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Toronto Sun Article
Interview with Peggy Vaughan

Shattered Vows: Healing the heartache

By Micki Moore
The Toronto Sun - Lifestyle
Sunday, September 27, 1998

"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.
The humiliation has been thrust upon Hillary Clinton. You can see she is resisting it like crazy, just like I did. Hillary has made a few statements through friends that she does not want pity or compassion. Most people don't.
Once the affair is finally out in the open there is strength and power of being able to say, "OK, I know it and you know I know it and I'm still here." You get the resolve that allows you to stand up and move ahead. The public outcry can serve as a solidifier - you've got to hang together as a couple because it's "you and me against the world." So, it actually strengthens the sense of togetherness at a time when you're being ripped apart because of personal pain.

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.
People like to debate whether monogamy is natural. From my personal experience in life and as a counselor for over 16 years, it is not.
It's not that couples set out at the beginning of their marriage planning to be unfaithful - they have strong intentions to be monogamous. It's just that in our sex-saturated society, the deck is stacked against us. It's an uphill battle to remain faithful.
The glorification of affairs and the use of sex to sell undermine monogamy. And there's no proper sex education, so we're conditioned to be deceitful about our sexual activities. This lack of ability to talk openly and honestly about our sexual desires starts as a teen and leads to trouble later on.
It's not only an individual's problem, it's a societal problem as well. And, as long as we see affairs as only the personal failures of a few individuals and fail to acknowledge how prevalent affairs are, then we cannot address the underlying issue that undermines monogamy for everyone.

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.
All marriages have problems, of course, so that can be one factor that contributes to infidelity, but it is almost always a combination of factors. Sometimes something is lacking; other times, some people just want excitement and variety. There are many cases where the husband says, "I love my wife. I love my marriage. I have great sex at home. In fact, the sex outside isn't even as good, it's just different."
Sex is often a more prominent motivating factor when a man has an affair. For women, it's often the emotional connection. So a woman having an affair is usually more of a threat to the marriage than the man having an affair. Close friends of the Clintons insist that they share a very deep love, a very deep connection and a very deep passion. This goes against everything we think because we think if you've got that, then you won't do anything like that. But professionals who work in depth with couples know that it's just not true.

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.
One of the keys of a marriage surviving an affair rests with the person who has had the affair. He or she must be willing to answer the questions of his or her spouse. Now, there are a lot of reasons people will say, "Don't talk."
But that just buries it alive and the couple can't recover. So that's the first thing that must be done, along with severing contact with the third party and holding up through the inevitable long process it takes to recover. I have never known anyone, including myself, who fully recovered from the emotional impact in less than two years, and most people do not want to dedicate that much time and energy to saving their marriage.

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.
The spouse who is asking the questions must also be aware that they should only ask questions if they really want the truth, and then be prepared not to beat the other person up with the information There is a dual responsibility here.

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.
So my usual advice is to always work towards telling. You may never reach that time, but always be working towards it. In the process you will be making the relationship stronger and more connected by virtue of the honesty.
You must be honest about any attractions you feel because an affair starts much earlier than the actual physical affair. It starts with feelings, the desire, the temptation as they grow into a private fantasy.

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.
Anything where there is a deception, that has sexual chemistry to it, but is kept secret and is ongoing, feels like an affair to the spouse.

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