What Counts as an Affair?

definition of affair | define cheating | infidelity definition

Hey y'all,

I've been working hard on the Opening Up Retreat I'm hosting and my online group coaching program (registration for both just opened- join us) so I haven't had as much time to write but I walked out of sessions tonight and made two quick videos about the most common question I've gotten lately. 

I thought they might be of use to you.  If you like them please check out my instagram because I'll be sharing more. 

More posts to come soon I promise!  - Gina



If You're Facing Relationship Betrayal Stop What You're Doing and LIsten to This

cheating | infidelity | affairs | trust issues | cheat on me

Ugh, you guys betrayal in intimate relationships is just the worst.  It so often leaves both partners in a spiral of shame, under a heap of hurt, so far from the connection they so deeply long for to comfort them.  

It is simply one of the most painful experiences I see people through.  It's incredibly painful- and so deeply isolating.  What a terrible combination.

And because it's so isolating whenever I read or hear something really good about it I want to share it with you.  So when I listened to the most recent Where Should I Begin? podcast from Esther Perel, I had to share it with you.

The episode itself focuses on someone who believes he has a sex addiction and his wife.  He's been exploring his sexuality behind her back for decades and she's only recently found out and come to some clarity about it.  They're both hurting, and the therapist, Esther Perel, does an incredible job helping them through this painful time.

Even if sex addiction isn't part of the puzzle for you, the experience of betrayal is relatively universal.  If you've been on either side of betrayal I think a lot of the experiences shared here will resonate with you.

If you're dealing with the pain of betrayal in a relationship (whether you're the betrayer or the betrayed) find time to listen to this so you might feel a little less alone.

(Click the pink text above to listen on itunes)

And if you want to talk more about the betrayal you've been through I'm happy to help support you in working through it (whether you stay together or not).

betrayal in relationships | trust in relationship | trust issues | cheating

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).

Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  


Open Relationship Vocabulary Lesson: Infidelity

Infidelity Counseling | Portland Couples Counseling | Couples Therapy Portland Marriage Counseling

Dear readers, 

I work with so many couples who are considering open relationships and so many of you have asked for some basic facts in polyamory, nonmonogamy and open relationships.  

I decided to start breaking down some of the most commonly used terms in the wide field of non-monogamy and healthy relationships.

Of course, every individual and relationship is different, so it is important to get clear with people about what they mean by these terms (especially if you're considering an intimate relationship with them).  

You could ask any of the following questions:

"Lots of people use that term, what does it mean in your relationships?"

"I know that can actually mean a lot of things, wow does {term} actually play out in your life?"

These conversations will also help you get clear about what to call your own relationship.  

I'll keep adding more terms over time so check back time to time to learn more.  

This week's focus: Infidelity

Infidelity happens in monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.  Though statistically, non-monogamous relationships often have stronger communication foundations in place to navigate the feelings that come up when infidelity happens.

Some basic general information on infidelity:

In sessions, I define infidelity as non-consensual intimacy (emotional, sexual or other) with additional people.  

Infidelity happens in all relationships, though it is most prevalent in monogamous heterosexual relationships. Estimates are 30-60% of monogamous couples experience infidelity.

Intimacy can be sex, sexual contact, dancing, or other flirtatious behavior.  It can also be sharing secrets, dreams, jokes and other intimate conversation.  

To avoid infidelity notice if you are avoiding sharing things with your partner.  Are you omitting information or hiding things?  If so, why?

Infidelity happens in open, polyamorous, and other non-monogamous relationships when secrecy or non-consent is involved.  

Infidelity does not have to end a relationship.  But, because it is a breach of trust (intentional or not) trust repair is essential to healing the relationship.

Infidelity Resources:

The Truth About Deception

An incredible wealth of resources and research-based information on infidelity in relationships put together by a group of interested scholars.  

The Gottman Blog

Dr John Gottman has been one of the leading researchers on trust and intimacy in relationships for a long time.  If you are looking for tools to repair your relationship and grow trust after an affair use the resources and reflections on this blog.

This is an incredible list of online and offline resources to rebuild your relationship after an affair or other infidelity.  


If you need help repairing your relationship after infidelity give me a call for a consult.  I am happy to help:

Couples Therapist Portland | Portland Sex Therapy

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

Healing Your Heart After an Affair

Healing from an Affair  Uncommon Love Infidelity Counseling Portland

When an affair happens it can be difficult to sort out what to do next in your relationship.  Both the partner who has the affair and the partner who doesn't can get lost in confusing cultural messages, advice from friends, and strong rolling emotions.  

It is a difficult time for both parties, but not an impossible one.

I know it is really hard for both of you, but you will get through this heartache and you can get through it together.  

I work with couples every week who are working through the aftermath of an affair and have found the stages in After the Affair by Dr Janis Abrahms Spring really help couples move through the process of coming together in this difficult time.  I would love to read your comments about the book if you have read it.

I have added some suggestions of my own, but do recommend the book as a guide in addition to working with a relationship specialist (coach or counselor) for a bit as your decide how you want to move forward.  

Stage 1: Emotion Overload

It is common in the weeks (and sometimes months) after an affair is uncovered for both partners to be caught up in a tidal wave of emotions.  It is not unusual for both of you to feel anger, sadness, fear, shock and a whole range of other emotions during this time.  Conflicting choices, new questions, and loss may visit unexpectedly.  It can seem pretty overwhelming.

Taking time to notice, experience, and name the feelings you are going through can be very helpful in the healing process.  You are not alone in the sometimes extreme feelings you are experiencing.  

I recommend working with an individual counselor if not a couples counselor to help get clear and to have someone other than your partner or the person you had an affair with to share this experience.

It is also important to find a friend who you can talk to about your experience.  Choose a friend who respects you and your partner and who will help you take the high road instead of someone who will fuel your hurt.  It is important you don't go through this alone and both of you have community support.

Stage 2: Do I Stay or Do I Go?

Both of you may be unsure if you want to stay or leave, and you may have received mixed messages from your friends and families.  Unfortunately even in this confusing and overwhelming time, no one can choose for you.  

Take time to explore the following questions individually to help clarify what you want:

1.  What commitment expectations do you have for your partner?  How can you communicate those clearly?

2.  What draws you to your partner, how are they unique, how is your relationship special?

3.  What could have been improved before the affair?

4.  What history do you have rebuilding trust with partners, friends, and family?

5.  Are you willing to change the ways you interact with your partner?

I recommend working through these questions individually to become clear on your own: is this relationship a good fit for you right now?  Again, working with a professional can help in difficult and confusing times.

Stage 3: Rebuilding

If you two do decide to stay together and recommit you are committing not only to each other, but to a trust building process that will take weeks, month (maybe years).  

I recommend focusing on the following to help guide your relationship recovery (in no particular order):

1.  Say goodbye to the person you had an affair with.  Reassure the partner who didn't have the affair it is no longer occurring.

2.  Take action to increase open communication in your relationship.  Share your pain and be open to hearing your partner's pain.  Talk through differences of opinion, and dis-satisfactions so you can stay connected.

3.  Take specific steps to earn back trust and stay committed to the process.

4.  Develop a new shared vision of your future and create new ways to connect going forward.

5.  Forgive your partner and yourself.

Let me say it again: I know it is really hard for both of you, but you will get through this heartache and you can get through it together.  

I am happy to talk with you about options, help you find a counselor or therapist near you, or set up an appointment to help you and your partner reconnect after an affair.

gina senarighi portland relationship coach

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

Intimacy, Secrecy, and Myths of Non-Monogamy

Last week I posted a blog on couples healing from infidelity and was overwhelmed by your response.  Emails, calls, comments, and responses poured in, most of them heartfelt descriptions of pain and recovery from affairs and mistrust.  It has been a great honor to read your personal stories.  

I am happy to talk with more of you, if you're interested in a conversation contact me here.

I’ve also received questions from some readers about affairs that really help to highlight some of the myths I combat regularly in my practice about affairs and polyamory.  I have specialized in working with polyamorous, open, and non-monogamous couples (and groups) and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer) communities in my graduate studies and private practice for years.

Its surprising how many of us believe these myths to be true!  Unfortunately overcoming them a great challenge for so many of my amazing clients.  Two of the most common are below, maybe they have also been a challenge for you.

Read on and reconsider.  I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments.

1.  Myth: Affairs mean sex

One of the big assumptions out there is that an affair has to involve sex.  You are welcome to define affairs as you see fit in relationships, but my definition reaches further than just sexual encounters.  As you know, in honest open relationships, partners may have sex with multiple people and these are not affairs.  There are two main ingredients  in my recipe for an affair: the first is intimacy (not necessarily sexuality).  This could mean flirting, deep friendship, heartfelt care, kissing, play, texts, and/or a whole bunch of other intimate activities.  You don’t have to have sex with someone to have an affair.

The second ingredient is secrecy.  Many couples have agreements allowing intimacy with other partners but get into trouble when they hide whats going on.  This can include lying, cover ups, hiding details, creating secret forms of contact, sneaking away, omitting information and many other inauthentic forms of communication.

The secrecy in affairs is doubly hurtful for many of the partners.  Whether you are in a monogamous relationship, an open dating partnership, or a polyamorous marriage talk with your sweetheart about the kind of information they want to know about your intimacy with other people (do they want to know when a bartender flirts with you?  your porn collection?  your ex-boyfriends visits to town? etc).  Then revisit and revise these agreements as your relationship grows.

Intimacy + Secrecy = Affair  No mater what be up front and honest.  Feeling the need to keep secrets from your partner is a good signal to talk through your agreements.

2.  Myth: Open couples can’t have affairs

The last myth I read repeatedly in the last week was often framed in a question: “I’m in an open relationship, so there can’t be an affair”  If you read my definition of affair, you know this just isn’t true.  Opening a relationship does imply investment in communication, agreements about other people, and an intention to be honest but unfortunately it also creates more opportunities for misunderstandings.  Non-monogamy does not mean a free pass from the consequences of secrecy.

Although open and non-monogamous relationships do agree to have intimacy in various forms with more than one partner, they do not involve secrecy.  If you are in an open relationship is is important you create clear agreements and are upfront about your expectations for information sharing to avoid miscommunication.  Don’t forget to include your expectations about privacy when you create your agreements but recognize that privacy is different than secrecy.  It is also critical to revisit these often as your relationships shift and change.

Tristan Taormino has created a few free downloads on the Opening Up website if you would like help with this conversation.  I also often work with couples to create clear expectations and to talk through difficult agreements.  Email me if you would like to set up a time to talk.

Whether you are in a monogamous or open relationship, affairs can happen.  Keep communication honest and up front with your partner to avoid the problems affairs can create between you.  

If you want help having a conversation to create these agreements in your relationship give me a call for help.