Ask a Question
How do I tell the difference between a midlife crisis alienator and an exit affair?
Rather than looking at whether the alienator is an exit affair or MLC type, consider your spouse and whether he or she is an MLCer or fits a strict Exiter profile instead. The alienator your spouse selects will likely fit your spouse’s type or motivation—though with emotions and hormones anything can happen.
In Understanding Love & Infidelity, I list both motivations for affairs and types of affairs. I am going to briefly review the motivations and types relevant to this topic.
|Split Self: neglected or unfulfilled needs||Affair: in-fatuation & emotional bond|
|Exit Affair||Convenient: brief encounters|
The type that I refer to as an Affair involved in-fatuation and an emotional bond; in most of my writings I simply refer to this as an emotionally-bonded affair. This is an in-depth relationship where the partners develop some level of intimate bond with a defined or implied level of commitment. This is different than a brief encounter which may be a one night stand or could even be a continuing friends-with-benefit or sexual meet-up sort of arrangement in which there is no emotional commitment. MLCers are seeking affairs, not brief encounters; this does not mean they may not have brief encounters as part of their search, but that is not their goal, so once there is a regular alienator in the picture you are safe to assume it is on its way to becoming an emotionally-bonded affair.
Split Self Affair
This is an Accommodater’s affair. An Accommodated is one of the two stress coping styles and is someone who controls anger through rigid adherence to structure and logic. Up to now, the Accommodater has denied their true self, choosing instead to follow the life others have chosen for them—societal and parental desires and expectations and later those of their spouse and children. Now they have met someone who has unlocked the door to their emotional self. But as an Accommodater who has always felt compelled to do what is right, they feel split between their spouse and children and their affair partner and new life.
This was my interpretation of the many descriptions I found of the Split Self Affair. It sounds to me like a standard MLC affair, but what about the other stress coping style, the Antihero? The descriptions were very specific to fit the profile of an Accommodater. I personally think the idea of a split self can be broadened as both Accommodaters and Antihero’s experience a split, but the split experienced by the Antihero is not what has been described and yet it is still a splitting of the self. For both, MLC is a battle with the Shadow Self which includes Monster. That is a type of split self—though perhaps more general.
In general, an Exit Affair serves as an excuse to end the marriage; the affair gets blamed for the marital breakdown or at least for breaking the camel’s back.
- Intended for discovery
Whether consciously or not a betraying partner may leave evidence for their spouse to find or behave in other overt manners—talking to or about the affair partner at home or in the presence of the spouse…
The betraying partner avoids the issues that have been causing the marital breakdown by deflecting focus to the affair which then takes the blame for the breakdown of the marriage. The betraying partner may initiate the end of the marriage by claiming they are leaving for the affair partner, but they are avoiding the core marital issues regardless of who initiates the break-up.
- Bad at Endings, Get Partner to End It
Sometimes it is that the betraying partner does not want to be the bad guy who makes the decision to end the marriage (ironic given the infidelity) and so they have an affair with the expectation that their spouse will end the marriage because of the infidelity, or they may not know how to end it—perhaps they lack the courage or maturity and instead take the cowardly way out.
Firm Ending, Lack of Back-and-Forths
An affair that is strictly an Exit Affair and not part of an MLC will be unlikely to have indecisiveness regarding ending the marriage. Of course, as the people involved change and learn from their changes and see each other’s growth, this may change, but reconciliation is not common.
The Exit Affair alienator is a convenience rather than a partner—this may be true for both partners if both are seeking a way out of their respective relationships and it may even be an agreed upon arrangement. An Exit Affair is not a type of affair, rather it is a motivation for an affair and within that motivation the type of affair can cross the spectrum even if it initially began as an affair of convenience. This is where the definitions become fuzzy or confusing; someone who is having a midlife crisis can have an Exit Affair. Not all MLCers start out with alienators and yet they still feel the pull of the fantasy life and the compulsion to leave. Without an emotionally-bonded alienator they may seek out an alienator of convenience. The reverse is also true, an affair can trigger someone who is close to the tipping point to fall into a midlife crisis and an affair that began as a convenience can become something more as infatuation hormones take over. That stupid excuse about how they didn’t mean for it to happen, it’s still stupid, but that might be what it’s about. They meant to have a convenient fling, not to get caught up in in-fatuation hormones which they now think is this thing called being in-love.
Exit Affair Betrayers Vs MLCers: The Differences
Is your spouse having a midlife crisis? Other than having an affair, are they regressing, exhibiting overt or covert depression, avoiding self-reflection, blaming you and/or projecting onto you or others, exhibiting a compulsion to escape, cycling moods and/or going through significant personality changes? A strict Exit Affair spouse will likely not exhibit several of these together unless they were already part of that person’s norms.
Common MLC Behaviors
A strict Exit Affair betrayer is using the affair as their way out of the marriage and thus they likely made their decision a long time ago—even if the decision was subconscious. They are less likely to cake-eat by trying to live in two worlds and move back-and-forth between the two worlds.
I mentioned avoidance above when showing traits of Exit Affairs, but this is a different avoidance. Exit Affair betrayers avoid the issues that caused problems and use the affair as a scapegoat, MLCers do this as well, but MLCers are also avoiding their own inner demons–which during MLC happen to be chasing them; this is both an avoidance of Mirror-Work and an avoidance of Self. They also avoid those in their life they feel are disappointed in their new lifestyle and choices or who pressure them to return to their previous life–typically their spouse, children, parents, siblings and close friends.
MLCers are trying to regain a sense of control over themselves and their lives and the deeper they fall into MLC the more out of control their lives feel and so the more they may try to regain their sense of control by controlling things external to them. Control and manipulation can be subtle and even with behaviors that are overt, we may not recognize them as controlling since we are focusing on other aspects.
Characteristics of Control
This is not merely a criticism of large differences, but of things so small as to seem insignificant. It’s a method for destroying your self-esteem one jab at a time.
- Threats or Promises
I will leave you if you…
I will end the affair and come home if you…
These threats or promises are methods for steering your behavior back to where the MLCer wants it—to where they are not feeling challenged by you or that you are an object in the way of their fantasy life.
- Conditional Love
This is deeper than threats or promises because it penetrates thought and beliefs. It’s not merely about doing what the person wants, they also make it a requirement that you feel, think and believe as they want—disagreements are not allowed.
- Stimulates guilt, shame, fear, anxiety
It’s your fault because…
- Asking Questions
Being asked questions may set-off Monster or some milder reaction. An MLCer may view questions as probing for information they want kept secret (infidelity), as judgment (why), or questions may show them the mirror when they are running from facing their demons.
The Gray Areas
Distant Contact Types may be a gray area. This is an area where less is known because they contact less—it’s easier to study someone who is present! Vanishers leave and may not contact for weeks, months or even years. You may only have communication through the court system and that may be limited. An MLC affair with a Distant Contacter may not be an Exit Affair, but the end result for the marriage may be the same. Exit Affairs have a low rate of reconciliation. Sorry to break it to you, but the same is true for MLC affairs and the more Distant an MLCer is on the Contact Spectrum the lower the odds of reconciliation. An affair is not an Exit Affair if or because it brings about the end of a marriage. A Vanisher’s MLC affair is still an MLC affair.
The Exit MLCer Affair
What if your MLCer decides to have an Exit Affair—an affair intended for discovery only so that you will end the marriage or as an excuse to end the marriage? This could happen if an MLCer has not found an emotionally-bonded alienator or is one of the more rare MLCers who is less interested in finding someone else and more interested in the rest of the MLC fantasy and a convenient and willing Exit Affair partner may serve their purpose. This also provides them additional evidence to deny MLC and send you looking elsewhere for the why this is happening.
Does it Really Matter?
Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But if thinking it is MLC rather than an Exit affair helps you maintain hope, then great. But if that also keeps you stuck in hope and stagnant, then it is detrimental. If you think that your spouse being in MLC is a great relief—WHEW—and you have a better chance at reconciliation, be careful. The greatest survivors are not the Pollyanna optimists or the pessimists, they are the realists; those who fit the Stockdale Paradox, believing in possibilities while accepting probabilities and realities.
Both MLC and Exit Affairs have low odds of reconciliation. Rather than focusing on those other people and what they are—MLCers and MLC alienators and what that means—focus on you and what you need to be doing to move forward with your life. Some of you have At-Home MLCers, but most of you do not; most of you are single but not really. That means you have the great fortune to focus on your own healing rather than on what sort of mood Grumpy will be in and when Grumpy will get home and if he or she will act as though you exist when you walk past each other in the hallway. I know that if you are Standing you are worried about how to communicate with your spouse so as not to ruin things or make things worse or how to somehow make things better…if such a thing is possible right now, what I am telling you is that for you to have the best chance of reaching reconciliation, you need to let-go of those things (and yes I was where you are and know how hard that is) and point your focus instead at your own healing and the rest will work itself out more naturally than if you try to worry it into how you want it to work—that sort of fabrication tends to get you stuck and unfortunately some LBS do get stuck in the panic and anxiety phase where they fail to move beyond fear.
 Brown, Emily M. Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.