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Do affairs last after discovery?

Having an affair can be an emotionally charged experience that takes people by surprise. When the affair is discovered, it can turn lives upside down. The discovery of an affair forces all involved to confront many challenging questions and emotions. One of the big questions people ask is: do affairs last after discovery?

The short answer

The short answer is – sometimes affairs do continue after discovery, but more often they do not. Research shows that when affairs are uncovered, the majority end fairly quickly. Only a small percentage of affairs continue long-term after discovery.

Why most affairs end after discovery

There are several reasons why most affairs do not continue long after being found out:

  • The affair no longer feels exciting – A big part of the thrill of an affair is the secrecy and sneaking around. Once everything is out in the open, it loses some of its adrenaline-inducing allure.
  • Logistical challenges – Carrying on an affair takes planning and coordination. Once a spouse is aware, it becomes much more difficult to get away with meeting up.
  • One partner wants to move on – Often when affairs come to light, at least one person involved decides they want to end it and refocus on their marriage. This is especially common for the unfaithful spouse once their partner knows.
  • The affair partner pulls away – The person someone had an affair with may distance themselves or end things once the affair is exposed. They may feel uncomfortable continuing knowing the spouse is now aware.
  • Ultimatums from the betrayed spouse – The discovering spouse frequently gives strong ultimatums to end the affair completely if there is any hope of saving the marriage.
  • The guilt becomes too much – Being caught and seeing the hurt caused can make it too emotionally difficult for the unfaithful spouse to justify continuing the affair.

These factors combine to make the window for an affair to continue after discovery fairly small in most cases.

When do affairs last after being uncovered?

Despite the challenges, there are some situations where affairs do continue on even after discovery:

  • The marriage was already ending – If the marriage was already falling apart or heading towards divorce, the affair may roll on since there is not much left to save.
  • It’s a long-term affair with serious emotional investment – Lengthy affairs where the attachment is extremely deep and meaningful have a higher chance of enduring.
  • The other spouse is tolerant – In some open or polyamorous relationships, the spouse may allow the affair to carry on even after finding out.
  • There are limited repercussions – If discovering the affair doesn’t jeopardize the marriage, end friendships, or uproot kids, it’s easier to keep it going.
  • The cheating partner has commitment issues – Those who chronically struggle with commitment and monogamy may feel unable to give up the affair.
  • The forbidden nature remains alluring – Occasionally the taboo, clandestine thrill overrides guilt, and cheaters feel compelled to persist.

In affairs where the attachment and emotions run extremely deep, the motivations to stay involved tend to trump practical hurdles. But these cases appear to be outliers.

How often affairs continue after discovery

Research looking at what happens when affairs are uncovered provides estimates of how frequently they continue:

  • One study found around 5-7% of affairs persist after discovery. (Hall, 2013)
  • A survey of marriage therapists estimated around 15% of couples remain in contact to some degree after an affair comes to light. (Glass, 2002)
  • One review concluded that the rate of affairs surviving discovery falls somewhere between 10-17%. (Blow and Hartnett, 2005)

So according to most experts, around 85-90% of affairs end shortly after being uncovered. The remaining 10-15% of cases see the affair continue for some period of time, at least in some capacity.

Factors that influence whether an affair lasts

Certain factors appear to play a role in whether an affair has a higher or lower chance of enduring after it comes to light:

Factors linked to affairs ending Factors linked to affairs continuing
  • Shorter affair duration (less than 6 months)
  • Little emotional intimacy or attachment
  • Remorse and guilt from the cheating partner
  • Strong desire to reconcile the marriage
  • Unequivocal demands to end the affair
  • Longer affair duration (1 year+)
  • Deep emotional intimacy and attachment
  • Limited remorse/guilt from the cheating partner
  • Ambivalence about saving the marriage
  • No demands to end the affair

As shown, the depth of the affair relationship and the cheater’s motivation to salvage their marriage hold particular sway. Not surprisingly, newer short-term flings are much easier to walk away from.

Responses when an affair is uncovered

After discovery, there are several common responses and next steps taken by both parties:

The discovering spouse

  • Feels intense hurt, betrayal, jealousy, anger
  • Questions their own self-worth and desirability
  • Obsesses over details of the affair
  • Demands the full truth immediately
  • Pressures the unfaithful spouse to end the affair entirely
  • Uses threats, anger, tears, pleading to elicit responses
  • Vacillates between rage and numbness

The unfaithful spouse

  • Feels ashamed, guilty, regretful
  • Apologizes and expresses remorse
  • Answers questions about the affair
  • Promises to break things off
  • Is defensive and blames marriage problems
  • Says the affair didn’t mean anything
  • Cuts off contact with the affair partner

These initial responses set the stage for whether reconciliation will be possible. They also influence if the affair relationship manages to continue in any form.

Typical outcome scenarios

There are a few common scenarios that tend to play out after discovery of an affair:

  1. The affair ends completely – All contact is permanently severed and the marriage tries reconciling.
  2. The affair continues covertly – The unfaithful spouse lies about ending it and tries harder to conceal it.
  3. The affair tapers off gradually – Some contact slowly diminishes over time until it organically fades away.
  4. The affair morphs into something undefined – It evolves into an occasional hookup or “just friends” relationship.
  5. The affair leads to divorce – After agonizing efforts, the marriage ultimately dissolves.

Each path brings unique challenges. Total, permanent break off is usually required for rebuilding intimacy after infidelity. Anything less impedes trust and healing.

Can an affair relationship ever last long-term?

It’s not unheard of for an affair to turn into a lasting secondary relationship. But several factors work against affairs resulting in successful long-term relationships:

  • The beginning of the relationship is built on lies, deceit, and hurt – a very unstable foundation.
  • Trust issues are rampant after coming from a hidden, duplicitous context.
  • At least one partner is comfortable lying and betraying loved ones.
  • Without the excitement and risk of secrecy, interest often fizzles.
  • Reality rarely compares to the fantasy of how amazing the person or relationship seemed.

A US National Survey found only around 5% of marriages that begin as affairs last more than 5 years. And that’s higher than the rate of affairs that continue post-discovery. So while affairs can sometimes lead to real relationships, the odds are stacked against long-term success.


Discovering an affair forces all involved to confront difficult truths. The psychic shock of learning a partner’s deepest betrayals tends to either end relationships or forever alter them. After discovery, most affairs crumble under the weight of guilt, logistical obstacles and waning motivations. But in rare cases, the attachment runs so deep that overcoming even immense hurdles to continue the affair seems worthwhile. Overall the chances of an affair enduring after being uncovered appear fairly low. But powerful emotions and dysfunctional relationship patterns can sometimes defy the odds.