The Unfair Affair: Part 1

Risk Factors
By: Kirsten Fowler

Part 1 of the series “The Unfair Affair” discusses the risk factors that may contribute to an affair in order  to better understand the question many have of “Why did this happen?”

Guess what? I have a secret: marriage can be really hard. Oh wait, that isn’t a secret. Everyone has trials, arguments, and mountains to climb in marriage. Unfortunately, an affair may be one of those secrets that uncovered the biggest trial of your marriage yet. And the partner not involved in the affair may have asked, “Why? Why did my partner betray me? How did this happen? What did I do wrong?” Although there are many factors, I will focus on the most common factors outlined in research: marital issues, work relationships, and mental health/personality.

Did Our Marital Issues Play A Part?

In a book review of “After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful,” published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy it was reported that most of the unfaithful spouses were simply not giving enough to their relationships. Even Shirley Glass boldly stated that individuals seem to “have time for an affair, but not for their marriage.”

On the flipside, you may have put in some contributing factors as well. Often times the individual that had the affair suffered from loneliness and desperation from the deficits underlying marital dissatisfaction. They were then exposed to greater vulnerability in meeting their needs elsewhere.

All in all, in marriage we must always remember that “it takes two to tango.” But no matter what, it is always a personal choice to have an affair. Even if you may have contributed to the issue at hand, it does not mean that you are to blame. Check out the following possible deficits that may have been apparent in your marriage:

  • Low sexual satisfaction.
  • Unrealistic expectations or demands.
  • Constantly feeling pushed away and criticized rather than loved.
  • Frequent or intense negative feelings and behaviors.
  • Frequent large scale disagreements and constant contention.
  • Reluctance to work on the marital deficits .
  • Different styles of thinking, feeling, and/or communicating.

All in all, in marriage we must always remember that “it takes two to tango.” But no matter what, it is always a personal choice to have an affair. Even if you may have contributed to the issue at hand, it does not mean that you are to blame.

Overall, it may have more to do with human desires than relationship distress. Even if your marriage was, for the most part, healthy and strong, Glass says that “just making sure you have a loving marriage isn’t enough.” So, if you feel your marriage was satisfactory, let’s take a look at what else may have contributed.

Can Work Environments Increase Likelihood for an Affair?

Back in the day, it was mostly men who got into trouble with sexual affairs that began in the workplace. Now more and more women have full-time employment and find themselves in similar positions. Today, both men and women are at risk for the consequences that come from both emotional and sexual affairs in the workplace.

Glass offers insight into how the workplace affair may happen even if the marriage at home is sound.  Glass calls it the “slippery slope.” One of the first steps to this slippery slope is turning to other people instead of a spouse for affection, attention, and disclosure. Talking about marriage problems and personal matters with a co-worker can start a chain of events that leads to infidelity. Here are some of the other factors that may play a part:

  • Pressures from work. There may be pressures from society, culture, or media to focus on career success and neglect emotions, particularly for men.
  • Stressful environments.
  • Long or difficult hours at the office.
  • Putting too much time and energy into projects.
  • Business trips with close colleagues.
  • Potential pressure from the outside partner to make the relationship more formal.

To top it off, it is important to realize that many individuals spend more hours of the day at work interacting with co-workers than they do their own families. What if it wasn’t so much the work environment, the old flame, or the co-worker as it was the personality of the person? Let’s take a look at our next risk factor: mental health.

Did Mental Health and Personality Play A Part In The Affair?

There are many aspects of mental health that effect individuals and may put them at greater risk for having an affair. Such characteristics may include depression, OCD, and anxiety. Poor mental health can also play a large role when it comes to relationship satisfaction.

It is also important to note that some people also have a higher sex drive, are more flirtatious, and put off a more sexual aura. This can lead to more taboo situations and greater vulnerability. The same can be said for those who are more irresponsible, impulsive, or care-free. Being prone to such personality traits can raise the risk for a possible affair. Of course, not all people who struggle with mental health issues or have impulsive personalities have affairs, but this is something to be aware of.

What Are Other Risk Factors I Should Look For?

You may be wondering if the internet plays a part here as well. It does. In fact, as social media and networking sites become more popular, risk increases. Social media offers a unique opportunity to connect with old high school flames or establish greater emotional connections with co-workers. The internet also aids in the influx of pornography and the human body being portrayed as a sex object– especially women(See this article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology).

There are a few other factors you may not have thought of. Living together before getting married, being newly married, or a wife’s pregnancy were also reported risk factors for an affair. Going through the stress involved in negotiating roles, developing healthy boundaries, maintaining intimacy, and family planning can actually increase the risk of infidelity.   Additional risk factors include low religiosity and substance abuse.

Now that you may have a greater understanding of why the affair happened, try to avoid pointing fingers and instead focus your efforts on making improvements, moving forward, and seeing where to go from here.  If you have recently experienced a divorce, check out Part 3 in the series, “The Unfair Affair” where I talk about the aftermath and what to do next.


Research for this blog was primarily obtained from “Getting Past The Affair: A Program to help you cope, heal, and move on- together or apart,” by Douglas K. Snyder, PhD, Donald H. Baucom, PhD, and Kristina Coop Gordon, PhD, as well as the book, “Not Just Friends: Rebuilding trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity,” by Shirley Glass. All other research based on peer-reviewed journal articles as stated or linked.