Extramarital or illicit affairs have provided material for many romance novels over the centuries. Reality can be uglier than fiction, though, when clandestine entanglements unravel, wounding hearts and ruining relationships. Love affairs might reveal underlying problems in existing partnerships and force issues to the surface. People tend to define affairs differently, but usually an affair involves physical and emotional intimacy between two people when at least one is already committed to a monogamous relationship.
An affair can start with purely physical attraction. Over time, however, lovers can develop strong emotional ties. According to the "Psychology Today Magazine" website, affairs that involve both strong physical and emotional attraction pose the greatest danger to existing relationships. In the 1978 movie "Same Time, Next Year," Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn maintain a mutually agreeable, if surreptitious, supplement to their existing relationships--but, in reality, maintaining boundaries in long-term extramarital affairs can be just as difficult as maintaining boundaries in conventional relationships. Even if the lovers decide to split and return to their respective partners, guilt over the affair sometimes forces one or both into a hurried confession.
Chemical changes take place in the brains of people who first start intense affairs, according to Helen Fisher, Ph.D., research professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, in "Why Him? Why Her? Finding Real Love by Understanding Your Personality Type." Brains of new lovers release large amounts of dopamine, a chemical that can cause euphoria and irrational thinking. "Crazy in love" is more than just a common phrase--intense love affairs can result in good people acting out of character or recklessly, according to Fisher.
A secret affair might hurt the participants, but an affair--once confessed--targets the spouses and family members of the lovers. Trust once destroyed is difficult to restore, and according to "Psychology Today Magazine," some marriages never fully recover. Intimacy--key to a successful relationship--depends on each person trusting the other. When one person breaks the rules by having an affair, those rules go out the window. Retribution affairs occur when one spouse retaliates in kind, having found out about a betrayal. Rather than evening the score, retribution affairs usually unearth issues involving self-esteem and family dynamics, according to Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., in an article for "Psychology Today Magazine."