What are the consequences of affairs between married couples? This is a question that is often on our minds when we see two married people locked in an extramarital affair. In fact, writers, filmmakers, and creative artists have tried to answer this question through their respective mediums. In this context, I would like to mention two films that showed two starkly different consequences of affairs when both parties are married. One is Damage (1991) and the other is Little Children (2006), made 15 years later (spoilers ahead).
Interestingly, Damage depicts a rather realistic view of what happens when two people who are in relationships start cheating and get embroiled in an extramarital affair. Little Children, on the other hand, takes a more utopian view of two married people having an affair, with both getting away with their transgressions without consequences.
But can the two relationships remain unscathed and unscarred when both cheaters are married? Psychologist Jayant Sundaresan guided us to understand the dynamics of two married people falling in love and embarking on an extramarital affair.
Do Affairs Between Married Couples Last?
This is a million-dollar question and there is no statistic to back my answer with. But if we go by our observations in real life, we can say these affairs don’t last, or hardly a few of them do. As they showed in Little Children, the two married people involved in the extramarital affair were ready to leave home and elope but couldn’t bring themselves to.
While Sarah changes her mind at the last minute and decides she belongs with her family, her beau, Brad, meets with an accident on his way to meet her. When the paramedics arrive, he chooses to call his wife over his lover. That’s to be expected when two married people having an affair are forced to choose between their love interest and spouse (and perhaps children too). That’s why affairs, when both parties are married, are usually flippant.
Very few married people take the step to move out of their respective marriages and most usually go back to their respective partners or continue the relationship until the whistle is not blown on them. The ending of Damage is even more dramatic. A married man continues his affair on the sly with his son’s fiance only to be discovered in bed with her by the son. The distraught young man stumbles down a stairwell to his death, costing the two people caught in the affair everything.
Let’s hear from our expert about the usual duration of affairs between married friends, colleagues, or acquaintances, and more importantly – why they end. According to Jayant, “Typically, most of the survey results suggest that such affairs last for a few months or up to a year. And one-third of them last beyond two years.”
Jayant talks about the reasons for married people cheating on their respective partners, “For most people, the feeling of being in love disappears slowly and the regular, boring life floats back. Those quirks and unique traits which they found so endearing in their lover once upon a time, start to fade away. The red flags and the irritating aspects take their place.
“You fall for this new person because they are willing to offer you certain things that your spouse cannot (or doesn’t want to). Plus, there is that initial spark and the rush of chemicals surging through your bloodstream when you are in an affair. People want to recapture that feeling of being in love after getting stuck in a monotonous married life for years.
“Since you are seeing each other for only a little portion of your day, and not staying with them 24×7, the red flags take time to come to the surface. But at the end of the day, the best version of you and the best version of them expire. And that is when you realize the affair is actually getting over.”
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What happens when both are married but have fallen in love?
This is not to say affairs between married couples don’t last. It depends on how serious two people are about the affair. Usually, people look for things – consciously or unconsciously – that they lack in their marriage and once they get it from someone else, they are satisfied. Emotional affairs or lust are common in extramarital affairs. That’s why when guilt and shame kick in, they try to go back and reconcile in the marriage. Naturally, married couple affairs don’t last in such cases.
But there are people with abusive partners or irresponsible spouses who are desperate to get out of the marriage. As it happened with Ashley, an actress, and her husband Ritz, a director. They were friends initially, but they were in troubled marriages. They fell for each other, divorced their respective partners, and are happily married now. In this case, two married people having an affair led to a happily-ever-after.
When in an extramarital affair, both people are married but have fallen in love, it is important to take a firm call on the future of your respective marriages as well as the relationship. Are you ready to leave your spouses and start a life together? Or will you sacrifice your love for the sake of saving your marriage? This is never an easy call to make, but you can’t go on living a double life.
How do affairs between married couples start?
This is another tricky question. But let me start by saying that affairs between married couples are common. Statistics show that 30-60% of married couples in the US have extramarital affairs at some point or other. A survey conducted by the Gleeden dating app in India showed that 7 out of 10 women cheat on their spouses to escape unhappy marriages.
Starting an extramarital affair seems to be the easiest thing nowadays as it’s not hard to stay in touch with each other in this online era. Most affairs start with conversations. And thanks to social media, instant messaging, and video calling apps, there is no dearth of avenues to kickstart conversations and keep them going.
When two people are married to others, it often happens that they meet socially a number of times before they start meeting secretly and the affair takes off. Social meet-ups continue after that as well, to maintain the deception. Office friendships often turn into office affairs. Sometimes, people meet on dating apps too. Or they could have been friends for ages when suddenly they feel more intimate than before and an affair takes off.
It’s hard to pinpoint how an extramarital affair between two married people exactly starts, but in the modern era, there is no paucity of ways in which it can. Let’s see what Jayant has to say on this. “Many people get involved in extramarital affairs as they wish to feel attractive, to feel loved all over again. They enjoy being the center of attention in this new relationship which is sadly long lost in their marriage.
“It could also be a case of a missed opportunity with a flame from your past. An extramarital affair can also happen when the midlife crisis hits a person hard. Dating a much younger partner alleviates their frustration about feeling old and outdated. For some people, it’s the initial slow build-up and the freshness of an affair. And for some, it’s their unsatisfactory sex life that pushes them to bring a third person into the equation.
“If two partners got married way too early in life, that was clearly not a decision of a mature, developed state of mind. Five or ten years later, they might realize that they have completely outgrown their spouse. And that’s when married couples cheat on each other instead of having a frank conversation with their partner.”
Related Reading: Why A Cheating Person Shows No Remorse – 17 Astonishing Reasons
How do affairs impact the spouses when both cheaters are married?
Speaking about the consequences of an affair between married people on their respective spouses, psychological counselor and psychotherapist Sampreeti Das says, “An extramarital affair hardly stays hidden from the spouse. There may be difficulty opposing it due to multiple factors. Nevertheless, it leaves the other partner with questions about themselves and a compromised ability to trust another relationship.
“While the partner is not responsible for any provocation of the situation, they may hold themselves responsible for their spouse’s cheating. Then, there are psychological risk factors when someone’s spouse makes the choice of an extramarital affair. Apart from that, there may also be financial and legal risks involved.”
The long and short of it is that when both cheaters are married, the affair can turn messy very quickly. Take the example of Sherry and James whose marital bond took a severe hit after Sherry’s extramarital affair with an old friend from college. The two had a brief fling back in the day, and then got on with their lives. Years later, Sherry connected with her old flame on social media, and as the two got to talking, one thing led to another and they ended up getting romantically involved.
Sherry fell in love with this long-lost friend and came clean with James about it. But she was also in love with James and wasn’t ready to sacrifice her marriage for her affair. After spending some time apart, and going into couple’s therapy, the two decided to reconcile and stay together despite the infidelity. Healing from it has been a long journey for James. Even though he has made progress, he doesn’t feel he can trust Sherry completely even now, or perhaps ever.
While talking about the consequences of affairs when both parties are married, Jayant says, “The immediate effect on the cheated spouse will be that they are going to feel a betrayal of trust. They would go through a myriad of emotions such as anger, resentment, sadness, and loss of self-confidence and sexual confidence. They might even hold themselves responsible for the affair.
“Also, it is not about ‘will people find out?’, rather more about ‘when will people find out?’ When you are out there having an affair, you forget you are inviting a load of embarrassment for your spouse. Of course, people around you are going to talk about the incident. It will put your spouse through both physical and mental pain. Plus, you cannot overlook the negative impact of affair on the children and their developing view on marriage.
“The worst-case scenario is when the person with whom you have an affair is your spouse’s friend or a sibling. Then, it is a double hit as they are betrayed from two sides simultaneously. The spouse would have a huge amount of difficulty trusting anyone in the future, whether it’s this relationship or the next one. It becomes even harder if their partner shows warning traits of a serial cheater.”
Related Reading: Coping With Depression After Cheating On Someone – 7 Expert Tips
How do affairs between married couples end?
It’s true that most affairs between married couples do end because the burden of carrying on the affair is enormous. When married couples cheat on each other, it’s only a matter of time before they get caught. Once the affair is discovered, both the people involved in the affair have to deal with the allegations and anger of the respective spouses. And if children are involved, it becomes more complex.
The consequences of extramarital affairs between married couples are devastating at times. Also, it is seen that women find it harder than men to leave home or to put an end to a rotten marriage. As a result, it leads to further complications if the cheating couple was looking at a future together.
According to Jayant, “Usually, affairs between married friends end in a messy way. For example, if it was an office affair, there would be some awkwardness to work together with your ex-lover later on. When the major reason that this affair got started doesn’t get fulfilled anymore, then one person tries to step aside from the relationship. Getting caught is another obvious way that these affairs reach their doom. Also, if one person calls the whole thing off, and the other wishes to continue, the consequences can get real ugly.”
Although, there is no denying the fact that there are some rare life-long extramarital affair stories between married couples. Take this, for example: One man could not marry the love of his life because of social pressures, but they got together later in life when they were both married. They stayed in love for the next 20 years. He shares, “We survived because we kept it under wraps and lived in separate states and met very rarely. If it had been a full-blown affair and everyone came to know, we would probably have to give up because we both have grown-up children who would never accept it.”
Stuart, who is a college professor, is having an affair with a coworker. Both are married and have children. He says, “We both are married but we have fallen in love. It’s a very fulfilling relationship. I am not willing to let go. I will remain a dutiful husband and father but she is an important part of my life. My wife will have to accept that.”
As Anton Chekov puts in the last lines of his famous short story Lady With The Pet Dog, a story that looks into an affair between a married couple:
Then they spent a long while taking counsel together, talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long at a time. How could they be free from this intolerable bondage?
“How? How?” he asked, clutching his head. “How?”
And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.
Guess that’s the consequence of an affair between two married people. It stays complicated from the beginning to the end. You cannot simply say, “Everything is fair in love” and wash your hands off your relationship responsibilities toward your spouse.
Question your gut repeatedly if this feeling is truly love or a passing phase of infatuation. Suppose you leave your family, get married to your lover, and years later, you realize you have fallen out of love. Imagine the kind of difficulty and complication you would have to deal with at that point.
Jayant explains how married people cheating on their respective partners should ethically proceed, “If you see the signs your affair is turning into love, make provision for the people who are present in your family before starting a new one. Then exit the marriage legally. After that, live on your own for some time to introspect on your life choices and mindfully chalk out how you want to proceed to the next chapter.”
So, one last time, do you really want to exit this marriage? Or, is it the dull everyday life you are trying to escape by chasing this secret (yet exciting) parallel life? Have you tried everything in your power to make this marriage work? Because in the next marriage, although there will be a new partner, you will bring in the same set of thought processes and insecurities. Unless they are worked upon, it’s not going to be any different. Hopefully, you will think this through before taking a leap of faith.
Married people having affairs is almost always the result of something lacking in the marital bond. Rather than working on the underlying issues in the marriage, people take the easy route of supplementing the shortcoming in their marriage with an affair.
There is no way to generalize the reasons and the emotion behind an affair. It all depends on the two people involved. That said, getting into an extramarital affair because you fall in love with someone outside your marriage is just as common as cheating out of lust.
First of all, keeping an affair going at the cost of one’s marriage is very unlikely. In less than 25% of cases, people leave their spouses for their cheating partner. When it is the case of two married people having an affair, the odds are stacked further against the people carrying on the clandestine relationship.