One may think that people should be capable of making clear-cut decisions when faced with the temptation of an affair. Are people who have affairs just immature and selfish, or, are affairs of the heart just more complex in reality?Despite the hurt, betrayal and fury that affairs can cause – think back to movies you’ve seen such as Fatal Attraction or Unfaithful – and you’ll see why the reasons for having them are many and various.

Here are some of the most common reasons:

Dissatisfaction – not happy with the marriage or relationship, lack of happiness, of a sense of fulfilment within the relationship

• A wish to experience sexual variety

Angerfelt towards the partner, with a need, whether recognised or not, to hurt the partner

• Some say their intention was to make their partner jealous, though it is seldom clear how this would be expected to have any desirable outcome for either of them

• An unwillingness to resist any new opportunity for emotional or sexual involvement. This is sometimes given the profitable but bogus diagnosis of sex addiction, though it is not at all an addictive process or responsive to normal treatments for addictions. Sex addiction is an excuse for not choosing to exercise self-restraint. Throughout life we are faced with tempting opportunities for brief enjoyment at a total cost that makes it foolish to indulge in them.

• Some explain an affair by saying that they no longer feel in love with their partner, or that they have ‘fallen out of love’, or “grown apart”. While maintaining a loving relationship may require effort and work, if there ever was real love, it can be regained and extended, so long as the task isn’t merely abandoned.

• Some speak of sexual incompatibility, though if a couple were ever sexually compatible, this would only change due to illness, physical or psychological in one or both of them.

• Some feel that if their partner has been unfaithful, they themselves are somehow entitled to have an affair, too. Yet generally, one does not feel that stealing from a thief is a noble or justifiable response.

• More understandable, some situations arise in which there is drastic change within the partner, due to alcohol or drug addiction, or severe mental illness, which makes the person feel unable to obtain sexual or emotional fulfilment from that partner, while feeling reluctant to abandon them altogether while they may still need help and support.

Other very relevant factors are socially-based. In recent decades societal norms have become far more hedonistic – not only do we focus far more on insisting that we should be as happy as possible for as much of the time as possible, but we too often feel that our mere happiness justifies any degree of hurt or damage to others.

With increasingly easy divorce, couples feel less committed to trying to work things out, rather than returning their spouse, like taking back a faulty gadget.

The sense of marriage being a lasting, perhaps life-long commitment seems less common, rather than an expectation of marriage, divorce, and re-marriage. As in more couples, both partners work, there is less time to spend bonding and more of a feeling that survival alone would be easier and more practical.

How do affairs develop?
The process typically passes through several stages, and may stop at any one of these, or proceed into a full-blown affair. In the first stage, one simply gets to know another person, and to form an initial emotional connection with them.

One shares time with them on social or work opportunities, one talks more about each other’s personal lives, perhaps provide each other with emotional support, and perhaps you start mild flirting.

In the next stage, the relationship deepens, and you mutually decide, maybe even without saying so out loud, to keep it a secret. You feel it’s now the sort of relationship you wouldn’t tell your spouse about, or tell most friends.

Now a boundary has been crossed, and you are no longer merely friends or colleagues. You may start to have fantasies about the other person. Somehow, secret relationships are more arousing and seize your attention far more.

Then though you may officially still insist you’re “just friends”, you find increasing numbers of excuses to meet, more often and for longer. You start to be far more vigilant and cautious not to let others realise what is happening, though close friends may start to become suspicious.

And then the relationship becomes more intense, and sexual as well as emotional. Feelings of excitement and pleasure become mixed with guilt, and it gets much harder to hide the fact that something has changed.