The state of affairs Rethinking infidelity

Esther Perel

eAudio - 2017

Iconic couples' therapist and bestselling author of Mating in Captivity Esther Perel returns with a groundbreaking and provocative look at infidelity, arguing for a more nuanced and less judgmental conversation about our transgressions. An affair: it can rob a couple of their relationship, their happiness, their very identity. And yet this extremely common human experience is so poorly understood. Adultery has existed since marriage was invented, and so too the prohibition against it-in fact, it has a tenacity that marriage can only envy. So what are we to make of this time-honored taboo, universally forbidden yet universally practiced? For the past ten years, master therapist Esther Perel has traveled the globe and worked with hundred...s of couples who have been shattered by infidelity. In The State of Affairs she asks, why do we cheat? And why do happy people cheat? Why does infidelity hurt so much? And when we say infidelity, what exactly do we mean? Is an affair always the end of a marriage? Affairs, she writes, have a lot to teach us about relationships. They provide unusual insight into our personal and cultural attitudes about love, lust, and commitment. Betrayal hurts, but it can be healed. An affair can even be the doorway to a new marriage-with the same person. With the right approach, Perel argues, couples can grow and learn from these tumultuous experiences, together or apart. Fiercely intelligent, The State of Affairs provides a daring framework for understanding the intricacies of love and desire. As Perel writes, "Love is messy; infidelity more so. But it is also a window, like no other, into the crevices of the human heart." After listening to Esther read The State of Affairs, continue on as she opens the door to her office and invites you to listen in on actual couple sessions. These are unscripted conversations of real, anonymous couples grappling with infidelity from her Audible Original podcast Where Should We Begin Begin? (Courtesy of Audible Originals, LLC). As you enter this raw intimate space with Esther, we hope you find the vocabulary for the conversations you may wish to have.

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Review by New York Times Review

I'M kind of in love with Esther Perel. We spent nearly 12 hours together lately, Perel's cat-nippy French-accent whispering in my ear. She's got this whole older woman, sexy-wise, passionate intellectual thing that makes you feel she knows the depths of your shame and the vibrancy of your lust. Her voice is tinged with a sadness you imagine she'd like to soothe by reading Anais Nin aloud to you in bed. She also staunchly calls out your self-deceptions, which, in a sex expert, is just what you need. Many people met Perel 10 years ago when she published "Mating in Captivity," a smart, incisive international hit that dealt with how to stay married, or really how to keep having decent married sex. (Perel's answer: Try maintaining at least a tiny bit of mystery.) That book secured Perel's place as one of America's hottest couples therapists. Over the past decade she's held dozens of workshops and training seminars and launched a podcast that broadcasts what happens in her therapy room. Now she's back with us, the listening public, with "The State of Affairs." Here Perel, once again, takes on the subject of monogamy and sex, though not from the tautologically dull perspective of faithful spouses bored with each other but from the far more tantalizing angle of husbands and wives who stray. Woo-hoo! Right? With the possible exception of death, extramarital affairs are humanity's greatest source of intrigue and drama. "The State of Affairs" is thorough, even exhaustive. The book itself has 14 index entries under adultery (e.g., "adultery, children resulting from") and 28 under affairs ("affairs, with exes," "affairs, erotic charge following"). One imagines enraged cuckolded spouses in their cars, fast forwarding to find if there's a section on "marriage, to a total ass." Perel divides "The State of Affairs" into four parts: What are we talking about when we talk about infidelity, what happens after you cheat, why did you cheat in the first place, and what now? Along the way she makes many excellent points. Even happy people cheat. An affair is not necessarily evidence of a problem in the relationship. The urge may arise from an individual's desire for self-discovery or need to feel more alive. The word jealousy fell out of favor in the '70s. Perel notes that we've replaced it with terms that give the moral high ground to the betrayed: trauma, intrusive thought, attachment injury. Spouses in traditional (and untested) marriages often fail to discuss what they mean by monogamy. Is flirting a transgression? What about Skype porn? A kiss? Perel is Belgian, the daughter of parents who both lost their entire families in the Holocaust. She believes we can survive more pain than we think. "Whenever I tell someone I'm writing a book about infidelity, the immediate reaction is usually 'Are you for or against?"' she says. "My answer is, 'Yes.' " Listeners may remember this and many of the book's best lines from Perel's TED talk and ... pardon the interruption, but can we talk about the TED talk to book superhighway for a minute? TED talks are about 2,500 words. Publishers snap them up and insist their authors bloat the contents to 80,000 words, at which point the original becomes flabby, misshapen and lame. The filler stuffed into "The State of Affairs" takes two forms. The first is endless first-name-only anecdotes meant to illustrate Perel's points. In real life, I'm sure, the stories were all-consuming. But through your headphones they are excruciating. "Alex and Erin understood the need to negotiate boundaries and lay down agreements to deter these all-too-human emotions," Perel says in her chapter on revenge. Are you kidding me? "During her two-year affair with the owner of the local bike shop, Megan got tired of hiding from everyone around her." Snore. The tedium is broken (not in a good way) with Perel saying words like Tinder and Grindr, which I suspect she does to sound with-it but have the opposite effect. The only blessing is that, after hours of listening to Perel's anecdotes, your mind gets soupy and Perel herself, while reading, begins to sound so jaded and cold that you start to wonder if she's slightly perverted, which, at least momentarily, makes the listening more interesting. Perel also fills up "The State of Affairs" with quotes. Proust! Leonard Cohen! Goethe! Anne Sexton! Shakespeare! Cheryl Strayed! These people, too, are magnificent when encountered in full, and before Perel makes it clear she's reading a quote, you think she's suddenly upped her writing game. But over all, the regular interjection of others' words sounds simply dutiful and uninspired. Plus the first-person quotes are a real tease. They make you realize how desperate you are for Perel to share more of herself. Still, "The State of Affairs" provides some new tools for handling the toxic trash heap of emotion infidelity leaves in its wake. This is the focus of the book's last section, where Perel really shines. What now? To Perel, this is the real question. Marriage creates a "core existential paradox." Not all needs can be met and we all know it. "Security and adventure, togetherness and autonomy, stability and novelty." You can't have it all with one person. Is there not a better way? Perel thinks so. Toward the very end she argues that she, too, has grown weary hearing all these tales of infidelity and in the not-so-distant future, she believes, the idea that marriage must be sexually exclusive will be seen as retrograde. "It will never work! you may be thinking," she says, anticipating the American rebuttal to what she calls "ethical nonmonogamy." "Marriage is complicated enough. It will destroy the family! It will be bådfor the kids!" She spits out this last sentence with obvious contempt. "But people used to make the same predictions in the 1980s with couples pioneering religious, racial and cultural intermarriages." Perel divides couples working through infidelity into three categories: the Sufferers, the Builders and the Explorers. You can hear in her voice that she likes the Explorers best. They do not "reject our unruly yearnings," "double down on comfort and safety," and "deafen the rumblings of eros," all of which Perel seems to find prudish. Instead, in the wake of an affair, "these couples home in on each other with a level of intensity they haven't experienced in years." Infidelity hurts, yes, but so does life. The explorers are "deeply engaged - in pain, but alive." This is the Perel we love - the Perel who believes in the resilience of the human heart, the Perel who sees our darkest selves and accepts us anyway. "When a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair," she writes, "I often tell them this: Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?" ? How can one person provide security and adventure, togetherness and autonomy, stability and novelty? Elizabeth WEIL is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and author of "No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage, Then I Tried to Make It Better." Her next book, "The Girl Who Smiled Beads," will be published in April.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [November 26, 2017]
Review by Booklist Review

Does infidelity include online pornography, sex chats, strip clubs, one-night stands? Opportunities to cheat are all around us. Therapist Perel uses years of private sessions and numerous Internet exchanges to turn a compassionate eye on the meanings and makings of affairs. She begins with background on marriage, noting that it has evolved from the cornerstone or foundations of couples' lives to the capstone or culmination of their life experiences. At a time when everyone feels entitled to security as well as adventure in marriage, infidelity is on the rise, despite the electronic trails that make it fairly easy to spot. Perel uses her experiences to explain common reactions to infidelity, ways to use jealousy to revive relationships, possible reasons for these actions, and how to move beyond the betrayal. The examples she provides include American and international couples, gay and straight relationships. Perel's goal here is not to condone cheating on partners but rather to help readers feel compassion both for the victim and the perpetrator, and offer strategies for addressing this complex issue.--Smith, Candace Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Longtime couples therapist Perel follows 2006's Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence with another provocative study of relationships. This time around she puts forth the controversial view that infidelity is ultimately beneficial to relationships, and she successfully explores the ways that affairs force partners to closely examine their attitudes about love, commitment, and sex. Make no mistake: Perel does not advocate infidelity. She dismisses the oft-used excuse that adultery is due to sex addiction and argues that emotional cheating is still cheating ("When it's no longer an exchange of kisses but an exchange of dick pics... when the secretive lunch has been replaced with a secret Facebook account, how are we to know what constitutes an affair?"). She sensibly makes the case that if the damage has already been done, it's imperative that the experience provide a way forward-whether that is to stay married or to split up. She bolsters her arguments with real-life examples from both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The book is sure to spark intelligent conversations that will have readers everywhere examining their belief systems. This is a thought-provoking take on relationships and essential reading for couples dealing with infidelity. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Much of the literature on infidelity instructs readers how to repair the destruction of an affair or "affair proof" their marriage. Frank Pittman's seminal Private Lies diverged from "how-to" guide into deep study, and so does this book. Here, Perel (Mating in Captivity) looks at motives and meanings. Why do spouses cheat on one another? What values or interpersonal dynamics impact how an affair is revealed, and how does keeping or revealing secrets liberate or imprison? How does grief manifest among the betrayed, betrayer, and the lover? Most controversially, while never condoning infidelity, Perel argues that affairs can transform, and that people can aim for understanding without passing immediate judgment. Perel claims that discussing infidelity and outside sexual desires heightens intimacy and strengthens the couple's bond, making infidelity actually less likely. If we acknowledge the attraction of the forbidden and not see love as a constant, concludes Perel, we can successfully invigorate our relationships with honest communication and alluring components (passion, eroticism, unbroken attention). VERDICT Recommended for couples, therapists, religious leaders, and anyone else interested in a deep look at the meanings, devastations, and potential growth avenues from infidelity.-Jennifer M. Schlau, Elgin Community Coll., IL © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A veteran therapist's approach to thinking about extramarital affairs."Affairs have a lot to teach us about relationshipswhat we expect, what we think we want, and what we feel entitled to," writes Perel (Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, 2006, etc.). "They offer a unique window into our personal and cultural attitudes about love, lust, and commitment." Using research and personal stories from her 30 years as a couples' therapist, the author dives into the world of affairs: why men and women engage in them, what many consider "innocent" behavior versus flat-out wrongdoing, the rage, jealousy, guilt, and host of other emotions that flair up once an affair is discovered, and the full recovery process, which determines whether a couple will remain together or split up. Perel examines each affair with an open attitude, trying to get to the root of why it happened and how each person involved can view the same scenario in a different light. She discusses the stigmas surrounding the words "affair" and "divorce," how the healing process has to steer away from blame and toward understanding, and how access to social media and pornography have made it far easier for people to cheat on their loved ones, sometimes while in the same room. The real-life examples and quotes from people who are working through the aftermath of a discovered affair offer insights into the sadness, betrayal, innocence, resentment, love, and denial that are part of this complex package. Perel's advice to these couples will resonate with anyone going through a similar situation, providing comfort and guidance without the need for an actual therapy session. Poignant stories of couples facing the aftermath of an affair and the highly knowledgeable analysis and advice they received from a well-trained couples' therapist. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.