The Tangled Web of Multiple Affairs

Photo by Ratstuben/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Ratstuben/iStock / Getty Images


Some people find themselves engaging in multiple affairs either within a monogamous relationship or as stand-alone interactions: whatever the case there tends to be a common theme of secrecy, the relationships being complicated, and there being a degree of unmanageability despite what the person who is engaging in them believes.  

Multiple Affairs versus Polyamory

Multiple affairs can be contrasted with the relationship style of polyamory, which has numerous different forms.  Polyamory, regardless of the form that it takes can be contrasted to multiple affairs to the extent that the individuals participating and those relationships are upfront and honest about their involvement with other sexual or romantic partners.  People who engage in multiple affairs tend to keep one or more of the partners  ‘in the dark’ about one or more of the other relationships.  This is a very complicated thing to manage and our modern-day technological society, with all of the electronic communication that's involved with cell phones, computers, tablets, etc.  

How Multiple Affairs Can Become Unmanageable

This in turn can create a feeling of unmanageability for individuals participating in multiple affairs or even one affair in general, because the primary partner has numerous ways to discover what it is that the other partner is doing.  The point here is that electronic communications leave trails and those trails can be discovered either because the offending partner is not careful in all cases about covering up their communication tracks or the partner who is being cheated on is suspicious and looks for evidence of infidelity.  Esther Parel MA, LMFT, in one of her Ted Talks addresses this issue specifics about how easy it is to cheat, but contrasts this with how hard it is in our current technological world to keep secrets.  I mentioned earlier that having affairs, particularly multiple affairs with all the parties that are involved in them, as well as the secrecy element can create the feeling of unmanageability for the person at the center of them.  This feeling of unmanageability and what some individuals might call sex addiction, but for the sake of diagnostic accuracy I will call out-of control-sexual behavior. The offending party will be found out by their spouse or primary  partner, and this will sometimes result in a trip to the therapist’s office for the first time with the partner who has been offended often initiating the treatment for the offending party.  The secrecy again can be part of what some would refer to as sex addiction, but which I will refer to you as the out-of-control sexual behavior. This term was first used by Doug Braun Harvey and Michael Vigorito in their book  Treating Out-of-Control Sexual Behavior:  Re-thinking Sex Addiction, which I have referred to previously in my blog.  The person who is keeping the secrets might not consider this to be a problem, at least initially, but when the offending party winds up getting caught by their spouse or primary partner, it can quickly rise to the level of a problem.  Exactly what thought process contributes to the keeping of secrets, it can largely be attributed or often attributed to feelings of shame about the offending partner's sexual conduct, desires, fantasies, or erotic turn-ons.  This is contrasted to polyamorous relationships, where there is not an element of secrecy comma and ideally there are boundaries within the relationship that can mitigate against one partner feeling offended by the other partner's sexual behavior.  This is not to advocate for polyamory, but meant merely to contrast the two of these.  One also has to wonder about the offending partner’s attraction to chaotic situations.  Certainly it would appear that anyone engaged in multiple affairs and also maintaining a primary relationship would have some degree of attraction to chaos in their lives.  Some people would call this adventurousness, or perhaps excitement, but that would also call into question how much stress an individual ideally should expose themselves to.  This can be seen to mimic a pattern that might have been established in childhood where the individual was exposed to multiple stressors within  their family growing up, and the became used to it.  That doesn't mean that it is an optimal situation for a person to be in, however all this serves to repeat a pattern that the person exposed themselves to or was exposed to growing up, which can perpetuate emotional distress, mental illness, or a generally unhealthy lifestyle.  

The Unraveling

Whatever the case when the secrets are exposed and the offending partner is found out this can become like a house of cards with collapses in on itself.  Then the person is forced to deal with the truth, which often is painful, and is seriously erodes trust, which can take years to rebuild if the person stays in their primary relationship, and that's a big if these days because of how much more acceptable divorce is becoming and how women will tend to use infidelity as a reason to initiate divorce.  In any case, the offending party needs to deal with underlying emotional issues that have contributed to their out-of-control sexual behavior, and that's where psychotherapy can play a role.  

The  Way Back from Affairs

Good psychotherapy, both couples and individual, as well as adopting and adhering to sexual health principles is way out of this dilemma.  That is something that I can help with, especially for men who fit the description that I have laid out in this post.  Feel free to call me or contact me if you or your spouse find yourself in this situation, as this is one that, although it is not easily repairable, is definitely treatable.  There is hope, and it doesn't have to rely on a diagnosis, but it does need to rely on a person's willingness to get better.