What Purpose Does An Affair Serve?
Could An Affair Save Your Marriage? crack
Extra-marital affairs have long been considered the scourge of any relationship. But what if they actually helped save your marriage? Couples tell us their views, as research shows that affairs are on the rise across the UK.
When Rachel married her best friend, 12 years ago, she was over the moon. Chris was doting, funny, kind and thoughtful - a respite from the intense and heady relationships of her past.
There was just one problem: he didn’t want to have sex.
“Our sex life was never brilliant, as it would happen only once every month if I didn’t initiate it,” says the 42-year-old fitness instructor.
“Soon it dwindled to once every six months, and then, three years ago, it stopped entirely.”
Communicating on the issue got them nowhere, she says, as her husband “just seemed to shut down on the issue”.
“Not having sex made me feel unwanted and rejected, but our relationship was great apart from that fact. So, rather than push him to do it or make us go to counselling, I thought I’d just take care of myself - and have an affair instead.”
However unfair it might seem to those trapped in difficult relationships, having an affair is almost always frowned upon by others.
But what if an affair could save your marriage?
According to Sara Hartley of illicitencounters.com (the UK’s largest extra-marital dating website at nearly 500,000 members), people are beginning to consider relationships in a new light.
“They’re increasingly being seen as a device intended to strengthen a marriage, rather than dissolve it,” she says.
“It seems, unlike Cheryl and Ashley Cole, many British couples are choosing to stick together, for better and for worse.”
Paradoxically, while the rate of divorce caused by infidelity is at an all-time low, according to government statistics, affairs are fairly common.
Recent research by OnePoll, commissioned by IllicitEncounters.com found that two million Brits are currently cheating on their spouses. Such affairs have also become much easier thanks to sites such as maritalaffair.co.uk, www.lovinglinks.co.uk, and illicitencounters.com, which has grown from a handful of members in 2003 to nearly half a million today.
For Rachel, it was only through joining Illicit Encounters - which she’d read about in a magazine - that she realised “just how many people were in the same situation as me”.
“Finding someone I could be with wasn’t just about sex but the emotions that come along with sex - feeling wanted and attractive and desirable,” she says, having now found a ‘boyfriend’ on the site who makes her “cherish the days when I can go out and get dressed up for somebody who compliments me and wants to be with me”.
“I feel like a bit of a school girl when I go out with him, as I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.”
While some members use a false name while out on an “encounter”, others - including Rachel - are less cautious, choosing to share their real names, addresses and even phone numbers.
The allure of finding someone who might “understand you” is too strong to resist the temptation, explains Jack, 37, a commercial manager who’s had five affairs since October last year.
“I’ve been with my wife since my early 20s and feel like I’ve changed a lot as a person since then. But when you’ve been in a relationship for a while, you get characterised as to how you are or should be,” he explains, stressing that he started having affairs to “try and figure out who [he was] as a person - not just to have sex”.
“I tried new hobbies, tried getting her to go out more, but after a bit it just reverted to how it always was.”
“It got to the point that I just wanted to find out who I am and see myself in my present age - rather than how I’ve been viewed or acted in the past.”
The effect has been positive, he says, resulting in his being more attentive to his wife and children (aged 6 and 9), more patient, and more willing to discuss issues rather than argue over them. It’s also made him romantic, although that romance is usually reserved for his mistresses, not his wife.
Like Rachel, who is loathe to leave her husband and prefers to protect him from the “pain and betrayal” of her affair, Jack also prefers to stay married - despite being unhappy both emotionally and sexually.
“Having an affair is helping me to figure things out in an informed way,” he clarifies.
“I could stay together with my wife and 10 years down the line find both of us in our late 40s unable to move on. Or I could make a snap decision and leave today, then realise that I made the wrong choice.
“Doing this allows me to work through the pros and cons and decide from there.”
Rachel and Jack might consider their affairs a form of personal therapy, but they’re not helpful to their marriages, warns Denise Knowles, a relationship counsellor at Relate. www.relate.org.uk
“Very often, people think it’s too late to get counselling in their marriage and use that as a justification for not trying, and choosing to take matters into their own hands, perhaps by having an affair.
“But what purpose does the affair serve? They may actually believe it helps them get through a rough patch in their marriage, but without actually talking about it to their partner, they’ll never solve the problem.”
Affairs may be on the increase and therefore, increasingly normal, she says, but the very idea of even having an affair is a “warning sign for you to take action, to do something pro-active about your relationship”.
Rachel and Jack’s worries about hurting their partners are accurate, says Knowles.
“An affair is nothing short of a betrayal and means the relationship will never be the same,” says Knowles.
But that change needn’t be negative, Knowles stresses.
Rachel, however, is not so sure.
“I know he would be so betrayed if he found out,” she admits. “If our roles were reversed, how could I not feel rejected, or wonder if everything we ever had was just a lie?”