Beyond Betrayal: Life After Infidelity

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Despite their destructiveness, affairs are not going out of style. Not all affairs are alike; some are even accidental.

By Frank Pittman

Day after day in my office I see men and women who have been messing around. They lead secret lives, as they hide themselves from their marriages. They go through wrenching divorces, inflicting pain on their children and their children’s children. Or they make desperate, tearful, sweaty efforts at holding on to the shreds of a life they’ve betrayed.

They tell me they have gone through all of this for a quick thrill or a furtive moment of romance. Sometimes they tell me they don’t remember making the decision that tore apart their life: “It just happened.” Sometimes they don’t even know they are being unfaithful. (I tell them: “If you don’t know whether what you are doing is an infidelity or not, ask your spouse.”)

From the outside looking in, it is insane. How could anyone risk everything in life on the turn of a screw’ Infidelity was not something people did much in my family, so I always found it strange and noteworthy when people did it in my practice. After almost 30 years of cleaning up the mess after other people’s affairs, I wrote a book describing everything about infidelity I’d seen in my practice. The book was Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy (Norton). I thought it might help. Even if the tragedy of AIDS and the humiliation of prominent politicians hadn’t stopped it, surely people could not continue screwing around after reading about the absurd destructiveness of it. As you know, people have not stopped having affairs. But many of them feel the need to write or call or drop by and talk to me about it. When I wrote Private Lies, I thought I knew everything there was to know about infidelity. But I know now that there is even more.