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When You're in an Affair

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJuly 10, 2019
From the WebMD Archives

You are in an affair. Maybe you tell yourself that you didn’t mean for it to happen; regardless, you’re now in a messy situation with no clear path forward. While you don’t want to hurt your spouse, you also can’t imagine ending this new relationship that feels so right. So, now what? 

The best next step is to view your situation from a less emotional perspective. Brain research tells us that the more intensely people experience their emotions, the less active the logical parts of their brains become. This typically leads people to find evidence to support their emotionally driven thinking and react as though it were accurate in the external world. By being aware of this, you can choose to calm yourself and focus on more objective thinking.

In your marital situation, emotionally driven thinking probably magnifies the inadequacies of your spouse, and in turn, intensifies the passion in your affair. You might argue with yourself about how you shouldn’t feel as you do and even tell yourself that you should stop the affair. But burning passion tends not to listen to reason, leaving you to pursue the affair – despite wrestling with guilt.

One way people try to cope is to pretend that the affair isn’t that serious – that their feelings aren’t that strong. They might even try to break things off and move on. Then what typically happens is that their feelings move outside their conscious awareness – where they continue to have an influence. These people are surprised to find themselves in their lover’s arms again. They might think, I was ok avoiding her, but then she needed my help, and well… It can feel like fate. Instead, if you admit your feelings and look clearly at the problem, you can address it more effectively.

Lead with your head rather than your heart. And think about your values. After all, when the passion of your affair has subsided, you will still need to live with the results of your actions. So, consider them carefully.

For instance, think about your marriage vows and their importance to you. Also consider how the affair affects your thoughts and feelings about yourself, as well as how it can (and does) affect your spouse, children, lover, and anyone else who might be affected by it.

These thoughts may motivate you to want to improve your marriage. Keep in mind that to revive your marriage, you’ll need to give yourself over to it whole-heartedly. So, though you may feel tempted to keep up the affair until you know that your marriage is salvageable, trying to hold onto both relationships will in all likelihood not end well.

On the other hand, after thinking clearly about the situation, you might come to the conclusion that your marriage is effectively dead and that this new relationship is an opportunity for a new life. If that’s the case, you still need to think carefully about how to proceed. Your marriage is not currently over and still needs attention as you bring it to an end. The better you do at addressing this, the better chance you have at making a fresh start.

Of course, the choice is yours. But if you think your situation through clearly, you can at least direct the course of your marriage and your life.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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