When Good People Have Affairs: Inside the Hearts & Minds of People in Two Relationships Hardcover – May 27 2008
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“Whether you are having an affair or are thinking about it, or your partner is having an affair, this book is for you. Kirshenbaum brings us practical steps for understanding affairs and utilizing the mistakes we make for a deeper healing. This book can help strengthen all our relationships.”—Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ph.D., rabbi of Bet Alef: An Inclusive Spiritual Synagogue in Seattle and co-author of Judaism for Dummies
"Kirshenbaum addresses the often painful question of whether good people can and do have affairs and provides methodical, insightful answers to this very disturbing dilemma. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has had an affair, been the object of an affair, or anyone who has thought of having an affair".— Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D, Ph.D., author of Performance Addiction and The Power of Empathy
"This book is brilliantly written for anyone entrapped in a messy affair. Powerful, pragmatic answers clarify how to sanely address infidelity."— Lee Raffel, M.SW., author of I Hate Conflict! Seven Steps to Resolving Differences with Anyone in Your Life
“Kirshenbaum meets us right at the heart of an illicit affair and juggling two lovers. Her research and experience shows most people who have affairs want what’s best for everyone involved. Her absolute acceptance and wisdom teach us how we can trust ourselves, despite feeling crazy, to untangle our love triangles and live with choices that are free of regret and ambivalence. We can clearly decide what is good for us and what will lead to our happiness.”—Diana Mercer, JD, Attorney-Mediator and Founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services
"An important and insightful book on a very difficult topic."—Gayle Rosenwald Smith, author of Divorce and Money: Everything You Need to Know
"The ‘sexual correctness police’ surround us all the time and are so menacing we are often afraid to speak honestly and hence revert to humor to diffuse our anxieties. Mira Kirshenbaum has dared to break the rules, not by advocating for affairs (which too often are very destructive) but for acknowledging that they are happening, and giving advice to minimize the hurts and maximize the capacity of people to treat the others involved with the dignity and honesty they deserve."—Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine and chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives
“Every pastor, therapist, and counselor should read this book. Mira Kirshenbaum, through decades of clinical experience, demystifies affairs with wisdom, humor, buckets of common sense, and most of all, deep compassion for all involved. She provides from every perspective, including the children, clear guidelines for decision making and the follow through necessary for a long and healthy relationship. This book resonates profoundly with my 38 years of ministering with people in relationships. Even the happily married would benefit from reading When Good People Have Affairs.”—M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
“Mira Kirshenbaum has done it again! She has tackled the most difficult of issues and in so doing offers the reader clear and powerful tools for moving on and through the complexities of an affair. Every psychotherapist in the field knows that working with people involved in affairs is painful for all concerned. These are not bad people, as it would be too easy to assume. These are good people working through complicated issues, feelings and needs. With steps for identifying why and then what next, this book will serve not only those who are personally involved with affairs, but also those in the helping role. I look forward to having it available as a recommendation for clients and as an aide in my own psychotherapy practice.”—Dr. Dorothy Firman, Director, The Synthesis Center, Amherst, MA. Co-author of Daughters and Mothers: Making it Work; Chicken Soup for the Mother and Daughter Soul; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Celebrating Mothers and Daughters and: Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul
From the Back Cover
“When Good People Have Affairs helps unfaithful partners cut through their confusion and choose a course of action that serves their best interest. A wise and welcome addition to the self-help literature on infidelity.”—Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., author of After the Affair
“If you've found yourself caught up in a love triangle, from any angle, Kirshenbaum provides an indispensable guide to what the person in two relationships is dealing with. If you are that person, this book will save you from a world of misery and help you do what's best for everyone. If you're the spouse or lover, this is a necessary guide to help you survive and thrive in the face of what you are really dealing with.”—Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., author of Five Wishes and co-author, with Kathlyn Hendricks, of Conscious Loving
"The first practical, non-judgmental solution to infidelity. Kirshenbaum’s ability to bring clarity out of a deeply confusing issue is amazing. This book is a must read for the 50% of Americans whose lives have been affected by infidelity. It could save many relationships."—Val Jones, Senior Medical Director of RevolutionHealth.com, and author of the blog “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason”
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Top Customer Reviews
This book has potential and can be very helpful. However, I found most of this book to be too superficial. The strategies to make amends near the end of the book seem very helpful but the meat of this book fails to deeply promote accountability nor does it take into consideration real life scenario is such as mental health issues...often the trigger for an affair. It seems like the author simply suggests to do what makes someone happy. Major life decisions such as what to do after an affair should be based on the strong foundational principles that drive our own personal lives (which she does mention) but the theme of the book seems to be be more in line with dating relationships rather than marriages.
I do think this book can be helpful. Just be very cautious.
Immensely helpful in understanding affairs and reactions of people in those positions.
It has some wonderful tools to try and apply and I am looking forward to it.
Life doesnt wait it keeps going.
Thank you for a wonderful read.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book is comprehensive but spends most of its time helping you figure out who is right for you, the primary partner or the affair partner. I think this section is outstanding, and Mira tackles a subject that few if any other authors have ever dared approach. While it is very helpful (she has found a way to compare apples to oranges!!!), I think one of the things left out (probably because it is so individual) is transaction costs. What I mean is even if you figure out (with Mira's techniques) that the "affair" partner is better for you, you still have to go through a divorce, split up money and assets, give up at least 1/2 of the time with your children, lose many of your friends, move out of the house, start your life over from scratch etc etc. How do you factor that in? How MUCH better does the affair partner have to be to justify this upheaval? Again, this will be different for everyone. Someone who has not much to lose might leave for a marginally "better" partner. Someone with a LOT to lose is only going to leave for a MUCH better situation. So in the end this is a difficult decision that should NOT be made impulsively. It should be made after careful thought and analysis, and this book CERTAINLY helps put 90% of the important issues into perspective to make this difficult decision. I recommend a good local therapist to help you out with the individual aspects of YOUR situation.
I have read the book from cover to cover and I recommend it HIGHLY. It helped me sort out my own situation. Thank god it came out in such a timely manner. Good luck with your own ordeal...I KNOW it is NOT EASY!! I have intentionally not said what I ended up doing....I remember when I first started trying to figure out what to do about my own situation I would read reviews like this and try to see who stayed and who left and tried to read into that information to see what I should do...I don't want to sway anyone one way or the other. GOOD LUCK!
I want to say why this book is so good, but first I have to comment on Jillian C. "Qbridge"'s incredibly irresponsible review. Jillian has obviously not read the book, nor does she seem to have any experience actually helping people who are trying to deal with an affair, nor does she seem to be interested in helping people put their lives together after an affair. If she'd read the book, she'd have seen how Kirshenbaum clearly says you should not have an affair. But you do NOT help people who've been affected by an affair by labeling the cheater as "bad." Why would any wife want to heal her marriage if her husband is by definition "bad"? Does Jillian want every couple touched by an affair to get a divorce? Yes, the deed is a hurtful mistake, and Kirshenbaum goes to great lengths to show how, if there is going to be any hope of healing, the cheater has to show that he truly understands the pain and damage he's caused. That's the kind of thing in the REAL book, not Jillian's fantasy. It was careless and dishonest for Jillian to review the words of the title and not read or review the real book.
In reality, Kirshenbaum devotes many chapters to showing how to heal a marriage after it's been damaged by an affair, and this is the best help of its kind I've seen.
Another thing Kirshenbaum does that I've never seen before and is incredibly helpful is show that there are 17 different kinds of affairs. Each one grows out of a different need. Each one means something completely different. You can't know how to figure things out until you know why you or your partner had an affair in the first place. This is what a therapist would charge big bucks for, but you get it all in this book.
And Kirshenbaum has a lot of material on how to protect the kids and take them into account.
I've had a lot of experience helping people and couples deal with an affair, and I have to say this book will give everyday folk all the help they could need. The truth is that an affair is a turning point in people's lives. There's a lot to sort out. And a lot of anger and hurt. Kirshenbaum shows how to take all this into account and do what's best for everybody in the end.
My problem is with the chapters on how a spouse involved in an affair should determine whether to stay with the marriage partner, or leave the marriage for the affair partner. These chapters presume that the affair partner is thinking clearly and rationally. It has been my experience and the experience of many others that this is simply not the case.
An affair is a fantasy relationship built on conditional love. Any conversation topic or activity that would undermine the fantasy is avoided. Add to this the lies the spouse involved in the affair has told him or herself, and others, to rationalize their involvement in the affair. All combined, there is no way in which the person having an affair can accurately asess which partner they are truly happier with, which partner is the "better" partner, or is meeting their needs.
Many participants find their involvement with an affair to be addictive. Until the participants break this addiction and the accompanying rationalizations, there is simply no way for them to make an informed decision about returning to the marriage or leaving it for the affair partner. To do otherwise is akin to having a drug or alcohol addict make decisions on further drug or alcohol use while under the influence.
Most of all, I saw that there were many reasons why people cheat, and most of them DON'T mean that your marriage is over. And I saw what the work was that my husband and I needed to do to put our marriage together. My husband and I have talked almost nonstop for the last two days. It's been pretty intense. But Myra Kirschenbaum's book has given me, given both of us really, the hope and understanding to work at healing our marriage.
This is one of those books that can save your life. I am so grateful for it.
The premise is good: Help men and women who are having or have had an affair to understand why they did or are doing this. The paradox of being both saint and sinner can be confusing.
Do Not Confess (Keep Lying) (p. 19-20)
Kirshenbaum encourages not confessing--even when confronted (with exceptions) because...
* it is unkind and will create pain.
But the pain is not caused by confession; it is the act of betrayal that creates the pain. The confession simply makes it known.
* it will result in permanent pain, grief, mistrust and insecurity for the betrayed spouse.
This statement implies universality--that for 100% of betrayed spouses they will never overcome those things. I was a betrayed spouse and I am none of those things.
* she values kindness--not inflicting pain on another--as a higher value than honesty.
Each individual chooses what they value and the degree to which they value something. Both honesty and kindness are valuable and which is more important is a personal choice. The author supposedly values kindness more highly than honesty. But it is unkind to have an affair and it is apparently unkind to confess--even when asked.
She advises confessing if discovery is imminent or likely. How does a betraying partner know that it is not imminent or likely? If their spouse is asking, they may already know; they likely have good reason to be asking.
Kirshenbaum is encouraging allowing the betrayed partner to believe that their fantasy life is real. Discovery of that fantasy can shake a person to their very core. It not only destroys their trust in their spouse, but it can destroy their trust in their own judgment and opinions. They question who they are along with their worth.
Not confessing deprives the betrayed spouse of both their pain and their choice. Life hurts, avoiding the hurts of life often leads to even greater pain. I often hear from betrayed spouses that the deception does more damage than the sexual betrayal.
Non-Judgmentalism & Neutrality
Kirshenbaum rationalizes the actions of infidelity.
Her single-sided view leads her either to believe her client's assessments or diagnose the marriages of many cheaters (who were either her clients or the affair partners of her clients) as dead, disappointing, souring... She does not describe most in volatile terms--abusive or high-conflict, just loveless or boring. The betrayed spouse may have a different perception, but if Kirshenbaum's assessments include both sides, she fails to let the reader know.
* Tom's marriage was cold and dead (p. 26).
* John's marriage was souring (p. 37).
* Tommy's wife was a bimbette (p. 56).
* Ellie's marriage lacked fireworks (p. 65).
Good people do bad things. But we all need to accept our sins as sins. Rationalizing them validates and enables the choice to continue sinning. I understand that Kirshenbaum is not intending to encourage infidelity, but unfortunately her validations do that for some. To her, an affair is a coping mechanism, but she fails to directly identify it as a negative coping mechanism, rather it feels as though she sees any coping mechanism as positive simply because it is a way of coping.
Affairs Can Help
Kirshenbaum believes that there is a "hidden wisdom" in having an affair (p. 40). Her idea is that an affair can enable a person to realize that the grass is not greener. She considers the choice to have an affair to be a coping mechanism which is a sort of natural wisdom (p. 41). Radiation or chemotherapy can kill cancer; the problem is that sometimes the specimen is sacrificed for the cure that kills. She fails to acknowledge the dangerous aspect of affairs when mentioning this "hidden wisdom" and instead further validates the choice of infidelity by telling the betrayer that sometimes an affair is the best way for them to get the two things they need: information and change (p. 41).
It is possible to transform one's life and Self through a traumatic experience--putting experience to use. That does not mean the experience itself was beneficial; the benefit or detriment is in the response.
Her view validates infidelity, "sure it's a sin, but I'm helping my marriage so it's worth it."
Kirshenbaum does sometimes state directly that a person needs to end an affair (p. 49, 55). But she dilutes this infrequent message with her affair-validations which are woven throughout the entire text.
Equalizing the Spouse and the Affair Partner
Kirshenbaum draws up a pros and cons list, distilling the comparison to only four dimensions so that like aspects are being compared.
The problem is in the equality; with this method the spouse has no starting advantage over the affair partner for history, commitment, vows... In addition, there needs to be an additional dimension for evaluating the possible consequences of divorce on the family unit. That additional dimension will influence the other four. Step families are particularly vulnerable to dysfunction; a new marriage that began with the betrayal of one parent is even more vulnerable. She does review implications with children later, but that is not included in this structured four-dimensional review.
Also not included is a report on the statistical odds of marriages that start as infidelity. The failure rate of such relationships is extremely high: 87-96%.
Children & Divorce
Kirshenbaum claims the work of Judith Wallerstein in "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce" is flawed because a study sample needs a control group for comparison (p.170-171). Wallerstein had the sort of control group Kirshenbaum implied was missing and her conclusions were in line with Kirshenbaum's argument. It is not universally true that children are better off in intact marriages rather than broken marriages. But it is true for more than it is not true. Children from low-conflict marriages are better off if their parents remain married, but children in high-conflict marriages benefit more from divorce. Approximately two-thirds of divorces in the United States are among low-conflict spouses. (Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth, 2001. "Parental Predivorce Relations and Offspring Postdivorce Well-Being," Journal of Marriage and the Family 63(1): 197ff.)
The good intentions and occasional good advice and information are not enough to overcome the dangerous and flaws in the book. Kirshenbaum promotes and encourages avoidance. "Don't confess because it will cause your spouse pain. Don't feel shame and guilt because it will cause you pain." She is so focused on intentions--"I'm good because my intentions are good"--that she glosses over the damage caused by those good intentions--since thinking about the damage would hurt and hurt does no good. Pain is not always bad. As Buddha said, "all life is suffering." It is through adversity that we become stronger and shape our character.
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