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Definition of An Affair Clarification

In yesterday’s blog I gave my definition of an affair around Herman Cain’s secret relationship with another woman to whom he admitted he gave money to without his wife’s knowledge.  He claimed he didn’t have an affair with her, by which he means, I presume, that he didn’t have sex with her.  I explained that you can have an affair without being sexual and that in my definition of an affair it has to do with meeting another’s needs or letting another meet your needs when those needs should be met by one’s spouse.  Formally I explained my definition of an affair as follows:

Any time you meet someone else’s needs when you should meeting your spouse’s needs or any time someone else (or in the case of pornography, something else) is meeting your needs, when your spouse should be the only one meeting those needs, that would be an affair.

After writing the blog I ran it by my son, Brandon, who works as our staff researcher and a regular blogger (see his very helpful contributions here), and he wondered how my definition applied to two male friends or two female friends.  The answer to that required a longer answer than I could discuss in yesterday’s blog, so I’m going to try and tackle that question today.

The research on this is pretty interesting.  Men who have close guy friends have fewer affairs (with women) then men who don’t.  This is a problem that has arisen in modern society where we don’t have the time to develop and maintain relationships outside of work or our immediate family.  People are inside their houses at night after work watching TV and surfing the internet, or even, often, working late into the night.  We’re not sitting around campfires and chatting it up with the neighbors anymore.  Our city parks and sidewalks are empty except for people exercising who are in a zone and the most they can manage is a nod to their neighbor as they check their hearts rates on their armband heart monitors.

This unidirectional tendency puts an awful lot of stress on a marriage to fulfill nearly all or all of a person’s social life.  The demand is too high.  As much as I think of marriage as being awesome, it was never intended to meet ALL of our social needs.  We need friends outside of our spouses.  We need social contact outside our immediate families.  This is why, apart from spiritual concerns, people who go to church seem to do better in overall marriage and life quality.  Their lives have more balance with different social functions at church including social contact at worship services on the whole then folk who spend night after night, year after year, alone.

The friendship a woman has with a woman or a man has with a man is different than the friendship a husband and wife have.  There are different needs being met.  When guys get together or women get together they talk about a lot of different things than they with each other do at home.  This is totally fine and normal and to be encouraged.  A couple of guys can banter about the football game all evening and a couple of gals can share delightful stories about their kids all evening, but get them alone with their spouse and only a few tidbits are shared.  This doesn’t mean they don’t love their spouses.  When the couple gets alone they may discuss the football game and the kids, but they may also discuss other things and bond in other ways and it’s all totally fine.

Most guys in our day could use more human contact with like-minded other guys.  Most gals in our day could use more human contact with like-minded other gals.

But like anything, there can be too much of a good thing.

Let’s not take this “friend” thing to the point where there’s no room for your spouse in the picture.  That’s not going to go over well, nor should it.

Here’s some examples I’ve heard over the years, sometimes many times, of situations that are out of hand and, in my opinion, the spouses of these folks SHOULD be upset.  Balance people!

-A husband spends every night and all day Saturday and Sunday out in the garage working on his race car with his race car buddies and then goes to the races on Friday or Saturday night and doesn’t get home til 5 AM Sunday week after week

-A husband spends every waking moment in the garage with the neighbor kicking back and drinking beer after beer, maybe working on a car or two, maybe not

-A wife likes to dance and her husband doesn’t so she goes out with her girlfriends to the dance club or bar til all hours of the night, week after week.  Drinking is usually part of this scenario.

-A husband hunts from October to March every night after work, every morning before work and every weekend.  This may or may not be with another hunting buddy

-A husband fishes in every conceivable body of water at any available moment and the moments he thinks are available are not the same ones as his wife, such as when she’s giving birth or her mother is dying

-A wife goes out with her workmates after work every week, sometimes more, and her workmates are all single and ten years younger than her

-A husband practically lives on his boat drinking beer by himself and with the other boaters with whom he’s drank for years.  His wife has grown to hate the boat as much as the beer and as much as the beer guzzling friends.

-A husband tells his guy friends or a wife tells her gal friends all of the couple’s secrets, particularly about his or her marriage, even more than they discuss it with their respective spouses.  This may also be a pastor or a counselor and the spouse is at home lonely and not hearing a word about his or her spouse’s heart or hurt.

-A husband or wife plays video or online role playing games for hours and hours a day or surf’s the internet, or chats on Facebook or is on the computer to all hours of the night or texts everyone else and then keeps all of these “social” contacts secret (“I can do what I want.  You aren’t my boss.”)

-A husband or wife thinks about work, breaths work, dreams about work, worries about work, obsesses about work, talks about work, works and interacts with workmates and work clients on the cell phone, email, texting, computer, constantly, day after day, year after year, really not having a moment or taking a moment to chill and enjoy his or her wife, husband or kids, at all, period, include trips to the Bahama’s where he has to check his email

Then these folk come to see me and the spouses of these people are discussing their feelings about the beer or the stock car or their spouses’ workmates or the garage or the neighbor or the rifle or the boat or the dance club or their spouses’ jobs as if these were an affair.  They might not use the word, but the way they describe their feelings of neglect, betrayal, loneliness, anger and, yes, their lack of trust, sounds just like the spouse is involved in an affair.  I’m not making this up.  That’s how they sound.

Hunting for six months out of the year can create a trust issue?  You bet.  While you are gone all the time doing your own thing (with other friends or not), your spouse is left alone holding down the fort and making sure the kids, the household, the house and the bills are all covered.  Your spouse gets demoted from a spouse to a hired hand or a maid and neither of those titles are very endearing, let me tell you.  Furthermore, things happen that you will be totally oblivious to and your spouse will have to address these emergency concerns alone without your input.  If your spouse trusts that you will always be gone or always be preoccupied or always irritated if you are interrupted, you can bet, over time, her trust in you will dissipate.  So will her reliance on you.  You’ve trained her to not need you, so after awhile, she’ll tell herself she doesn’t need you after all.

You can hire a maid.  You can hire someone to pay your bills for you.  You can even hire a nanny.  Convey to your spouse that he or she is completely unnecessary except for duties and see how well your marriage goes.

And please don’t tell your spouse that you are just the hunting, fishing, shopping, mechanic, carpenter, antiquing, beer-guzzling, dance clubbing, close-down-the bar, workaholic, football, NASCAR, buddies-in-the-garage, texting, Facebooking, online-gaming type and you-knew-I-was-like-this-before-I got-married-so-don’t-try-to-change-me excuse.  Maybe she knew?  I don’t think you should resent it that your wife thought that maybe over, say, the next thirty years, or so, you might grow up a tad?  Just a little?

There’s nothing more boring than being married to a 22 year old for 30 years.

I’ve heard people talk about the beer, the garage, the boat, the neighbor, as if it were an affair.  That’s how it feels sometimes, when things get out of control.  If your spouse is talking to you this way, I’d advise you to take heed, because there will come a time when he won’t tell you this type of behavior bugs him.  When this happens be very, very afraid.  The research on this is scary.  John Gottman, the leading marital researcher, would go so far as to say, when your spouse quits complaining about this type of thing, it’s because she’s totally shut down and she is marking her days until she dumps your sorry butt and then you will come to see me and want me to rescue your marriage, which I am happy to do, but your spouse might say something like, too little too late or, Humpty Dumpty has already fallen off the wall, and though you mourn and wail and change your lifestyle and you’ll do whatever it takes including never hunting again, your spouse will look off at the other wall in a blank stair and nothing you say will sway her from looking at you ever again in the eye the way she once did.

Hunting just won’t be the same after that.


See the first blog Dr. Bing refers to in this blog about Herman Cain and the Definition of an Affair.

See Dr. Bing’s other blogs on affairs here.

He deals with this subject in several podcasts.  See the entire podcast list here.


Dr. Bing Wall is a therapist specializing in marriage and relationships and issues facing single adults with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

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