5 Common Types of Affair Relationships

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An affair is a romantic and emotionally intense relationship with someone other than your spouse or partner. The average affair lasts six months to one year, though some can last longer, and occur between two people who are not married or otherwise committed to one another. Sex may or may not be involved when having an affair, and cyber affairs can happen between two people who may never even meet one another in person.

What Constitutes as Having an Affair?

An affair is an act of infidelity within a committed romantic relationship. It's most commonly considered a type of cheating that involves intense, passionate emotional or physical attachment. Rarely is the term "affair" applied to a one-time event.

Infidelity, and by extension affairs, can be difficult to define as different people set different boundaries for their relationships with regard to what is considered cheating. But like other types of cheating, an affair is, at its core, 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 also commonly described as "infidelity" or "cheating." When in reference to an affair that includes one or two married people, it may also be called "adultery" or an "extramarital affair." An affair can go by other names as well, depending on the characteristics or type of affair.

Though there is some variability when it comes to defining what makes for an affair, what's most important is your definition of infidelity and the boundaries and expectations you set within your relationship.

Types of Affair Relationships

You might hear an affair being referred to as a romantic affair, an emotional affair, or even a cyber affair. Some people simply call it being unfaithful or cheating, though variations of the term "affair" have been adopted by some in consensually nonmonogamous relationships as well. Common types of affairs include the following.

Romantic Affair

Affairs may be romantic, which can be referred to as an "affair of the heart." Romantic affairs are commonly in the form of sexual liaisons that include some level of romance and emotional attachment.

When agreed to by both parties in a relationship, the term may also be used to describe a form of non-monogamy, though this is less common.

Casual Affair

A casual affair is most commonly considered a mainly physical sexual relationship between two people without the expectation of a more formalized romantic relationship. It may also be referred to as a "fling."

Emotional Affair

A platonic or nonsexual relationship may also be considered an affair. An emotional affair 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 affair doesn't cross the line into becoming physical, the impact can be just as detrimental. The intimacy involved in emotional affairs can often be deeper and more intense than the intimacy in a solely sexual affair.

Cyber Affair

An online or cyber affair is one that occurs online via chat, webcam, email, or text. It may be anonymous, or it may be between people who only know basic information about one another, such as their names, but have never met. Or it may occur online with someone the person knows in real life. Quite often, a cyber affair has emotional and/or sexual undertones.

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

Sanctioned Affair

The term "affair" might also be used to describe part of an agreement within an open marriage or relationship. With a sanctioned affair, a couple agrees upon which forms of sex or emotional intimacy are permitted with someone other than their primary partner. These may include swinging, dating, polyamory, and ménages à trois or group sex.

An open marriage or consensual nonmonogamy that works for both parties has to play by the rules that they agreed upon at the start. Otherwise, this type of affair is no longer "sanctioned."

Is Having an Affair a Good Idea?

Affairs are inherently personal. They complicate committed relationships and bring with them many emotions, both bad and good. Some people who are involved in an affair find that it's disappointing and not worth the emotional toll it takes on themselves and their marriage or partnership.

Coping With a Partner Who Is Having an Affair

Though there is no single act or behavior that should raise suspicions of an affair, there are certain warning signs that may indicate that your partner is having one. Signs of an affair can include if your partner is secretive, avoids your calls at certain times, comes home smelling different, or if there are changes in your sex life.

If confirmed, there are ways to cope when your partner is unfaithful. While an extramarital affair and infidelity commonly result in a couple going their separate ways, that doesn't always have to be the case.

After interviewing seven people who had experienced an affair, one very small 2012 study published in the Journal of Family Issues found that forgiveness, couples counseling, managing negative memories, learning from others who had also experienced infidelity, and changing the dynamic between the couple were helpful in reconciling.

Having a partner cheat on you may wreak havoc on your mental health. Take care of yourself, listen to your thoughts and feelings, and reach out for support when you need it.

When an Affair Affects Your Relationship

If you had an affair and are struggling with the consequences on your relationship, there are steps you can take to try to repair your relationship with your partner such as ending the affair, accepting responsibility, and apologizing. If your partner had an affair and wants to reconcile, you will need to decide whether you're willing and able to give them a second chance.

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. Other couples recover and save their relationship through communication and professional help.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.