For those who find themselves swept up in the high seas of an affair, it's easy to think that you've fallen in love; however, before you make that life-changing and hormone-charged assumption, ask yourself a few of the following questions about your forbidden paramour. The more you answer "No," the more likely it is you've fallen into the flashy trappings of lust:
- Do you regularly spend extended periods of time with this person, and have you done so for at least one year?
- Do you perform routine or mundane domestic duties with this person, including housework, co-parenting and financial planning?
- Do you have the same circle of friends?
- Do you have biological children together?
- Have you made large purchases together and do you own shared property?
- Do you regularly interact with this person's parents, siblings, family and friends?
- Have you spent Christmas morning together?
- If you suddenly became bankrupt, would this person financially support you?
- Has this person seen you at your very worst (ie. sick, anxious, angry) and supported you through a number of such episodes?
- Do you have a shared history that includes a range of diverse experiences (ie. travel, funerals, weddings, business ventures, etc.)?
- If you could not have sex with this person, would you still put as much effort into seeing her or him?
- Would you be proud to introduce this person to your children, parents, family, friends and colleagues, and share the details about how you met?
- If this person passed away, would you be willing to raise her or his children, and settle his or her outstanding debts?
- If you became incapacitated, would you give this person Power of Attorney over your assets, minor children and personal health decisions? Would you trust this person to care for your own aging parents?
The above questions may sound plodding, but that's my point. Love puts down roots, and that takes time. Lust is a faster ride. It's a roller coaster. The sudden loops give you butterflies but, without love to keep you on the rails, the ride always ends abruptly and usually with nothing to show for it but a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach.
I understand why affairs start. People want to feel excited and sexually desired. They want to feel appreciated, adored, and connected to another person. They want to feel that they matter to someone, and that someone understands them. Married people expect to receive those feelings from a spouse -- that's why they get married in the first place.
Unfortunately, feelings of appreciation, adoration, understanding and intimacy can fade in a long-term marriage. Bills, work, housework, kids, in-laws, life changes, negativity and the passion-slaying effects of familiarity can drive a wedge between a formerly loving, lustful couple.
Instead of working to revive the marriage, some people take the easy way out. They hook up with the secretary, a gym buddy, a co-worker, or an old flame on Facebook and the two of them start swapping sob stories about how unhappy their marriages are. They have hot sex and put immense effort into seeing each other. When their conscience or better judgment kicks in, they ignore it and instead rationalize their behaviour by saying they've found their soulmate, they were never happy in their marriage or -- at the pinnacle of self-delusion -- their children will respect them more if they "follow their heart" and split up the family.
The truth is, countless couples have gone through infidelity and come out stronger on the other side. But here's the kicker: if you're spending all your energy and affection on an extramarital girlfriend or boyfriend, you have nothing left to spend on your spouse. When you think of it like that, it really isn't fair, is it? And in the vast majority of situations, you will ultimately find yourself staring in the mirror, asking your reflection what the hell it was thinking.
Instead of squandering something as fun as lust on a virtual stranger, focus on how you can start to feel both lust and love toward -- and from -- your spouse. Both of you are entitled to those feelings, and they are an essential part of a happy, healthy marriage. If you need professional help to bring those feelings back into your relationship, or to understand why the infidelity happened, get it now. The longer you wait, the harder it will be, especially if trust has been broken and you're struggling to re-build it.
It is possible to have a lustful, loving marriage, even after an affair. You can have your cake and eat it, too. Just keep in mind that wedding cake tastes a lot sweeter than divorce cake.