Reactions to Going Public

By the time James told me about his affairs, I had grown strong enough to face the situation and see if we could work through it. By continuing to talk about everything related to the affairs and our feelings during that time, we were able to develop an honest, monogamous marriage again. Gradually, we began using our experience in dealing with affairs in the workshops we were conducting, to illustrate how honest communication can allow people to work through problems and differences, regardless of how difficult or seemingly insurmountable.

The positive reactions to what we had to say gradually led us to begin writing a book about our experience, a process that took six years. It was 1980 when Beyond Affairs finally came out. Despite our belief in what we were doing, we were unprepared for the reactions we received. The response completely changed my life.

I didn't realize at the time just how unusual it was for a couple to talk personally about their own experience with affairs, but the reaction from the media was overwhelming. We appeared on about a hundred television and radio talk shows, from Donahue to To Tell the Truth, to publicize the book. This allowed us to reach a large number of people, and our openness brought a wide range of reactions—from business associates, family, friends, and the general public.

The most unexpected (and unpleasant) reaction was from some business associates. As independent consultants, we'd been working with a large corporation for several years at the time the book was published. The top people at the company knew about James' affairs and knew that I knew about them (since we had used examples from this experience in helping companies deal more effectively with interpersonal issues). They even knew in advance that we were writing the book, and they assured us it made no difference to our work with them.

However, following our appearance on the Today program, we were told that our contract would not be renewed. They acknowledged that our public discussion of the subject of affairs was the reason. So even though we were professionals who were sharing our experience as a way of bringing more understanding to this problem, they couldn't accept the idea that we had "gone public."

Within my own family, there were a variety of reactions, both to the knowledge of the affairs themselves and to the fact that we publicly discussed them. I had told my mother the whole story several years before the publication of the book, so she was not shocked by the revelations it contained. But, understandably, she was not thrilled with the idea of my talking publicly about something she considered so personal. She acknowledged, however, that she thought the book would be a significant benefit to others; she just wished someone other than her daughter had written it.

Our kids were not a problem for us, but they were a problem for a lot of other people. I don't believe there was a single talk show where someone (either the host or a member of the audience) didn't ask, rather incredulously, what our children thought of the book, or of our telling our story. Our kids were 16 and 18 at the time, but they had known about our situation for five years and were well aware of our work with this issue during that time, both personally and professionally. So our public discussion of the experience wasn't strange or troublesome to them. Their only problem was wondering why everyone thought they should have a problem.

We found that our close friends became even closer and our social acquaintances became more distant following the publicity around the book. I guess this shouldn't have been surprising, but it was something we simply hadn't considered in advance.

The most gratifying of all the reactions were the ones from the general public. We had anticipated some criticism based on people misunderstanding our motives or simply disagreeing with the idea of speaking publicly about our experience in dealing with affairs. To our surprise, we received very little criticism; and when it came, it was invariably from someone who only saw us on media appearances and had not read the book. We wrote Beyond Affairs and made the media appearances because we genuinely believed that what we had to say would be helpful to others, and the overall response bore that out.

Adapted from The Monogamy Myth, Copyright © 1989, 1998, 2003 Peggy Vaughan

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