8 Types of Affair And How They Can Affect Your Marriage

I work with many clients whose relationship difficulties have been contributed to by “inappropriate extra-marital relationships”.

In my other blog Not All Affairs End In Divorce, I talk about how not all “cheating” leads to the end of a marriage. I do know of couples who have survived cheating but this is not always possible and everyone’s situation is completely different. 

Andrew G. Marshall, in his book “How Can I Ever Trust You Again?” advises that when someone has had an affair, the future of their marriage can greatly depend on the type of affair which has taken place.

Marshall identifies 8 types of affair and sets these out on a scale of possible severity for the future of the marriage. He calls this the infidelity ladder:

1. Accidental

Here, the person claims they didn’t set out to have an affair. They think that this will help their spouse feel better. Can someone accidentally have an affair? In my opinion, no; everyone has a choice about their behaviour. Marshall points out that it can be an easy step for colleagues or close friends to let things develop from an innocent friendship into something more serious. Marshall explains that these types of affair often start at work. Colleagues spending a lot of time together on projects, going away on business trips, long hours at the office.

2. Cry for help

Here, Marshall identifies that both the couple are likely to be aware of the problems in the marriage but they don’t discuss them. One of the couple may decide to tough it out, hoping things will naturally improve. Whilst the other spouse may feel lonely and becomes vulnerable to the advances of another person to help distract them from their unhappiness. These affairs normally lasts 6months or more. The affair is a way of getting their spouse’s attention.

3. Retaliatory

Marshall describes this type of affair as short-lived and motivated by desire – revenge. The deceiver may feel entitled to have the affair because their partner is; ignoring them, busy with the kids, has a busy workload. The majority of retaliatory affairs occur when one partner discovers the other’s adultery.

4. Self-medication

This type of affair is most likely to occur when long-term problems are allowed to fester or the couple are aware of them but do nothing. The person having the affair feels the marriage is too good to leave but too bad to stay. Both feel trapped by duty, finances, habit etc. and can’t see a way to change things for the better. They settle for second best. The affair is a coping strategy but this in fact causes more problems.

5. Don Juan

These types of cheater (who can be male and female) are philanderers and tend to show no remorse for their cheating. Marshall tells us that these people appear confident on the surface but underneath have low self-esteem and have a need to prove themselves. They have difficulty confronting their problems and instead walk away from them. Don Juan types may have several affairs at the same time. They don’t appreciate the effect their behaviour is having on other people and can become defensive, angry or try to seek sympathy for their actions.

6. Tripod

These types of relationships tend to last longer than other types of cheating and the relationship means more to the cheater and the third party than in other cases. Marshall reminds us that the most famous victim of a tripod affair was Princess Diana who famously said: “There were three of use in this marriage; it was a bit crowded!” A tripod affair can occur when the main relationship becomes too intense and so the person “escapes” to the third party. The cheater cannot imagine finding a way to be together with their “other person” full time. These relationships can last up to 2 years and the cheater has strong feelings for the third party. The cheater likes the security of the main relationship but the excitement of the third party.

7. Exploratory

Marshall explains that with an exploratory affair, the cheater is curious about a different life for themselves. It is a door-opener for them. They may take a look at the possibility of a new life and decide it is not for them or the new relationship could end up being a stepping stone for them leaving their marriage. These types of affair are usually short-term and sexual. The cheater is reasonably happy with their main partner but curious about a different life. The cheater usually describes the affair as “just sex”.

8. Exit

With this type of affair, Marshall informs us that the cheater has fallen in love with the third party but it is also mostly a message to their spouse, that the relationship is over. They have struggled to sort out the problems in the marriage and the couple have drifted apart and/or have problems communicating. Here there have been long-term problems in the relationship and it is often not the first affair for the cheater. The cheater tends not to do very much to cover up their cheating, shows little remorse and often refuses to answer questions about their affair. Marshall describes this cheater as behaving like a self-absorbed teenager. Strangely though, he doesn’t think it has to mean the end of the marriage if the couple work on their problems and, of course, the affair ends.


I work with many clients who have been the victim of cheating by their partner/spouse. It can be very distressing and people often feel very lost as to what they should do next. See my blog Tips for coping with discovering your partner’s infidelity. It is important to get help and support whilst you decide what you would like to do next. Everyone’s situation is different and to find out how I might be able to help you, get in touch with me here – Contact Rhiannon


If you have found the tips in this blog useful then you will find lots more in my ebook “Tips for Coping with Divorce” which you can download here: free ebook.

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