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The Friendship of an Affair Author: Kyle McClain, MA LPC

Often times when a couple experience an affair it is damaging; leaving a marriage in chaos with fear and anger being the epicenter of the storm. For the spouse that was not involved in the affair, they feel betrayed and emotionally devastated that their partner could engage in anything that would bring intense emotional pain to them. For the individual that was engaged in infidelity they witness the emotional pain that is being experienced by their partner, but also experience the loss of the relationship that went too far. Often times the sexual aspects of infidelity are at the forefront of the discussion. However, the friendship that was created, in most incidents of infidelity, is minimized or even overlooked. Infidelity changes not only the marriage, but ruins the relationship that likely started between two people as a simple friendship. Once the affair is discovered, the married couple have a choice to either continue the marriage or divorce. In the incidents in which the couple decides to remain married, the individual that was involved in infidelity will no longer have a friendship with “the other person”. This may seem obvious, but often we overlook the importance of friendship and the role it plays in building an individual. This is not to say that two people that engage in infidelity should be able to resume their friendship. However, we must accept that a friendship, that likely meant a lot to someone, is no longer possible. That relationship dies.

Some might simply say that this is the punishment of infidelity, people get hurt. However, it is important to know that most affairs are not begun by an individual deciding to “cheat” on their spouse. It is not the determined and conscious effort on the part of the individual to hurt their spouse. Most often an affair happens because someone has an emotional connection with another individual. This doesn’t have to mean love or even lust. The initial encounter can be based on the emotion of trust, security, feeling heard or important or a connection through humor, confidence, a sense of appreciation or common interests. Any of these can create interest from one individual to another, never intending to become devastating to the individual’s marriage. As the relationship grows and continues to connect two people, the risk increases for intimacy of friendship to expand into sexual intimacy.

In many cases of infidelity, the individual not having the affair will wonder “why didn’t my wife or husband, look to me for the connection that they felt with the other person.” How a person reacts to another person is specific. It is very rare that one friendship would be the same as another. Because no two people are identical, each individual brings a different element to a relationship. The relationship that is created between two individuals is, in itself, unique. However, when infidelity has occurred, we often feel that the person who engaged in infidelity should have been seeking that same relationship with their marriage partner. Could that marriage partner create the same relationship? Possibly, but it is important to realize that our individual relationship often hold characteristics that are not the same. As a man, the jokes I tell my buddies are different from the jokes that I tell my wife and children. The concerns I share with my wife are different form the concerns that I share with my friends or children. And the recreational activities that I share with my children are different than those I share with my wife and friends. Even among my children, the relationship that I have with my eldest son is different from the relationship that I hold with my youngest son. And among my friends, one relationship may be more serious or sillier than another. Each relationship has its own attractions, dynamics and interactions that can be unique to the relationship.

Relationships can be very complex. The experience of infidelity is not a simple event and must be viewed from a multitude of perspectives. Again, no one should justify or condone infidelity; however, it is important to look at these horrible situations with an understanding that while people CAN do monstrous things, they aren’t necessarily monsters. It is always easier to look at an event as it has passed and determine what an individual should have done to prevent disaster. When in the middle of these events the details of disaster are less obvious and strong emotions can easily override cognitive abilities. The loss of a friendship that started out innocently should not be overlooked in situations where friendships become sexually intimate. We must all be careful of strong emotions, whether the emotions are positive or negative in nature. And when we determine that a marriage should be repaired; grace, forgiveness and redemption need to be the focus for moving toward repairing the trust that has been lost.

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