After discovering an affair, most people will ask themselves whether the affair is still going or over.
And like most questions related to cheating, the answers are very much dependent on context.
In other words, where is the primary relationship at, in terms of its emotional and physical intimacy?
And where is each partner at within themselves? What about concerning their overall well-being?
Especially when discussing how long affairs last after they are discovered, the answers vary quite a bit (albeit “after they are discovered” does somewhat narrow the answers down).
Note: Ellen Evans is a professional Psychotherapist with 10+ years of experience in counseling.
Why is discovering an affair so painful?
The pain of discovery can feel unbearable. Betrayal makes people unsafe, and a whole range of emotions (that can take years to process and settle) may arise.
The person discovering an affair will essentially go through the 4 stages of coping with the infidelity
They’ll feel hurt, embarrassed, ashamed and enraged.
These are just a few of the natural feelings both partners are likely to feel during this kind of crisis.
The partner who has been cheated on may have reasons for letting the other partner continue the affair, at least for a short while.
Another partner may draw a solid boundary and decide to leave the relationship while the unfaithful partner is still texting their goodbye.
In summary, the means and time it takes for an affair to be fully over are hard to know with certainty.
So many variables. So much to consider.
The subject of letting go of an affair can be as serious and complex as what leads to the affair in the first instance. Akin to dealing with other serious issues, such as alcoholism.
“Withdrawal is the emotional reaction to the loss of something that gives great pleasure. It’s similar to the feelings an alcoholic has when he makes a commitment never to drink again. It’s also similar to the grief that comes from the loss of a loved one. A lover is like alcohol and like a loved one. Not only do unfaithful spouses miss what it was their lovers did, meeting important emotional needs, but they also miss the person they had come to love.”– Dr. Harley
Assuming that both agree to continue their relationship after discovering the affair, there’s usually a long road to gain enough trust to stay fully committed.
A road that includes, at some point, leaving the once-secret lover behind.
In an article written by Psychologist Alexandra Solomon, she found that cheaters are less likely to cheat again if they work out why they cheated in the first place. Therapy can be a powerful tool in helping to achieve that.
You can read more about that here.
How an affair can drag-on indefinitely
As an “extreme” example of how long an affair can last, it may continue indefinitely. One reason for this could be a result of the adulterous partner “bargaining” successfully.
As Dr. Harley explains in his column on infidelity issues:
“The bargaining effort usually boils down to somehow keeping the lover in the loop. You’d think that the unfaithful spouse would be so aware of his or her weaknesses, and so aware of the pain inflicted, that every effort would be made to avoid further contact with the lover as an act of thoughtfulness to the stunned spouse. But instead, the unfaithful spouse argues that the relationship was “only sexual” or was “emotional but not sexual” or some other peculiar description to prove that continued contact with the lover would be okay.”
The above explanation reveals a few key aspects of why affairs happen in the first place.
Lovers tend to meet the sexual or emotional needs of the primary partner (or the relationship as a whole).
However, it is usually the case that not all needs are met with one lover; hence the bigger need to continue the primary relationship so that the adulterous partner receives a “fuller relationship.”
For someone who discovers their affair in this way, just saying quits to this state of affairs (literally) may be hard to accomplish.
A partner who is victimized once is victimized twice if any lies or manipulation continue in the aftermath.
So honesty is best, even if it seems to continue the hurt.
Honesty, in this case, relates to how long the affair will last in its entirety. It may well include the cheater owning up to needing time to detach and grieve the once-secret alliance.
Was it an emotional or sexual connection?
Perhaps there was more of an emotional connection than a sexual one. If so, then the break may take even longer than if the contact was purely physical.
Shawn Leamon makes an important point when it comes to emotional versus physical connection in terms of what underlies having an affair:
“Affairs that occur for some form of emotional connection typically last longer than those that occur for physical validation, but each type of affair cycles back to personal dissatisfaction and crisis.”
How affairs can end quicker
This is where true honesty comes in.
If the cheater can acknowledge and own their excuse as to why the disloyalty happened, then hopefully, a quicker and complete break from the affair, plus any future ones, will likely happen.
This reflective thinking will go a long way towards the cheater investing once again in the primary relationship.
How long the affair has lasted can correlate to how long it will go on once discovered.
In short, from one-night stands to decades-long affairs, many factors determine when any affair will be truly and completely cut off.
How long has a double life been lead, for example?
And what mental state is the betrayed one in when they learn that her partner has been so untrue?
Discovering an affair will cause both partners to have to deal with loss. Commonly, the loss of losing a partner to an affair, the loss of trust because of the betrayal, and maybe even the loss of the deceiving partner’s lover.
The lover also has to deal with a certain amount of loss too.
All in all, there’s no easy way out for all involved.
Sometimes the pain can be too great for healing, and you’ll probably be considering divorce. Oftentimes that pain can cloud your judgment and cause you to make rash decisions.
If you’re considering separation, here are 9 questions you should ask yourself before filing for divorce to help you figure out whether you truly want to divorce or not.
Recommended: What Is Couples Therapy & Is It Right For You?