Anatomy of an Affair: What Is an Affair?


According to the Pew Research Center, 84% of Americans say that married people having an affair is “morally unacceptable.” Yet, current research shows that “20 to 40% of heterosexual married men and 20 to 25% of heterosexual married women will also have an extramarital affair during their lifetime.”

Clearly, marital infidelity is a problem in many marriages. But what, exactly, is an affair?

What Is An Affair?

For the purposes of this discussion we are talking about a romantic affair and not political affairs or what might simply be called “matters” such as having ones affairs in order or event as in “The evening was a large affair.”

Webster’s defines an affair: a romantic or passionate attachment typically of limited duration.

Mary Ann Romans at says about an affair: “We all know the definition of an affair, don’t we? But wait! Go ahead and try to define it and it may not be so black and white. Behavior that might be seen as an affair by one couple or even one individual may not been seen as an affair by your own definition or vice versa.”

An Affair Is A Betrayal

Wikipedia directs this definition of the word “affair” to the word “infidelity” and says this about it:

Infidelity is a violation of the mutually agreed-upon rules or boundaries of an intimate relationship, which constitutes a significant to extreme breach, or outright default, on the implicit good faith contract of a relationship, or a betrayal of core shared values with which the integrity and nature of the relationship is defined. In common use, it describes an act of unfaithfulness to one’s husband, wife, or lover, whether sexual or non-sexual in nature.

Hub Pages blogger Veronica recalls a definition given by Oprah that went something like this: “It is cheating if you would behave differently if your partner were watching.”

What is or is not infidelity, cheating or having an affair can vary widely from culture to culture, and even within a culture. What might be considered betrayal by some might not be thought of as such by another. Among swingers who might swap sexual partners freely having an afternoon sexual liaison might not be that shocking but finding out that their spouse was sending or receiving endearing notes and cards from someone else might be the ultimate act of betrayal. More importantly what you might consider to be a case of innocent flirting might be to your spouse an act of betrayal on a par with the attack on the World Trade Center that fateful morning of September 11, 2001.

An Affair Causes Devastation

For those that have experienced betrayal by their spouse, the feelings are much the same as those who lost loved ones that autumn day as the entire world watched in horror. Nothing prepares a person for being betrayed and those that have lived through it forever point to it as a defining moment in their lives.

Though some manage to save their marriage and still others not only survive but somehow build a marriage stronger than it was before, for the person whose spouse has cheated few things can compare to the shock, fear, emotional pain and stress of being betrayed by the one person you trusted above all others. Those that do recover learn important lessons about life, love and fidelity that few who have not lived it can comprehend.

Marriage coach Steven Harley says this about the subject: “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?”

Ultimately, the definition of betrayal belongs to the betrayed. If you feel your spouse has been unfaithful in some action or relationship outside the marriage, the personal trauma is the same whether that act of betrayal was a one night stand, a ten year long romantic relationship with a secret lover and a dozen emails to someone never met in person expressing undying love or overwhelming lust.

Finally, betrayal is identified by the feeling of being betrayed. It is a violation of trust on the part of the person you had place so much trust in and if you feel you were betrayed, it feels like betrayal and no one can challenge the way you feel and tell you that you should feel differently, especially the one who has betrayed you.

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One Response to Anatomy of an Affair: What Is an Affair?

  1. Pingback: Anatomy of an Affair – Fifteen Steps to Infidelity - Marriage AdvocatesMarriage Advocates

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