Guilford Press, New York, N.Y., 2007; $14.95.
Here is a book for anyone who has experienced a marital affair — infidelity, tryst, betrayal, outside involvement or whatever you want to call it. That would include, at the time of the book’s writing, about 20 percent of men and 10 percent of women (sexual infidelity) to nearly 45 percent of men and 25 percent of women (both physical and emotional affairs).
The book’s contents can help, whether you are the partner who did not have the affair or the one who did, and whether the affair came to light recently or sometime ago. You can benefit by doing the work called for in “Getting Past the Affair” alone or with your partner. The process is based on the authors’ 50-year collective experience working with individuals and couples. All three authors, psychology professors, have private practices in addition to their research and teaching.
While I cannot speak from personal experience of an affair, I know enough about my own and others’ marriages to recognize this book’s merits. “Getting Past the Affair” deals with the immediate trauma of an affair, examines factors that made the relationship vulnerable to an affair and guides the partners in making decisions about the future. Anecdotes about a variety of couples add to the factual information and sage advice; the exercises are clear and realistic. Throughout, the writers are compassionate and positive.
The authors view a couple’s relationship as a system, recognizing that both persons play some part in their problems. Text and exercises help each spouse assess how his or her attitudes and behaviors affect the relationship and might have lowered the marriage’s resistance to an affair.
The book fosters a balanced view of the unfaithful partner, neither demonizing nor excusing. If only one party reads this material, uses its exercises and makes some changes, the relationship will change and the person can have a healthier future. If both spouses work at change, they stand a better change of healing their marriage.
“Getting Past the Affair” helps the reader assess and build on the strengths of the marriage. When in the past did the couple withstand challenges and emerge stronger? What can be learned from experience?
The book helps the reader look beyond the crisis and its turmoil to the big picture. Furthermore it shows how to diminish factors that make the marriage vulnerable. Building a strong marriage requires both decreasing hurtful behavior and initiating positive interaction.
The book’s third and concluding section describes the steps for moving on: recognition, responsibility, remorse, restitution, reform, release and reconciliation. It explores the barriers to moving on and suggests ways to get unstuck.
In examining choices about the future, the author team advocates healthy ways of moving on, while remaining neutral about a reader’s decision to stay married or to separate. This neutrality is sensitive to individual circumstances and is within the context of helping a person evaluate self, partner, the relationship and the decision’s impact on children. If either spouse is struggling, “our best advice is to remain patient for now and to focus on how to move forward within the marriage as best you can until you’re fairly certain,” the book states.
Finally the trio of authors offers good advice for those who make either decision. Their parting words: “You’ve already survived the worst. We’re confident that you can now create the best.”