How Long Can an Affair Last?
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I get this question a lot. How long can an affair last? What's the longest affair you've seen?
The short answer: An affair can go on indefinitely. Each affair triangle is made up of three players: The two people having the affair, and the knowing or unknowing spouse/partner. Over time the affair triangle stabilizes and everyone settles into their roles.
A married person who is having the affair understandably settles into the 'cake and eat it too' role. They have their affair one side (the escape, the high), while keeping the rest of their life largely unchanged (marriage, house, kids, job, status quo at home). Mind you, this can be either comfortable or extremely uncomfortable to the married affair partner. Everyone is different! But it becomes easier to maintain both sides than to end the affair or end the marriage, and so we continue.
The affair partner may be married or unmarried. If the affair partner is married, they may be experiencing a personal dynamic like the one described above. Francesca*, a client of mine in Delray Beach, Florida, maintained her affair with a friend's husband for eight years. They both enjoyed escaping together when one of them was traveling for work. There was no reason to end it as long as nobody found out. "We never thought it would end," she told me, "we just imagined being together forever, I think." For both of them it provided a welcome escape from their respective marriages. Until her friend discovered their relationship, at which point Francesca started working with me to grieve her affair and determine the right path forward for her and her husband (who never did know about the affair).
If the affair partner is single and unmarried, they may grapple with their needs for partnership being unmet, but they settle into accepting the terms of the arrangement, too. Again, everyone is different. They may push back against being "the other man/woman" but ultimately they know they'll lose the relationship if they demand or require more than what the terms are. For some, being the third party in an affair is an arrangement that may work wonderfully for them. They get intimacy, adventure, and the promises of love without tremendous commitment or constraints. For others, the lows of being the affair partner feels like torture and can even lead to depression. Regardless, it's difficult to actually make a break from the relationship. So this person maintains their role, too.
And finally, the knowing or unknowing spouse. Many spouses know in their gut that there's infidelity before they actually know it for a fact. But until the affair is addressed the spouse continues on in what I call "middle knowledge." Middle knowledge is the 'in-between' of sensing the changes in your spouse but carrying on with daily life as usual. Many spouses carry on like this for years. They notice changes in their spouse's behaviors or mannerisms, then acclimate to them or simply decide it best not to push the matter. Regardless, keeping everything the same and not rocking the boat is also easier than disrupting life and possibly facing a crisis that could end or change the marriage irrevocably. So the knowing or unknowing spouse settles into the role of continuing daily life, as well, having adapted to the subtle or not-so-subtle shifts and changes that may or may not have seeped in from the affair.
The result? Things stay the same. The affair triangle stabilizes and each person continues in their roles. Emotions may rise and fall, life events may push against the triangle's edges, but until something happens to drastically change the role of one or more of these players, an affair may endure.
To talk more about your role in this common, yet confusing, triangle, please reach out to me to schedule a consultation. I hope this article helped you to understand the deeper dynamics into answering the question, "how long can an affair last?".
For a video discussion, please see my video on YouTube: How Long Can an Affair Last?
* names and any other potentially identifying details are changed to protect confidentiality
Lauren provides boots-on-the-ground lived experience combined with invaluable professional expertise working with infidelity. She is committed to helping individuals and couples deal with and heal from marital affairs in a highly effective, yet warm and judgment-free style.
Lauren's articles help share much-needed information, and reduce the stigma and shame around the common experience of infidelity. Contact Lauren at email@example.com to learn more about working together.
Lauren, Affair Specialist