Counselling with Janet Daniel

Couples Counselling & Psychotherapy Teddington, Richmond upon Thames


What comes to mind when you hear that phrase? Passion? Impulsiveness? Sadness? Loss?  Man - Woman? Man-Man? Woman-Woman? Trans?

Which word has the emphasis? A? Love? or Affair?

In the world of Couples or Relationship Counselling all those words have significant and powerful meanings to clients depending on their moral outlook, beliefs and values.  In this piece I will use the terms:
The Affairer -the person who is having or had an affair.
The Affaired -the partner.

I have been a counsellor/psychotherapist for over 25 years and have senior accredited status with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). I studied for a postgraduate diploma in Counselling (Primary Care) at the University of Wales. College Newport. I later did several courses with Juliet Grayson on relationship counselling. In 2000 I trained as a family mediator with Action for Children and worked for their service in Newport for several years. I was also a clinical supervisor.

Why do people have affairs?

In my work as a Couples Counsellor, I have met and worked with many couples where affairs have taken place.  The meaning of what constitutes an affair has changed over the last two decades. When I started couples counselling, an affair would usually involve sex with another person outside the marriage or intimate partnership. Today, for some affaired, the issue is not that their partner is having sex with someone else but that their partner is having a relationship that involves emotional intimacy with someone else, usually a member of the opposite sex. This may be a work colleague, someone at the gym, or partner/s found on-line. No sex may be involved at all.

Many women experience or seek emotional intimacy with their girlfriends. Close female friendships often involve sharing personal feelings and thoughts about their other relationships.  They may not experience that level of emotional intimacy with their male partner. Not their own fault, but some men just don’t have the natural emotional capacity, language or empathy for these conversations, which they may find embarrassing and awkward.  Their female partner may crave them in order to feel heard, understood and loved.  If one partner is not prepared to work on their active listening and communication skills and the expression of their feelings, the other partner may look elsewhere for them in an affair.

Men’s close friendships can also be very different. Men often need an activity in order to have a ‘feelings’ conversation. So, activities based around work, the shed, the allotment, or the motorbike club are opportunities for them.

The internet has changed the nature of intimate relationships entirely. Social media platforms, such as WhatsApp or Facebook make it possible for colleagues to blur boundaries between their roles as managers and employees. Messaging that develops through teasing and banter can lead to flirting on-line, the sharing of feelings can become a secret intimacy.  A person starts to observe changes in the behaviour of their partner. He or She never leaves the room without their phone. They linger longer in the bathroom. They’re always texting. Then one day, they leave their phone by the bed, and opportunity strikes. The suspicious partner knows the password and, in a click or two is in to their partner’s secret life on-line.  The worlds of both parties and their families may be blown apart. And no sex has taken place.

I have had clients who have made up new identities for themselves, used Tinder or some other dating app, where they are looking for sex not a relationship. Sometimes, it’s because their marriage or partnership is unsatisfactory in this respect, or they are unable to be open and honest with their partner about their needs and wants.  ‘It was ‘just’ sex,’ is a phrase I’ve heard a lot in my counselling room. But to the other party, it is utter betrayal.   Even worse if the sex happened when the Affaired was particularly vulnerable and needing support, such as being pregnant or post-natal. The raw pain is palpable. Or the partner is stressed-out, juggling kids, work and managing the domestic needs of the whole family-including their spouse.

The other ‘person’ in a contemporary relationship is not necessarily real but may have a huge impact on a couple’s emotional intimacy. That is porn. Pornography is everywhere on the internet and a lot of men are attached to it in the same way they may be attached to a lover.   Many younger men have a distorted image of what a realistic intimate relationship could be because of their exposure and addiction to pornography. Consequently, these men may suffer erectile dysfunction when trying to have sex with their partner.

For many ‘affaired’ shock, betrayal and loss of trust are the primary feelings evoked. Then the grief sets in. The loss of the person the affaired thought their partner was, the loss of the marriage they thought they had. Anger, sadness, disappointment, and more anger. Depression, anxiety. Was it ‘just sex’ or was it something deeper, more meaningful, a profound connection?   Did the affair take place over a long period? Did you really love her or him?    The Affairer may also feel grief and loss of their lover and the special emotional connection they had.

What about the impact on children?

Sharing information about an affair with your children can be heart-breaking and confusing for them.  If a couple decides to separate as a result of an affair, telling a child that Mummy or Daddy doesn’t love the other one anymore, can raise all kinds of questions for kids about the nature of love.  Are they to blame? Couples in emotional and psychological crisis may find it hard to attend to the emotional needs of their children. Children need enormous reassurance that their parents will continue to love them come what may.

How do couples move forward after an affair?

It’s very difficult to regain trust. Some women need to know the most intimate of details about the other woman. Was she prettier than me?  When? Where? How many times did it happen? Was it ‘A’ once off or with one person for a long time, or several women or men? Some women are forensic in their need to know the detail. It’s rarely helpful. Once shared it can’t be unshared.

Being found out can sometimes bring relief for the Affairer. Then perhaps regret, shame and remorse.  Can they ever be forgiven? Are they going to be forever reminded of their cheating? Sometimes repair and restoration takes a very long time. Not everyone is ready to give the Affairer a second chance. Sometimes they’ve been given several second chances, and they still go having affairs.

For those who have come on their own for therapy, perhaps because the partner is refusing to attend or the person needs to work on issues of their own, a relationship of emotional intimacy is formed with the counsellor. Secrets and complex emotions and thoughts are shared in a safe space. This can be a practice arena for a more open honest relationship with the partner.

With good therapy couples can recover from their pain and suffering. An affair may also transform an unsatisfactory marriage, improve emotional connection and intimacy. It needs commitment, compassion, empathy, bags of patience, dogged hard work, and if there are children involved, mutual agreement that their interests should always be at the forefront of any decisions affecting them.

Janet Teal Daniel

Couples Counsellor and Psychotherapist. May 2024