This is an article for anyone who is heartbroken about an affair.

Affairs almost always cause trouble for someone.

They may start as a little bit of fun when people are lonely, or bored, or simply looking for a little bit of excitement – and the participants may claim at that stage that they ‘can handle it’. But most of these liaisons end up by causing heartache all round.

The word ‘affair’ covers everything from the briefest of sexual dalliances, to real love matches that endure for decades.

Personally, however, I don’t choose to define a one-night stand as an ‘affair.’

A one-night stand very often happens when people are drunk. Many of them occur when people who would normally be at home are incarcerated together overnight, in unusual circumstances. Situations like summer schools, sales conventions and business conferences are all fertile breeding grounds for this kind of hanky-panky.

Now, I actually believe that it is possible for someone to have a good relationship at home, but still somehow find him or herself having a one-night stand – because of loneliness or drunkenness, or both.

On the whole, one-night stands are pretty dire. Occasionally, I suppose, adults feel better for having had some relief from sexual tension. But much more often, they’re worried about what people will think, whether their partners will get to hear about it, and whether or not they might have picked up a disease or got pregnant.

A real affair – unlike a one-off one-night stand – is very unlikely to happen when a long-term relationship is in good shape. Basically, when people are happy with each other they don’t even notice someone else putting out enticing signals!

This is an important point, especially for anyone whose partner or ex-partner has had an affair.

People in perfect relationships rarely stray. So, if you’re going to recover from your partner’s affair – and maybe even take him or her back – you’re going to have to face the unpalatable truth that things couldn’t have been entirely OK at home before the affair began.

This means that even if you think your partner’s been an absolute bastard to betray you in this way, a full reconciliation is unlikely unless you can see that there were problems within your relationship prior to the affair.

Nowadays, affairs are very common. Traditionally, it was married men who had them, usually with younger, single women. But now that we women have efficient contraception, and the freedom that comes from having a career and income, affairs are just as likely to involve married or cohabiting females.

Unfortunately, because of the secret nature of most affairs, the ending of them can be a very solitary business.

Even if you do confide in a friend about it, you may well be told that: ‘Well you knew there was no future in it, didn’t you?’ Or: ‘Everyone knew you were playing with fire and now you’ve got burnt.’ And perhaps worst of all: ‘Well, you weren’t the first and you won’t be the last.’

To discover that this person you loved has had a string of illicit liaisons is extraordinarily painful, even after your affair has ended.

Very many affairs evolve in the workplace. So when they end, it’s commonplace for people’s jobs to become quite untenable.

Having to see your ex-lover daily when you are struggling to get over him or her is not a good idea.

But worse than that, if one of the lovers is senior to the other, the firm may very well protect that person at the expense of the junior employee.

For example, secretaries get moved to another department while bosses remain in their own comfortable, swivel chairs. And sometimes life at work can be made so intolerable for one participant of a recently-ended affair that the only sane course of action is to leave.

So you may be reading this article having not only lost your love, but also your livelihood. Of course, you can try to fight what is happening to you – either through your Human Resources Department, or with help from your trade union if you belong to one – but in practice most people don’t. It takes a hell of a lot of courage at a time when you are at your most sad and vulnerable.

heart on sofa

It’s hurtful enough if you get dumped from a relatively short-term affair – especially if it involves your job too – but being rejected after having loved someone secretly for years, is a truly devastating experience for many people. And nowadays it isn’t just women who get hurt in this way.

Shaun is a young freelance journalist. He met Anthea – fifteen years his senior – when he showed her how to use the Pec Deck at the gym.

Afterwards, in the juice bar, she bought him a drink and they got chatting. The attraction was immediate and their affair began soon afterwards.

Shaun had recently been dumped by his girlfriend and was more than ready for some female appreciation. Anthea was married to a highly successful businessman, who was the managing director of a chain of department stores.

Anthea claimed to be unhappy in her marriage. Her children were away at university and she said her husband was too busy to pay her any attention, and that he wasn’t interested in the theatre, or music, or any of the things that she felt made life worth living. She told Shaun that he was everything that her husband was not.

As for Shaun, he was besotted. Anthea was older and she certainly knew her way round the human body. She was confident in bed and eager for lots of sex.

He believed she was the woman he’d waited for all his life – and after they’d been seeing each other for over a year, he asked her to leave her marriage.

She kept promising that she’d think about it and that she’d talk to her husband about what was happening. But she never did. Eventually, Shaun gave her an ultimatum – ‘him or me’ – and she disappeared from his life. She wrote to him saying that she wasn’t prepared to divorce, because she didn’t want to cause upheaval for her kids.

Afterwards, Shaun wished that he’d simply gone on as they were rather than lose her. But he knew that they’d got to the stage where the relationship as it was, simply wasn’t enough for him.

Unfortunately, no one in his life knew about Anthea, so losing her left an enormous void that he couldn’t discuss with anyone.

He also started to question how much he had actually meant to her. And he tormented himself with thoughts that she preferred her comfortable lifestyle to sharing his rather ramshackle existence.

He saw her occasionally, by chance, but she never acknowledged him again. And he got the feeling that her life had been untroubled by the affair and that – as far as she was concerned – it was as if he’d never been part of it. He found this a very bitter and agonising experience, and a very lonely one.

Some months later when he came to my consulting room, he said: ‘I hope this doesn’t sound petty, but what I really want to know is whether I was just a distraction for her, or whether she really loved me? But she won’t tell me and I have no one else to ask. And now I feel as though I’ve drowned, and the waters have closed over my head. It’s as if our love didn’t bother her in any sense at all. I’ve never felt more bereft in my life.’

It took Shaun a long time to recover and to find someone new to love and trust.

Kate’s experience was just as painful.

She had been the long-term lover of a college lecturer. Their affair had begun when she was a student and he was her tutor. He claimed to have fallen incandescently in love with her, but insisted that he couldn’t leave his wife and children.

Kate was so in love she put up with never seeing him on her birthday, or at Christmas or during the holidays and also never quite knowing if he would turn up when he said they would.

She also put up with his extreme moodiness. He could become very depressed – seemingly for no reason – and when that happened, he would avoid her. Or, if he did see her, he would come round for sex in the usual way, but be remote and unloving.

During those moody spells she was always fearful that he had tired of her. She used to feel panicstricken, because she loved him so much. But he always recovered, and then he thanked her for sticking by him – and his gratitude always renewed the bond between them.

As his children grew older, he promised her that one day he would leave his wife.

But time went on. His children went off to university. And with a shock, Kate realised that her affair had been going on for 17 years. Years when very few people knew about her love life. Years when she might have expected to get married. Years when she would certainly have liked to have started her own family.

Still, she consoled herself with the thought that their love was special, and that soon all would be well.

Well, eventually, her lover did leave his wife. But he didn’t leave for Kate. He left for a fellow lecturer.

healing broken hearts

Unfortunately, Kate’s situation is not unusual. So, if you’re in an affair that never goes anywhere, and you are feeling heartbroken but are still sticking with it, please take on board that long-term affairs rarely end in marriage. Time and time again, they provide love and support for a married, or co-habiting, person who either never leaves home, or who – in the end – leaves for someone else entirely.

If an individual is going to break up a marriage or co-habiting relationship for his or her new love, it generally happens in the first few months of the affair: not after years and years.

I believe that getting over the end of an affair is a particularly awful form of heartache, and people in this situation tend to be very hard on themselves.

If you’re trying to handle the end of an affair, you may well harangue yourself for your stupidity in hanging on to something that – you now see – was never going to go anywhere. You may feel
enormous guilt for hurting your lover’s spouse. You may feel bitterness at the way you’ve been treated. You may think that nothing ever works out for you, and that therefore you must be a horrible or worthless person.

In next articles, we’ll be looking at how you can re-think these kinds of thoughts and feelings, and get over them.

But for now, the most important step you can take is to lavish care on yourself and to get some support from someone you can trust. And if you really can’t face talking to any of your friends or family, there would be a case for going and talking to a relationship counsellor.

Finally, please remember that just because the world knew nothing of your love, it doesn’t mean that it never happened, or that it wasn’t important.

Your love for this other person was true and valid. And with your capacity for loving, you can definitely love again.