Interview with Peggy Vaughan
Shattered Vows: Healing the heartache
By Micki Moore
"It's an uphill battle to remain faithful," says author Peggy Vaughan
In the midst of crisis, President Clinton's confession of an "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinsky has put the subject of infidelity on everyone's lips. How does a spouse handle the suspicion, the confrontation, the sense of betrayal and pain? Can a couple re-establish trust? The book The Monogamy Myth (Newmarket Press, $14.95) by Peggy Vaughan, brings new insight to the issue of infidelity.
Vaughan is a relationship consultant, specializing in male/female relationships, both in the work environment and the home. In her first book, Beyond Affairs (1980), Vaughan and her husband described their own experience in dealing with his affairs that took place secretly for seven years of their marriage.
Thousands of people identified with her experience and sought her help. This led to a national support network and a monthly newsletter. Her interactive web site, AOL's Ask Peggy (www.dearpeggy.com) receives 12,000 hits a day. She has appeared on CNN, Fox News, CBS's 48 Hours and Oprah.
Vaughan has been married over forty years and has two adult children. She and her husband live in California.
MM: Obviously pain and betrayal are very much a part of the discovery of an affair. In the case of Clinton, what happens when you add a very public humiliation?
PV: Humiliation is in the eye of the beholder and those people who see affairs as strictly personal failures, individual shortcomings and happen only in bad marriages tend to feel the person in those marriages must be humiliated. However, people like Hillary Clinton or me, who have a broader understanding, do not feel the same degree of the shame.
MM: Why do you feel that monogamy in marriage is an unrealistic expectation?
PV: Most people believe that monogamy is the norm, and that most people are monogamous. These beliefs are not true, They are a myth. So when infidelity is exposed, most people make a judgement and believe in punishment for the perpetrator, as if they're unusual when, in fact, they're not.
MM: Where there's a series of indiscretions, what do you think it says about the marriage and the couple's sex life?
PV: Very little, almost nothing. This is one of the huge mistakes. People have the most basic knee-jerk, simplistic way of understanding this. If you love your wife, you won't have an affair.
MM: Does the discovery of an affair mean the end of the marriage?
PV: Absolutely not That's another one of those myths. Affairs happen in a lot of marriages; couples stay together but never tell anybody. In my professional experience, about 72% of the people I have dealt with have stayed married.
MM: How can one get around broken commitment, betrayal and pain to re-establish trust?
PV: The very key to developing trust is whether you can use this crisis to develop a new basis of trust. Instead of blind trust, the trust now has to be based an on-going honesty.
MM: How can sharing the intimate details of your affair with your spouse possibly save your marriage?
PV: It's not that that person needs to know the details, but they need to know they have your willingness to give them the details. It shows a certain respect, honor, fairness and equality. It shows that they can be trusted in the future.
MM: Are you saying people should confess an affair to their spouse?
PV: A lot of people say, "It's over and done with, she'll never know about it, therefore no harm is done." That's a failure to realize that keeping a secret of that significance over the years leaves a barrier between the two of you, an emotional distance. This leaves the couple vulnerable to all kinds of other problems that could lead to divorce, even if the affair is never discovered.
MM: So you're suggesting that if you have lustful fantasies about an attractive man or woman, you share this with your partner?
PV: Absolutely. But you don't just come out of the blue, just like you don't wait until a child is 12 for the sex talk. You say early on that "attractions are normal and healthy. If we acknowledge that, either of us won't get carried away." You want to develop safety by talking about these issues that are much less significant than affairs.
MM: So if you talk about it, then you won't do it?
PV: You're much less likely to do it, if you talk about it. It's actually riskier not to talk about it, because if you don't talk about it then you only focus on the potential pleasure. When you bring it out in the open, where it becomes a reality, you will also focus on the consequences. It helps defuse the power of that attraction.
MM: Is there any difference between having a one-night stand out of town and an ongoing affair?
PV: No, they're all deception and deception feels as bad as it can feel regardless of the type of affair. I have seen people even more devastated by the one-night stand than by the long-term affair. Even online affairs that don't actually get physical can be extremely devastating because of the degree of secrecy that's involved.