Ever wonder why people have affairs? Or if your marriage is at risk?

According to relationship experts, John and Julie Gottman, affairs don’t “just happen”. More often than not, affairs start with one or both partners turning away from the other over an extended period of time. The act of turning away can lead to diminished trust and resentment, making attempts to reconnect more difficult.

Here’s a breakdown of what commonly happens leading up to an affair…

1) Fights are avoided

Couples who avoid conflict to “keep the peace” also keep their feelings and desires from their partner. While this may seem like a good approach, it can create a setting for secrets and deceptions to develop.

2) Partners start to drift apart

Once a partner feels that their partner is emotionally unavailable, the tendency is to turn away from their partner and to turn inwards. This person may feel as though their partner no longer has their back, causing resentment to grow and trust to erode.

3) Negative comparisons are made

Resentment leads to negative comparisons between the partner and an imagined or real other. The resenting partner may start to fantasize about how much better their lives would be with somebody else. Doing so often leads to greater resentment and disconnection.

4) Loneliness grows

Individuals who feel alone in their marriage can go from fantasizing to seeking out other people to meet their wants or desires. Boundaries may become blurred, as partners move away from their primary relationship and draw closer to others in order to feel less alone.

5) Intimacy is sought out

At first, this could be as small as seeking out light conversation or confiding in another. Contact is kept hidden from the spouse, and is continually sought if someone is good at providing intimacy and connection. Deeper feelings evolve as intimate information is revealed, which often includes feeling dissatisfied or unhappy in the primary relationship.

6) Boundaries are crossed

At some point, physical or emotional boundaries may be crossed. While these may be unspoken, the betraying partner will knowingly give him or herself permission to step outside of the relationship.

Needless to say, affairs don’t “just happen”. They often take place over a series of missed and new interactions.

While it’s true that affairs can cause havoc and are a major cause for divorce, many couples are able to move past an affair and grow closer because of it. Couples who see affairs as an opportunity to understand what isn’t going well in their marriage are likely to have a closer and more honest relationship than before the affair.

Attending couples counselling when one or both partners starts to feel disconnected can prevent couples from growing apart and crossing boundaries. If boundaries have been crossed, counselling can help couples understand and work on the conditions that led up to the affair, rebuild trust, and collaborate on how to have a more fulfilling partnership.

Counselling can help partners heal and have a more stable marriage than before. While marriage #1 may be gone for good, couples can be helped to work on making marriage #2 even more honest and loving than the first.