How Is an Affair Defined?

Typically, an affair is considered a betrayal of trust. It has the ability to cause significant distress in relationships and there are many reasons why people cheat on their partners. 

Affairs are commonly referred to as “adultery” among married couples and “infidelity” among common-law spouses, same-sex couples, and other committed partners. An affair can go by other names as well, depending on the type of affair involved.

What’s important is that your definition of an affair is what matters most. Every person and every relationship is unique, and some couples may differ in the way they view this subject.

Types of Affairs

You might hear an affair being referred to as a love affair, an emotional affair, a fling, or extramarital relations. Some people simply call it being unfaithful or cheating. The most common types of affairs include:


Affairs may be romantic, which is also referred to as “an affair of the heart.” These are sometimes in the form of sexual liaisons among unwed or wedded parties, though that is not always the case. It may also be considered some form or another of non-monogamy.


A casual relationship is a physical (and often emotional) relationship between two people who may engage in sexual relations. However, they often do so without the expectation of a more formalized romantic relationship.


A platonic relationship may also be called a romantic affair as well. An emotional affair lacks sexual intimacy, but has intense or enduring emotional intimacy.

Emotional affairs can easily evolve into sexual affairs and be just as threatening to the primary relationship. Even when this type of an affair doesn’t cross the line by becoming physical, the impact can be just as detrimental to a marriage. The intimacy involved in emotional affairs can often be deeper and more intense than the intimacy in a sexual affair.


An online affair, or cyber affair, is one that occurs online via chat, webcam, email, or text. It may be anonymous. It may be between individuals who may know basic information about one another, like their names, but have never met. Or it may occur online with someone the person knows in real life. Quite often, a cyber affair has emotional and/or sexual undertones.1

The partners involved in a cyber affair may never meet in person, but the emotional connection and sensual nature of the affair can strain the committed relationships one or both participants are in.


The term affair might also describe part of an agreement within an open marriage (or open relationship). With a sanctioned affair, a couple agrees upon which forms of sex are permitted with someone other than their primary partner. These may include swinging, dating, polyamory, and ménage à trois.

An open marriage, that works for both parties, has to play by the rules that were agreed upon by both parties from the start. Otherwise, this type of affair can be just as damaging as the others.

When an Affair Affects Your Relationship

Certain warning signs and actions may point to the fact that your partner may be having an affair, and there are ways to cope when your partner is unfaithful. If you had an affair and are struggling with consequences in your relationship, there are steps you can take to try to improve things with your partner.

Just as in any personal relationship, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to dealing with an affair in a committed partnership or marriage. Sometimes it can break up a marriage. Other couples may recover from infidelity and save their relationship through communication and professional help.