Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why Did They Choose the Affair Partner?

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"What in the world attracted you to her? You're disgusting!" Sandy screamed.

Across town a similar conversation was going on between John and Margret.

"Are you kidding me?" John said in disbelief, "You're having an affair with an alcoholic who barely scrapes by? Do you really think he has the ability to support you? He only makes a tenth of what I earn."

And yet another,

"Frank, how could you do this to me? She's 25 years younger than you. She's practically the same age as our daughter! What in the world could the two of you have in common?"

Disclaimer: Before I even start this article let me stress that there's no way I could ever write something that will be able to fully answer why your mate chose their affair partner (AP). Why someone becomes involved in an extramarital relationship can't be explained in a few paragraphs. While reading, please don't assume you know your mate's motivations. I promise you'll always get part of it wrong as it's impossible to pinpoint another person's motives. I do hope, however, to give some general reasons for why your mate may have chosen that particular person.

In past articles, I've addressed the justifications and motivations of those having affairs; this week I'd like to tackle why we (the wayward spouses) choose who we choose. What is it about that woman or that man that would cause someone to risk it all? Is it intentional or just chance? This topic could be a book but, hopefully, I can help shed a little light for you.

The Missing 20%

affair recovery-ive always contented that people affair down if for no reason than because its an affair-its not real

I've always contended that people “affair-down” if for no other reason than because it is an affair; it's not real. Even if they believe they've found someone who does a better job of meeting their needs than their mate, it simply isn't true. Their mate probably incorporates 80% of what they want and need. Affair partners might possess the missing 20%. Why would someone trade the 80% for the 20%? In the moment, satisfying the longing created by the missing 20% seems like a good idea.

Two thirds of all marital problems are unsolvable—it's impossible for one person to meet all your needs. No amount of searching for the right person will ever yield the perfect match. Unrealistic expectations are a core issue when it comes to this type of marital dissatisfaction, which may then lead one to search for the missing 20%. Take the example of John and Margret above. John is a steady, stable guy who provides for his family. His wife chose an affair partner who was just plain fun. She was chasing the 20% that she believed was missing from her marriage.


Many won't like hearing this but, at times, the AP simply knew the right words to say. There are some "experienced APs" who've had serial affairs and are constantly trolling for their next victim. They are constantly casting a lure in the water to see if anyone will take the bait. That isn't an excuse, but if your spouse is insecure by nature, they are vulnerable to the person who knows how to say the right things to make them feel special. The person who takes the bait isn't a victim, they volunteer, but they choose that person for the way they make them feel. Leslie Hardie, the author of Harboring Hope, says "If you meet someone who always knows how to say just the right thing, run away as fast as you can." Someone that slick has had lots of practice.

Past History

Many affair partners are chosen out of past history. The attachments we form prior to marriage still exist at some level. When we reconnect with those individuals, rekindling past attachments is easy. The reasons why that relationship went by the wayside are long forgotten and the nostalgic feelings associated with days gone by make having an affair with that person simple.

Excessive Time and Familiarity

Many affair partners are chosen because of attachments created due to excessive time spent together in a shared activity that is exclusive of their mate. Online gaming, shared projects at work, serving together at church, or recreational sports might drive the choice of affair partner. When time spent with another exceeds time spent with their spouse, choosing to connect with this individual seems natural.

Authority Abuse

At times, the affair partner is chosen out of envy and magical thinking. Mentors, pastors, therapists, teachers, and other authority figures are often chosen in this scenario. The respect and trust placed in this individual, as well as the hope generated by what they represent causes the potential AP to overvalue the relationship and an attachment is created. Magical thinking on the authority figure's part allows them to distort their mentee's respect and admiration and, through an abuse of their role as an authority figure, they take advantage of the mentee. This is called "authority abuse" and is a criminal offense. In this instance, the affair partner chooses their victim.

Trauma Bonds

Past abuse can also drive how the AP is chosen. If there is unprocessed abuse in your spouse's past, they can be vulnerable to someone who treats them the same way as their original perpetrator. Choosing this type of AP is particularly confusing for the betrayed spouse because they can see the abuse and it makes no sense why their mate would hook up with an abusive AP. In reality, the trauma bond compels them to choose someone with whom they can reenact the abuse.


Some choose their affair partner out of envy. They are drawn to characteristics in that person that they envy. Magical thinking causes them to believe that somehow connecting with that person allows them to possess those qualities. They tell themselves that being with that person somehow soothes the places where they feel inadequate. They think the AP makes them a better person.

Common History

There are times the AP is chosen out of common history or common circumstances. For instance, in cross-cultural marriages, an AP from your spouse's country of origin may give them the feeling of being understood and that they have more in common with this person than they do with their mate. This can happen if two people grew up poor and felt ostracized, if both are children of alcoholics, or countless other "connections" they may find. The perception that this person understands them draws them to the relationship.

Misery Loves Company

This affair partner is also chosen out the perception of things shared in common. If the husband or wife begins commiserating with the AP about their miserable marriages, the validation they receive from telling the other person creates the bond for the affair. What's sad is this process causes them to focus only on the negatives in the marriage in order to justify the validation they are receiving from the AP.

The Willing Partner

Some individuals, as a result of sexual addiction – or because they've given themselves permission to stray for whatever reason – are looking for anyone willing to have an affair. Once they locate someone willing to interact with them, that person becomes the affair partner. The qualities they are looking for determine who that might be. For instance, if they just want sex, then they hook up with someone who also wants to avoid attachments. Many relationships created on dating websites fall into this category.

Midlife Crisis

Those in a midlife crisis typically choose an AP who can help them feel young again. They are likely to choose someone who is 20 years younger than them, and is willing to be with an older man or woman. It's the youth and beauty of a person that makes them feel young again that drives their choice.

This is not an exhaustive list and, as I said earlier, none of the above-mentioned items are excuses for having an affair. I do hope, however, that they provide some insight as to what drives the choices made by the unfaithful spouse. If you are the betrayed spouse and want help discerning why your partner had an affair and help processing his/her choices in a healthy manner, consider Harboring Hope. We'll walk though how you got here and help you learn how to take care of yourself in your recovery journey.

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.

Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

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Betraying Husband has most of these

My Betraying Husband (soon to be ex at his request) has been with a handful of strange sexual partners including paid. The latest is 14 years younger, thoroughly covered in tattoos (he was always openly against tattoos) and piercings and labels herself as pansexual and pagan publicly on social media (and she currently is dating a woman while living with him). I know I shouldn't judge her appearance (it's just so out of character for him and I know many wonderful people are pierced and tattooed, but I should judge her self-claimed labels. He is a former church member and worship team leader. He pays her bills (I think she has a track record of getting older dudes to support her). He is in his early 60s. I think most of the categories of "why" in this article fit him. They have an abusive physical relationship (fighting), something he and I never had.
He sold out his family and friends who he is estranged from most of us now, for this kind of behavior/addictions (including drugs/alcohol). None of it makes any sense and his pleasure and excitement and selfishness took priority over the wake of devastation that he left behind of children, grandchildren, and a nearly 4 decades long marriage. Thanks for helping us to relate to others and make some small amount of sense of things. I owe everything to my Lord Jesus Christ for standing firm in love with me through it all. Without Him I would have never made it through.

Thank you Wayne.

Thank you Wayne.
This helped to clarify my thinking of the last 2.5 years since disclosure.
My husband was seeking sexual gratification as a way to feel affirmed and desired. Our sex life was in the tank after 20+ years of marriage and those holes and wounds from his childhood reared up to tell him that he was not loved or valued.
He chose his affair partners based on anonymity, perceived safety, and with anyone who was willing and halfway desirable. He didn’t even see them or know them when he would start up online conversations and flirting. This went on for about 4-5 years with 5 women. Only one of these became a physical affair, but even that was very low commitment. He never contemplated leaving the marriage.
I’m thankful to say that through our work with our counselor, EMSO, Married for Life, H4H and HH, plus countless books and podcasts, we are in the best marriage of our entire 28 years as husband and wife.
Thank you again to all of you at AR.

She wanted to replace me

When I found out my H of 26y had an affair with a girl the same age as our son, very overweight and not attractive in the slightest, I couldn't understand how he could throw away his entire life for her. He knew her for 2 weeks when he left me and moved in with her. He told her he loved her after 3 days! This girl was 29. He was 50. Thank God he came home after 3 weeks (no STD's or pregnancies).

After finally getting all the details, I know why he had an affair with her:
1. She knew he was married but pretended to believe his lies about being separated. She knew exactly what to say.
2. She was playing the victim and my husband played the hero. She boosted his ego.
3. She wanted to be the girlfriend of a popular biker. She had a goal.
4. He told her no one could know about her, and she was fine with that. She had no respect for herself.
5. She had no kids or responsibilities so she could drink and party every night. She was nothing but fun.
6. She offered to let him move into her home. She handed him the "solution" to his bad marriage.

My husband was going through a mid-life crisis after his parents passed and he lost his job. He did something that he would have never done in a million years because he was both sick and naive. This person was a friend of our daughter and knew he was married. When she caught his attention and saw that he was eating it up, she knew this guy would fall for her helpless victim act and she could steal him from me. And, she was right...it worked. But they both couldn't keep their lies going for long because he realized he was being played and came home.

I've finally been able to open my husband's eyes to the reality of the entire affair. He now sees what everyone else sees in her and is so embarrassed. He can't believe he thought he loved her and feels so stupid (it was limerence and that was real...but never love). He now sees how she manipulated him to get what she wanted (Stache's Girlfriend) and how he fell for it. He believed he was the one in control the whole time and looking back, he sees that she used her "victim act" to get him to do anything she wanted. He feels so foolish (kind of how they made me feel...sorry, not sorry).

So, my husband and I are finally at a good place after 2 years since D-day and 4 years since his affair. He finally decided to try the "You have to hurt her to help her heal" conversation that needs to happen before we could ever get past this. He told me everything I wanted to know, even though the truth hurt. Now, there is nothing to hide and we have the most honest and productive conversations that I've been waiting for for years.

Good luck all and God Bless

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