Peggy Vaughan is no marriage counselor (or psychotherapist) and it shows--she actually makes sense.
Ms. Vaughan has drawn insightfully from her extensive work with her Beyond Affairs Network. Unlike many self-styled or state-sanctioned (i.e., licensed mental health) experts, Ms. Vaughan actually uses more reality than dogma to inform her advice. For instance, her research shows that the leading variable in managing to stay together well after an affair is the willingness and ability to talk (and talk and talk and talk) about the affair for as long as needed to detoxify and demystify it. (Her research also shows that most people trying to deal with the aftermath of an affair find mental health types considerably les than informed or helpful, despite their beliefs in their great expertise. As a trained and experienced psychotherapist, and a well-respected scholar, I can tell you that the mainstream training and professional literature--not to mention self-help--on infidelity is mostly just dogma that mental health types have concocted out of thin air, not anything anyone has actually discovered through research.)
I do find a one thing a bit troubling. As I see it, she does not give due weight to issues of individual moral responsibility. There are two sides to this. First, she generally denies that adultery reflects personal failings, placing far more emphasis on social factors to explain why adultery takes place. She does not produce an argument, so far as I can see, against the idea of personal failings; rather she poses an alternative to that idea. But to pose an alternative to an idea is not to show the idea wrong.
Second, while she is surely right that our culture has come to glamorize affairs rather than condemn them, and while she is certainly right to place more emphasis on this than conventional "wisdom" allows, it is not all that clear just what causal role social factors play, or which is the chicken and which is the egg.
(1) The same social forces act on ALL of us, but only SOME of us cheat. Thus, the social forces cannot explain why cheaters cheat. Differentiating cheaters from others requires looking at variables on which they differ from others, not on forces common to all.
2) Ms. Vaughan's "evidence" that adultery has increased significantly in the last few decades, when sex has become more public and less closeted, depends to a great extent on generally-unrespected researchers like Shere Hite. Her figures on the rate of adultery are higher than others I've seen (and I've read a lot on this subject). So far as I can tell, we do not really know that there has been a meaningful rise in adultery to accompany the rise in glamorized sexuality (including glamorized icons of adultery).
3) Even if there is a rising rate of adultery, and even if it correlates the social forces Ms. Vaughan mentions and a rising rate of adultery, it does not follow that one causes the other. Alternative hypotheses can explain both. One such alternative would be that both are results of increasing egoism and hedonism, which could result from any of a number of factors--consumerism, the decline of Heaven-oriented religious belief, decline of community life, commodity-centered views of the person growing out of capitalist ideology, etc. Another might be that both reflect the decline of patriarchal social structures. Surely others could be framed. The point is that we just don't know.
I nonetheless think that, on balance, she is the wisest person writing on the subject. Ms. Vaughan possesses good data on the effects of adultery, and she possesses good sense. She also possesses a crusader's heart. If, maybe, she goes a bit overboard, as compared to us academic types--well, there never was a successful crusade led by timid generals.
I want to add that several months after I read this book and wrote the first version of this review, I called upon Ms. Vaughan for help in dealing with my own situation in dealing with my wife's adultery with my "best friend" of thirty years. Quite honestly, I believe she saved my marriage. My gratitude to her is beyond words.
And by bizarre coincidences, it turns out that we grew up in the same place, her dad and mine were fishing buddies, I used to buy gasoline at her dad's service station, my dad preached her dad's funeral, and our lives have run eerily parallel courses.
As a result, as you can imagine, I thought about removing from this review any criticism whatsoever. But I decided not to do so. I hope my heartfelt endorsement of this book means all the more precisely because I don't simply find it ratifying my own beliefs.
I am altogether certain that this book and Ms. Vaughan's counsel did more to save my marriage than all the dozens of other things I read in recovering from the most horrific devastation of my life.