Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Sometimes I see couples where there is a dispute about whether there has been an affair or not. “It wasn’t an affair – we never had sex”.
When we talk about affairs, we tend to think primarily of a physical relationship, but not all affairs involve a sexual element. And where there is a sexual element, the effect of that on the injured party can be very different if it is a “one night stand” as opposed to a long-running relationship.
Often (but not always), the most hurtful thing about an affair is not that one’s partner has had sex with someone else but the feeling of betrayal and the loss of trust – and there are two main ways in which this is likely to manifest itself.
The first theme is in the bond that exists between “affair couple”, which often becomes more important to the person having the affair than their relationship with their partner. This is where a one-night-stand can differ in its effect from a long term relationship with a third party. Even without a sexual element, the “affair partner” (AP) may be sharing thoughts and feelings with the other party that they are not telling the “non-affair partner” (NAP) about – and in these days of email and mobile phones it is easy to develop and maintain a relationship while meeting the other party comparatively rarely.
The second theme is that of concealment. The AP will often claim “it’s just a friendship” but will not tell the NAP details of it “because they might misunderstand and get upset”. So often even non-sexual affairs are accompanied by concealment and lying. When discovered, the sense of loss and betrayal for the injured party can be immense, and it is often these feelings that are most hurtful, rather than the thought of whatever may or may not have happened sexually.
Thinking about these two themes, neither is about sex. The NAP can feel displaced or rejected, that they are no longer the most important person in the AP’s life. This feeling can be caused just as much by the AP forming an emotion connection with someone else as it can by the AP forming a sexual relationship with them. The NAP will also feel rejected because of the secrecy – they may believe that they know their partner very well – and with this knowledge comes complete trust and security. This can be destroyed by the discovery of an affair, whether sexual or not.
What is important here is not the word we use. Is a non-sexual affair still and affair? That is simply a matter of definition. The important thing is not the word but the effect on the relationship, particularly on the NAP. Whether we call it an affair or a giraffe, the effect is still the same.