(Featuring extensive quotes from Peggy about Preventing Affairs)
By Cheryl Wetzstein
When it comes to extramarital affairs, Peggy Vaughan may have heard it all. Since 1980, she and her husband, James, have spoken publicly about how they saved their marriage despite his infidelities. Now 72 and married for 53 years, Mrs. Vaughan has written several books and talked with thousands of people about the cheaters in their lives.
Not surprisingly, she has some advice for couples - especially those who think they are immune to affairs - and for an American culture that thinks it bears no culpability for the steady stream of betrayed spouses stomping off to divorce court.
Couples should know, "the only actual way to prevent affairs is by complete honesty. There is nothing else," says Mrs. Vaughan, whose latest book, "Preventing Affairs," came out in May.
Most people think other things will protect their marriage - being in love, being religious, taking wedding vows seriously, trusting each other, she says. But none of those things are as important as being honest with each other, which means both sharing private feelings and "not withholding relevant information."
People can be tempted to have an affair for myriad reasons, but the only way someone will act on a temptation is "if they are willing to be deceptive and lie to their partner," she says. "That means the trump card is honesty."
Mrs. Vaughan advocates honesty even though "it sounds counterintuitive" to tell your wife you think the neighbor lady is hot, or tell your husband you're flattered when that guy in the office flirts with you.
But it's impossible that spouses will go through life and never be attracted to other people, she says, and if spouses talk with each other about these attractions, they can pop the "fantasy" balloons and keep attractions harmless.
If you don't talk about temptations, she warns, "You're starting to keep secrets, and the fuel for affairs is secrecy."
Confiding in each other about private things keeps a couple connected, she adds.
"People don't grow apart because they do different things or have different interests," she says. "They grow apart because they stop telling each other what they're thinking."
Mrs. Vaughan has a few candid observations about the American culture, which she believes aids and abets extramarital affairs. "We're positively schizophrenic" about sex, she says. Marital sex is downplayed, while extramarital sex is glorified in TV shows, movies, books, fashion and advertising.
This is buttressed by a "code of silence" that says philanderers have privacy rights, and people shouldn't tell on each other. But let former Sen. John Edwards get caught in a hotel visiting his former mistress, and condemnation and outrage come pouring out as if he were the first husband to get caught with his pants down, she says.
Mrs. Vaughan wants to see less hypocrisy about sex, but she sees it starting in the home, not the movie theater. Her provocative message to parents is to "stop training your kids to have affairs."
When teens have sex - but can't be honest about it with their parents - they already are associating sex with secrecy and lying, she says. Later, when they're grown, married and tempted to have an affair, "they have already been conditioned [to] do what you're not supposed to do and pretend you didn't," she says.
Mrs. Vaughan recommends parents have lots of honest talks about sex with their teens - emphasizing its beauty with one loving partner - and not harp so much on avoiding sex. Kids may get information about "the plumbing" or "the basics," she says, but they get very little about loving relationships and having sex in a responsible way.
To prevent affairs in the next generation, she says, parents should raise their children "so they can talk about sex with you."