Know the 4 stages of an affair
Knowing the stages of an affair can help you understand yourself and how you got entangled in the affair, if you’re the wayward spouse.
But it also helps the betrayed spouse to know because they’re often wondering how affairs usually end,
hoping their spouse is in the later stage.
Either way, are you hurting and scared?
Maybe you’ve been searching the internet for information to make sense of an affair
that either you, or your spouse, were involved in.
Either way, you’re looking for answers to show you a way out of all the pain.
I understand the pain an affair can bring because I’ve been there myself.
So, why does knowing the
4 stages of an affair even matter?
Whether you are 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 run its course
and will (usually) fizzle out within 6-24 months,
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.
Sometimes little compromises in a marriage has also been called “microcheating”, but it’s really the same thing it’s always been.
Making little compromises that you’ve justified more and more until the final compromise into the affair is possible.
We all think we’re not capable, but ask anyone who’s been unfaithful and you’ll find 99% of the time they never thought
they were capable of cheating either.
Why? It’s the little things we allow ourselves, that we’d never have allowed ourselves to do before.
If you want to know more about compromises, or what mircocheating is, read this post where I go into more details.
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.
- The 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”, 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 6-24 months”.
Just as will happen in any relationship, people settle into more of a routine and the early thrill of the chase wanes.
STAGE 3- ALL THE ELEMENTS OF AN ADDICTION & DISCOVERY DAY
How is the affair like an addiction?
- At this point (stage 3) 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 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).
“Yes, the affair takes on many 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.
The betrayed spouse is often shocked at how difficult it is for the wayward spouse to choose between them or the affair partner.
It really comes down to a state of mind they’ve acquired many call Affair Fog.
If the unfaithful spouse continues in their affair, it will only do greater damage to the betrayed spouses trust.
This only delays the recovery of the marriage.
Yet, if the unfaithful spouse can recognize they are living a fantasy life with their affair partner,
they can often break free of the affair.
STAGE 4: The stage when decisions need to be made
about staying in affair, or in the marriage.
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 always end. Some drag on longer than others due to the level of the delusion they are in.
Eventually though, the affair will 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 approximately 85-95% of those marriages end in divorce.
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.
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.
Also, if you’re the betrayed husband, be sure to read our posts just for you here.
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.
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.