Is an affair healthy?


Is an affair healthy?


your avatar   Bobbye, 53-year-woman

I have been married for 30 years to a man I do not love. I am a mother of two grown children and a grandmother of one. Is it possible to have an affair with someone for over two years and still maintain a normal life with my family?


    Margaret Burr, MA, MFT

Dear Bobbye,

I chose your question because I just finished an article entitled, The Anatomy of an Affair that will soon be published in a woman's magazine. So while it is still fresh, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on it. Rather than answering your question directly now, I would like to give you my "little lecture" on intimacy, which is the underpinning of a loving relationship between two people.

Intimacy is the unique bond between two people that links them together emotionally, spiritually and sexually. The meshing of these elements forms the cornerstone of a monogamous relationship and explains in part, its distinctiveness to the human species. It also explains why its absence foretells non-exclusivity, suggesting that successful and healthy relationships require more than sex to function. It is the feeling of connectedness that forms the basis of intimacy making it possible for relationships to grow and sustain the challenges that are often brought on by stress, illness, and work and family problems. Intimacy is the glue that holds relationships together taking over when the intense passion of a new relationship transforms into a more enduring union based on common values, love and commitment.

For intimacy to develop and be sustained, a person must feel valued, cherished and respected by their partner. These feelings signify equity and balance in a relationship and secure the bond between the partners. Equally important is the need for effective communication of these feelings because without it, a rift can develop. If not reversed, the link between partners is at risk of being lost. Thus the greatest threat to intimacy is not exposure to attractive people of the opposite sex, but the inability of a couple to feel and communicate their connectedness to each other.

The circumstances that contribute to the fracturing of the intimate bond are diverse but most often involve transferring emotional energy that was once directed toward the relationship to other sources such as career, children, outside interests and friends. While good relationships can weather temporary emotional absences, if they go on indefinitely, they too will suffer. Under these conditions people may reconnect emotionally and spiritually with someone outside of their relationship by once again fulfilling their needs for acceptance and understanding. Relationships such as these often begin benignly but may later evolve by becoming sexual. This pattern is most typical of "affairs of the heart", affairs that pose the greatest threat to the primary relationship.

Now to answer your question. You have stated that you are in loveless marriage. Two things come to mind: 1) Your having an affair is probably not a breach in intimacy. In other words, the "cheating" is not on an emotional level since the feelings have been gone for quite a while. 2) We all have a need to be loved and feel connected. From what you write, you are not connected to or loved by your spouse but it appears as if you are with and by your lover. The challenge remains, how do you reconcile this with yourself and your lifestyle? As in many things there are many trade offs. In your case, it is happiness and fulfillment for deception (and all that goes with it) and the inability for you to share your life totally with your lover. You asked, can you still carry on a normal family life? The answer is, I guess so. But it means compartmentalizing your life and living in two different worlds.

The more important question is, "do you think you can do it?" Look deep inside yourself and examine your values, morals and lifestyle. If you are fine with it, then why not. If you cannot then, examine your options such as separation, divorce and what is becoming more popular, a "living arrangement". The latter is an arrangement where two people agree to maintain the structure of their legal marriage (housing, finances, family obligations) but lead separate lives socially etc. This does away with the deception, lessening the emotional burden.

I hope this has been helpful and best wishes.

Reena Sommer

This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit:


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