There’s nothing simple about an extramarital affair: the relationship dynamics, the emotions, the logistics, the potentially explosive fallout. But it’s not just messy — it’s also costly.
“It’s very expensive,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasala, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist who has worked with many spouses on both sides of an affair. “Some people get an additional cell phone; a whole additional cell phone plan or a burner [phone] or something like that; they may travel; they may get hotel rooms; they may purchase gifts for this new person.”
Those costs add up. According to one study, expenses associated with an extramarital affair are typical, and can run nearly $450 a month, or $2,700 for a six-month dalliance.
Research shows that new love can literally intoxicate your brain, so some of those expenditures are those associated with the start of any new romance — event tickets, meals out, bar tabs, hotel rooms. Other expenses are meant to keep the whole thing secret.
“Covering your tracks is an expensive business,” Durvasala said. “It’s not cheap, it’s not cheap. Especially when it’s done right.”
Some people will pay a premium to ensure secrecy. Durvasala knows of people who hired assistants whose sole responsibility was to manage the logistics of the affair.
“They get somebody and they pay them double to shut them up, and they make that person sign an NDA,” she says.
Very often, the person having the affair will also start spending more money on their spouse — more dinners out, vacations, and the like.
“Whether you’re trying to distract them, whether it’s guilt, whatever the motivation is, you may now be bleeding money on two relationships — or more,” she says.
Even controlling for highly paid affair assistants, most costs of an affair are relatively fixed, Durvasala said, and become more destructive and harder to hide the less money you make.
“You can spend a lot of money. Can you ruin yourself? It depends on how much money you’ve got,” she says. “Obviously, if you have less money, you have less margin for error. Paying an extra $50-$100 a week on dating when you don’t have that money — you’re going to crash and burn really quickly.”
When an affair is revealed, it can open a door to new and larger costs — couples counseling, divorce proceedings, or both. Unless you live in a no-fault state, there may be the cost of lost assets, plus the average cost of a divorce attorney, which is around $15,000 per person. While it couples therapy is a good thing, those who first attempt it will pay about $120-$150 a session, varying, of course, by insurance coverage or the lack thereof. And paramours take note: Those who break up marriages may be opening themselves up to costly lawsuits, too.
The most Durvasala has heard of someone spending on an affair — and, again, this is L.A. — is $1.2 million over 18 months: Private jets chartered to regional airports (because flying out of LAX could compromise the secrecy); $5,000 suites at the Four Seasons, bags, shoes, jewelry, and — because why not — renting a second yacht to keep the affair hidden from the crew on the yacht that person owned.
Finances aside, the deeper costs of an affair are emotional, and rarely is there an easy villain or victim.
“Infidelity is not a black-and-white issue,” Durvasala says. “It’s every shade of grey possible.”
Some people cheat simply because they’re self-centered, but often people cheat out of desperation because they feel trapped in a relationship, Durvasala says. It may be in response to a detached or self-centered spouse, or because they long for excitement, passion, or, simply, to feel loved again.
“It’s just like, ‘Please God, let me feel what it feels like to be loved. I’ve forgotten that. It’s been 10 years since my husband looked at me that way, and I just want that feeling for a minute,’” she says. “And then you almost feel like, ‘really, are you going to judge that?’ I don’t know.”
In such cases, once the affair is revealed, the person who cheats may or may not stay in a long-term relationship with the person they cheated with, but they now feel empowered to seek a more fulfilling relationship than the marriage they left.
“For some people, an extramarital affair is the only way they get some of the bandwidth and the courage to actually step out of what’s probably a relatively unhealthy relationship,” she says.
The fallout of an exposed affair, of course varies, Durvasala says. In some cases, the betrayal is an instant and unforgivable deal breaker. For others, the spouse is happy to be out of an unhappy marriage for which their spouse now must assume moral and financial responsibility. And yet, studies show that the majority of marriages that experience infidelity do not break up. But nothing returns to how it was before.
“The real, real cost of an affair is that loss of trust, and betrayal, and that’s really, really hard to patch up,” she says. “I always say it’s like a landscape: Where there once wasn’t a tree, there is one. Forever. You can never unsee it. It’s there, and the world has changed.”
That loss of trust can lead to the spouse who cheated giving up work trips, happy hours, and ensuring they’re home at the same time every night.
Of course, the ultimate loser in an affair, and particularly one that leads to a divorce, are the kids. Divorce has well-documented effects on children, and, whether they find out about an affair as children or adults, the child-parent relationship changes, often diminishing the parent in the child’s eyes, Durvasala says. And it may even affect how the child feels about themselves —if they’re the child of a parent who cheated, will they do the same? Are they capable of maintaining a healthy, monogamous relationship if their parents were not?
And still, too, there are financial costs here: Kids whose parents cheat may need therapy, Durvasala says, and cheaters often lavish gifts on their children out of guilt.
“You know,” she says. “Disneyland tickets aren’t cheap.”