The Challenge of a Relationship Founded on an Affair
When we look in on relationships, we rarely see what is really going on. If your partner has left you for the other woman, it can be agonisingly painful looking at all those pictures on Facebook showing him going off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams. It can seem as though their relationship is perfect. Those photographs can fuel a rage inside that can be difficult to overcome.
As a couples therapist, I have had the privilege of being able to go inside relationships that have been based on affairs and see what is really going on. I have noticed that these types of relationships have their very own challenges to overcome, that it is not necessarily all a passionate romance that goes off into the sunset for happily every after. If you have started your relationship based on an affair you may be familiar with some of the issues I am going to outline in this article.
The challenges of affair relationships
Issues with trust
Trust is fundamental to a relationship, without trust there is no relationship. Relationships that form out of affairs are formed on deceit, essentially if you are trying to form a relationship based on being unfaithful and lying to someone else. When he was in a relationship with his primary partner his answer to being unhappy was to form a relationship and have an affair with you.
There is always that fear that if he is unhappy again, he might have another affair and treat you with the same disrespect. At the beginning of the relationship, when you feel the excitement of finally being together you might find it impossible to image that he would ever do the same thing to you or that you could have another affair with someone else. However, when the stressors of life start to become real, there is always that doubt that perhaps he might do the same thing to you again.
Similar to a rebound relationship
A relationship that starts as an affair can be very similar to a rebound relationship. The idea that you protect yourself from the hurt of losing someone in the arms of someone else. Affair relationships can be avoidance. The affair starts because there are issues in the primary relationship, then when the primary relationship fails, and or the affair it discovered he has a relationship to go to so he stays safe and doesn’t have to deal with the challenge or fear of being on his own.
Relationship based on fantasy and escape
Affair relationships aren’t real. They are a distraction and escape out of life. The relationship is a series of perfect dates in a bubble where the couple does not interact with real life. Both are on their best behaviour, no burping or farting. The relationship isn’t full time, and this means that the couple are on their best behaviour. There are periods of separation when emotions are managed, which means the couple may argue less, or if they do argue there is the capacity to leave and cool down, in another life that is separate to the affair. This means the couple often fantasise about how perfect their relationship is without really knowing each other. This creates a very unrealistic expectation of what life would be like together and can set the relationship up to fail.
Acceptance of friends and family
Affairs create very strong reactions for people. If family and friends are aware that your relationship started with an affair they can be very judgemental. Your partner may be a really good person, but it may take a lot of perseverance for family members to understand this and accept your partner. This can create friction for the couple and be very isolating. It can also create conflict not just with your partner but with other family members as well. Some relationships are not strong enough to handle this kind of stress.
What motivated the affair
Relationships that start on affairs often have the legacy of the partner’s primary relationship sitting in the background. If the affair starts because he has had a long-term relationship where he initially felt he was in love and has just grown apart from his partner, and is with you to feel as though he is in love again this can present problems for the relationship. Especially if he feels disillusioned with you because the relationship starts to become real with real pressures and real stress. If your partner is grieving the loss of his primary relationship, this may also create stress as it may be difficult for you to make space for this given how insecure you may feel that he will return to his long term relationship because of the familiarity and pull his original partner may have over him. If however, the primary relationship had difficulties this may give the new relationship a better chance of succeeding because if there has never been that feeling of being in love, and a lot of bitterness and resentment has built up, this can fuel the man’s motivation to continue to work on the relationship and manage any expectations he may have that the relationship will be perfect.
Ideally, relationships should be based on honesty, both with each other and the other significant people in our lives. Relationships that are not working out should be resolved and ended before starting a new relationship. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, and feelings get in the way. People who have resolved never to have an affair can find themselves doing exactly that. The important thing is that you recognise the challenges that you may face if you decide to start a relationship based on an affair and take steps to manage them. As an outsider looking in, especially if you are the person who has been left, know that relationships that start on affairs have many challenges and may not always be as happy as they appear on the surface.
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