How Long Do Affairs Last?

Perhaps you’ve noticed your spouse acting differently of late, or maybe you have strong suspicions your spouse is cheating. Perhaps you have already confirmed this is the case. No matter the situation, the first question that probably comes to your mind is how long do affairs last? The answer to that question is a bit more complicated than you might think.

How Do People Cheat?

In order to answer the question of how long affairs last, it’s important to understand how people cheat, the implications of different types of affairs, and why cheaters begin affairs in the first place. While it’s difficult to get accurate numbers on how many married men and women cheat, cheating happens… and often. As easy as it is to write these incidents off as simple one-night stands or a result of someone’s dissatisfaction with their marriage partner, the truth is that cheating often stems from dissatisfaction with one’s self.

Affairs can take on any number of variations, from serial cheating to the one-night stand, to a long-term relationship outside of marriage that can last from six months to two years, or even longer. No matter the duration, all of these instances have an underlying cause of dissatisfaction and personal crisis. Following is a list of the different types of affairs a cheater can engage in, as well as how long they may last.

One-Night Stands

One-night stands are usually accidental and arise out of opportunity. An annual business convention away from home. The spouse is away for a few days. Offering a ride home to a co-worker with whom one has been working closely on a project. These are all opportunities that can lead to the temptation to cheat, even if the cheater isn’t actively considering an affair. In fact, these encounters are rarely planned. They can start innocently in a bar over drinks and move to a hotel room very quickly.

Alcohol can play a factor in lowering any existing inhibitions and resistance, especially if coupled with a sexually charged atmosphere. A person who has a one-night stand might not consider their actions a threat to his or her marriage, or they might realize that even this short-term affair could hurt their partner. In either case, a one-night stand is just that: an affair that lasts for a few hours or, at most, a night or two. Usually, there is no emotional attachment – just sex.

The main problem with beginning a one-night stand is that it can lead to more and more “accidental” sexual encounters, thus creating a lifetime of meaningless sex.

Longer-Term Affairs

Longer-term affairs generally offer more stability and emotional connection than one-night stands, though some cheaters might simply use their affair for a physical connection. Many times, these affairs occur after several years of dissatisfaction in the marriage, but they can also form within a shorter time frame. Longer-term affairs usually last from six months to approximately two years.

For both men and women, longer-term affairs can arise from an unhappy marriage where one or both partners feel underappreciated or undervalued by their significant other. It could be that the romance between the partners has simply died in the midst of work and chaos of life, or perhaps one or both partners no longer feel physically connected. Cheaters often report that their dissatisfaction with their significant other’s attitude, looks, or failure to meet expectations is the cause of their affair. Knowing this, it’s easy for the partner to blame themselves when the longer-term affair comes to light. However, it is essential to realize that while the cheater may use these reasons as excuses to keep their affair alive, the true cause of their dissatisfaction is personal and no one’s fault but their own.

Often, a cheater will project their own dissatisfaction or unhappiness onto their partner, blaming their partner for not living up to their expectations. Take, for instance, a cheater who no longer finds their partner physically attractive. They might try to rekindle that initial physical spark with someone else, reveling in the superficial physical aspects of their relationship and the absence of “real life” problems. Instead of simply communicating their dissatisfaction and working toward resolving it, they secretly blame the victim and use that as an excuse to continue their longer-term affair. This blame and excuse-making can extend to any aspect of their marriage, including romance, personality, or other aspects of their spouse they don’t like.

When a cheater begins a longer-term affair, they might feel validated by the person they are cheating with. This feeling of being loved and appreciated is intoxicating, leading them to crave more of it and dragging on the affair. Inevitably, they’ll come to realize that their alternate partner has needs of their own. They might start demanding things of the cheater, such as more time together or material gifts. This can put an end to the affair, even if it’s been two or more years. A cheater might choose to be with their partner even longer and eventually end their marriage because of their affair, but it’s likely that the root of their personal dissatisfaction will taint that new relationship as well.

Serial Cheating

Serial cheaters are cheaters who continuously cheat on their spouse. Serial cheating can involve a number of one-night stands or even multiple longer-term affairs. In essence, the cheater is more than willing to pull the wool over their partner’s eyes in order to seek physical validation or short-term emotional connection with several others. Most of the time, serial cheaters have no emotional investment in anyone but themselves. They seek pleasure at any cost, even if it lasts only for a few minutes. Serial affairs typically serve the moment or cheater’s need, then end for a new relationship or one-night stand.

Serial cheaters are narcissists who may lean toward sociopathy. They don’t care who gets hurt in the process of their affairs, whether it’s the spouse or the other person. While the sex can provide physical satisfaction, it’s more of an ego boost. This type of person tends to be insecure about his or her sexual prowess and requires constant reinforcement. A warm body, any warm body, provides the means to get through the night.

Serial cheaters do not feel guilt as other cheaters may. They tend to be manipulative and are able to convince themselves that they are doing nothing wrong. That makes serial cheating a nearly endless process, constantly hurting the serial cheater’s partners and whoever else they leave in their wake.

How Long Do Affairs Last?

While there are many different types of affairs – one-night stands, longer-term affairs, and even serial affairs – the answer to the question of how long affairs last is clear. An affair will last as long as it suits its purpose, and no longer.

Some affairs last only a couple hours, while others can last a lifetime. Most affairs come to light one way or another, which can cut them short or – if the cheated spouse agrees to let the cheater continue for reasons of their own – extend them. Affairs that occur for some form of emotional connection typically last longer than those that occur for physical validation, but each type of affair cycles back to personal dissatisfaction and crisis. In other words, a cheater who can’t or doesn’t want to examine their own issues will continue to engage in an affair – or multiple affairs. This makes the length of any one affair difficult to quantify or generalize.


Although a cheater may use manipulation and victim shaming to validate their actions, the truth is that cheating isn’t the answer to an unhappy marriage. Whatever problems one seeks to escape from with an affair invariably will catch up and intrude into the affair itself. Even if a cheater isn’t having an affair to actively hurt their marriage, their actions will cause stress and pain, and will likely close the doors to resolving any points of contention with their spouse. It is better to be open and honest about feelings or dissatisfaction, rather than letting them fester beneath lies and affairs.

Enlisting the help of a licensed counselor or third party can help get your marriage back on track, even if that means resolving the issues with a decision to divorce. While the process of being honest might be stressful, it may minimize further pain and allow both spouses to move forward toward a better future. Don’t find yourself asking how long your partner’s affair will last. Rather, be proactive about your approach and encourage your partner to be open and honest about the state of your relationship – even if it hurts for the time being.

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