Marriage Update (1980-2005)

I periodically receive questions from people who want an update on my own marriage.
(For an overview of the first 25 years, from 1955 to 1080, see: Personal History of Our Marriage.)

The most prevalent question I receive (especially from those who have read Beyond Affairs, published in 1980), is: "What has your marriage been like since you dealt with the affairs? I wonder whether you have been monogamous all these years?"

The answer is Yes, we have had a monogamous marriage during the years since 1974 when we dealt with the affairs. At that time, James and I made a different kind of commitment, not to "monogamy," but to "honesty."

Below is an excerpt from The Monogamy Myth:

Honesty was the motivator for my husband telling me about his affairs. He became uncomfortable with deceiving me and felt I deserved more fairness and equality in the relationship. We also relied on honesty as a way of working through all the feelings that had built up through the years. And honesty was the basis of our commitment to the kind of relationship we wanted to develop in the future. While I wanted a monogamous relationship, I recognized the fallacy of a promise of monogamy. So James didn't promise to be monogamous; he promised to be honest. But the result of our commitment to honesty has led to our being monogamous during the thirty years since that commitment was made.

Our honesty is not restricted to issues related to affairs; we're honest about everything relevant to our relationship. This includes talking about our personal hopes and dreams as well as our private fears and anxieties. While this kind of honesty brings a special bond to a relationship, there's a personal benefit as well that is often overlooked. Honesty provides a firm place to stand in the world. It forms a solid basis from which to embark upon the challenges of everyday life. It provides strength in dealing with the many issues everyone faces outside their relationship. Many people report that developing an honest relationship with their spouse helped them to communicate more honestly in all their relationships.

(end of excerpt from The Monogamy Myth)

As indicated in the above quote, we settled into a life of not only "no secrets" with each other, but no substantial secrets from anyone. For instance, our relationship with our kids (who were 13 and 11 when we told them about the affairs and were 18 and 16 at the time we "went public") has continued to be one of openness and acceptance. And our extended family (including James's 99-year-old mother) all came to be very proud of the work we've done to help others.

Of course, our focus on Honesty also led to some significant changes in our friendships and social life. We found that most of our superficial friendships dropped away and our meaningful friendships deepened.

And we found that speaking openly and honestly about our experience with affairs led to changes in our work-life as well. From 1980 to 1985, we both spent a lot of time talking about affairs in workshops and speeches and making hundreds of Media Appearances.
(For more on the impact of this kind of openness, see: Reactions to Going Public.)

The experience of going public (and together facing the various reactions) led us to grow even closer together and strengthened our bond. But by 1985 both our personal life and our work life had undergone changes—and we were ready for a new stage of life. Our kids were grown and on their own, so we decided to move from our home in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to Southern California.

Many people have challenged how we could just "pick up and move" like that. And while we didn't have any financial security, we judged the trade-offs worthwhile. In fact, in making this decision we used the formal process we had used back in 1973 when we moved from Pittsburgh to Hilton Head.

This move turned out to be a wonderful decision—and drew us even closer as we made a "new life" here. In fact, I particularly flourished in this environment because no one knew me (or anything about my work with affairs), so I had about a couple of years of being very low-key. This was a nice break after having been so public for several years.

That changed in 1987 when the Donahue show called, pressing me to be on again. (This was still before others were speaking publicly.) I finally agreed, and used that as motivation to start writing another book, based on all that I had learned from the hundreds of people who had contacted me since reading Beyond Affairs in 1980.

So two years later, in 1989, the first edition of The Monogamy Myth was published. (I dedicated the book to those early BAN members who had provided me with so much information and insight on the whole issue of affairs.) This led to another round of publicity (which James shared with me), which then led to hearing from even more people who were suffering and struggling alone.

Some people might think that the ongoing focus on affairs (and reviewing our own personal experience) might be tough on our marriage, but just the opposite was true. All our work has brought us closer together. Of course, it's not just because of the joint work; it's because of the depth of the honesty in our relationship that allows us to fully know each other. (See the bottom of this post for links to 5 pages on the website that focus on Marriage, NOT on affairs per se.)

In fact, James and I sit at side-by-side desks in our home office as we do our work, and we both thoroughly enjoy what we're doing. But so much "togetherness" can get to be too much of good thing and we both enjoy alone-time, so we try to arrange our activities to allow each of us to enjoy some quiet time. At age 69 (no jokes), we are both healthy and fit and active; James still plays a lot of tennis and I visit the local Y about 5 days a week. Generally, we live simply now, preferring to avoid the kind of business travel and public appearances we've done for so many years.

Most important, we're surrounded by our immediate family. As I mentioned, we moved to Southern California in 1985 (so we've been here more than 20 years). Our daughter married and moved out here with her husband in 1986. And our son moved out here in 1996. (In fact, without him there would be no website—because his technical expertise made it possible.) And our daughter and her husband have 3 wonderful daughters, and my grandchildren keep me "young at heart."

I don't want this to sound like some kind of fairy-tale existence. It's not. Everyone has problems—and we've had our share. I had breast cancer in 1992 and James had prostate cancer in 1994. And two years ago our son had an emergency angioplasty and a stent while having a heart attack, and two days later our daughter's house burned down in the Southern California wild fires. But crises come to everyone, so the real challenge is "how do you deal with the crisis?" (See: Life Crises: Extramarital Affairs—and Cancer.)

All in all... my life and my marriage are good—but certainly it's not the life I would ever have envisioned for myself. In fact, an early reviewer of The Monogamy Myth, who gave the book a very positive review, made a personal comment that pretty much sums it up:
"When some women's husbands have affairs, they get a divorce. Others stay married, but suffer in silence. Peggy Vaughan's husband had affairs—and she made a career out of it!"

For more perspective on the strange twists and turns of life in general, see:
Assigning Meaning to the Events of our Lives.

If anyone STILL wants to know more about our marriage and our lives (you gluttons for punishment)... you can check out:
Beyond Affairs - our personal story of dealing with affairs.
Our Marriage - information about our marriage (not about affairs) from 1955-1980
My Personal Story - my experience dealing with affairs (and forming BAN)
Our Bio - an overview of our work—including a photo

For more of our writing about general marriage issues (NOT affairs), see:
Making Love Stay
The Changing Nature of Love
Balancing Freedom and Commitment
Love is the Answer
Please Trust Me
The Full Monty

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