Are you having an affair?
7 questions to ask yourself if you're cheating on your spouse
Having an affair can be overwhelming in so many different ways, for so many reasons.
If you’re married or in a committed relationship, and you’re cheating on your spouse or your partner, you may feel terrible – or at least mildly guilty! – about the deception, the dishonesty, and the infidelity. Your situation may go against the grain of your ethics and values, and you may desperately wish to get your business in order and get back to living a life of honesty and integrity as quickly as possible.
But. But, but, but.
On the other hand, your connection with your New Person may be nothing short of miraculous, and you may feel deliriously happy in addition to being very stressed out. You feel more connected to your paramour than you ever have to anyone else before. The sex is amazing. You feel more alive than you have in a long, long time. And you think that maybe this new relationship is more than just a passing infatuation or a symptom of a midlife crisis.
The contrasting emotions are pretty intense, to put it mildly. Guilt and elation. Anxiety and delight. Hope and dread.
And then of course there’s the whole question of what exactly you’re going to DO about the whole thing.
Do you want to run off with your New Person and end your marriage? Do you want to end your affair and recommit to your marriage? Do you want an open marriage, so you can have a relationship with both parties – and anyone else who catches your eye? Do you want to run off to the woods, build yourself a log cabin, and live a life of celibacy and solitude from here on out?
That last option might be sounding pretty good right about now.
It’s kind of hard to think straight, under the circumstances.
And if that weren’t bad enough, you’ve discovered that there isn’t a whole of advice out there for people who are currently having affairs. You’ve found tons of guidance on how to affair-proof your marriage, and how to repair your marriage after you’ve had (and ended) and affair.
But if you’re currently having an affair, that sort of advice is not exactly helpful. It doesn’t speak to your situation at all.
You know you want Figure It Out and Do The Right Thing… the only problem is, you have no idea what it would mean to do the right thing, under the circumstances. And you have no idea how to figure out what it would mean.
I get it. Life is complicated sometimes. Relationships can get messy. If you’re having an affair, you need help figuring out what you truly want, and what you’re going to do about it – not just prescriptive advice telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
I’m a relationship coach, and I believe that if you’re having an affair, you’re entitled to guidance that recognizes the fullness of your humanity and the complexity of your situation. You deserve advice that isn’t just thinly veiled judgment. (If you want help with your situation, click here to schedule a free 30 minute consultation with me.)
So if you’re cheating on your spouse, here are 7 questions you can ask yourself to help you dial down the confusion and start to figure out what you want to do about your affair.
1. DO I WANT TO STAY MARRIED TO MY SPOUSE?
It’s a very simple question, but for many people, it’s really hard to answer.
Do you know what the answer to this question is for you? If so, what can you do with that knowledge?
If you don’t know the answer to this question, why don’t you know? Are you afraid of being honest with yourself? Are you confused? What would it take for you to not be confused anymore? What would it take for you to be honest with yourself?
If answers to these questions don’t come easily, move onto the next ones.
2. HOW HAPPY AM I WITH MY LIFE AS A WHOLE RIGHT NOW?
Sometimes having an affair has more to do with distracting yourself from a major area of dissatisfaction in your life – or maybe, generalized dissatisfaction with your life as a whole – than anything else.
Are you satisfied with your work, or the way you spend your productive time? How satisfying are your relationships – aside from your marriage and your affair? Do you have creative pursuits, or hobbies you enjoy? Do you derive meaning from your days? Are there projects or pursuits you’ve been putting off or avoiding?
If you’re kinda miserable, having an affair can be a great source of pleasure – and a great way to distract yourself from the root cause(s) of your misery.
It can be a lot easier to have an affair than to sit down and write that novel you know you have within you, but can’t seem to start.
It can be a lot easier to have an affair than face your growing realization that you hate the career you’ve devoted your life to.
It can be a lot easier to have an affair than face any number of challenges that you don’t know how to deal with.
Here’s why: romantic relationships can make us feel GREAT. Add the good feelings of being loved and desired and appreciated by someone new to the excitement of sneaking around and doing something kinda crazy and reckless, and you have a very potent cocktail of distraction.
The affair becomes an all-consuming problem in and of itself, and voila! You now have a great justification for relegating all of the other problems in your life to the back burner.
So if you’re having an affair and you’re not sure what you want to do about it, it’s worth taking a thorough look at your life as a whole. Is the affair just a red herring – a distraction from some important piece of karmic business you’re avoiding?
3. WHAT DO I EXPECT FROM A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP?
As a society, we have a lot of interesting ideas about what romantic relationships are supposed to be like. Many of them come from the romantic-industrial complex, which churns out a whole bunch of messages about romantic relationships being a constant source of bliss and happiness and connection and kinds of other wonderful stuff.
So it’s no wonder that many of us develop a bunch of unrealistic expectations about how our relationships should be. And these, if unexamined, can set us up for all kinds of disappointments in our romantic lives.
Do you know what your expectations of romantic relationships are? If you do, what are they? Now is as a great time to make them as explicit as possible. Are these expectations serving you well?
If you don’t know, here are a few questions to help you make your unconscious expectations a little more conscious:
What you ideally want out of a relationship? Put differently, what purposes do you want a relationship to serve in your life? What’s important to you in a relationship, and why is it important? What makes a relationship “right” for you?
What makes a relationship “wrong” for you? If a good relationship becomes less good, why does that happen? What won’t you tolerate in a relationship?
Being clear on your expectations and preferences makes it a lot easier to make decisions about your relationships. Trying to decide if you should leave your spouse and whisk your new person off to Bora Bora? Don’t bother attempting to make that decision unless you’re clear on what’s important to you in a relationship first.
4. WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT MY AFFAIR?
Being really honest with yourself about what’s great about your affair is essential to thinking clearly about the affair, and deciding what to do about it.
Getting really specific about the good things about your affair might lead you to realize you’re experiencing a case of shiny object syndrome. Upon close scrutiny, an exciting new relationship might not have quite as much substance as you initially thought. Maybe it was mostly about excitement, or distraction, or an impulse to rebel against your marriage, or powerful but fleeting attraction. Sometimes a shiny object is just a shiny object.
But sometimes we’re so fixated on the “wrongness” of our affair and the stressful aspects of our predicament that we don’t allow ourselves to believe that sometimes things that glitter really are gold. Affairs don’t have to end in tragedy and ruin. It’s possible you’ve met someone wonderful, and even if the circumstances of your meeting might be a little, er, complicated, the two of you could have a great future together.
And of course, if you decide to end the affair, knowing what you loved about that relationship can inform the ways you approach your marriage, going forward.
5. WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT MY MARRIAGE?
Long-term relationships are bound to have their share of lows points and rough patches. If your marriage seems to have been in an endless low point, it may be pretty easy to focus on everything that’s wrong with the relationship, and wrong with your spouse.
When do you hold ‘em, and when do you fold ‘em?
If you have an endless list of things that are wrong with your spouse or your marriage, it could be a signal that it’s time to walk away, or maybe even run.
But it could also be a sign that you’ve gotten into the habit of focusing on what’s wrong in your relationship, instead of what’s right. It could be an indication that it’s time to reevaluate your expectations of your marriage. It could be that you’re miserable in some way or another, and don’t know what to do about it – and your spouse and your marriage have become scapegoats for all your woes.
Deciding to leave a relationship from a place a recognizing what’s good about it, but knowing that you prefer something else is very different from leaving a relationship with a long list of its deficiencies, or a long list of your spouse’s failings. (This is also true of your relationship with the person you’re having the affair with, of course.)
So what’s good about your marriage? Get as specific as you can. Make a list. And when you think you’re done, make the list even longer.
6. WHAT AM I AFRAID OF?
So many of us make relationship decisions based on fear. For example…
Some people stay in marriages they don’t want to stay in because they’re scared of what will happen if they leave their spouse. They’re sure the divorce will bring about financial changes or custody battles, and it seems “safer” to avoid these possibilities than face them.
Some people stay in marriages because they’re scared they’ll never find a partner again (and yes, this is true even for people who are currently married and having an affair).
Some people think that if they’ve cheated once, they’ll be doomed forever, because they’ll be incapable of fidelity, or branded with a scarlet letter “A,” or both, or worse.
Those are just a few examples. Humans find all kinds of things to be afraid of.
That isn’t going to stop anytime soon. If given the chance, our minds can always find something to be afraid of. Experiencing fear is an inevitable part of the human experience.
And that isn’t an entirely bad thing! In and of itself, fear isn’t inherently problematic. Nor is it a signal that whatever scary thing we’re anticipating is necessarily going to happen – or that we couldn’t handle it if it did.
The trouble is that many of us don’t know what to do with our fear, so we let it dictate our lives to one degree or another. And when we make decisions based on fear, or based on avoiding our fears, we don’t often like the results of our choices.
The good news is that we can learn how to develop a conscious relationship with fear, and when we do, it doesn’t run our lives anymore.
Changing your relationship with fear begins with getting clear on what you’re afraid of. Naming your fears and acknowledging them fully is the first step in the process of defusing them.
So what are you afraid of?
7. IF I WERE NOT WORRIED ABOUT ANYONE ELSE’S FEELINGS, WHAT WOULD I DO DIFFERENTLY STARTING RIGHT NOW?
Most of us have gotten the message that we are, at least to some extent, responsible for other people’s feelings. Especially our romantic partner’s feelings. Or partners’ feelings, as the case may be.
I think this message is well-intentioned. Consideration for those around us helps make the world go ‘round.
But here’s the deal: We are not responsible for other people’s feelings. Period.
I know that runs counter to what many of us have heard! I know we all go around saying things like, “He hurt my feelings!” or “She made me mad!” or “They made me feel bad about myself!”
But that isn’t how it works. Nobody can make us feel anything. Our thoughts – not other people’s words or actions – cause our feelings. What we think about what other people do or say is what makes us feel however we feel, not their actions or words in and of themselves.
The converse is also true. We can’t make anyone else feel anything, either. What we say and do cannot cause anyone to feel a certain way. Their perceptions of what we say and do create their feelings.
That doesn’t let us off the hook from being considerate, though.
We are responsible for our actions – even though we can’t predict or control how other people will ultimately feel about our actions.
So in every situation in life – both the excruciatingly difficult and the incredibly mundane – our job is to do our best. Whatever that may mean in that moment. And then other people will respond in whatever ways they do, and we can again do our best as we respond to their responses. That’s it. We can’t control how everything will unfold. We can only learn how to take greater responsibility for ourselves, and how we participate in life.
Often, our ideas about what it means to “do the right thing” are predicated upon how we think other people will feel about our actions, or react to what we do. And a healthy dose of consideration is great. But no matter how considerate of others you attempt to be, you don’t have control over how they feel about you and what you do.
The fear of other people’s responses leads many people to do things they really don’t want to do. And to refrain from doing things they really want to do.
If you trusted that you are responsible for what you do, but have no control over how other people feel about it, what would be different? What decisions might be easier to make? What would you do differently, starting right now?
Having an affair, deciding what you want to do about it, actually doing that, and riding out the transitions that result from your choices may end up being a pretty challenging moment in your life.
And it may also be a watershed opportunity for positive change.
Dealing with an affair can provide the impetus for you to get more honest with yourself than you’ve ever been before. This will enable you to be honest with others in new ways, which will lead to stronger relationships. You can emerge from this experience more certain about what you want, and what’s important to you – in your romantic relationships, and in your life as a whole. You can redefine your ethics and values, and recommit to living in accordance with them.
You might also develop a little more appreciation of life’s complexities, and little more compassion for yourself and others.
There could be all kinds of other unexpected positive changes in your life, too.
And hey, there’s always the option to run off to the woods, build a log cabin, and live a life of solitude and celibacy.
If you're having an affair and want help figuring out what to do, let's talk. Schedule a free 30 minute consultation with me today.