Recovery Workshop

Assessing Compulsive Affairs

What is it?

Affairs, in the compulsive context of this workshop, are to be considered any romantic and/or sexual relationship with another person outside the boundaries of a committed relationship, that also fall into the outlines presented below. It is important to note that not all affairs are of a compulsive nature, and those which occur as a result of true love and companionship do not fall under the scope of this workshop. An example of this would be an isolated, long-term love affair between two people outside the boundaries of one or both of their committed relationships. The roles that these partners play in each other's lives is one of mutual respect, sharing and intimacy — in essence, they perform the roles frequently associated with a married couple.

Common Patterns Associated with Compulsive Affairs:

I. Simultaneous, sustained affairs

  • includes multiple affairs over extended periods
  • simultaneous affairs are often staggered across different stages of the relationship ("passionate and exciting"; "established and comfortable"; "looking for a way out" ; "I hope I never hear from them again")
  • often includes many different behavioral variations (letters, e-mail, online chats, phone calls, face-to-face, etc.)
  • pattern of emotional infidelity usually begins before marriage
  • initial emotional intensity that quickly fades as the affair progresses
  • extremely draining on resources (mental, physical and/or financial)
  • marriage often falls into same "staged" relationship (initially intense and passionate; current absence of sustained intimacy)
  • opportunistic affairs are rarely passed up
  • intense guilt, shame
  • associated with frequent lies and secrecy
  • frequently feels as if they are having affairs on the same people that they are having affairs with

II. Single, sustained affairs

  • involves pattern of isolated affairs over extended periods of time
  • each relationship often perceived as "true love"
  • intense emotional investment throughout the course of the affair
  • tendency to perceive own marriage partner as flawed, affair partner as perfect (until marriage is threatened)
  • affairs usually end when affair partner begins to make what is perceived to be unreasonable demands (e.g. divorce) or the marriage is otherwise threatened (e.g. the affair is discovered)
  • opportunistic affairs are rare
  • extreme guilt and shame when affair is discovered
  • until the affair is discovered, partners rationalize that the affair is "not really an affair, but more of the right people at the wrong time"

III. Opportunistic, spontaneous affairs

  • includes numerous, brief affairs with a variety of partners
  • highly passionate
  • highly sexual
  • low/no intimacy
  • often triggered by infatuation/opportunity

Elements Frequently Associated with Affairs (from the Wheel of Sexual Compulsion):

  • Sensory Stimulation (especially Opportunistic Affairs)
  • Accomplishment (both when entering into the affair, and when "successfully" concluding the affair)
  • Fantasy (especially delusions associated with Affair Types I and II above)

Other Behaviors Commonly Found in a Ritualistic Chain where Affairs are the Primary Behavior:

  • Suspense
  • Danger
  • Fantasy
  • Past

Frequent Cues/Triggers Often Associated With Having Affairs

  • Extreme self-esteem (either high or low)
  • Emotional imbalance (especially depression, loneliness)
  • Opportunity (people, places, times and things)
  • Unfulfilled intimacy/sexual encounters with partner
  • History of sexual/emotional abuse
  • Substance abuse

Boundaries Frequently Violated By Having Affairs:

  • Honesty (when affair is discovered or even suspected)
  • Self-respect (in continuing to lie, maintain secrets)
  • Intimacy (in all but the rarest occasions, the intimacy that can be experienced with the spouse is sacrificed for the passion and intimacy experienced with the affair partner)
  • Safety (involving STD's, pregnancy, spousal reactions)

If you have experienced similar behaviors as described above (or have experienced additional behaviors that were not mentioned, but fall under the category of Affairs, please describe them below.

My History with Affairs

First Name and Last Initial:

E-mail address:

Describe your most common patterns involving affairs [include who you are having current affairs with (first name only); what stage the affair is in; how frequently you make contact, etc.] Include online sexual/romantic affairs with people that you have an emotional connection with:

Break down your most recent affair. Describe the situation surrounding the beginning of the affair (triggers); what you gained from the affair; what you sacrificed (not theoretically, but what the actual costs were for you to have this affair in terms of finances, time, values, etc.); how the affair ended (or if it is ongoing, how you envision it ending). Feel free to share whatever you feel is relevant to really share the full impact of the affair on your life:

Describe the emotions that you would feel (have felt) should you discover that your spouse was having (did have) an affair. How would you go about rebuilding the relationship? What do you think his/her motives might have been?

slide up button