Book Review: When Good People Have Affairs Part I

General Book Review Disclaimer
I tend to be quite picky; I don’t want to give 4 or 5 stars because something simply has meritable content. I base my reviews on author knowledge, content, writing quality and creativity, grammar and editing, and the use or overuse of excerpted passages–I love references, but I do not find it appropriate to write a book of excerpts strung together with a few transitional passages.

1 stars: Poor or worse than poor, not recommended
2 stars: Below average, not recommended
3 stars: Average and thus good, possibly recommended with caveats
4 stars: Great, recommended
5 stars: Amazing, mind blowing, recommended

When Good People Have Affairs
By Mira Kirshenbaum

I have divided this review into 3 parts–since as is typical with me it’s long!

I chose to read this book when I saw someone post a brief excerpt on facebook asking for thoughts. The excerpt was from the author’s review of 17 types of infidelity, asking about her type: The Midlife Crisis Affair. I did not agree with the excerpt—which was very brief, but I believe in getting more information before passing judgment. I found that her explanation of The Midlife Crisis Affairs was minor compared to many of the other flaws in the book. I am reviewing it to warn people from reading it—unless you want to read it in order to warn others against it by writing an informed review at Amazon.

A condensed version of this review is available at Amazon; I’d love it if you would visit there and select that it was helpful—if that is the case. My name over there is Kangaroo.

The target audience for this book is the betraying spouse, not the abandoned spouse, keep that in mind if you choose to read the book.

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. But there is too much validation for the poor coping mechanisms which lead to choosing infidelity without sufficient warnings regarding the dangers. Though the author discusses the dangers; she lacks fair balance.

“Yes, we all [the author and the clergy] agreed that infidelity is a sin and a mistake. But once you’ve crossed the line, then what (p. x, acknowledgements)?”

This sets up the Kirshenbaum view from which a person will typically make a few assumptions. Since she does believe the infidelity is both a sin and a mistake, she will not support the choice to cheat, she will not encourage infidelity, she will not think it is or can be good. After all, infidelity is a sin and a mistake—according to her own words. Unfortunately she betrays those words throughout the entire book, destroying her credibility.

Do Not Confess (Keep Lying)
(p. 19-20)

Kirshenbaum encourages not confessing an affair—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.

A secret affair is like internal bleeding that cannot be felt. It’s still there and it’s doing damage, but without knowing, the problem will not be addressed. Often an unknowing spouse recognizes there is a problem without knowing what it is and feels helpless without knowledge. Such a spouse may blame themselves and may also be susceptible to depression or anger.

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—depending on the duration and extent of the fantasy. 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.

I do not believe this is a cut-and-dry issue—there are exceptions. For a more informed idea of confession with explanations supported by research, I recommend reading After the Affair by Janis Spring Abrahms. She discusses the topic of confession in the Epilogue.

Non-Judgmentalism & Neutrality

Kirshenbaum wants to avoid judgmental language—so she doesn’t want to refer to the betraying partner as the cheater, she just wants to call them people. Refraining from being judgmental is appropriate, but her use of neutral language is limited. The affair partner is called the ‘lover’ a term that implies love while avoiding the negative ideas that go along with infidelity, like betrayal, sin and deceit. Why not refer to them as ‘affair partners?’ That is a neutral phrase.

“His wife wasn’t as bad as [her husband]…”(p. 27)
Translation: One betrayer’s wife was not as bad as his affair partner’s husband.

Why is okay to label the betrayed partner as bad? Kirshenbaum may have details of abuse and inappropriate spousal behaviors that are corroborated by more than the betrayers, but without such corroboration, how credible is the information? And why does she avoid a judgmental label—such as bad—for betrayers and allow it for the betrayed spouse or for the marriage itself? There are two sides to a story and it does not seem clear that in all of these circumstances that author has both sides, but that she uses the one side as the whole truth.

Kirshenbaum helps the betraying partners accept themselves as good people by rationalizing the actions of infidelity rather than guiding the person to look within themselves for their goodness and encouraging choices other than infidelity—like marriage counseling. In her desire to advocate for the betrayer, she is one-sided, betraying both the marriage and the already betrayed spouse; she fails to acknowledge there are more than the betraying partner in the situation.

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.

  • Josh had been pressured into marrying Michelle by her father for whom he worked. He convinced himself he loved Michelle and now their marriage was disappointing to both (p. 15-16).
  • Tom no longer had anything in common with his wife; their marriage was cold and dead (p. 26).
  • John’s marriage was souring; he and his wife had run out of things to talk about. Their marriage felt to John as though it was held together only by children and habit (p. 37).
  • Tommy’s wife was a bimbette (p. 56).
  • Ellie’s marriage was solid and comfortable, but free from fireworks (p. 65).
  • Jennifer rushed into marriage with someone who was not right for her (p. 159).

Good people do bad things. I agree that many people who have affairs are not bad people. But I do feel that 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. She sums everything she knows in psychology by saying “people cope.” (p. 36) To her, an affair is a coping mechanism. I agree that is often true, 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. Negative coping mechanism can have dangerous and even deadly consequences.

Review to be continued tomorrow.

Series NavigationBook Review: When Good People Have Affairs Part II


Book Review: When Good People Have Affairs Part INo Comments

  1. I don't think there is EVER an excuse for infidelity. There are reasons why it happens, but there are always other options for addressing those reasons.

    • Oh well, there are excuses and reasons, but none that are reasonable or excusable!
      The only exception I can think of is Terri Schiavo's husband. She was brain dead and had been in a coma and her famil was fighting for him over life support. It took 14 years. He did not want to divorce his wife–he made that commitment, but she was in her alte 20s or early 30s when she went into the coma and the doctor's said there was not chance she wold recover. Her husband eventually met someone and started a family–without abandoning Terri. But I don't think I consider that infidelity, it is technically adultery but that poor man was not
      betraying his wife.

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