The real cost of having an extramarital affair

People still resort to infidelity as the excuse, often unconscious, to end a difficult relationship. Many couples, however, choose to stay together after one or both has been unfaithful.

You enter into an exclusive, romantic, sexual relationship in good faith.

You have the intention of “forever,” in spite of knowing the statistics on marriage casualty. I certainly did, and I completely believed my partner did too… each time. (We just celebrate the 31st anniversary of our third marriage.)

In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, marriages lasted between eight and nine years, ending in the death of one. As people started living longer, divorce gradually replaced death. Up to 1970 infidelity was the only grounds for divorce in Canada.

Then, as increasing numbers of committed couples didn’t legally marry, divorce laws became more liberal.

People still resort to infidelity as the excuse, often unconscious, to end a difficult relationship. Many couples, however, choose to stay together after one or both has been unfaithful.

So the big question I invite you to ponder is this: can a committed relationship fully recover after infidelity, without long-term costs?

Obviously, an exposed affair has short-term costs. Emotions run the gamut of betrayal, rage, grief, embarrassment and guilt. There may be temporary sleeping apart. If there are children present, they take on the stress too.

There may be psychotherapy and relationship therapy costs. The other man or woman may stalk or harass, leading to the legal costs of restraining orders.

The long-term costs are more subtle. Your partner desperately wants to have faith in you again, but even after years have passed, can’t seem to regain the former level of trust. You may be absolutely steadfast in your faithfulness, but you wonder how your partner could trust it to be true after what you did.

In the stress of this doubt, you think about having another affair, simply because it would be so easy.

If the affair ended without discovery or admission, there are still costs. You are permanently burdened with the knowledge that you have broken your commitment.

When your partner looks into your eyes with love and trust, you feel undeserving because you know what you did.

You resist your urge to confess, because you care about your partner and know how much it would hurt them.

It’s your problem, not theirs, so you resolve to carry it to the grave.

But you also know that in some circumstances people tend to confess to old transgressions. Circumstances include minor brain injury, terminal illness, dementia and, most common of all, alcohol intoxication. All you can do is hope you’ll dodge these bullets. Affairs can indeed carry heavy long-term costs, but the costs to the heart and spirit may be the highest.

Perhaps that is why so many relationships end after just one.

Dr. Neill is a Central-Island Registered Psychologist. You can reach him for an appointment at 250-752-8684 or through his website www.neillneill.com/contact.