The term “lifelong extramarital affairs” can be intriguing and confusing. After all, we’re conditioned to associate the idea of infidelity with a scintillating, short-lived romance that fizzles out as sporadically as it starts. Besides, one might wonder, if two people are emotionally invested in each other enough to keep cheating on their primary partner/s for life, why won’t they just end that relationship to be with one another?
Well, simply put, relationships and the people in them are often too complex to be cast into boxes of right and wrong, just and unjust. Understanding long-term affairs requires a more nuanced insight into the driving factors behind the choice of infidelity, which can range from a sense of unfulfillment in the primary relationship (be it emotional, sexual, or intellectual) to unhealed emotional wounds, past traumas, attachment patterns, unresolved feelings for a former partner, and so much more.
Let’s delve deeper into these factors to understand the driving force behind extramarital relationships that last a lifetime, in consultations with relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa (internationally certified in the therapeutic modalities of EFT, NLP, CBT, REBT, etc), who specializes in different forms of couples counseling, including extramarital affairs counseling.
Reasons why some affairs last for years
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Why are affairs so hard to end? What is the foundation of long-term affairs? Do long-term affairs mean love? These questions become even more intriguing considering that the research suggests that the transition to successful relationships from affairs is rare. Fewer than 25% of cheaters leave their primary partners for an affair partner. And only 5 to 7% of affairs lead to marriage.
Why would people prefer to lead a double life and the stress that comes with it rather than choose to be with the person they desire enough to betray the trust of their partner/spouse? It can seem like a simple question but real life is rarely so black-and-white. From social pressures to familial obligations, the guilt of tearing up a family, and the stability that marriage can offer, there are so many factors that can make infidelity seem like an easier choice to most people. Here are some other reasons for an extramarital affair lasting years:
- Two people who are unhappy in their current relationships may find solace in one another, leading to strong feelings that can make the extramarital relationship last for years
- Being in an abusive marriage or dealing with a narcissistic spouse might lead to successful extramarital affairs if walking away is not an option the victim
- When a person doesn’t believe in or grows out of the concept of monogamy, they may fall in love with someone new while still caring for their primary partner. In such situations, they may feel inclined to be in more than one relationship at a time. It’s important to point out here, that when this happens without the informed consent of the primary partner, it still constitutes as cheating
- People grappling with marital problems may find a safe space in an affair partner, leading to a strong emotional attachment that can make infidelity last for years
- When a person find the emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy lacking in their primary relationship with someone else, it can lay the foundation of a strong connection that can be hard to break
- The validation and thrill of cheating can be addictive, making people want to keep going back for more
- The presence of an ex or a former partner for whom one still has unresolved feelings can be a strong trigger for a lasting affair
- Getting away with cheating can embolden a cheater to keep up with the transgression
9 Truths About Lifelong Extramarital Affairs
Lifelong extramarital affairs are rare but they have always existed. More often than not, such affairs happen when both parties are married. One such example is the affair between then Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, which ultimately led to his divorce from Princess Diana. Charles married Camilla in 2005. One of the most famous affairs of our times, it created quite a furor and continues to be talked about even today.
While not every long-term affair may trace the same trajectory, there are quite a few instances of such liaisons lasting years and turning into a source of great emotional and physical support for both partners involved. Explaining what keeps two married people cheating with each other hooked, Shivanya says, “It is hard to define the timeline for how long do affairs last. However, the one factor that separates a long-term affair from one that fizzles out quickly is a strong emotional connection between the two partners.
“If the affair is based solely on raw passion, no matter how compelling, it will die its own death sooner or later. Perhaps, if the affair comes to light, one of the partners or both may back out. Or when the thrill of the physical connection fades away, they may realize that it’s not worth the risk of putting their marriage in jeopardy. But when affairs turn into love or stem from a deep love, they can last a lifetime.”
These factors can make understanding long-term affairs somewhat easier. For better clarity, let’s explore these 9 truths about lifelong extramarital affairs:
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1. Lifelong affairs often happen when both parties are married
Lifelong extramarital affairs usually happen between two people when they are already married. Despite a strong romantic love, deep emotional connection, and raw passion, they may feel more inclined to continue the affair rather than walk out of their respective marriages because they do not want to tear their families apart.
In this dynamic, also lies the answer to: Why are affairs so hard to end? While they may feel guilty about breaking up a home or hurting their children and spouses, the strong feelings they have for each other may compel them to keep gravitating toward each other. This paves the way for long-term affairs between two besotted souls who are constantly trying to strike a balance between the moral obligations of marriage and their emotional needs.
Shivanya, who has dealt with many such stories of long-term affairs as a counselor, shares one. “I counseled a couple where the wife had been having an affair with a younger man for the past 12 years because her husband was paralyzed, and a lot of her emotional and physical needs were unmet in the marriage. At the same time, she knew how much her husband needed her and didn’t want to forsake their bond.
“The affair came to light when her grown-up children, aged 18 and 24, read chats between their mother and her partner. Of course, all hell broke loose. However, with counseling, the husband and the kids were able to gain acceptance of the fact that the relationship was based on mutual respect and love, and not just driven by lust. They slowly came around to the idea that the woman cared for and loved both the men in her life,” she says.
2. When affairs turn into love, they can last for years
When affairs turn to love, they can last a lifetime. Take, for instance, the affair between Hollywood stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. A fiercely independent and vocal woman, Hepburn, remained loyal to and madly in love with Spencer Tracy for 27 long years, knowing full well he was married.
Tracy didn’t want to divorce his wife Louise because he was a Catholic. Hepburn mentioned in her autobiography that she was totally smitten by Tracy. Theirs was one of the most famous affairs in Hollywood but Tracy kept it a secret from his wife. Theirs is one of those rare stories of long-term affairs where the partners were bound by a deep love for one another. They were never seen in public and maintained separate residences. But when Tracy fell ill, Hepburn took a 5-year break from her career and looked after him till his demise in 1967.
Shivanya describes the affair between Hepburn and Spencer as one sparked by a twin-flame connection. “Two married people cheating with each other can also be a manifestation of twin flames crossing paths with each other. Even if they try, they find it very hard to break off their relationship. Such connections can turn into lifelong affairs,” she explains.
3. Benefits of extramarital affairs can be a binding force
Extramarital relationships are seen as illegitimate and immoral by society, and the people engaging in them often find themselves at the receiving end of a lot of judgment. And in many ways, rightly so, after all, infidelity can be deeply traumatizing and emotionally scarring for the partner being cheated on. If you’ve ever wondered, “How do long-term affairs end?”, it is this fear of judgment, ostracization, and the guilt of hurting one’s partner that get in the way of even the most deep and passionate connections.
However, in some cases, the benefits of extramarital affairs can outweigh the fear of getting caught and the guilt of doing wrong by one’s partner. When that happens, partners in long-term affairs become each other’s support system. These benefits can include,
- Emotional support
- Sexual satisfaction
- Mitigating boredom and complacency in the primary relationship
- Improved self-esteem
- Greater life satisfaction
Shivanya agrees and adds, “A long-term affair is always rooted in a deep connection between both the partners, who despite not being married choose to stick by each other through thick and thin. They help each other in times of crisis and become a source of support and comfort. There is a genuine give-and-take of care and compassion. Therein lies the answer to, how can extramarital affairs last a lifetime.”
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4. A lifelong extramarital affair can be stronger than a marriage
An extramarital affair may not have any legal recognition and attract social disapproval, but when two people choose to be in such a relationship, not for a few weeks or months but many years, it is because they feel a deep love for each other. Sometimes, this bond can be stronger than a marriage. There are instances when partners in an extramarital affair have supported and sacrificed for each other in a way that many married couples don’t.
Gina Jacobson (name changed), whose mother was in a long extramarital affair with a neighbor, told us that when her father was diagnosed with cancer, it was Mr. Patrick who paid the bills and helped take care of him. Gina said, “When we were teenagers, we used to hate him for his intimacy with my mother. But we saw firsthand how they stuck by each other through the ups and downs, including the challenges in my mother’s married life, and it changed our perception of their relationship.”
Can extramarital affairs be true love? Gina’s experience makes the picture quite clear, doesn’t it? Now, whenever you find yourself questioning, “Can extramarital affairs last a lifetime?”, think of it this way: Just because these long-term affairs are not socially accepted, doesn’t mean they lack the sense of commitment and affection that binds people together in a lasting bond.
5. A long extramarital affair can cause extreme pain
How long do extramarital affairs usually last? Statistics suggest that 50% of affairs last anywhere from a month to a year, about 30% last two years and beyond, and some last a lifetime. Naturally, the duration of an extramarital relationship can complicate matters for everyone involved.
For one, if infidelity is short-lived, it is easy for the cheating partner to end it and for the transgression to go undetected. However, the longer an affair lasts, the higher the possibility of it being exposed. Besides, if two people have been together for years, their marital status notwithstanding, there is bound to be a strong emotional attachment between them, which can make snapping the cord that much harder.
Lifelong extramarital affairs can, thus, become a constant bone of contention in the marriage, causing it to break down or leave it permanently fractured. Accepting another person as an integral part of your married life can cause extreme pain and mental trauma to the partner being cheated on. Besides, the cheating partner may suffer from guilt and feel torn between their primary and affair partner.
6. Successful extramarital affairs are rare
Building successful relationships from affairs is extremely hard, and that’s why the stories of long-term affairs leading to a happily-ever-after are few and far between. When there is no future, why do some affairs last for years? This typically happens when the affair partners are genuinely in love with each other. Perhaps, they bonded over some shared issues or interests, and love bloomed. Or an old romantic connection that didn’t get its moment in the sun got revived.
Despite all the signs an affair is turning into love, keeping such a relationship afloat can be extremely hard and emotionally taxing. The affair partners may have to contend with the unpleasant feelings of jealousy, being discarded, and a sense of being a dirty little secret every time they have to hide their relationship from the real world or whenever one of them has to prioritize the primary relationship. This can lead to feelings of discontentment, resentment, and lead to conflict, which is why successful extramarital relationships are so hard to come by that it almost sounds like an oxymoron.
7. The double life can be mentally stressful
Can extramarital affairs last a lifetime? They can, but the effort that goes into maintaining two relationships, especially when the primary partner is neither aware of nor has consented to the presence of someone else in the equation, can become really stressful after a point. A sense of exhaustion and burnout can seep in, on account of,
- A constant balancing act between two relationships
- Meeting the emotional needs of two partners
- The fear of getting caught always playing on one’s mind
- If you’re still feel love for your primary partner, the guilt of hurting them can be all-consuming
- If you’ve fallen out of love with your primary partner, pretending to be invested in the relationship can fill you with frustration and resentment
If a person is choosing to stay in a marriage and not start afresh with their affair partner, there must be some compulsions – children, lack of resources to end a marriage, or not wanting to break up the family. In that case, how does one divide one’s time between the affair partner and family? When an affair is short-lived, these factors don’t come into play but in the case of long-term affairs, the dynamics can get emotionally draining and logistically taxing.
8. Technology has made it easier to sustain long-term affairs
Infidelity, be it short-lived or long-term, is a tale as old as time. However, in today’s day and age, technology has undoubtedly made it easier to start and sustain affairs. With endless options for instant communication at one’s fingertips, having an affair no longer requires careful planning and a methodical covering of one’s tracks. From voice and video calls to texting back-and-forth, and sexting, the virtual world offers ample avenues for people to form a strong connection with one another without having to connect in the real world as often.
This makes sustaining an extramarital relationship and getting away with cheating a whole lot easier. Besides, knowing that you can reach out to your affair partner any time of the day, even with your spouse/primary partner right next to you, adds to the temptation and makes it harder to put an end to such a relationship. Online affairs are not only reshaping the ideal of fidelity in modern relationships but also offering a new model of sustenance to existing romantic love outside one’s marriage or primary relationship.
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9. You may feel obligated to continue a long-term affair
A successful, lifelong extramarital affair may be rooted in great sexual chemistry and a deep emotional bond, but sometimes, people involved in such complicated relationships may feel stuck. Just because they’ve been with their affair partner a long time, they may feel a certain obligation to carry on the relationship.
They may struggle to end the affair because it becomes a habit that they cannot do without or they are in it because they cannot imagine their affair partner with someone else. But in reality, they feel trapped and stuck and they are often left with the feeling that they lost too much to continue the affair.
Shivanya says that in such cases, counseling can offer a fresh perspective with which one can uncomplicate this equation. “A couple sought counseling because the husband was having an affair with a coworker for over 5 years and the wife was, naturally, angry and hurting. Over several sessions, they realized that their mismatched sex drives led to the man feeling rejected in the marriage and turning to his coworker who was going through a divorce, and the two developed a strong emotional and physical connection.
“Neither of them wanted to give up on the marriage but their sexual needs were still not in sync. At the same time, the husband cared for both his wife and affair partner. With counseling, they found a way to stay together by redefining the dynamics of their marriage, going from a traditional, monogamous union to an open relationship,” she explains.
- Lifelong affairs are rare, and inevitably, rooted in a deep emotional connection between the affair partners
- Infidelity, be it short-term or ongoing, can be deeply damaging to the primary relationship
- The reasons for some affairs last years can range from unhappy primary relationships to growing out of the idea of monogamy, validation, and unresolved feelings for a former partner
- An affair that lasts years can be a mixed bag of emotional support and fulfillment, deep love, mental stress, emotional pain, and a feeling of being stuck
Lifelong extramarital affairs are often a roller coaster of validation, gratification, and complications. Being aware of these aspects has become even more pertinent in the dynamic and disruptive times we live in. Shivanya concludes with these thoughts, “Monogamy has become an outdated concept, temptation is in our palms. Resetting expectations is the need of the hour. Expect your partner to be honest with you. Transparency is the new form of loyalty.” Acceptance makes dealing with transgressions easier, be it in the form of a long-term affair or a one-night stand.
It is rare but some extramarital affairs can last a lifetime. The extramarital affair of Hollywood stars Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy lasted for 27 years till Tracy died in 1967.
It is not possible to sustain long-term affairs if there is no love or emotional bonding, that we also call emotional infidelity. People do fall in love when they are in long-term affairs.
When it comes to long-term affairs, there is not only love and bonding, there is also a sense of belonging and a habit of being together. The affair becomes a part and parcel of their life, something without which they feel a sense of emptiness. That’s why it’s so hard to end it.
Society was polygamous at one time but gradually, to make things more organized and to make inheritance of property easier, monogamy was advocated. But basically, human beings can be polyamorous and love more than one person at the same time.
Affairs start when two people feel an attraction toward each other, when they feel that the other person will be able to fulfill what is lacking in the marriage, and when they are ready to cross social boundaries to be with each other.