For as long as Anne and I have been working together we had ongoing discussions about a wide range of clinical and philosophical issues. In some areas we agreed while in others we strongly disagreed. One of those areas that we have different points of view was the definition of an affair. Anne believed that two people have an affair when they have a sexual relationship. I believed that any relationship that is a secret is an affair.

I am of the opinion that when one spouse meets another person that he/she likes and wants to keep it a secret from his/her spouse then he/she is initiating an affair. That secret communication might be in the form of emails, letters or physical meetings. I call it an affair because when the other spouse finds out the details of the secret connection then he/she gets upset and feels betrayed. It is not uncommon for the marriage to experience a crisis when the secret is caught.

I believe secret affairs can be of three types

A, platonic, when the affair is emotional

B, sexual, when the affair is romantic

C, sensual, when the affair is more than platonic and less than sexual.

Such affairs are most problematic to understand and cope with, as they are emotionally most complicated. Such affairs lead to endless debates between spouses. The involved spouse tries to prove that the relationship is platonic while the bruised and hurt spouse tries to prove that the affair could have easily become sexual.

When I see such couples in therapy, I bring to their attention that in emotionally and romantically intimate relationships perception is as important as intention and when we are dealing with three people in a secret affair we are dealing with three perceptions and three intentions and in rare cases when both partners are having secret affairs then we are dealing with four perceptions and four intentions and the differences can lead to endless discussions, in many cases painful, resulting in emotional pain, and breakdown of trust and communication and heartaches and heartbreaks,

Being a psychotherapist of troubled relationships it took me a long time to realize that in intimate relationships perceptions are as important as intentions.

March 14, 2005