What Defines an Affair?

Infidelity doesn't necessarily have to involve sex

man removing his wedding ring

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An affair is a romantic and emotionally intense sexual or emotional relationship with someone other than your spouse or partner. Generally, affairs do not last long (though there are exceptions) and occur between two people who are not married or otherwise committed to one another. Sex may or may not be involved in an affair, and cyber affairs can happen between two people who may never even meet one another.

Defining "Affair"

Typically, an affair is considered a betrayal of trust. It has the ability to cause significant distress in relationships and there are many reasons why people cheat on their partners.

Affairs are commonly referred to as "adultery" among married couples and "infidelity" among common-law spouses and committed partners. An affair can go by other names as well, depending on the type of affair involved.

What's important to remember is that your definition of an affair is what matters most. Every person and every relationship is unique, and some couples may differ in the way they view this subject.

Types

You might hear an affair being referred to as a love affair, an emotional affair, a fling, or extramarital relations. Some people simply call it being unfaithful or cheating as well.

The most common types of affairs include:

Romantic Affairs

Affairs may be romantic, which is also referred to as "an affair of the heart." These are sometimes in the form of sexual liaisons among unwed or wedded parties, though that is not always the case. It may also be considered some form or another of non-monogamy.

Casual Affairs

A casual relationship is a physical (and often emotional) relationship between two people who may engage in sexual relations. However, they often do so without the expectation of a more formalized romantic relationship.

Emotional Affairs

A platonic relationship may also be called a romantic affair as well. Termed an emotional affair, it is one that lacks sexual intimacy but has intense or enduring emotional intimacy.

Emotional affairs can easily evolve into sexual affairs and be just as threatening to the primary relationship. Even when this type of an affair doesn't cross the line by becoming physical, the impact can be just as detrimental to a marriage, since the intimacy involved in emotional affairs can often have a degree of intensity that's deeper than a sexual affair.

Cyber Affairs

An online affair, or cyber affair, is one that occurs online. It may be anonymous; between individuals who may know basic information about one another, like their names, but have never met; or with someone the person knows in real life. Quite often, a cyber affair has emotional and/or sexual undertones. This affair is carried out via chat, webcam, email, text, and other forms of communication.

The partners involved in a cyber affair may never meet in person, but the emotional connection and sensual nature of the affair can strain the committed relationships one or both participants are in.

Sanctioned Affairs

The term affair might also describe part of an agreement within an "open" marriage (or open relationship). With a sanctioned affair, a couple agrees upon which forms of sex are permitted with someone other than their primary partner.

Terms commonly used for this situation include swinging, dating, polyamory, and ménage à trois.

An open marriage that works for both parties has to play by the rules that were agreed upon by both parties from the start, or else this type of affair can be just as damaging as the others.

Considering the Risk of an Affair

The one thing that all these types of affairs have in common is that they are very personal for all parties involved. They can complicate long-term relationships and often bring with them many emotions, both bad and good, depending on your position and perspective.

Some people who are involved in an affair even find that it's disappointing and not worth the emotional toll it takes on their feelings and their marriages.

When It Affects Your Relationship

Just as in any personal relationship, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to dealing with an affair in a committed partnership or marriage. Sometimes it can break up a marriage, while other couples may be able to recover from the infidelity and save their relationship through communication and professional help.

Certain warning signs and actions may point to the fact that your partner may be having an affair, and there are ways to cope when your partner is unfaithful.

If you had an affair and are struggling with consequences in your relationship, there are steps you can take to try to improve things with your partner.

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