I recently wrote a review of the book When Good People Have Affairs by Mira Kirshenbaum and a commenter asked if I had read another book which she felt was written as a validation for the author’s affair and affairs in general.

That book is Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser and no, I had not read it, but I went straight to the library and checked it out. It is that comment along with the book that has brought me to these thoughts.

On one side there is Stayed’s husband, a returned MLCer who had an affair and even lived with the alienator. On the other side is Elizabeth Lesser who had an affair—it was a secret affair in the midst of her marriage—and left her marriage when she ended the affair. She left, he stayed; does that make her message and experience any less valid or credible than his? Should we discount anything Elizabeth Lesser says because she cheated, did not return and gives reasons for her affair—though having now read the book I can tell you that she does not consider her affair a justifiable or right action, but she accepts it as part of her past and thus something from which she has learned and grown.

Let me review her story for you. But first, her book is not about her affair or affairs in general and it is not a memoir of any sort. She is the co-founder of the Omega Center for spiritual retreat and personal growth; she founded the center with her first husband before her affair. This book is a self-help book; it’s not directed at marriages, but to growing through trauma in a more general sense. It is a about Mirror-Work. Elizabeth includes the story of her affair because it was the significant breaking open event in her life.

She had an affair with someone she met through her work—yes, her work as a spiritual teacher. Her affair lasted a year and her description of it in the book is not specific, rather she talks about it in more general terms—overwhelming urge, I felt I would die unless…, overpowering. The brief details are really only covered in three chapters, page 114 – 125. She calls the affair partner a Shaman Lover—she uses that as a general label, much as I use the term alienator. What she is really describing is the anime (my gender neutral term for the anima or animus) and so I personally feel anime is a better term—plus, as a betrayed spouse I don’t like the inclusion of the word lover. Her description is accurate of an anime experience. Instead of dismissing her because she did not return to her marriage, learn from her, she can provide you with insight into what some of your MLCers are experiencing.

Here are a few pieces from her description of the experience.

  • I followed him because something inside of me sensed an urgency I had never known before. I felt I would die unless I went with him into a dark and beckoning sea. (p. 118)
  • In the beginning, I was aware only of an overpowering attraction.
    When I first laid eyes on him, I knew I was in the presence of something out of my control. (p. 118-119).
  • I was drawn to him by a force stronger than any kind of will to turn away—as if his gravitational pull matched that of a planet. (p. 119)
  • What I thought was the best of me—devoted mother, faithful wife, public leader—gave in to the demands of an irrational force. (p. 119)

I’m a writer and I take word choice seriously. When I wrote my list of Key Components of MLC I said one was an urge to abandon, not a need or desire, but an urge. Watching Sweetheart in those first weeks after Bomb Drop, it became clear to me that this was not something he was doing because he wanted to do it. That became profoundly clear in a moment when he suddenly seemed to freeze—deer in headlights—for an instant. In that moment I saw his fear and his chaos and the absolute inability to control what was happening, I too described it as a an urge and a force like gravity. In that moment I could see the energy around him like a sharp and jagged aura.

Lesser has since observed this process in others and identified a few markers of being caught in the throes of an Anime Experience.

  • Sudden loss of control
  • Fearsome sense of abandon
  • Air of foreignness
    The Shaman Lover is not the one you thought could turn the large ship of your life around. If you thought you would be attracted to someone with money, he is broke; if you wanted respectability, she’s a gypsy; if you longed for sweet romance, he’s mean; if you wanted deep peace, she’s trouble. (p. 119)

She also said that what she did with her affair partner—secret-keeping, lying, betrayals…had nothing to do with him. (p. 118) Sound familiar? The alienator is a band aid, a symptom of MLC. But there’s more. I have left one part out and it may be the part that may be the most offensive to a betrayed and Standing spouse. That will be tomorrow’s topic.

 

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Comments

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  1. I listed to this book on CD some months ago. My sense was that ,while she felt very bad about the deception to her children and then-husband due to the shaman affair, she believed it to have been a necessary part of her growth.

    My memory is that the affair awakened her spiritually ad sexually in a way she'd never experienced and that, once that had happened, there was no going back to her husband. It was as though her body had been asleep and now had become awake. She didn't go into much, that I remember, about what was "wrong" with her husband. It just seemed that she had married young, had several children in a row, and had never "grown up" sexually.

    While she made a convincing case that the shaman affair was a positive in her life (that's the clear impression I got from what she wrote) it was a disturbing read for a stander.

    Also, throughout the book she seemed to be trying to justify the choices she made (and there were more to come as I guess you're going to discuss in the next installment) and to convince the reader that it was all necessary for her individuation and optimal spiritual growth.

    What she doesn't go into much is the effect her choices had on her three children and first husband. She made it sound like they were all fine in the long run with it (these were events that happened several decades ago) but I kept wondering, "If her children were telling this story, what would they say?"

    Disturbing book. Raises extremely difficult issues for anyone trying to stand.

  2. Thanks for reading/commenting on it, RCR (I was the one that mentioned it in a previous comment). It's been a while since I read it, but I had a similar response to the book as TMHP. Amorality and narcissism seem to be the requirements for individuation to occur (I've gotten this msg loud and clear from the Jungian books I've read)

    I have to live with that reality in my life (my WS is long gone, so there's no point in calling myself a "stander"). I don't agree with his choices, and I think they were *choices*. I don't believe it's impossible to avoid the urge to have an affair or any of the other harmful behaviors MLCers regularly take part in. Mine turned out to lack the coping skills to deal with life and he lacked the integrity to behave as a decent human being. Maybe humans are wired this way. Maybe not. Maybe it is just so much naval-gazing.

    As my mama told me many times, the world does not revolve around me. My actions impact others. I believe I can live a great life and be happy without hurting everyone I love (and killing that love). Then there's that whole part about making promises and taking vows and raising kids etc etc that MLCers seem to forget about because of their "urges."

    Anyway, I look forward to reading what you have to say in the next post.

  3. Me too. I have problems as well with "urges" that need to be scratched! I'm human. There have been times in my life when I thought… "why not, go for it girl". The thing is, I knew I had to live with whatever it was that I did. I have to look in the that mirror, occasionally mind you, but it still has to be done.

    I am really looking forward to see where you are taking this one RCR. I must confess, I do not have the same "EMPATHY" that you seem to have. I am willing to listen, though.

    hugs Stayed

  4. I've been thinking more about this and I guess what was most disturbing about this book for me is the author is saying she truly couldn't help herself, that it wasn't a "choice" as to whether or not she went with her feelings/heart, whatever you want to call it, concerning her affair.

    My H speaks the same way about his decision to be with OW. He describes our marriage as a "burning house" he had to escape to save himself. He actually told me (I've learned this isn't unusual for the MLCer to express) that he would "die" if he stayed with me. HIs need to be with OW was/is overwhelming and all powerful.

    I now understand these statements were/are not hyperbole on my H's part. The MLCer truly feels this way. This is their reality, this is their truth. What they're getting from the affair is so immense/transporting/validating/thrilling/enlightening/meaningful that it cannot be resisted. It is as though their soul is being recreated and they must go with it. I do believe this is the case for my H and, obviously, it was for Lesser also.

    It is very disturbing as a stander to contemplate this. And if I am honest with myself I have to admit that I've never had to deal with such feelings. I can't say I wouldn't "succumb" to such overwhelming emotions if I was faced with them. I can't honestly say I'd do what I now say is "the right thing" (i.e. stay with my spouse) if I was under the influence of such powerful emotions.

    I would like to think I would not commit adultery if tempt in such a way (These are not garden variety affairs. These are soul-shattering experiences whether we like it or not.)

    It is easy for me to sit back and judge my H and OW and say they've done the wrong thing but, until I am in their shoes I question whether I have the right to do that.

    As I said above, a disturbing book.

  5. Well, I have responses for each of you, but I might want to say a lot and maybe I should add a response post to this series–and maybe there will be more comments after tomorrow as well and Hosea-Gomer had some good comments on yesterday’s post.
    Stayed, when I saw yesterday that you loved my post I was thinking…just wait you guys might not say that after tomorrow! But you know, I don’t think I get worried anymore (if I ever did) about what people will think. At least not in articles. I do sometimes have concerns about offending someone in a forum post–and most especially a coaching post. I worry whether I am being too harsh or misinterpreting.
    When I was at DB I was too much of a Stander for them, too strict. And at Midlife Dimensions I wasn’t enough–I was perhaps to radical in my thinking and not literal or fundamental in my interpretation of scriptures. So basically I upset both sides–on a lot of issues. I try and understand both sides. I don’t mean that I try and research them, but that I try and understand them from their shoes.
    Maybe I will get more people cancelling their subscription after reading this than is typical. Shrug. Though I don’t want to lose anyone, I’m not doing this for ratings and popularity. And of course the things I write are my own opinions and ideas–DUH! But we need to face the tough stuff and forgiveness can be tough. Acceptance can be tough. Loving unconditionally can be tough. And perhaps refraining from judging is toughest of all. We typically think of those things regarding our MLCer, but the alienator sinned against us as well. The alieantor may even be another MLCer with her or his own LBS and family.
    So sorry for not responding to each of you–but it is because you all have me so excited with your comments (really I mean that, I am ADD–hyperactive and prone to excitability) that I want to give them more attention.

    HUGS,
    RCR

    PS: orwhatyouwill: I knew it was you, I just didn;’t want to be rude by calling you out by name.

  6. Why should we refrain from judging – as long as we are equally strict with ourselves? What if through the MLC, the affair we ourselves grow spiritually and maybe our spouse doesn't – still no judging? Judging does not rule out Forgivenss. If we believe in the Law of Sowing and Reaping, if we believe in the supremcay of Good, if we believe that regardless of our religion we shouldn't do unto others as we would have them do unto us – how could I then were I the MLCer instead of the LBS move on with my newly-won Integrity intact WITHOUT giving my LBS that second chance all of us – including the our MLCer – deserve?? Lesser shies away from acting within the realm of Responsibleness – "…my psychic told me…" – so much for someone who might have left the LBS saying they wanted to have a shot at their own life now for a turn…

  7. Pingback: Overpowered | Love AnyWay

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