Without infidelity as a theme, there would be a precipitous decline in the number of novels and movies produced, not to mention the utter destruction of country music and much of the legal profession. Whether or not one has personally been unfaithful to a romantic partner, one almost certainly knows people who have been.
As a practicing therapist for more than 30 years, Esther Perel’s goal in The State of Affairs is to go beyond the standard victim-versus-victimizer model of adultery and explore its infinite complexities—the better to salvage something even slightly worthwhile from the experience, preferably for both partners.
One reason infidelity is so catastrophic, Perel says, is that we are culturally groomed to believe marriage should provide us everything we need emotionally, including sex, offspring, friendship, stability, inspiration and refuge. When it falls short, as it almost always does for at least one of the partners, it can open the door to straying. “Not only can an affair destroy a marriage,” Perel writes, “it has the power to unravel an entire social fabric.”
But infidelity, she points out, is not all that easy to define. Depending on the aggrieved partner’s standards, it can range from flirtation or viewing pornography to maintaining a furtive, long-term romantic relationship. To illustrate how varied the “cheating” scene is, she explores the stories of dozens of couples she has counseled.
Among the conclusions she reaches are that you can’t adultery-proof a marriage, that complete honesty in trying to mend the ravages of adultery can sometimes do more harm than good, and that infidelity isn’t always caused by marital dissatisfaction. Sometimes it just happens.