The Split-Self Affair


Romantic Affairs are intense. Of all the basic types of affairs, none is so crazy as falling in love with someone who is not your spouse. Often the romantic affair partner is someone much younger or older, someone with even bigger problems than our own, or with a lifestyle that is filled with the excitement that we feel has been missing from our lives.


   “They feel life is for the taking, and that everyone deserves happiness no matter what the cost.”

― Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce


The Split Selves have tried to do marriage right. Both spouses have sacrificed their own feelings and needs to take care of others, and the deprivation has caught up with one of them. The affair is serious, long-term and passionate. The spouse who is having the affair focuses on deciding between the marriage and the affair partner and avoids looking at the inner split.


The “split-self” affair is generally a man living a double life, who values the comfort and appearance of a long-term marriage but also has a mistress, maybe even another family. We give a “poor” prognosis for resolving issues that come out of these affairs, but a “low” probability of divorce – perhaps the most depressing combination.


Why this affair happened?


The split self-affair is an attempt to experience the emotional self that has been denied for a lifetime in the service of doing things right. Typically this has been a middle aged mans affair, someone who has been married for 20 or more years, and he regards himself as a family man.



If this relationship is to heal, it is important to have in-depth individual and couples’ counseling, so that each person can be open about feelings.

– Recovery Potential: Good

– Affair Reason: Relationship void

  • Vulnerability comes from need for affection & attention
  • The focus has not been on the marriage but the happiness and needs of the family.
  • The marriage typically revolved around the children
  • “The Great Family Man”
  • “The Perfect Mother”
  • Little if any attention to marriage enrichment
  • Cheater will break up with the lover to “save face” with work and social or work position.


The Family of Origin

Split selves, both the infidel, and the spouse, are people who learned early in life that they were supposed to do the right thing, rather than pay attention to their own needs and feelings. They have used their rational selves to survive and succeed. Because they have had to sacrifice their emotional selves in order to survive, they are about five years old emotionally.

The family they know best, the one they grew up in, provided a negative model. Split selves have worked at being just the opposite of their original family. If mother was smothering, they create some distance. If dad was angry, they are nice. Their intent was to build the perfect family- and this means Care-taking and accommodating.

When problems happen

It often becomes apparent in midlife, when the kids leave home. This leaves the couple with even less to talk about. As they lack in emotional partnership, they will look elsewhere for relief and satisfaction.

Close work friendships often provide some of the emotional satisfaction that is missing at home. Typically the affair partner is a unmarried woman a generation younger, who has unresolved issues with her father that she plays out in the affair. The younger woman is attentive, understanding, and accommodating. The affair is invigorating. It brings excitement and romance.

In this affair type, the marriage feels empty, as opposed to sexual addiction with the individual feels empty.

The couple may or may not even share a bedroom and may lead very separate lives. Their communication is limited to practical matters like taking out the garbage or social necessities. Best described by many of my clients as a “Functional Communication Style.”

The Lovers Profile:

  • The affair itself is typically a serious relationship.
  • Much younger that the infidel – typically by 10 years +
  • One up/One down relationship
  • The lover will be waiting patiently for the infidel to get up enough courage to leave the wife/husband
  • They feel passionately for each other.
  • The OW/OM/Lover has unresolved FOO issues; boundary issues
  • Comfortable living in a “fantasy” state for an extended period of time.
  • Will ask for sympathy after the affair is discovered.


A Romantic Affair is what might be called an “affair of the heart.” It is one in which a strong connection and intimacy is felt by the person having the affair.

A person involved in a Romantic Affair will often speak of having found his or her “soul mate.” The draw can be quite powerful and feels almost as if fate has brought the parties together. For those involved in such an affair, the feelings attraction and connection can cause them to forsake nearly everything they might have to be with their lover.

While there is a common assumption that men and women fall in love at different rates, or that men cheat primarily for sex while women are more likely to be looking for an emotional connection, this may not always be the case.

Dr. Frank Pittman suggests that men are typically more honest about the sex than women, perhaps because men are better able to separate the issue of sex from that of emotional attachment. He believes that this is due in large part to the fact that men have their genitals on the outside rather than inside and so men seem to separate sexual response from a lasting and committed relationship more easily than do women.

Gender Differences in Romantic Affairs

In his practice, he says that he has seen many cases where men admit to the sex and deny any emotional connection to the affair partner, while women tend to talk of strong emotions and feelings of love while denying that sex took place. He believes that if a man denies the sexual context of the affair and dwells on the emotional connection above all else, he is probably lying. He finds that women, on the other hand, more easily talk of an emotional connection and the feelings induced by an affair while denying any sexual context to the entire episode.

Given the general gender differences in response to sex, many of these women may also be lying. It does, however, point to a significant difference between the sexes when it comes to the response to having an affair. The reasons men often give for an affair are related to more sex while women typically point to emotional reasons for deciding to cheat. At the same time, there is no real evidence that men and women fall in love at different rates, or that one sex cheats entirely for love while the other does so for sex.

Those caught up in a romantic affair seem quite capable of sacrificing any part of their lives to prolong or sustain the relationship. They are willing to give up their jobs, break up their families, destroy their own finances and give up almost anything that belongs to them to feed the relationship. Among the various types of affairs, romantic affairs are most likely to lead to divorce, though very few lead to lasting relationships between the affair partners. The obsessive desire to sacrifice for the cause diminishes as the chemical rush of the relationship subsides, and little is left that can be given by the time that takes place. The feelings of “I gave up everything for you” demand ever-higher levels of sacrifice in return, and with little return on investment, the feelings wane and eventually die.

The perfect romantic affair is between a victim and a rescuer. The ideal affair partner is that damsel (or dumsel) in distress, someone with even bigger problems than our own. They typically begin by helping the affair partner with some serious crisis and, as often as not, this crisis is related to the marriage of one or both of those about to have an affair. Intimacy is created that, while based on a falsehood coupled with a wildly out-of-character and even out-of-context sexual or emotional connection, leads the affair partners to the conclusion that the affair is kismet or destiny.


Advice for the betrayed spouse

Romantic affairs are the hardest to break when discovered, and they often go without detection until the cheating spouse leaves the marital home. They usually come as a complete shock to the spouse being left behind and seem so out of character that many looking upon the sequence of events question the sanity to the person having such an affair. Those involved in such an affair exhibit the symptoms of narcissistic and borderline personality disorders.

Little can be done to counter this type of affair. Various attempts to shock the unfaithful spouse out of the insanity of throwing away a life that has taken years to build are met with speeches of the marriage being wrong or for the wrong reasons, and this new relationship having all the right characteristics. The new is in reality mere fantasy, based in large part on the excitement of its inappropriateness. Not many couples recover from this type of affair unless the affair is ended or nearly so by the time of discovery, or unless it is discovered and confronted in the very beginning stages.

Once a spouse commits to leaving the marriage for this new relationship, the affair is seen as the new and right relationship, and the marriage has been turned into the biggest mistake of the cheater’s life. Every reason that can be given as to why the marriage should be saved has already been resolved in the mind of the person walking away. Even if the affair itself dies quite soon after the choice to leave is made, a return to the marriage is nearly impossible and another “newer” and “better” relationship is sought instead. The old has been justified into being unviable and sent to the scrap heap as so much garbage.

Some couples do one day get back together after separation and divorce as the result of romantic affairs, but not many. However, there are some involved in such affairs who one day see the folly of what they are doing and choose to try to return to the marriage.

If the marriage was generally good or long term and you both had a strong sense of commitment to family and vows, some are cheaters are willing to end the affair. This is more likely in the very early stages of the affair, which is why it is critical in a marriage to be aware of what is going on in the life of your spouse.

Once your spouse is in love with someone else, it might seem to be too late for the marriage. Since one of the subsets of romantic affairs is the conflicted romantic affair, this is not always the case. This is the classic “torn between two lovers” scenario about which songs, movies and romance novels rely upon for their lyrics and plots. In this case, a person feels as if they are in love with two people at the same time and do not really want to give either one up. When confronted, they often respond by claiming they want a divorce to pursue the affair relationship. Few actually follow through with this idea, however. What they want is the marriage and the affair. It is usually little more than an attempt to leverage the spouse who confronted them into accepting the idea of allowing them to continue both relationships.

If a romantic affair is discovered and confronted early enough, or if the cheating spouse does not see it as a replacement for the marriage, or the affair has not been justified by turning the marriage into Hell on Earth, even romantic affairs, especially the conflicted romantic affair can result in reconciliation.

Ignoring the infidelity once discovered or being so out of touch with your spouse that your first sign of trouble is when you come home to find the house empty is not very likely to result in keeping the marriage intact.

Treatment Strategy

(When doing the 7 Step Affair Recovery Program)

  • Your challenge will be with having the Infidel commit to Step 1: Commitment. The Infidel will say to you that they will not contact the lover over the next 90 days, but as they are “in love” with this person, here is the challenge – they won’t be able to stay away, so don’t ask them to lie! They will have a challenge in writing the Letter to the Lover activity, and delivering the letter.
  • In this affair type, you may need to be flexible in running your program, knowing that the lover is lurking in the background. The same can be said for Step 2: The affair story. The absolute truth is often too overwhelming for the betrayed partner, and can be counterproductive to the global program outcome.
  • With the Spilt Self Affair Type, it is best to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship in your treatment strategy. The marriage has been going for over two decades, so do relationship enrichment assessments and activities earlier rather than later. This helps  you both create empathy, friendship, love and rapport, where we can then work on communication and conflict resolution.



Infidelity Recovery Coaches are trained to classify your affair type and develop a strategy for prevention based on your past patterns. While a person may have aspects of different types, one type is likely to dominate. Each affair type requires a different form of treatment.

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