Scott Haltzman is a nationally renowned marriage expert who recently came out with a new book, The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity. Here, he tells us why infidelity occurs in the first place, how to overcome it, and what makes people want to stick it out.
What inspired you to write about overcoming affairs?
I'm a big believer in marriage, both because of my own background—having grown up among married parents and married grandparents—and because of a fundamental aspiration of mine to help people realize their dreams. Most people choose to marry and picture a lifetime of joy. I want to help people get there. Along the way to helping people improve marriages, I kept coming up against what appeared to be the biggest roadblock: infidelity. Sometimes affairs grew out of unhappy marriages, but I found that many people who were happy in their marriages still found themselves embroiled in either a physical or emotional affair, and the effects on the marriage were brutal.
Do you feel that our cultural climate has changed in the last couple of decades so that infidelity is more rampant—or is it just as prevalent as ever, just more public and in the news?
It's hard to know the exact prevalence of infidelity because, frankly, people lie about it. A century ago, the affairs between married men and their mistresses had more of an unspoken acceptability, but there was nothing acceptable about women having affairs. By the mid-1970s, with the advent of the sexual revolution, researcher Shere Hite reported a 70 percent prevalence of affairs among married women. That's probably an overestimate, but it does suggest that women are having affairs at higher rates than ever, and, at the same time, that the culture is less and less tolerant of men who stray.
You mention that many marriage and personal therapists adopt a "me first" mentality, encouraging hurt spouses to end their relationships. How and why is your approach different?
When someone goes to individual therapy, that person tries to figure out how to make their lives better through seeing maladaptive patterns or disturbed perceptions, and then they are encouraged to find new ways to interact with the world. Many therapists adapt the same approach when a married person comes into the office looking for help. Once therapy begins, the one common denominator around much of the patient's misery is their husband or wife. In the vein of ridding oneself of problems, the obvious (but inaccurate) conclusion is that the partner is the cause of emotional distress. This doesn't match with the literature, which shows that, with the exception of domestic violence, divorcing and being alone doesn't make people happier.
My approach is to focus on helping married individuals or couples appreciate, respect, and nurture their relationship as a pathway to happiness. With the exception of couples who are in arranged marriages, my couples have all chosen each other from the get-go. So when I work with them to figure out whether they should "be married," I tell them that they have already made that decision. My job is to help teach them ways to stay married, and be happy in the process Keep reading...
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