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Health & Sex

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Peace After the Affair

Expect recovery to take at least 2 years.

WebMD Feature

Jerry Rogers had a dead-end job and a dull marriage.

He could usually cope on the job, but not at home. "After years of being with the same woman," says Rogers (not his real name), "the desire to have sex with another woman was overwhelming." When the opportunity for an affair came along, he couldn't resist. "The affair helped me escape," Rogers says.

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Escape is a nearly universal attraction of affairs. Some people cheat to escape boredom; others to escape conflict in the relationship. Whatever the reason, the sense of escape is exciting. Only later comes the psychological trauma with its cascade of negative emotions. Spouses who cheat often feel angry, desperate, and guilty. Those who are cheated on also feel angry, not to mention abandoned and fearful.

How you face these emotions -- and the extent to which you analyze what went wrong and what you contributed to the situation -- will play a major role in whether you find peace after the affair, regardless of whether the original relationship endures or dies, according to Emily Brown, MSW, an expert on the topic.

Reasons for the Affair

"It's easy to assume that an affair is about love, sex, selfishness, or trying to inflict pain," says Brown, author of "Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelity" and director of the Key Bridge Therapy and Mediation Center in Arlington, Va. But affairs are much more complicated than that.

Having an affair is one way of communicating that emotional issues aren't being met by the other partner or the marriage, according to Brown. Having an affair lets one partner get the other partner's attention and communicates that the cheating partner is in pain. Sometimes affairs happen when one partner is a sex addict. But a sexless extramarital relationship can also be an affair, ifa strong emotional connection exists that is kept secret from the spouse, Brown says.

Infidelity Happens Often

Although hard-and-fast statistics are difficult to come by, infidelity is common. One study of 300 subjects, published in August 1992 in the Journal of Sex Research, found that 44% of husbands and 25% of wives had engaged in at least one episode of extramarital sexual intercourse, says Shirley Glass, Ph.D., a Baltimore psychologist and the study's lead author. Those numbers have remained about the same since then, she says, based on her clinical practice and other research studies; however, she notices the number of straying women is increasing.

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