An accidental affair is not always a one night stand (ONS), though many ONSs are accidental in the way they take place. What I mean by accidental is that there was no real decision to cheat, no underlying marital problem that was causing a rift or other circumstances that caused a person who fell into the affair to be looking or seeking another person out for any reason whatsoever.
Many of these happen simply because circumstances put two people together and in part due to the fact that so few people understand enough about affairs to prevent them from happening. No one came on to the other, there was not any flirtation at the beginning of the relationship and maybe even not a great deal of attraction between the affair partners. Neither was really looking for anything at all.
While many of these are the result of alcohol, circumstances or other mitigating factors like long periods away from home with a coworker of the opposite sex, they are really the result of missing or poor boundary types of things. As an example, it is sometimes necessary for a man and woman travel for business together. Often times these trips will require meetings with clients AND without the clients in order to discuss specifics of the business at hand.
The problem starts when these “off line” meetings begin to take place in a quiet restaurant or even worse, a private motel room. If the meeting starts over dinner, moves to the motel bar, involves a bit of consumption of drinks that lower selective reasoning and then moves on to the motel room it is really a recipe for disaster.
What many don’t realize is that simply working together on a project, communicating about things that the two people share a common passion about and without it even being personal information that is being shared, they are allowing a relationship to form that at some level deep inside that part of the brain that does not deal with logic but purely with emotion. As the situation continues, unless prevented by one or both from going beyond the strictly business phase, the two people start to GET something from each other that triggers a pleasure response in the brain that feeds them a reward on a level they can’t even put a name to.
Once this point is reached it becomes almost entirely a matter of the will to turn and walk away from the friendship that is beginning to develop. Neither one might be particularly vulnerable, both might have good marriages by their own descriptions and the thought of even considering cheating might never have crossed their minds. However, the feelings the pleasure centers of their brains are feeding them are something they begin to want more of. Two people can actually fall in love with each other and begin to desire being together more and more with absolutely no sexual attraction being present.
At this point, the bond becomes an addiction as chemicals in the brain start taking control of actions and unless something has been done to prevent the whole chain of events from continuing, falling in love or simply giving in to unmet needs that result from being away from the spouse at the time can be almost overwhelming.
The affair isn’t a destination anyone was headed when the whole trip began. It is rather the road that the potential affair partners are on that causes this type of affair. It might be a ONS based entirely on lusts and unmet needs of the moment or it could be falling in love with that cute guy or girl at the office that is the net result of accidental infidelity. It is an accident because neither one was looking for anything at all when it began and neither had any intention of even getting involved personally with each other.
The late Shirley Glass who wrote the book Not Just Friends created on her website what she calls “Quizzes” that measure the vulnerability of marriage partners to an affair. These quizzes measure personal vulnerability, relationship vulnerability and social or network vulnerability. She also has quizzes designed to help identify if the relationship you might have with that friend or coworker has crossed any boundaries and not just established some sort of arbitrary line in the sand as the definition of infidelity.
Link to the Quizzes on the Shirley Glass site: Shirley Glass’ Quizzes
Frank Pittman states that the majority of first affairs even for eventual philanderers are accidental. The reaction of the one having the affair often determines if it will be a one time mistake or accident or if it will lead to a life of secret dalliances and string of sexual conquests. Those who react with a sort of “what was I thinking” or guilt over the affair will often never repeat the process. Those who find it exciting, blame their spouse for the affair or find another “reason” outside themselves for cheating are likely to repeat the affair given the same or similar circumstances.
Pittman uses the analogy of a traffic accident to describe how an accidental affair happens. He talks of driving his 1971 Jaguar down the highway. The car left to its own devices seems to pull always to the left, which here in the US leads it straight into the path of oncoming traffic. He says it doesn’t take a lot of effort to prevent the car from causing death and destruction, simply a moderate control of the hand on the wheel to prevent it from going astray.
This is the way accidental affairs happen. The cheater will seem genuinely surprised that5 they cheated and have no idea in some cases how it happened. They say things like “It just happened” to describe the incident.
But just like the traffic accident, the fact that it was not purposely caused does not result in blame being transferred off of the shoulders of the cheater and onto the betrayed spouse nor entirely onto the affair partner. The fact that it was not a clear choice to cheat is not an indication that there is innocence and the part of the cheater.
Like driving in traffic requires paying attention to conditions, adjusting to those conditions as they change and taking actions to avoid putting oneself into a situation that is more likely to result in mayhem, to protect a marriage from infidelity requires a vigilance and attention to the current conditions in the marriage and the situation surrounding us at the time. Accidental affairs “just happen” as if there was no real cause though the cause was in large part a failure in judgment, a lapse in concentration and a lack of commitment to protecting the marital partnership from intrusion by others.
Unless precautions are taken, accidents happen. And if the same or similar conditions occur and we don’t see them taking shape, if our concentration of active prevention continues, they tend to happen again and again.