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Can an affair ever help a marriage? Add to ...

The question: I’m considering an affair. Ethics aside, have you ever encountered situations in which it helped a marriage?

The answer: My simple answer to your question is no.

Relationships come in all different shapes and sizes, and we often see atypical relationship arrangements in our society (swinging, open relationships and so on).

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That being said, the key premise to even a non-mainstream type of relationship is trust.

Implicit in your question about having an affair is that you will engage in some behaviour that is done secretively, without your spouse’s consent. In no situation does a breach of the trust of someone we love turn out well. I don’t see this as an issue of ethics at all – but rather respect and transparency in actions toward your partner.

That being said, your thoughts of having an affair demand attention. Often, partners consider an affair when there are significant issues in their primary relationship that need repair.

Ask yourself a few key questions. What is it about the affair that is enticing you? What do you anticipate you would get from the affair? Sex? Attention? Emotional fulfilment? A distraction from issues in your marriage? Try to articulate what it is you would get, emotionally and physically, from the affair and then have an open discussion with your partner about how to improve those parts of your relationship. If you are feeling unsatisfied with physical intimacy, actively work on targeting and improving that part of your relationship. If you feel like the two of you have gotten into a rut, talk about ways you can bring back spontaneity. If there are areas of conflict that are creating strife and disagreement, work on improving those.

Often decisions to engage in an affair are made spontaneously with little thought. The fact that you are carefully considering this and asking the question leads me to believe that you have significant hesitance, and perhaps implicitly you are aware of the potential damage this would create. Ask yourself how your partner would react if he or she were to find out about the affair, and if you could live with your decision and ultimate consequences. At this moment in time, an affair may seem alluring. But, more often than not, the aftermath becomes highly messy, and can result in deep hurt and the likely demise of a marriage.

I suspect your issues have existed for some time, that you have already tried to improve unsatisfying areas and perhaps feel discouraged about whether things could improve. But what I hear you saying is that you do want improvements in your marriage. If you feel that the two of you are stuck and not able to move forward on your own, consider seeing a marriage therapist. A therapist can assist you in navigating through your issues before you jump to making a decision you will not be able to undo, one that will ultimately create more harm than good. Remind yourself of the qualities of your partner and relationship that you love and value, and remember the commitments that you made to your spouse when you got married.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at psychologist@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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