Is all infidelity the same?
No matter what you call it; infidelity, cheating, unfaithfulness, this type of behavior manifests itself as one or more of the following categories.
In This Article
- Sexual Affair
- Emotional Affair
- Sexual Addiction
- Same-Sex Infidelity
- 6 Types of Affair
What does sex mean? – Yes, it does need to be defined.
A sexual affair may or may not include intercourse, but does involve physical contact with another individual.
Examples of Sexual Affairs Include:
- Oral sex
- Sexual touching
- Any touch that you would not feel comfortable with your spouse doing in the room with another person
- Kissing, hugging, making out, holding
What does emotional affair mean?
Emotional affairs are hard to recognize because they are not defined by specific actions that take place. Emotional affairs are defined by sharing a level of intimacy with a person other than your spouse that is similar to what should be shared with your spouse. The spouse may appear disconnected and withdrawn from the relationship and/or family.
Symptoms of an emotional affair may include:
- Working late
- Missing children’s events they would normally attend
- Significant changes in behavior or dress or secretive interactions such as:
- Phone calls
- Facebook or social media messages
- Spouse is very defensive when attention is drawn to interactions with the person that you feel uncomfortable with.
What is pornography addiction?
Pornography addiction is different than a sexual addiction. It is the compulsive, ongoing use of pornography. It usually secretive or hidden from the spouse or others.
- Popular Magazines (i.e. GQ, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Victoria Secret or Sears Catalog)
- “Adult” Magazine or Videos (Playboy, Penthouse, ect.)
- YouTube Videos
- Facebook pictures of others
- Internet Pornography Sites
- Google searches for sexual content
- Erotic Stories (I.e. Harlequin romance novels, 50 Shades of Grey)
- Sexual Movie or TV Scenes
Viewing pornography may or may not include masturbation. Use continues despite risk of negative consequences and / or attempts to stop.
Sexual addiction differs from pornography addiction in terms of risk involved and the engagement of others. It is chronic in nature, consisting of multiple partners over a period of time (not a single affair or incident).
Common attributes of a sexual addiction:
- Spending money for sex (i.e. prostitution)
- Sexual activities with people not known personally (Craigslist hookups, Internet Sexual Ads)
- Sexual theaters, “adult” video stores
- Massage Parlors
- Loose / poor sexual boundaries (inappropriate comments, gestures, jokes, touching)
Paraphilic sexual behavior is a catch-all term for atypical sexual expression and usually disrupts the marital relationship. Often times these behaviors originated prior to the marriage and were unknown to the non-acting out spouse. Secrecy is the result of the significant shame which often accompanies these behaviors.Even if a sexual behavior is not associated with infidelity, it may still cause distress and warrant exploration with a counselor experienced in addressing sexual issues. Paraphilic sexual behavior can occur within a marriage or when single.
Examples of paraphilic behavior include:
- Sexual expression involving pain
- Bondage / Sadomasochism / rape enactment
- Fetishes: sexual expression associated with non-sexual objects
- Anal sex
- Bestiality (sexual behavior involving animals)
- Sex dolls
There are three terms that are commonly thought of together with pedophilia:
Pedophilia: A strong and persistent sexual attraction to non-pubescent/pre-puberty children usually ranging from 0-10 years old.
Hebephilia: A strong and persistent sexual attraction in pubescent (early adolescent) individuals, typically between the ages of 11-14 (not DSM-V diagnosis).
Ephebophilia: A strong and persistent sexual attraction to those in later adolescence approximately ages 15-19 years old (not DMS V diagnosis).
Incest: Incest refers to sexual activity with a close relative (parent, sibling, grandparent). While these three categories are all illegal, immoral, unethical, and violations of relationships, they are different from each other clinically. For example, a high school teacher who has sexually inappropriate interactions with a student is not necessarily a pedophile or a risk to young children. Likewise, a person who has in the search history on their computer links to “teen” or late adolescent pornography is also not necessarily a pedophile. That being said a person that has pornography of young children on their computer or search history or has been sexually inappropriate with a prepubescent minor is at a high risk of offending against their own child or other children.
In all these cases it is strongly encouraged that you get into counseling with a professional who can help you evaluate the situation as soon as possible.
Being sexual with someone other than your spouse is infidelity regardless of the gender of the other person.
Same-sex attraction or gender confusion does not mean a person is a pedophile. For example, if you find same-sex adult pornography on a spouse’s computer it does not necessarily mean your children are at risk.
Sometimes in sexual addiction situations, a person may have a sexual encounter with a person of the same sex, but that does not necessarily mean that they have same-sex attraction or that they are homosexual.
Six Types Of Affairs
Not all affairs are the same in nature.
Depending on the kind of affair the way you go about treating it can be different.
As a result, the dynamics of your situation may differ from others you know of and the marriage counseling needs may be different.
Six examples of different types of affairs:
1 – Low rent rendezvous. This is your typical one night stand and may be a one-time betrayal. These often occur in conjunction with drinking and anonymity. The core of the betrayal is based upon bad choices, poor boundaries, lack of integrity, and the opportunity to act.
2 – An affair of convenience or opportunity. It is not something sought out, but rather occurs as the result of an opportunity that is presented. The betrayer does not want to leave the marriage. There is not an ongoing relationship. This does not necessarily indicate more severe problems in the marriage.
3 – Lonely hearts club. Characterized by two individuals who believe they are “in love”. The betrayer believes he or she has “fallen in love” and feels powerless against strong emotions.
The betrayer may feel guilt, but feels they are unable to be happy in their marriage and therefore tell themselves “I deserve to be happy and my spouse deserves to be in a relationship with someone who makes them happy.”
Unlike low rent rendezvous this type often does indicate a deeper problem in the marriage. Betrayer wants out of the marriage. Betrayer seems incapable of making decisions as to what they are going to do.
4 – Looking for love in all the wrong places (sexual addiction). These affairs are committed by those with an ongoing pattern of sexual betrayals such as frequenting topless bars and/or adult bookstores, viewing pornography, compulsive masturbation, prostitution, repetitive encounters with sexual partners, and other behaviors that are destructive to both the individual and to the marriage relationship.
Interestingly, this category of affairs is not about the marriage, and often the betrayer will state they do not want their marriage to fail. Betrayers often feel hopelessly trapped by their behaviors. This type of betrayal is especially difficult for the spouse because their suffering is not just from the betrayal, but also from their inability to understand their mate’s behavior. What the addict has done seems so foreign the spouse cannot comprehend it.
Or they are in shock when they discover the sheer magnitude of the compulsive behavior (like the husband who visited more than 300 prostitutes). It is common for the betrayer to have made past efforts to stop the behavior and to have actually been successful for a season, only to relapse after they believed things were better.
Typically, the betrayer wants to save their marriage but has a compelling drive to look elsewhere to meet their needs. Often these behaviors began before marriage, stopped after marriage, and then began again after the addict realized the marriage couldn’t meet the need met by the addictive behavior.
5 – Having your cake and eating it too. This is an affair where the betrayer is involved with a single person, but at the same time, he or she does not want to leave their marriage. To them, the affair partner is a “soul mate”.
These affairs frequently spring from relationships where two individuals share something in common they don’t share in common with their mate.
It is as if this person develops two lives. Individuals want to stay married. However, betrayers do not want to give up the affair partner. The betrayer’s life is divided into two very distinct parts; the relationship with the affair partner and their relationship with their spouse
6 – You’re not my lover; you’re my friend. This relationship is commonly referred to as the emotional affair. Although some would not consider an emotional entanglement an affair, this type of relationship can be just as devastating and destructive as a sexual affair.
If a mate is closer to a friend than to their spouse, then it’s already an affair. Boundary issues are a factor. Betrayer keeps secrets with their friend instead of their spouse. Betrayer wants to stay married but does not want to choose between the friend and their spouse.
See this article by Rick Reynolds for more on the 6 Types of Affairs.
- Snyder, D. K., Baucom, D. H., & Gordon, K. C. (2007). Treating infidelity: An integrative approach to resolving trauma and promoting forgiveness. psychologist psychologist, 12. 
- Glass, S. P., & Wright, T. L. (1997). Reconstructing marriages after the trauma of infidelity. 
- Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). Research on the treatment of couple distress. Journal of Marital and Family therapy, 38(1), 145-168. 
- Gordon, K. C., Baucom, D. H., & Snyder, D. K. (2005). Treating couples recovering from infidelity: An integrative approach. Journal of clinical psychology, 61(11), 1393-1405. 
- Learning to Love Again After an Affair – The Gottman Institute
- AffairRecovery.com – First Steps Bootcamp
Have a question for one of our therapists?
Submit it through our Ask Page, and it will be answered in an episode of MyCounselorLIVE!
Counseling resources from our therapists, straight to your inbox.
Subscribe to our Newsletter