Skip to content

My article. Your views.

February 10, 2014

In response to my article Thinking of an affair? Think Again, I have a lively debate about my view that affairs are inherently dysfunctional with negative consequences and then about the nature of counselling on such matters.

After reading our discussion, please offer your own comments.

————————————-

  • Psychotherapist says:

Why? Just curious about your seemingly passionate remark.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

I see many folks, post-affair. It becomes the focus of dissension. If someone is in an unsatisfying marriage/relationship, address it before complicating matters.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

The aftermath often includes impact on the children. Not only does the partner feel betrayal, but so to the kids. This undermines that parent’s relationship with their own kids.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Yes, I see where you are coming from…looking at the family. I just don’t see everything as consequential but most of the time…of course…affairs can have very dire consequences.

  • Social Worker says:

Gary, you are absolutely right. No affair is without serious and usually long-lasting pain for the betrayed partner or any children involved. If one needs to leave a marriage, then do it the right way, as you outlined in your article.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Hummm, one of my client’s had an affair for years before her marriage broke up. From what I can remember, her husband was a workaholic and was not even noticing what was going on in her life. The affair actually kept them together or she would have left when her children were small. Children never knew of the affair, as far as I know.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

So Psychotherapist, are you suggesting that as long as you can get away with it, it can be a good thing?

  • Psychotherapist says:

No, not that she got away with it, but that it kept her marriage in tact for the children’s sake. Nothing is black and white, Gary. No…thing.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

There was a concept coined by R.D Laing he termed, “Mystification of Experience.”
When things aren’t as they seem, we pretend otherwise.
So here we may have kids who even if subtly, learn by mother’s example to tolerate and except unfaithful behavior. This is kind of like slow acting poison, ready to show up at another point in their life.
What may look innocuous now, may be a brewing cauldron. I would never support an affair as a reasonable solution to a bad situation.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Okay, we can agree to disagree. All is well…

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

I would also wonder how good that relationship was for the partner, or that partner’s family.
When thinking of an affair, there are so many other potential casualties, not least of which is the compromising of one’s own integrity. From an existential perspective, I wonder how well that will work out.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

When working with a client in isolation, one may be inducted into their version of events and inadvertently collude with the view, “no harm, no foul”. However a systemic analysis rarely supports that self-protective, no impact on others mentality.
Affairs for some are like cocaine or heroin, feels good, pretend it doesn’t affect others, what’s the problem.
However, from my perspective, affairs, also like heroin, is inherently destructive, beginning with one’s own integrity and then extending out to the partner, the children, the other person’s kin….
If in an unsatisfying relationship, address the relationship, do not treat the symptom by adding a dysfunctional strategy.

  • Counselor says:

I read your article and agree with the points you make Gary. If one is going outside the partnership to get needs met than seek intervention before engaging in an affair and if the problems cannot be resolved, or worked through separation should be pursued before bringing another person into everyone’s life. An affair is also unfair to the “other” man/women because the person having the affair is not really available for a real relationship and even if the person breaks off with their spouse the new relationship didn’t exactly start off healthy and appropriately. If someone would have an affair with you while married or committed to someone else than they could certainly do it to you as well. So the trust factor would be questionable and compromised from the beginning.

  • LCSW says:

Gary
Thanks for sharing one of the most concise, balanced and well written pieces I’ve seen about this topic. This is something I can use as a handout for patients who are going in the wrong direction.
Amazing and sad that affairs are glorified by so many influential venues in society.
It reminds me of the glorification of LSD in the 1960s. “Turn on, tune in and drop out” has now become “turn on, sneak out and screw up.”
(As always, the statements expressed here are solely my opinions and do not reflect those of other persons, businesses or entities)

  • Social Worker says:

Children are amazing. They know what we think they don’t know. And keeping a marriage together”for the sake of the children” does not ring true. First, the children have an absent father, just as the wife has an absent husband. Keeping the marriage together implies that what is wrong with both relationships is not destructive. Second, what are the wife’s true motives here – financial security, fear of leaving and raising children on her own – which she seems to be doing anyway – fear of what others will think, relative, friends, others, a failure at marriage, etc. I empathize with unhappy spouses, but getting help or getting out are the honorable ways to go.

  • Psychotherapist says:

I am not trying to state that having an affair is the healthy thing to do…just saying nothing is black and white.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

Actually, some things are black and white and betraying trust, even if unbeknownst to another, is never a good thing.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Especially relationships are never black and white., Perhaps it is time for us to agree to disagree.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

I am not talking about relationships, I am talking about behavior. My view is that having an affair is never a good thing. My view is that for someone who has had an affair to suggest otherwise, that this is somehow good, justified, not inherently harmful to someone in the family system, there has to be something self-serving in the belief. At the very least it certainly spares them the self-examination for deceitful behavior.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Yes, Gary, you are not talking about relationships…you are talking about an institution. The rules are in the institution…not the relationship. As parents, we all make plenty of mistakes and one mistake can avoid a worse mistake. Children are more hardy than you give them credit for. One of my dearest friends had an affair when her children were young, and when they became adults, she fessed up and one of them said…”Thank God you did something for yourself!”
I have done lots of marriage counseling and continue to do some now…but I try not to make judgments about what is right or wrong, black or white, because there are really are no such constructs. Using the words “deceitful behavior”, “self serving” “inherently harmful” are value judgments which could be harmful of perpetrated onto clients. It smacks of religious fundamentalism that burned people at the stake at one time in history.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

I am not coming from a religious perspective with respect to my views, but a view of human behavior.
You appear to be coming form a point of moral relativism, where any misdeed can be explained away but a supposed greater good.
I would also suggest that you appear biased on the basis of a n=1 scenario. Having had one friend who claims a benefit from an affair is hardly evidence that the affair was a good not harmful thing for her, her family, her daughter, the person subject to the affair or that other person’s family.
Your response just goes to the point of my view that it is remarkably narrow in scope and self-centered. Therein is the error in that logic. (I wonder what else the daughter herself may learn from her mother’s choices… Might she bail on her marriage too soon and without seeking to resolve issues? That story is yet to be fully written. If no affair, no poor role modeling, limiting risk.)
Yes, I do have a strong moral compass, which is not the same as judging, as I do accept human frailty. Part of our job as counselors is to help people process the error of their ways lest we inadvertently facilitate more poor decision making.
Where I certainly do agree with you, we have remarkably different views on this.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Helping people process the error of their ways….how scary.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

I agree, not for the feint of heart or for those whose compass may be blurry.
And continue to agree, we come from very different perspectives.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

Our discussion also point to radically different view of therapy, therapeutic approaches and the role of therapist and therapy.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Yes, I do not do therapy from the pulpit!

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

I take the view that some people have terrible judgement, even though I understand what may have given rise to the poor judgement. However, in the poor judgement, they wreak havoc on others, continue to complicate their own lives and continue be miserable. I help them to process not only what is underneath their behavior, but look at how their own behavior is creating the ongoing conditions that undermine their own wellbeing and/or the the wellbeing of others.

  • Psychotherapist says:

Yes, indeed. Now try that without your moral judgement. Things are not always as they seem…on some level you know that. Nothing….NOTHING is black and white, esp. in relationships.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

Well, with that I think we might be getting into circular arguments, so I will let it go. We take different paths and the view is just not the same.

  • Psychotherapist says:

There is nothing circular about our disagreements. And yes, we certainly do take different paths. Mine is non-judgemental which is what you were taught in school and which most of us believe. If someone breaks a real law…I will counsel about the consequences…and if it is something I must report…I report it. But if it is against my own values…it is my job to disqualify my judgements and refer elsewhere if I cannot do that.
I have a problem with abortion…so someone who comes to me and wants to make a decision one way or another about their pregnancy…I refer them out due to my own bias. You should be doing the same.

  • Gary Direnfeld

Gary Direnfeld

With regard to: “I have a problem with abortion…so someone who comes to me and wants to make a decision one way or another about their pregnancy…I refer them out due to my own bias.”
I agree and do similarly. I also agree that we must be aware of our own biases and values. Hence I am transparent about how I work and my values. In so doing, people make a choice to see me. So as far as that goes, we are on the same page. Where it appears we differ is perhaps on the matter of using values in the counseling process or at least having values inform our practice.
Very different paths, perhaps both may still lead to Rome.

  • Psychotherapist says:

    Good. We finally found ourselves on the same page.

With that our discussion ends. Your views?

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Image

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847 

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

http://www.facebook.com/GaryDirenfeldSocialWorker
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60758978&trk=tab_pro
https://twitter.com/socialtworker

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

From → Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. From another Linked In group and then in response to what is posted above:

    My ex discussed the problems in our marriage with everyone but me; there were at least three other women that I know of with whom he had emotional affairs, and you are absolutely correct – it was devastating to me, and worse to our sons. When my ex announced he wanted out, my sons were as hurt and angry as I was; and they were both disgusted with him. Both of them said something similar: “Now I know how not to treat a woman.” They are beginning to get back to a healthy relationship with him, but every once in a while one of them will say something that makes it clear they haven’t forgotten.
    ————————————–

    Gary Direnfeld
    So many people do not understand how an affair affects the children – just as you described.

    —————–

    I have written about it here:
    http://www.yoursocialworker.com/s-articles/no-affair.htm
    ——————————–

    Does not this situation also depend on one’s values? And if so, how does one teach values?… especially to adults when most values or lack thereof are already ingrained. In other words, when someone choses to address their relationship problems by having an affair, this demonstrates very flawed and unhealthy behavior, which is likely deep seated and part of a “value system” that developed many decades ago, perhaps starting back in childhood.

    As you mentioned, there are many obvious choices available (at least to healthy people with decent values) before having an affair, especially since affairs require effort, including planning, the ongoing deceit to a partner, etc. Having an affair often takes as much or more energy than addressing the relationship problems with their partner. However, given the value system of the cheater (ability to engage in cognitive distortions, including extreme selfishness) he/she choses to have the affair, rather than pursue more healthy options, including ending the relationship before having an affair.

    I’ve dealt first hand with those that have the ability and tendency to convince themselves that their infidelity and ongoing deception were appropriate or justified, given the circumstances, such as being in a relationship that had problems (often problems they created). Or, they convince themselves that the impact of the affair (destruction of the relationship and harm to their partner) is not that bad. I believe that’s some form of psychopathic behavior; e.g., narcissism and BPD.

    ——————————–

    Gary Direnfeld
    Agreed.

    ——————————–

    So very true. As many of you know, I wrote about this issue in “Lessons I Learned from My Parents: Part II.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-baer/lessons-i-learned-from-my_1_b_3716261.html)
    ——————
    Michael – all good points. In my case, my ex developed friendships through work that weren’t worrisome, at least they weren’t initially. And his parents have been married 48 years without infidelities. BUT growing up, his parents set no behavioral guidelines – really, they were and are that into each other. From stories I heard while married to him, he wasn’t taught much in the way of manners, or given any idea of respect for others. For instance, one family Thanksgiving he ate all of one of the side dishes. When he was called on it by his aunt, he said, F you! He was 10. Definitely narcissistic. And in my work, I come across a striking number of narcissists who believe they deserve everything, and completely discount the damage they do. I think we should ask what is producing so many of them.

    ———————–

    Thanks for sharing . I hear you. Respect for others is part of the “value system” I was referring to. In my experience, I’ve found that those who are less selfish, also show more respect for others (and themselves). They display more honesty, not only with others, but with themselves. Now that I think about the predominant personality traits of some of these folks, they are also more courageous, more vulnerable, take more responsibility for themselves and their circumstances, rather than automatically blame or play victim, and display many other mature behaviors. These people are also not cheaters. It’s all related, in my opinion.

    Of all those I’ve known who cheat, a common trait was extreme selfishness, little respect for others, cowardly, dishonest with themselves and others, victim mentality, etc., despite what they preach. In fact, some of these folks preach the best game in town about their behavior and value system. Almost as if they’ve forced themselves to truly believe they are highly ethical/moral, despite their behavior, so they don’t feel so much self loathing. It’s like an internal safety mechanism to limit their self hate and shame. It requires a significant degree of cognitive dissonance.
    Ever think of teaching psychology? My ex had me convinced he was incredibly ethical and moral; I am fairly sure most of the couples I see have one party who believes he or she is ethically pristine as well. Nothing could be further from the truth! Thank you, Michael.

    ——————-

    Teach? Still learning myself. But thanks for the compliment. 🙂

    I hear what you’re saying. For a variety of reasons which you understand, we all want to hear and believe certain words from our partners, even when actions say otherwise.

    Which brings me to another aspect to this; and that’s having genuine empathy for those who have less than healthy personality traits and behaviors. That’s one of the healthy reasons people expose themselves to mistreatment, perhaps even in your case? I know I have made this mistake.

    Some people have an aptitude and tendency to empathize, and hence, the net result is that the couple gets closer for a variety of reasons (too many to list here). However, in time, the party that has these aforementioned personality/behavior issues (personality disorders) typically mistreats those closest to them, often times not understanding, or being able to control, their own problematic behavior. This leads to more problems, in the form of mutual feelings of betrayal, distrust, pull back, anger, resentment, etc.

    Not to try to tie it all up nicely in a bow; yet, it seems to me that the quality of any relationship is often based on the qualities and skills of the respective individuals in it. I.e., the better the interpersonal and relationship skills of the individuals,, the better the relationship, and vice versa. Hence, not only do I believe we all have a responsibility to put consistent effort toward being our best selves (this includes learning and improving, which requires recognition of our weaknesses in a healthy way so we can change for the better), but we also have a responsibility to pick a partner who is our equal, in terms of relationship/interpersonal skills. The better we do at the former, the better we do at the latter, at least, I’m hoping that’s true. 🙂

    —————————————–


    Gary Direnfeld
    The discussion on my article took a very different path on another linked in group:
    http://www.linkedin.com/group…..

    ——————————————-

    Gary, I am afraid that we cannot see that Discussion unless we are members of the group. Do you want to fill us in with some examples or details?

    ——————————————–

    Gary Direnfeld
    I have posted the discussion to my blog – easy reading, comments welcome there or here:
    https://garydirenfeld.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/my-article-your-views/

    —————————————–

    Re: the following excerpt from a blog in your link, Gary. Here is the quote: “Children are more hardy than you give them credit for. One of my dearest friends had an affair when her children were young, and when they became adults, she fessed up and one of them said…”Thank God you did something for yourself!” ”

    I would have wanted to have the underlying dynamics fleshed out so that I could better understand the reason for the adult child’s comment to his/her mother’s ‘confession’. Based on the limited amount of information the blogger provided I personally would not conclude that the adult child’s comment is indicative of a person who was ‘hardy’ as a child when his/her mother was having an affair. Instead, I see an adult child who approves of affairs and most likely will have one him/her self as the answer to their own marital issues.

    ———————————————–

    So the message is “me above all else”, correct? That dovetails nicely with “Psychotherapist’s” moral relativism, which only exacerbates the problem by extending the unwillingness to be honest in a marriage in order to get your rocks off with someone who “understands.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: