How Do Affairs Start? 5 Dangerous Scenarios To Be Aware Of

What’s the difference between cheating and an affair?

Affairs are generally longer-term relationships, while cheating is any form of infidelity in a relationship, including one-night stands and other solo events.

So, how do affairs start? Here are five of the most common triggers, and answers to some other common questions people have.

1. Your Relationship Is Deteriorating

The first trigger for an affair is a significant deterioration in your relationship. A good relationship is like a fresh sponge, able to hold a lot of water and scrub away at your problems.

If it gets too yucky, though, it’s going to fall apart when you need it the most.

There are way too many reasons why a relationship might deteriorate, although you can address many of them through open and honest communication.

For example, one partner might have poor role models that taught them to sabotage relationships. Someone might be unwilling to take responsibility or have unrealistic expectations about what they’ll receive.

picture of a couple in a deteriorating relationship

Have you ever noticed how frequently celebrity couples break up? I’m going to do some armchair psychology here, but I think it’s because celebs are used to being treated like the most important person around and have a hard time being equal with their spouse.

Honestly, the reason a relationship is deteriorating doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it does. When people are unhappy about their current relationship, they may decide it’s time to give up and start looking for something new.

However, going all the way to an affair usually indicates a major deterioration in the relationship. Any cheating is a big step for most people, but affairs are long-term relationships.

That means the cheater might be looking to build another relationship and switch over quickly when the current one ends.

Tracking deterioration is difficult, but some scholars have tried it. Both partners feeling like the relationship is going wrong is slightly more common than only one person feeling that way.

2. Another Person Is Fulfilling Emotional Needs

The second major trigger for an affair is that someone else is fulfilling one partner’s emotional needs.

There are plenty of needs in a relationship, so let’s go over a few common ones:

  • Certainty: Most people want a good understanding of their relationship and each partner’s role. They like knowing where they’re going to live, how much financial stability they have, and when they’ll get their next meal. Certainty in a relationship is critical.
  • Uncertainty: And because humans are complicated, people also need uncertainty! Specifically, what most people want is the occasional spontaneous fun that doesn’t risk the parts they’re uncertain about. Uncertainty allows for a feeling of freshness. People used to personal freedom tend to desire this more.
  • Significance: Everyone wants to feel important in their relationship. If someone feels like they’re only a fling or a fad, then of course they’re not going to commit as much to the relationship. It doesn’t help that men and women see flirting differently, so one side’s innocent compliment may be the other’s declaration of infidelity.
  • Connection: Connection is similar to significance but implies a close emotional feeling with at least one other person. People can feel a connection even without romantic love, which can be the foundation of a solid relationship.
  • Growth: In the context of relationships, growth refers to improving, like a plant growing from a seed to a flower. Expecting a relationship to be perfect from the first date and never change is almost as unrealistic as being a lousy jerk and expecting people to like you.
  • Contribution: Finally, people want to feel like they’re contributing to the relationship rather than just idly standing by.
picture of a woman's emotional needs being fulfilled by someone else

So, how do affairs start when someone else is fulfilling emotional needs? Quite easily, as it turns out.

One of the biggest problems here is that people have different expectations and needs in a relationship. While nothing is universal, consider this: men do a lot of the work in many relationships.

Now, I don’t mean “work” as in, “takes a few hours to dress up all nice and do hair and makeup”.

I mean that in many areas, men have to earn money for dates, make sure the dates are entertaining, hold down a steady and good-paying job, and devote significant amounts of their time to managing the relationship.

Ladies often aren’t aggressive about pursuing relationships, exactly. Instead, many women use a combination of subtle and obvious signals to indicate that they are willing to be pursued and may say yes if asked out. 

Similarly, consider dating strategies. In most cases, men initiate contact, whether it’s through in-person meetings or dating apps.

A man may contact hundreds of women, with constant rejections, before finding a partner. Women often do the rejecting, having their choice of dozens if not hundreds of potential suitors.

This is not to say that it’s a woman’s fault if her date feels irrelevant enough and it turns into an affair. The point I’m trying to make is that different groups have different expectations and experiences.

What’s normal to one person may look insane to another, and that can cause a disconnect in meeting emotional needs.

3. Flirting Again

Flirting is another sign that affairs start. For most of society, flirting is a gentle way to express interest without placing too heavy of a burden on either side. This is mostly male-to-female, as men are bad at accepting compliments.

No, seriously. I mean that men are really bad at it. Many men will treat a compliment about their appearance, especially from someone they’re not in a relationship with, as a kind of threat.

Does this sound bizarre? It shouldn’t. Many men go years between compliments on their appearance, whereas women may hear it every day. For guys, it’s so rare and unusual that they suspect a trick of some kind, however well-meaning the flirting.

The opposite is true, of course. Many men assume that they’re supposed to give compliments to women, so it becomes a habit. It’s part of trying to act like a desirable spouse.

However, since flirting is a way to express interest, men might be surprised and start taking things seriously if they get a favorable response to it.

Ultimately, this means one way to avoid starting an affair is to avoid flirting. There are too many possibilities for misunderstandings, regardless of who’s doing the flirting.

picture of people flirting with each other

Instead, consider setting out expectations and explain what sorts of statements are acceptable compliments and which fall under flirting.

The exact difference between compliments and flirting can be hard to define, especially because the purpose is a part of the difference, but it’s usually possible to compliment someone in a way that doesn’t involve aspects of romantic relationships.

For example, instead of complimenting another person’s looks, someone can talk about a job or task they’re good at. Most people appreciate recognition when they work hard at something.

4. Growing Sexual Attraction

Perhaps the most obvious trigger for an affair is growing sexual attraction. This is arguably just a different way of defining someone else fulfilling emotional needs, but I decided to include it since sex is a significant aspect of affairs.

picture of a couple starting an affair because of strong sexual desire for each other

Like all parts of a relationship, people have different expectations of sex. Some people anticipate one position, babymaking only, while others prefer scenarios that I can’t define without getting kicked off the internet for suggesting someone would try it. I’ll leave it to your imagination there.

Here, it’s important to define the difference between attraction and serious attraction. Men are hardwired to notice women – that’s why they’re generally more likely to pay attention and express interest.

For men, this is normal, and they may feel confused or upset if a woman yells at them for it, especially if they weren’t being explicitly interested in someone else.

Women, too, can feel more attracted to someone else in certain circumstances. Most women have higher standards than men, usually involving a partner who is financially stable, reasonably healthy, and preferably has a good job.

If a woman feels their current partner is too flighty and risky, they may feel more attracted to someone who feels more stable.

This is a lot of talking around my main point, which is that it doesn’t matter why the attraction grows. The point is that one partner does feel a growing sexual attraction to someone else, and if that goes on for long enough, they may act on it.

5. Spending More Time With Someone Else

Finally, simply spending time with someone else can lead to an affair, especially if people find that they have a lot in common.

picture of people working out together and will have affair soon

It’s difficult for people to be just friends, but it is possible if they’re otherwise satisfied with their life. People are also less likely to start an affair if the relationship is strictly professional.

Unfortunately, dealing with this is more proof (like we needed any more) that relationships are way more complicated than they need to be. Don’t believe me yet? Here, I’ll explain.

Many people object to their partner spending too much time with others of the opposite gender. They know that a relationship could deteriorate, and an affair could start.

However, this can feel incredibly constraining to someone, especially if they’re firm in their commitment.

In other words, the mere act of trying to stop someone from spending time with others can, itself, be the trigger for damaging a relationship and the eventual start of an affair.

After all, if you’re constantly accused of cheating, why not do it so you can at least get the benefits of having another relationship?

This isn’t easy to resolve. One option is meeting with other people in decent-sized groups and refusing one-on-one encounters, but that won’t work for everyone.

It’s probably better for a couple to spend more time together. If you’re having tons of fun in your current relationship, an affair isn’t anywhere near as attractive.


Here are some other common questions that most people have about affairs.

  • Where do most affairs start?
    Most affairs start in one of five places. These aren’t the only locations where an affair can start, but they are the most common. The most common location is the workplace. Jobs can involve working nearby for extended periods. Dressing nicely for work, shared passions about different projects, or even mutual dislike for another employee can all push people towards a relationship. It doesn’t help that practically all women get told to smile more. More specifically, men often tell women to smile and act nice at work, which can be mistaken for interest or consent. Even when it’s not, some men - you know who you are - want women to act available even if nothing is going on. Being surrounded by accepting people can feel good to those in positions of power. Affairs can also start at the gym. Just think about it: People are already physically excited, with endorphins rushing around. Trainers are a particularly notable target, as they provide both physical and emotional support to people who are trying to improve themselves. Social media isn’t as recognized, despite its prevalence. Meeting old friends or interests and thinking about what could have been can quickly lead to starting a discreet affair. After that, a common cause can lead to people bonding. Very few things push people together faster than feeling pressured by the world around them. Finally, there's church. Yeah, it happens. It turns out some people, including clergy, take advantage of feelings of intimacy. Most faiths officially decry this practice, though.
  • How do emotional affairs start?
    Emotional affairs usually start with friendship. Friendships can remain entirely that, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. However, if someone feels pressured, that friendship can turn into reliance, and from there into an emotional affair. Note that this is essentially just a failure to fulfill emotional needs again. I can’t emphasize how often that ends up being the real culprit behind an affair.
  • How do emotional affairs turn physical?
    So, how do affairs start when they go from emotional to physical? The culprit is usually a lack of boundaries. A small test can snowball into secrecy, passion, and a lot of sex in the closet.