The allure of a new relationship can be intoxicating, especially when your current marriage feels unfulfilling. But before you make the leap from spouse to affair partner, consider this sobering statistic: over 75% of marriages that begin as affairs never reach their 5th anniversary.1 As a clinical psychologist who has counseled many couples in this situation, I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges these relationships face. Let’s dive into the reasons why leaving your marriage for an affair partner is often a rocky path fraught with unexpected obstacles.

The trust deficit

When a relationship is born from infidelity, trust issues often linger.2 Even if you felt justified in leaving your marriage, your new partner may always wonder, “If they cheated with me, will they cheat on me?” This bothersome doubt can breed insecurity and fuel constant reassurance-seeking that erodes the relationship over time.

Consider Nicholas and Amber, a couple in their late 20s who fell in love while Nicholas was still married to Emily. They lived in Seattle, where Nicholas worked as a software engineer and Emily taught elementary school. Once the affair came to light, Nicholas divorced Emily, leaving her to co-parent their two young children while he moved in with Amber.

Though initially thrilling, the weight of their actions soon caught up with them. Amber struggled to trust Nicholas when he worked late or texted with female colleagues. The guilt of breaking up a family hung over Nicholas, souring his excitement about the new relationship. Like many affair partners, they had to grapple with the repercussions of their choices.

The comparison trap

Affairs often thrive on fantasy – the false belief that the new partner is the soulmate you’ve always longed for, in contrast to your ho-hum spouse.3 But once real life sets in, the bloom falls off the rose. Suddenly, your affair partner’s quirks aren’t so endearing and the day-to-day grind of cohabitation feels all too familiar.

Emily struggled to make sense of how Nicholas could walk away from ten years of marriage for a woman he’d known less than one. She pored over photos of Amber on social media, comparing herself mercilessly. This pattern of “affair partner competition” is extremely common and psychologically destructive for the left-behind spouse.4

Collateral damage

While caught up in the passion of an affair, it’s easy to overlook the shrapnel it sprays into other people’s lives. Children are especially vulnerable, often feeling confused, betrayed, and torn between loyalty to each parent.5 Extended family and mutual friends can also get caught in the crossfire, forced to take sides or sever ties altogether.

Though Emily had primary custody, Nicholas’ children struggled to adjust to shuffling between two households and welcoming his new live-in girlfriend. They missed their father desperately and resented Amber as the cause of the family breakdown. The tension put an enormous strain on Nicholas and Amber’s relationship as they clashed over parenting styles and discipline.

Socially, the affair divided their friend group into camps, with several of Nicholas’ buddies disapproving of his actions and refusing to spend time with the new couple. The isolation narrowed their social circle to a small echo chamber of supporters.

Practical hurdles

Logistically and financially, disentangling two lives and merging them with a new partner is rarely a smooth process.6 Contentious divorce proceedings can drag out for many months, racking up legal fees and prolonging the emotional turmoil for everyone involved. Even in the best case scenarios, separating assets, selling a family home, and negotiating custody takes a heavy toll.

Despite earning a good salary, Nicholas was strapped for cash covering spousal and child support on top of rent for a new apartment with Amber. The financial strain created a power imbalance, where Amber grew to resent Nicholas’ inability to wine and dine her or splurge on romantic getaways as he had during the affair. Amber also realized that she and Nick had fewer resources than had she involved herself with a single man. She, too, was supporting his “other family.” While Amber did want children, she hadn’t fully considered that being with Nick would mean ending up often as primary parent half of the time. And Nicholas seemed unwilling to consider having additional children with Amber, given his current level of stress.

Coupled with the legal black cloud of the divorce, the relationship no longer felt carefree and spontaneous. Afterward, the strain of a blended family was real.


Perhaps the greatest challenge of leaving your marriage for an affair partner is the unrealistic expectation that this new relationship, forged in secrecy and deception, will be free from the issues that plagued the old one.7 The hard truth is, we each bring ourselves – our baggage, blind spots, and unmet needs – into every relationship we enter. Falling into an affair may be an intoxicating distraction from long-simmering marital problems, but it’s rarely an effective solution.

That’s not to say that a marriage that begins as an affair is doomed to fail. With self-awareness, empathy for all involved, stellar communication skills, and a willingness to seek professional help, some do go the distance. But the odds aren’t favorable. One longitudinal study found that only 5-7% of affair partners end up marrying each other.8 Of those, about 75% end in divorce.

The missing foundation

Most couples can fondly reminisce about their early days together – the magical first date, meeting the parents, moving in together. These milestones become the bedrock of their shared history, a foundation they can fall back on when times get tough.

But for affair partners, the early chapters of the relationship are often tinged with guilt, secrecy and shame. There may be no cute courtship story to tell, no family celebrations of the new union. Instead, the relationship is forged in duplicity, with late night trysts and furtive text messages.

When Nicholas and Amber began couples therapy, about two years into their relationship, I noticed how they skirted around the details of how they met and fell in love during the Bulher Oral History. The typical tale of “he asked me out, we had an amazing first date” was conspicuously missing. Instead, they recounted an illicit office flirtation that culminated in a drunken one-night stand.

At first, they tried to rewrite history saying they were “basically separated” when they got together. But eventually, the messy truth came out. As they unpacked the origins of their relationship, both fidgeted with discomfort. Amber in particular seemed to feel the absence of a “how we met” story she could proudly share with friends and family. Nicholas had one with Emily. She did not.

Over time, this “missing piece” in a couple’s history can loom larger, becoming a trap door in the foundation of the relationship. With no positive nostalgia to fall back on, affair partners may feel unanchored – as if their entire relationship is mired in moral compromise.9 This can interact with the trust issues described earlier, amplifying insecurities and creating an undercurrent of relationship anxiety.


So before you choose the promise of new love over the commitment you’ve already made, pause and consider: is your current relationship truly beyond repair? Have you earnestly attempted to address the issues with your spouse and rebuild your connection? Or are you letting the fantasy of an affair lure you away from doing the hard work of showing up in your marriage?

Only you can answer those questions for yourself. But as someone who has walked alongside countless couples grappling with the fallout of infidelity, I would urge you to think long and hard before leaping. The grass isn’t always greener, and the collateral damage can be catastrophic. Tread carefully.


  1. Knopp, K., Scott, S., Ritchie, L., Rhoades, G. K., Markman, H. J., & Stanley, S. M. (2017). Once a cheater, always a cheater? Serial infidelity across subsequent relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(8), 2301-2311.
  2. Warach, B., & Josephs, L. (2021). The aftershocks of infidelity: a review of infidelity-based attachment trauma. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 36(1), 68-90.
  3. Schmitt, D. P. (2004). Patterns and universals of mate poaching across 53 nations: the effects of sex, culture, and personality on romantically attracting another person’s partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(4), 560-584.
  4. DeLecce, T. L., & Weisfeld, G. E. (2016). An evolutionary explanation for sex differences in nonmarital breakup experiences. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 2(3), 234-251.
  5. Weiser, D. A., & Weigel, D. J. (2017). Exploring intergenerational patterns of infidelity. Personal Relationships, 24(4), 933-952.
  6. Shrout, M. R., & Weigel, D. J. (2019). “Should I stay or should I go?” Understanding the noninvolved partner’s decision-making process following infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships36(2), 400-420.
  7. Allen, E. S., & Atkins, D. C. (2012). The association of divorce and extramarital sex in a representative U.S. sample. Journal of Family Issues, 33(11), 1477-1493.
  8. Ziv, I., Lubin, O. B. H., & Asher, S. (2018). “I swear I will never betray you”: factors reported by spouses as helping them resist extramarital sex in relation to gender, marriage length, and religiosity. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(2), 236-251.