The question “How long do affairs last?” comes up in almost every discussion about affairs, for a variety of reasons. It is often one of the first questions asked by people who have recently discovered that their spouse has been having a secret relationship with someone else. I think it likely that the reason the question is so important to most people is that it implies other, more foundational questions, the real answers to which might be more devastating to discover.
How Long Do Affairs Last?
The answer to how long affairs last is that the range can be anywhere between a drunken one night stand with no emotional attachment, and a life-long romantic affair that occurs without the affair partners ever actually meeting in person to consummate the relationship. About half last longer than one month but less than a year. A large percentage last two or three years, while a few last a lifetime.
What are some of those underlying questions that really need to be answered when someone asks how long an affair might last?
Is my spouse’s affair real LOVE or something less?
The answer to this is a definite “maybe” on both sides of the line. Your spouse might be experiencing true love. You fell in love with your spouse at one time and decided to act on that by agreeing to spend your life together. In all probability, your spouse once fell in love with you as well. One thing to consider is that falling in love more than once does not mean that what you shared was any less real, or that your spouse’s love for another person is any more real than the love you have shared. That likely does not make you feel any better about the situation you are facing, but it is something you should keep in mind as you try to decide what you are going to do.
The idea of romantic love as the entire foundation of marriage is what makes this question something to consider. It has been known for some time that early phase romance is marked by our brain being bombarded by a chemical soup that includes chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine and testosterone, along with the often talked about Phenethylamine (PEA). Together these chemicals cause us to feel short of breath, increase our heart rate, sharpen the focus of our attention and make us more aware of and more sensitive to nonverbal signals and cues. Evolutionary psychologists might say that all of these things (and a lot of other things that happen during this phase of romance) make selection of a mate more probable. They can also lead to obsession, depression and other symptoms of what would typically indicate mental illness. Falling in love can be a wild and crazy series of events.
Just like you and your spouse fell in love once before, it is possible that he/she or you might fall in love with someone else at some point in your life. You must also consider that it is also possible that you and your spouse can fall in love with each other again as events and circumstances change, which living on this planet almost assures will happen.
What is real love?
This question is a close sibling of the previous one, and should be answered when deciding if an affair might be “real love.”
Today we have a model for love in popular culture that seems based in magic, fate or kismet. In books and movies, even on television, people fall in love almost against their will and often with the most inappropriate partners–and at times, even less appropriate. Falling in love is sometimes portrayed as something beyond our control, overpowering, something we are helpless to resist. Once it happens to us, there is nothing we can do about it except submit to the crazy ride that follows.
I’d like you to consider another model for “real love.” In this model, real love is a shared experience and history combined with an agreement to care for each other, and provide for each other’s welfare and happiness. This is more than just feelings and a rush of chemicals, though it contains elements of a strong bond that might be chemical in origin.
You probably fell in love with someone before you fell in love with your spouse. You felt all those chemical reactions and a strong desire to be together, maybe felt an almost overwhelming attraction for each other. If you are like most of us, you experienced this more than once in life, perhaps many times before you eventually found the one you committed to spending your life with. Yet in spite of all that emotional investment and mind-warping feelings, those relationships usually ended. You found someone new and moved on with your life. All of those feeling are related to what is called limerence. It might result in “real” love, but it feels like the emotional equivalent of running logic and clear thinking through a blender.
Just like those strong, mindboggling feelings of your early relationship with your spouse eventually mellowed and were replaced by what you intentionally did for each other and a bond that came from a history together, feelings about your spouse’s affair (or your affair) will probably wax and wane over time. Once the emotional upheaval slows, that history you and your spouse share is likely to remain. Seldom do affairs result in marriage between the affair partners.
This leads us to another question…
Do affair partners end up together?
Like the previous question, this can have different answers. Some affairs do result in marriage. Some even become happy and healthy long-term marriages that last a lifetime. The probability of such a thing happening, however, is actually not very high. Research shows that between 3 and 5 percent of affairs end in marriage. When other statistics are thrown in, that any at all do is little short of miraculous. Among other statistics is that 75% of second marriages fail, a rate half again as high as first marriages.
Frank Pittman and many others have conjectured about why affairs eventually fail to produce lasting and healthy relationships. Most experts point to several reasons why affairs die, including:
* Part of the energy of an affair is the taboo aspect and secrecy that marks most affairs.
* Affairs, in general, are selfish events. They survive more on what is gotten from each other than what is invested in the relationship.
* Affair partners often look back on the sacrifices they made to be together and (one or both) realize that what they gave up is much more than what they now share.
* As relates to sacrifice, often one will discover (or feel) that his or her sacrifice was much greater than what the other person had to sacrifice, and this can lead to resentment and disillusionment.
* Sacrifice is one factor that sometimes drives an affair. When there is little left to sacrifice, there is nothing left to feed the relationship.
* A relationship begun on a foundation of betrayal and lies has a difficult time transitioning to one of trust and loyalty.
These are only a few of the things researchers and experts toss out as reasons that affairs usually end, however long they last in the interim. The significant part of the whole ordeal is that in the vast majority of cases, they do end for a variety of causes, just like any romantic relationship might end for any number of reasons.
Can my marriage be saved after an affair?
This is really the question that matters most of all, isn’t it? Or put another way, should it be saved?
One thing about discovering betrayal by a person you have shared so much history and connection with is that it can make you question a lot of things about your life that you always just assumed or took for granted. We begin to question the value of the relationship in light of investing or sacrificing even more to keep it in our lives. What makes answering the question more difficult is deciding whether we even want to try to save it.
Unless you have some sort of super powers most of us never possessed, figuring out whether you want to try to salvage the marriage or just walk away from it and start new somewhere else is going to yield one answer at a given moment and something else completely hours, minutes, even seconds later. Your emotions will run the gamut from deep longing and feelings of great loss to anger, resentment, and a need for revenge. Emotional reactions change more rapidly than weather patterns on the plains of the Midwest in April. For both betrayed and betrayer, intimate betrayal is linked to increased suicide and intimate homicide.
When confronted by a crisis like finding out our spouse is romantically involved with someone else, our sense of reality is shaken to its very core. Very few events challenge our beliefs and values the way a spouse’s affair can. Because our emotions are so unstable, figuring out what to do is going to be an exercise in self-control and commitment.
This brings us to one final question for this article…
What should I do when my spouse is having an affair?
The answer to this really depends a great deal on what you eventually decide you want to happen. If you want to try to restore your marriage once the affair ends, there might be things you can do that make that easier. There are also a lot of things you might do that make it harder, should you get the chance. Knowing what you should be doing (and avoid doing) is something only you can decide, since you are the one who must be willing to do those things that bring about what you want in the end.
If you choose to divorce as quickly as possible, there are things you should do right away to make the process go more quickly and smoothly. There will also be things that will give you an advantage or some leverage to help your cause in the divorce. Not all from either category will be beneficial the other way around. So, as in choosing to try to save your marriage, choosing to divorce is going to hold many options, not all of which are compatible with your goals.
One thing you can do, whether you hope to save your marriage or seek the least painful divorce you can accomplish–or even if you haven’t yet decided which course to pursue–is to register for our online community and find support for whatever you determine is your path forward. You might find advice from others who have walked in your shoes, or learn about a program, book or method that has helped other people. You can also come by just to vent your anger and frustration while you work on your decision so you don’t burn any bridges you later might wish you hadn’t.
Answering the question of what to do is a big part of why Marriage Advocates exists. Many people have had a similar experience to yours in the past. Unfortunately, many more will go through the same thing in the future. Join us for a discussion of what works and what doesn’t.