| June 14, 2012

Unless you're inclined towards polyamory, extramarital relations are generally frowned upon. Monogamy is accepted and expected; infidelity is harmful. Right?

Not so fast, says Michael J. Formica, a Psychology Today blogger. In a post on the "Enlightened Living" blog, Formica makes the case that thinking about cheating — and even stepping out on your sweetie — can potentially help your relationship.

First, Formica identifies four basic types of affairs: object affairs, sexual affairs, emotional affairs and full-blown secondary relationships.

In object affairs, the cheating partner neglects the relationship to focus on something else — work, a video game, an intense involvement in floral arrangement — to the detriment of his or her love life.

A sexual affair is exactly what it sounds like: the adulterer rents cheap hotel rooms for sex — but not emotional intimacy. A sexual affair is strictly about nookie, nothing more.

An emotional affair is when there's no smooching, but lots of sentiment. You're spending hours on IM with someone who's not your boyfriend, spilling your secrets to a woman who's not your wife, turning to someone else instead of your partner in times of need. Clearly not good for your primary relationship.

The last type of affair is the traditional kind of cheating, where you have two parallel partnerships that are both sexual and emotional, and it's this kind of liaison that Formica says can actually help a marriage.

First, he says, an affair can add fizz to a flat partnership — what was once stale gets refreshed by a new energy.

Second, if you're having an affair, you're probably doing it because you're missing something in your first relationship. If you analyze the affair, you might be able to see what it is that you lack, and address that problem.

Finally, people tend to get into the same kind of relationship over and over again, but affairs are different — according to Formica, they can be "a more authentic barometer for what we actually need in our relationships."

Right about now, you're probably thinking Formica is one messed-up dude who's just making excuses for cheating. But Formica qualifies his analysis:

The "good" that might come out of an affair is clearly not the affair or its potential consequences. But, as I often say, everything is material for change. If we look at our choices and examine ourselves in an honest and forthright way, we just might find one of the keys to prompt our own evolution. That evolution might lead us back to a more authentic relationship with our primary relationship, or it might lead us to a more authentic understanding of ourselves that leads us away from that primary relationship. Either way, there is positive growth.

For more from YourTango.com:

Why You Should Never Stop Looking For Love
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Will Money Ruin Your Relationship?