What are the 4 stages of an affair?
Whether you’re the wife who was unfaithful, or the betrayed husband, learning about the normal four stages of an affair will help in the healing process.
You’ll recognize the signs and be able to navigate out of it easier.
The statistics show most affairs will take its course and will fizzle out eventually,
no matter how unique the affair partners think their relationship is.
So, after much research, counseling, and reading everything I could about affairs, I came to learn there are primarily 4 stages to most affairs.
STAGE 1: LITTLE STEPS OF COMPROMISE (playing with fire)
- There is period of time in our marriages, when we are the most vulnerable, to taking little steps of compromise.
These compromises can eventually lead us down the path into affair.
The first phase, even before stage one of an affair, is the condition the marriage is in.
Even “good marriages” can be vulnerable to infidelity.
- Is there unresolved resentment or miscommunication between you?
Has there been an unusual amount of stress or change recently?
These are just examples that can cause a marriage to be vulnerable to an affair.
So, what are the most common compromises people make, at this first stage of an affair?
- They become more interested in talking, and spending time, with another person, as a distraction to their own emptiness. (Statistics show an affair is most commonly someone they work with, or an old friend or lover that gets back in touch).
- They sense an attraction to the other person, and if they reciprocate, the attraction only deepens.
- They take extra time to get ready, to smell good, and look desirable and attractive before meeting this acquaintance or friend.
- They’re thinking more about this person, bordering on obsessive thinking, anticipating the next time they’ll see them.
- They may begin manipulating circumstances or events to be with this other person more often.
- Flirting: There is playful banter and conversations between them, that seem’ innocent’ enough, but these little compromises will eventually move that married person closer to an affair.
- They’re most likely not verbalizing it to anyone, even to themselves, but they begin fantasizing with the idea of being unfaithful.
- Other’s may recognize something is ‘off’ with these two and even bring it up, which makes the married individual defensive, usually declaring “we are just friends.”
- As these little steps of compromise progresses, a person is led down a path of justifying to themselves their own behavior.
- They’ll find themselves making excuses to continue in behaviors, which they would have never thought were acceptable before this.
This is how a normally ‘good person’, who would have never imagined they were capable of having an affair before, eventually falls right into its trap.
- When any of us make enough small compromises, we can easily find ourselves more willing to do things we wouldn’t have thought possible before.
- By this point, the married person has made a series of little decisions which led to little compromises.
Each compromise of their values inched them closer to having an affair. All the right words were said and they were seduced into an intense attraction.
- A disclosure of their feelings by one person often opens the door.
When one of them announces their attraction (however innocently it’s cloaked), that is the point of no return.
If the other person is interested, they see the opportunity. The line is crossed, and an affair starts.
The announcement of their feelings, or the connection they feel, is almost always the gateway to starting an affair.
- Also, if you’re friends with someone of the opposite sex, you are honestly at some risk.
I realize that is not always popular to say, but it’s true.
You can deny that, and say they are not your type, yet, studies have shown most people have affairs with someone who initially
was not ‘their type’ and people usually “affair down” from the type of person their spouse is.
(I also denied anything was wrong to my close friend at the time, when she mentioned concern about what she was seeing with me.
My husband even had serious concerns, before anything actually happened.
I denied it, and said this man wasn’t my type (which he normally wouldn’t have been) but he was right, I was heading right into a disaster).
STAGE 2- CROSSING THE LINE (the stage of secrecy)
- They begin to meet at secret locations, they feel alive and thrilled that another person finds them desirable and wanted.
The secrecy of the new affair fuels the intensity of emotions, and the passion is usually intense.
- They know what they’re doing is wrong, and often try to push aside their guilty feelings because the high from this forbidden fruit is
something they’re not willing to give up. These are the little compromises, still at work, to take the married spouse further from their
devotion to their spouse, and attaching their affections more to their affair partner.
What they don’t understand, is they’re basically on drugs, the drug within them literally, which is both dopamine and serotonin.
A little information on the chemical release in our brains.
- The brain chemical, dopamine, is the ‘feel good’ chemical. In this early stage of an affair, it releases a high the two have likely not felt in years,
while at this point their serotonin levels usually drop.
- But high dopamine levels can also cause anxiety and interfere with our ability to concentrate and control our own thinking,
which is what often happens in this beginning stage of an affair.
- Low serotonin levels has been linked by scientists with obsessive and compulsive behavior, as well as anxiety and depression.
This would explain why many in an affair think about their lover to an obsessive degree.
- This flux of these highs and lows, mixed in with whatever needs they think this person is filling, can mistakenly convince them they’ve found their ‘soul mate’.
- They may possibly even believe they may have married the wrong person, because they have not felt these feelings in years.
Stage two progresses further and further into secrecy and lies,
creating a separate world for the affair partners.
This is a common progression at this stage of an affair:
- There’s usually a separate cell phone or email account used.
- This is the when trying to keep all the lies straight starts to get exhausting.
The unfaithful spouse often worries about being caught.
- The married person pulls further and further away emotionally from their spouse at home.
That spouse may recognize this, but dismiss its importance or reason.
- The ‘affair fog’ grows as they think the affair partner is meeting all their needs. |
Affair partners usually overlook obvious flaws and negative qualities about each other.
- Their excitement is often greater than their fear of being caught. More risks are taken to further the thrill.
- Their secret up until now, has bonded them together. Those secret moments could be sexual, or just emotionally intimate encounters.
This stage of the affair, where they are feeling “in-love” or the Limerence stage, usually lasts between 6 -18 months.
Yet, sometimes as long as 3 years, according to Denise Bartell, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.
“But the relationship and excitement of the affair eventually slow down, usually within 6-12 months”.
Just as will happen in any relationship, people settle into more of a routine and the early thrill of the chase wanes.
This is why it’s always better to work on the marriage, than just trying to find another mate.
Every relationship has a natural cycle of highs and lows. We miss out on the joy and depths of mature love if we’re just chasing is that early excitement.
STAGE 3- ALL THE ELEMENTS OF AN ADDICTION & DISCOVERY DAY
- The unfaithful spouse has carried on the affair for a period of time. As the affair continues, it feeds the beast of the dopamine release high. They are usually unaware of the biological response which is tricking them into thinking it’s “love”.
- The excitement of the affair starts to wane somewhat, as the constant secrecy takes its toll on the unfaithful spouse. Also, the ‘perceived perfection of the affair partner’ starts to show it’s cracks. Their faults begin to surface more now and become harder to deny and overlook.
- The affair soon resembles all the same characteristics of addiction.
(Their life has become unmanageable trying to juggle all the secrets and lies.
They have an inability to stop easily on their own no matter how hard they try. Their feelings of withdrawal are real when not with the affair partner.
The ‘withdrawal’ they feel is because of a lack of dopamine ‘high’ they had while with their affair partner).
The affair takes on many of the same characteristics of an addiction.
Eventually, couples in an affair get sloppy about maintaining the secret. An affair is either discovered or they confess.
Those are two entirely different Discovery Day’s, but the pain the betrayed spouse feels is still the same either way.
- This is when the betrayed spouse often witnesses behavior VERY uncharacteristic in their unfaithful spouse.
They might resent being confronted to make a choice for the marriage or the affair partner.
The betrayed spouse is often shocked at how difficult that choice is for them to make!
If you’re the unfaithful spouse and you continue in the affair, just know that it’ll only do greater damage to your spouse if they find out.
And they usually do eventually. This only delays the recovery of your marriage.
Yet, if you can recognize that you’re living in a disconnected fantasy life with you affair partner,
and break free of the affair, you’ll find healing much quicker.
STAGE 4: The stage when the affair has ended, or is fizzling out.
- You’ll have some decisions to make about moving forward in recovery with your spouse, if they’ll have you.
- Or, will you risk, against the odds, to stay with your affair partner.
Doing this means giving up everything in your life as you know it now.
The statistics for marriages lasting, that started out as an affair, aren’t good. (see below).
- Once the unfaithful spouse begins to come out of their affair fog, and see the affair for what it really was,
they have a better chance of healing and for the restoration for their marriage.
This takes a lot of prayer, support from outside help, and dedication to themselves to want a better life than the affair will end up giving them.
Some quick information on whether the affair partners would stay together if they eventually married:
- Affairs almost always end. (research shows 2-3% last into long term relationships, if that).
Some drag on longer than others due to the level of the delusion they are in.
Eventually though, the affair will likely start to crumble, since it was based on a foundation of lies and secrets.
- Less then 10% of affair partners will eventually marry, and when they do 85-95% of those marriages end in divorce. (this depends upon the research results you read).
Because what was the foundation of their relationship really? Lies, secrecy, cheating and deception. Is that the best way to start a relationship? When surveyed, most people in affairs stated they most likely would NOT have chosen their affair partner to marry.
If you’re the unfaithful wife and you want to be reconciled to your spouse, commit to:
- Stick with your commitment, even through the withdrawal you’ll likely feel upon breaking off the affair.
- Be willing to do whatever it takes to help your spouse heal.
The betrayed spouse also should be committed to the steps they need to take to heal and recover from the depth of pain they feel.
If you both do these things, you will slowly see your love for each other return.
I love that saying “feelings will eventually follow our decisions” because it’s so true.
Sometimes we have to take the steps of commitment to our spouse again, even if our feelings have waned.
In time, those feelings of love will return and trust also will grow as you keep doing the right things.
Rebuilding a marriage after an affair is a process of good days and bad days, but it can happen. It happened in our marriage, although because of my delaying breaking off the affair, we almost didn’t make it. But our marriage was eventually restored and healed.
To review, there are primarily 4 stages of an affair.
- The first is the stage of little compromises and playing with fire. Each little compromise we make, justifying behaviors we wouldn’t have done before.
These compromises inches that spouse closer and closer to having an affair.
- The second stage was the secrecy stage of crossing the line into an affair. “Affair fog” is strong now, with the release of
dopamine that fuels the fire for the affair to continue.
- Stage three is when the affair takes on the elements of an addiction and the affair is eventually discovered.
- Stage four comes once an affair is broken off and they assess the future of their marriage.
Feel free to contact me and tell me where you see yourself today within these stages, or what steps you recognize need
to be taken to heal after infidelity has hit your marriage.
I’d love to hear from you and pray for you. God does see you and loves you more than you can understand right now.
Whatever happens to your marriage, know that he wants redemption first of all for you.
Be sure to read my advice for the top 10 stages of healing after an affair.
If you’re still unsure about staying with your husband or leaving him for a life with your affair partner, read this post.