Book Review: When Good People Have Affairs Part II

When Good People Have Affairs
By Mira Kirshenbaum

This is the second installment of a 3-post review.

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.

Apparently counseling does not rate as high as infidelity. Directly following her validation, she tells the reader that she does not want to be misunderstood, she is not encouraging affairs. She’s deluded; I understand that it may not be her intention, but validating infidelity enables and encourages it. I can certainly see some men and women who are reading this book in order to help them understand whether they should have an affair using it to justify going forward—after all, they can get information and change as an outcome.

Her view validates infidelity, sure it’s a sin, but I’m helping my marriage so it’s worth it.

After describing the motivations for one type of affair, she concludes that the reader can understand how that type of affair can be helpful and that the motivations are evidence for there being a hidden wisdom in the affair which guides to the discovery of truth. (p. 43) She is telling the reader what they should conclude from her statements without persuasive evidence. A motivating factor or an agenda behind an action does not yield a default conclusion that the action was therefore good. With that sort of argument it could also be argued that murder is good when there is a motivational factor or if the perpetrator learns something about themselves through the act. She is irresponsible when she states her conclusions as something the reader can understand rather than letting the reader make their own choice. I found her logic to be flawed, but her sleight of language may go unnoticed by some who will be led to agree because the implication is that the conclusion is obvious.

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.

I understand the idea that she is, I think, trying to convey and it is not new. I think that I disagree perhaps on how we explain that idea. My marriage is in a great place now and where we are and what we are doing with our lives would not be happening had there been no MLC and infidelity and I wouldn’t change where we are now, but I certainly wish we could have arrived her without infidelity.

Equalizing the Spouse and the Affair Partner

Kirshenbaum does a good job of explaining why someone in an affair may have faulty radar for assessing either the marriage or affair fairly. She offers several valid questions to ask oneself along with additional advice, while acknowledging that many will fail at objectivity.

The greater flaw is the following chapters where she reviews how to compare the spouse vs. the affair partner. She basically draws up a pros and cons list, distilling the comparison to only four dimensions to compare like aspects.

The Four Dimensions (p. 95)

  1. Who the people are in themselves
  2. What you relationship is with each one
  3. What your lifestyle would be with each one
  4. Who you are with each one

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 data on this is not consistent statistically and much appears to be anecdotal; what is consistent is that the failure rate of such relationships is extremely high: 87-96%


Review to be completed tomorrow.

Series NavigationBook Review: When Good People Have Affairs Part IBook Review: When Good People Have Affairs Part III


Book Review: When Good People Have Affairs Part IINo Comments

  1. Sorry, but after the little research I've made about the book, I have the impression that the author is trying to justify her own affair.

    I'm a LBS, so the book is not for me, nor would I suggest it to anyone considering having an affair – it would be the same as saying "go for it, it is ok".

    What was this author thinking? Are we all gaga or what??????

    For those who actually bought the book, sorry about your money!

  2. I agree it sounds like the author is working through justifying her own affair. Who knows. RCR, have you ever read Broken Open. I felt that this was also written to validate the author's affair and affairs in general:

    There is no comparing an affair partner to a spouse. When I was in MC, our counselor told my WS straight out that he could not compare the two. One is a drug, a fantasy. The other is history and day-to-day life, bills, kids, stress. Under the influence of the affair, there is no way to calmly and rationally compare the two and see the spouse coming out on top. The brain chemicals prevent clear thinking. Then we could get into the whole anima projection side of it.

    Thanks for your reviews, RCR. I like reading them.

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