When Marriages Begin As Affairs

Nine defects flaw a second marriage that begins as an affair, according to Dr. Frank Pittman, who is the author of Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy. And a second marriage that begins with infidelity probably will be heading for the rocks within two years, according to Elizabeth Landers, who writes about marriage and family.

The very elements that come together to make an affair exciting and intoxicating are the fuel that consumes the relationship when it becomes a marriage. Such marriages begin on weak foundations that collapse under the strain of everyday life. When the affair is running hot, the partners are blinded to inevitability that the romance consumes itself, and they nearly always imagine that they are the exceptions to an established pattern of human affairs.

Some affairs end in successful relationships endure as healthy long-term marriages that last, but according to experts, these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

First of all, the probability of affairs ending in marriages is not very high — between three and five percent, and many join the 75 percent of second marriages that fail, a rate half again as high as first marriages. While fewer than 25 percent of cheaters leave a marriage for an affair partner, according to one source, most of those relationships are statistically extremely unlikely to endure.

Dr. Frank Pittman, the noted psychiatrist and author, and many others have conjectured about why almost all affairs falter and fail to produce lasting and healthy relationships. Most experts point to several reasons why affairs perish.

Affairs consume energy because they are taboo and must be kept secret. They survive more on what each partner gets than what each invests in the relationship.

Because of the dynamics of a forbidden relationship, one or both partners comes to realize he or she lost much more than he or she now shares. “As relates to sacrifice, often one will discover (or feel) that his or her sacrifice was much greater than what the other person had to sacrifice, and this can lead to resentment and disillusionment.” Paradoxically, sacrifice sometime feeds the relationship until there is nothing left to feed the relationship.

And the most obvious element is that marriage begun on a foundation of betrayal and lies, as is an affair, cannot easily become one of trust and loyalty, as is marriage.

Dr. Pittman’s nine defects in the dynamics of affairs that become marriages chart the trajectory of love as it arcs from a forbidden romance to an established marriage to a marital breakup.

These nine defects include:

  1. While still married to others, the affair partners become immersed in “stimulating unreality,” but the second marriage illuminates reality. “Only after their marriage did the divorce become real enough to see that it was a horrible mistake.  They were so caught up in the infatuation that they never got around to figuring out if what they were doing was sane.”
  2. The cheaters who wrecked a family (or two) and inflicted much pain on innocent people may feel no or little guilt during the affair but become overwhelmed with guilt after they marry.
  3. Divorces drain both financially and emotionally.  After affair partners marry, the new couple may feel a disparity in what had to be sacrificed to bring them together.
  4. Unfaithful couples who marry may believe that the life after the marriage will be as good as life during the affair, and that “[t]he greater the sacrifices, the greater the expectations for the new marriage.”  In short, “[t]he more people enjoy the battles involved in wrecking and escaping marriages, the less they are likely to enjoy the business as usual of the new marriage.”
  5. The affair partners, who were unfaithful, develop a distrust of marriage and for the affair partner who is now a spouse. A marriage that begins on an untruth cannot have a trusting foundation.
  6. During the affair and the divorce, the unfaithful couple isolates and insulate themselves, and they retreat to a private little world “protected from the devastation that they have created, safe from anyone who tries to pull them apart.” In this regime, memories or even mention of the betrayed spouse can be difficult. Later, the now married couple may long to reconnect with these people; however, “[e]veryone involved is hurt by the betrayal and not as forgiving as they have expected. They often find that they only have each other and that can be very lonely.”
  7. When the romance fades, as it does in most marriages, romantics do not understand that this is part of the growth of the marriage, and they do not know how to nurture “a deeper more meaningful relationship”; rather, “they believe that they have just fallen out of love.”
  8. During the affair and the divorce the affair couple convinces each other that the defective marriage is the fault of the betrayed spouse.  To acknowledge otherwise, now that the remarriage has taken place, seems a betrayal of “the rescue fantasies that fed the affair in the first place.”
  9. The absence of a shared history that nurtures a comforting familiarity to relationships that begin earlier in life makes talking about the past difficult. An affair that wrecked a first marriage makes it painful and embarrassing for both spouses to discuss the past because it may promote jealousy and insecurity.  Affair partners who marry do not want to hear the good qualities of the previous marriage and spouses, nor about any good times the former partners had.  Trying to start over can be lonely and disheartening.

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