dependency, conflict-avoidance, intimacy-avoidance, financial, and sexual identity affairs.
These individuals almost always have a hole in their soul. Their emptiness and loneliness is obscured by their relentless search to be validated through their most current sexual relationships. They have sometimes perfected the art of charming others for their own personal pleasure. If ever questioned about their reckless behavior, they will have a well-developed rationale for their actions that may include a high sex drive, a special appreciation for the opposite sex, or that they are just enjoying life. They are generally narcissistic and self-absorbed, but they often feel inadequate and are searching for significance at another’s expense. This category almost always involves some level of sexual addiction and fantasy that is facilitated by the active utilization of technology for the purposes of multiple hookups. Addiction affairs include cyber, fantasy, serial, swinging, and sex-with-yourself affairs.
Stage of Life Affairs
Stage-of-life affairs often occur during a transitional period in life where an individual comes to the realization that certain personal dissatisfactions exist. They may feel disillusioned with their life and the need for a change to occur. Life seems to be passing them by, and they had expected more from it. Sometimes they will meet a person who gives them a different perspective on life regarding who they could be or what else life might offer them. They may feel they deserve something better than what they previously have had. These individuals may finally have the resources to experience things that they could not afford before. Sometimes it is an attempt to feel relevant, important, or young again.
On occasion, an individual may make a dramatic change in life after a parent who represented strong moral values or who was the moral compass of the family passes away. This category can encompass couples who have been married for a long time, but have settled into a status quo resulting in a comfortable coexistence. They may lack passion together, and so they might discretely seek it elsewhere. Stage-of-life affairs include midlife, empty-nest, tripod, entitlement, and sweetheart or old-flame affairs.
Once a clinician can make a determination about the type of affair and the category of infidelity that has occurred, a more effective treatment plan and strategy can be structured to help the couple through the recovery process. Accurate assessment leads to a more focused intervention and ultimately better outcomes for the couple in crisis.
For more detailed information about the above article, refer to:
WHAT’S DONE IN THE DARK: Affair-Proofing and Recovery from Infidelity-A Self-Help Guide for Couples (January, 20017) by D. Charles Williams, Ph.D.
Dr. Williams is a licensed psychologist and marriage & family therapist in private practice in Athens, Georgia. He is an AAMFT Supervisor and an executive coach. He is the author of WHAT’S DONE IN THE DARK: Affair-Proofing and Recovery from Infidelity-A Self-Help Guide for Couples (2017).