There are several types of affairs people engage in, and not all infidelities are the same.
Serial affairs consist of a series of one night stands and/or a series of brief affairs, says Rona Subotnik and Gloria Harris in their book Surviving Infidelity. Intimacy and commitment are missing in such affairs. Sex and excitement are the lures, not emotional involvement. Many such affairs occur out of town, with people who are barely known and who are not expected to make any future demands. Frequently, people who engage in serial affairs are addicted to sex. Although there is no commitment to the lover, neither is there commitment to the marital vow of fidelity. People who engage in serial affairs typically do so over long periods of time. The behavior, even though it includes sex, is basically designed to keep people at a distance. It is a way of avoiding intimacy and commitment with a marriage partner and with a lover.
Flings, like serial affairs, are characterized by a lack of emotional investment. It is a brief affair, and can even be a one night stand. It is most frequently with a singular partner, and it is relatively short lived.
Romantic love affairs involve a much greater degree of emotional investment on the part of the lovers. The relationship is important, and frequently involves a struggle between either ending the affair, or ending the marriage and committing to the lover. The longer this affair continues, the more serious it may become. To learn that your spouse loves another person is an emotionally gut-wrenching experience, and is much more difficult to get over.
Long term affairs are romantic love affairs that last for long periods of time. The two partners feel emotionally very invested in each other and in their relationship. The longer such an affair goes on, the more likely the spouse will discover it. Some spouses, for a variety of reasons, essentially agree to tolerate and live with the triangle. Some of the reasons people may agree to such an arrangement include religious beliefs that preclude divorce, economic realities, concern for the children, and moral objections to divorce. The unspoken contract in such relationships is: “I’ll be a good spouse, support you and care for you, if you allow me this other relationship.”
The emotions generated by learning that a spouse or committed partner has been unfaithful can be frightening, powerful and potentially violent. It is common to feel extremely hurt, angry, sad, depressed and betrayed. Some people get suicidal or homicidal. As a rule of thumb, women tend to get angry and depressed. Men tend to get angry and want to act by doing something, which is why the situation is so potentially explosive.
People who have been betrayed frequently feel crushed, have lowered self esteem, question their attractiveness and desirability, and may have the need to fault find and blame their spouse. Some have revenge affairs. Some obsess over the behavior, and can’t stop thinking about what happened and the events that led up to the betrayal.
Couples who wish to heal the wounds of such behavior have much work to do. Building trust is a very slow process, especially when one of the partners has been deceitful over a long period of time.