Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
March 9, 2024 ·  4 min read

Should it be OK to Have an Affair When Your Partner Is Seriously Ill?

Marriage is an incredibly complex process that’s meant to last a lifetime. It’s difficult for many people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. As a result, most people can’t fathom how we’d handle our spouse being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Furthermore, when one person is diagnosed with a life changing condition the other’s life completely changes as well. Often this leads to a question of ethics. Is it acceptable to have an affair when your spouse is no longer able to share the same quality life to which you’re accustomed? 

Facing Mixed Emotions

Aaron Ben-Ze’ve wrote a book entitled, The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change Over Time. In the book he addresses how having multiple perspectives can create ambivalence but is also a necessary survival skill. He shares an example of a woman, a widow, who’s attending her daughter’s wedding. She’s feeling a mix of emotions. While she feels joy for her daughter, she also feels sadness. She takes note that her late husband isn’t here to experience this precious moment. What does this have to do with having an affair? 

Sharing a Tale

He also tells of another woman, explaining, “The ambivalence of a woman who is married to a very sick spouse and has never had an affair is even more acute.” This woman says, “I want to fall in love again, over and over within a relationship or relationships that are free to master sensual awareness over traditional guardrails. I don’t wish to be free from my caregiver role, because he seriously needs my presence as we struggle through this.”

She further says, “I still love him. I still care deeply about what quality of life is left for him. But I also desire to be free to spread my romantic but broken wings and soar on the winds of erotic pleasures with a partner that can help heal me through his touch, his voice, his tenderness, his passion, his courage, his strength.” Again, you may find yourself wondering how this correlates to having an affair. 

Why People Have an Affair

Love alone is not enough to make a marriage work. People have to find a way to share common goals or mesh their differing goals together. Sacrifices have to be made by both partners and there are times when only one person’s needs are met. When a spouse becomes ill, caretaking becomes an integral part of sharing a life together.

Oftentimes, becoming a caretaker takes a massive toll on a person. For one reason, it’s painful to watch someone you love suffering or in pain. Secondly, caring for someone else often means your needs get pushed to the sides. Furthermore, when a person has a terminal illness it disrupts, if not eliminates altogether, an active sex life.

Professionals at Sniffing out an Affair

Anthony DeLorenzo is the co-founder, along with his wife, of Infidelity.com. Now called PrivateInvestigations.com, the company was started with the purpose of investigating people who were suspected of having an affair by their significant other. In 2008, he was quoted saying, “It’s not that uncommon for the spouse of a seriously ill person to commit adultery. The healthy spouse often feels guilty, lonely and helpless about the illness, and that combination can make a spouse more vulnerable to having an affair.”

We are all individuals who have innate needs, be that sexual or emotional. A marriage is the meshing of two lives, and compromises are sometimes made. However, the needs of an individual don’t necessarily change. When someone becomes a caregiver, their needs are often pushed to the side. “Caregivers can deal with these painful circumstances in three main ways: (a) deserting (or divorcing) the sick spouse, (b) denying oneself romantic satisfaction, and (c) using romantic outsourcing. All three options are agonizing.” Explains Psychology Today.

All three of these scenarios come with painful complications such as guilt, judgment from onlookers, or a deep depression. “Caregivers do not want to walk away from their prison, deserting their ailing spouse. However, they do want to get, as other inmates do, some breaks, in view of their human needs and exemplary behavior within the prison walls.” 

Balancing all the Emotions

Some ill partners respect the needs of their spouse and caretaker. Because of this, they may be willing to accept someone having an affair. However, they may set boundaries such as never meeting the other person or not talking about the other person. In contrast, some people take their vows very seriously.

As a result, they may believe that means their partner should not venture out to explore those needs. There is no one correct way to deal with these challenges. On the other hand, understanding each person’s feelings can be really helpful for navigating through them. Be it emotional or physical, many caretaking partners venture out to seek support.

There are support groups and they meet others going through similar struggles. This can sometimes result in a connection that may progress into becoming an affair. Although many people still strive for a traditional marriage, there are many unconventional methods for making a marriage work. The most important element for a successful partnership is consideration. Being considerate of your spouse’s feelings, your new friend’s feelings, and your own feelings. 


  1. Should it be OK to have an affair when your partner is seriously ill?Psychology Today. Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D. March 12, 2019.