I sometimes hear from people whose cheating spouse has tried to make a distinction about their infidelity. They are insisting that their infidelity consisted of “only a fling” and was not a full blown affair. Many are very adamant and careful about making this distinction because they believe that it truly makes a difference. Many assume that a fling is easier to overcome than an affair.
To demonstrate, I might hear from a wife who communicates: “I caught racy texts on my husband’s phone. They were from a woman at his work. Once I read those texts, I started digging through the phone for other things. And boy, did I find it. It was obvious that this had been going on for about two months. And, it was clear that they had meeting on the sly at hotels. When I confronted my husband about this, he almost acted as if it wasn’t that big of a deal. He admitted that it was ‘a fling,’ but he insists that it wasn’t an affair because there was no love or emotion involved. He claims that he doesn’t care about her. He says it was just a physical relationship that was never going to last and it was always clear that he wasn’t going to leave me for her. He acts as if this distinction matters. I told him that cheating was cheating and that he could call it a fling or an affair, but it didn’t matter to me because he was unfaithful. He insists that there is a major difference. He insists that a fling is not nearly as damaging as an affair. Who is right?”
I honestly don’t believe that there is a right or wrong answer here. I think that what truly matters is what you believe. Some wives will admit to me that they wish their husband had a one night stand rather than affair. In situations where the husband was declaring his love to the other woman and was even making plans to be with her in the long term, a relationship that was only physical sounds like a much better alternative.
But some wives feel just the opposite. Wives whose husbands swear that they were only in the relationship for sex can look like creeps. And the wife can begin to wonder whether the husband will do it again because he doesn’t think it’s a big deal? If he can just casually begin and end another relationship, has their been others? Will there be?
Frankly, in my opinion, any infidelity hurts. And any infidelity can challenge your marriage. To me, the core issue is that there was deception and there was unfaithfulness. And there is usually even more deception to cover it up. The feelings that were there or weren’t there are just details. But the deception is the same in both cases.
Now, what cheating spouses will tell you is that the deception might be the same, but the intent was not. And that is really the big distinction between an affair and a fling, at least in the view of many folks. With an affair, there is at least assumed to be some feelings and some question as to where the relationship going. The husband might be sweet to the other woman, as if he is wooing her or as if they were dating.
But with a fling, both parties are supposedly well aware that this is not going to be a lasting thing. Neither party wants anything from the other. Both people are clear that once this is over (and flings typically last a short period of time) one or both people are going to go back to their families as if nothing has happened, at least this is the way that it is often explained to me.
Do I buy this? I don’t think that my opinion really matters unless we are talking about my own husband and my own life. I think that what matters is whether the wife in this particular situation buys it. What matters is how she sees this. But I don’t think that there is any question that whether you call this a fling or an affair, recovery is going to be the same. You will still have to overcome the anger and shock and you will still have to rebuild the trust. You will still have to rebuild the marriage and put in considerable time and effort to make this right again.
Because I think that it might be a mistake to assume that any spouse is going to be hugely relieved by claims of “it was just a fling.” Because a fling is bad enough. A fling is still cheating. And a fling still hurts. As to which one is worse, they can both be very damaging. But an affair with perceived real romantic feelings can be a little more challenging when the husband isn’t sure if he wants to give up the other person. Typically with a fling, you don’t get this type of hesitation.