The Affair

Cheating’s cheating, right? Or is it? We explore this age-old transgression.


Philippa Richardson

Pip is a Transactional Analysis psychotherapist and creates our service. Through her training and life experience - 3 families, 3 continents, 3 careers (law, marketing, psychology) - Pip has come to see how we all write our own life story.

Most of us wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of adultery.

Many of us see it as morally wrong. The ultimate betrayal. Dishonest, selfish – and just plainly and simply so painful.

But it’s worth looking more deeply at this age-old transgression. The moralistic view on adultery cuts out the variety of emotions and needs that go into the reasons behind an affair. For there are a multitude, and there lies the learning.

Why do we do it?

An affair can unleash tamed desires, years of repression, fulfil needs unfulfilled at home. Or satisfy a driving desire to rebel – to be bad for once, for someone who has always felt the pressure to be so damn good.

All these potential motivations raise another layer of questions...

Why are we “tame” at home? Why don’t we seek fulfilment there, in bed, with our long term partner? What is being “good”?

Faced with the temptation of an affair, or a risky flirtation, if we put half that effort into focussing on our partner as we do into hiding sexual desire outside our relationship… could everyone be the better for it?

Types of Affair

Affairs are as old as marriage. And they come in all shapes and sizes. The common factor is that there is secrecy and dishonesty. And there lies the disrespect and the pain.

Dishonesty is what makes it an affair.

So what are the different types are how do you view them?

Going solo

Porn, fantasy about others… Do you think of these as cheating? Are you being unfaithful to your partner if you indulge your fantasies about others alone? Does it make a difference if you are with your partner when you fantasise? Do you care if the fantasy is about someone they know?

There are so many shades of sexual exploration that strictly-speaking lie outside a relationship. Everyone is entitled to their own secret thoughts and desires – and indeed it’s healthy to have them – have you ever thought of bringing some of these into your relationship? If not, why not?


What if we watch our fantasies play out online? Live? Or dirty-talk them out with a stranger on a sex chat site?

Do you view this as cheating? Does it make a difference how often or who we do it with?

The one-night mistake

Perhaps one night something or someone triggered your imagination, your desire, and you lost control. Blame the booze, perhaps. “Darling, it meant nothing”.

Did it really mean nothing at all to you? Did you take nothing at all from it? Not even gratification? Did it give you an ego boost? Or did you briefly make a real connection with that other person?

The object of your desire might not be important to you as a relationship – but what was it that meant you needed this experience? To feel desired? To feel alive? How can you create this in your relationship? Does it point to some compassion and healing you need to do for yourself?

The repeated sexual transgression

Stereotyped as the "player" or the femme fatale, this type of unfaithfulness is when secret sex with another, or others, becomes a pattern.

There may be some connection – an interesting conversation perhaps, or some companionship – but the key is you get your sexual needs met repeatedly by someone who is not your partner.

Why be loved by only one person when you can be loved by two, or three, perhaps? Why miss out on multiple gorgeous people by limiting yourself to only one?

Some people are open about non-monogamous preferences and enjoy multiple sexual relationships at once, creating an open relationship that works for all involved. The important thing is it is just that – it is made open and consensual. Everyone needs to be given the choice. Where there is honesty there’s respect, and it’s no longer an affair. But where we’re given no choice, it's more likely to be some kind of power play or failure to take responsibility for yourself.

The emotional affair

“Nothing happened!” And physically speaking it really didn’t. Maybe some emailing, texting, a little flirting perhaps. But we know deep down that our thoughts and intentions about this other person meant something. They gave us something we needed.

Perhaps a simple friendship forms. Or there may be longing and angst. Either way we get our need to be seen, heard and desired met by someone who is not our partner. But we stop before anything sexual ever happens.

Which begs the question: what is that we need that we’re not currently getting in our relationship? Why is it not our partner that we emotionally connect with? And why are we texting/calling someone else instead of trying to address this and create this emotional bond with our partner… Or is it that one person is never enough, in which case see above re open relationships.

The love affair

This is the voyage of self-discovery. A connection of mind, body and soul (whatever that means to you) with someone “else”. Someone who we connect with intellectually, emotionally and sexually. The holy trio.

It may feel transcendent, like we can’t conceive of doing anything else but be with this other person. It causes us to open up parts of ourself we never have before. It shifts our whole worldview. 

This type of affair can present a major life challenge. It’s a fork in our path where we must choose which way to go. It can be a trigger for our personal growth. If it doesn’t last it can be the catalyst for us looking at something in ourselves or in our existing relationship that we need to look at – and heal.

That’s not to make this type of affair into something it’s not – it’s still an affair, meaning there is dishonesty involved in the process, and that can’t be ignored – a love affair may be heightened by secrecy. Feelings may also be heightened by the context: the gravity of the situation and the possible consequences for the transformative relationship.

This type of deep affair is often a trigger, but not always the ultimate target.


By exploring all layers of the picture, perhaps an affair can eventually teach us about ourselves. It’s possible that an affair can show us things we need to see in our current relationship, needs we to serve in ourself, and therefore serve as a means of personal growth, whether or not we decide to stay in the relationship afterwards.

For once we understand why we do things we’re free to choose paths that enrich rather than destroy, that are full of love rather than causing pain. We can find respect and honesty with and for ourselves and others.