fall/winter, '06-07 , no. 8
Dr. Bush's Fail-proof Infidelity Elixir
by Julienne Mullette
A review of Intimacy After Infidelity: How to Rebuild & Affair-proof Your Marriage
by Steven D. Solomon & Lorie J. Teagno; New Harbinger Publications, 2006.
Evolutionary psychologists might well say we can't help it, that it's in our genes, especially in the genes of males. But some neuroscientists say that this is like saying, "the Devil made me do it!" — a refusal to take responsibility for being more than a knee-jerk response to biology.
The authors claim this is a how-to book — how to avoid the pain of another infidelity by understanding why "he" was unfaithful. I trudged through the first forty pages of this book — feeling it ought to be called, "Infidelity for Dummies." So many conclusions were simplistic and absolute, such as suggesting that a man's infidelity is always predictable, as is its timing. I say "a man," because the authors insist on using the male pronoun, "he" all the time. They justify doing this by declaring they feel more women than men will read the book. The result of this was a revisitation of the way so many books and research, used to, and still do in many cases, leave out women, and so leave women feeling vulnerable to being betrayed, as though it is the woman who is left to "fix" the infidelity, and who is responsible for it in the first place. It reminded me of the many superficial and sexist women's magazines with articles on "How to Keep Your Husband from Straying," by meeting him at the door dressed in Saran wrap, becoming more proficient with makeup, baking a better pie, and such. Such thinking, unfortunately, is still a common feature of even present-day evolutionary psychological theory; i.e., that it is mainly men who are unfaithful and it is to be expected they will be. The authors also insist that what they are writing, although they deal with only heterosexual couples, is really for everyone — gay and lesbian as well. But I hardly think the invisible gays and lesbians will feel included. The inevitable result of saying: "We are only talking about heterosexual couples, and using the male pronouns ("for simplicity's sake'"), is to render gays and lesbians and women invisible. When the author's say: "He was unfaithful to you..." but don't speak of how "She was unfaithful to you," then, clearly, the authors are reinforcing the idea that this book is only for women and heterosexual couples.
The authors also make absolute claims: "If you never want this to happen again, this book is for you."
And archaic attitudes, "He was the one person you gave your body to..." [p. 16] In this day and age?
I dislike the term, "pop psychology," but it seems remarkably apt to describe this book, as it hardly seems to be written for a very sophisticated reader. They happily accept old platitudes: "Emotional self-awareness and emotional self-disclosure are not strong suits for most guys." [p. 48] There is no attempt to explain why not, or to explore this idea; the book just carried on from this accepted disclosure. Was I reading a sequel to "Men are from Mars..."? I find one of the most destructive ideas to be the thinking which suggests that men or women are limited in their abilities to think or feel. Individual males or females may be more or less developed emotionally or intellectually, and we are learning more and more all the time about traits which might be stronger, in general, in one sex or another. But the evidence is not hard, and there are still great difficulties separating genetics from environment — and every time we reinforce old ideas, we may be doing nothing more than mumbling outdated platitudes. Remember that it was only one hundred years ago that people believed that women who developed their brains would shrink their ovaries.
We have more absolutist, unsubtle ideas presented. The authors suggest there are four stages in any relationship, and "Infidelities always happen at the same point in a Long Term Love Relationship (or "LTLR"), as they call it. "Always." These relationship stages are: "Sweet Symbiosis, Soured Symbiosis, Differentiation, and Synthesis." Of course, have you guessed? The infidelities occur during the, "Soured Symbiosis" stage. This of course follows on the "Sweet Symbiosis" stage. And then the authors declare that they always know "exactly where you and your partner are in the developmental model." Not too hard to figure out; if someone is going to be unfaithful it seems pretty obvious it would be in the "soured" period.
The authors say that they have found only three things that "absolutely doom a LTLR." The first is that neither was ever in love with the other. The second is, "Over a long period of time...so much anger and hurt were inflicted on the other that it killed the love that was there." The third is that, "One or both partners refuse to own their parts in the difficulties in the LTLR and/or they refuse to sincerely work on themselves and their contributions to the relationship's problems." The authors also state they do not include drug, alcohol, and physical abuse because those problems can be "overcome" "if caught in time." Yet, physical abuse is most often declared a deal breaker by most psychologists. And how does one have a relationship with an addict whose brain is not present? I think this facile dismissal of these most serious issues exemplify what I find most lacking in this book — a serious consideration of the possible depths of angst and cruelty. I don't find these three categories at all helpful. The book is replete with such categories — types of relationships, stages in a relationship, dealbreakers, types of intimacies. Although categories can sometimes be helpful to show connections and similarities, they can also reduce people to types in a way that can sometimes dehumanize and ignore individualities, ranges, subtleties, causes, expressions. Again this book reminds me of "Men are from Mars..."; "All men are"; "all women are"; all relationships can be slotted in a few categories.
Once we can easily categorize, then we can easily "cure." I don't feel any depth of heart in this book — it is more like a cookbook for how to bake a cake, rather than a book to help with some of the most painful and difficult life experiences. To emphasize that, there are Chapter Reviews at the end of each chapter to help one review, like doing homework, in case one didn't get it the first time. There is a practical quality about this book, steps to repair a broken relationship, and to prevent further damage. But, again, these steps pay almost no attention beyond lip service to the seriousness of the topic. The authors' statement that, "The recipe for true LTLR is a very simple one:..."becoming strong in the three intimacies is your relationship's best defense against future infidelity..." Again, calling a long-term love relationship an LTLR reminds me of the initializing of diseases in TV ads these days, and I expected the authors any minute to suggest some kind of medication for anyone suffering from an LTLR gone sour in its symbiosis. The authors speak about the importance of intimacy, and then resort to anti-intimacy by reducing love affairs to LTLRs. I didn't feel any intimacy from the authors toward me, the reader.
It is not so much that the authors gave false information, as that what they say is superficial, and frankly, condescending and the initializing causes too much distance — a particular problem in a book which wants to deliver the message that intimacy is so important. The following, for instance, exemplifies this: "What if your partner isn't motivated to work on his own SI while you work on yours? What if he gives a half-hearted effort and doesn't stick with the ESA exercise? Does it make any sense for you to persevere in developing your SI? Absolutely it does. The more self-intimate you are, the clearer you can see your choices and your part in your LTLR..." I found myself so busy trying to remember what all the initials stood for that the actual content of the message was distanced and muddled in my mind. I was not only trying to understand what the authors were saying, but having to decipher their "in" code at the same time.
Surely I found some value in this book. Yes, I did. I quote from the book where the authors write about Sweet Symbiosis, which, to them, is the honeymoon stage in any relationship: "...symbiosis is about dependency. That doesn't sound like a good thing. But dependency and symbiosis get a bad rap; we're all dependent beings to one extent or another. Many therapists think of symbiosis as a negative thing, but it's not necessarily so. Just ask anyone who is in stage 1!"
I was pleased with the authors' approach to the primacy of emotions over intellect, and their concern that the emotions and the intellect need to work in balance and harmony to function well. All too often, independence is nothing more than fear of intimacy. Homo sapiens is a social animal, in which emotions are the drivers, and touch and feeling of both the physical and emotional kinds are essential to psychological health. The authors do reinforce this idea periodically throughout the book. Yet, strangely, despite this focus on intimacy and the emotions, it is their own intimacy with their readers which is drowned and lost in their "In-Speak" — a language they may well speak with each other, but which any reader has to learn before the book has any real meaning. It's a bit like an American who speaks English trying to read a book in Urdu. Well, maybe not that bad, but close.
I really wanted to like this book — who wouldn't want to like a book which might help people aching from the betrayal of infidelity? But I might give a couple this book before they marry, and before any infidelity has occurred, because the approach of this book is so cool and intellectual that my feeling is that anyone in the midst of an infidelity might feel the authors don't really get it. It's a practical self-help book, but its lack of emotional, intimate connection with the reader is hardly comforting or healing. It's like a doctor without a bedside manner. Another concern I have is that the audience of the book seems confusing. On the one hand, it would seem to be written for a general audience, but on the other hand, discussions of deep issues which might lead a person to challenges in relationships, such as abandonment, abuse, coldness or indifference from parents, traumatic events, are glossed over quite superficially. This is a major error, as it suggests that infidelity comes easily from almost nowhere, and so is easily healed.
The authors present us with couples in the book whom we can follow as they follow the authors'
exercises. However, the authors tell us about them, without making them come to life. Like an infomercial on TV, the miracle cures came without fail or proof, and without any hitches or glitches. Follow the authors' instructions and unfailingly all will be repaired. The cover claims, "How to Rebuild and Affair-proof Your Marriage." Again, the infomercial approach suggesting that this is fail-proof if you will just take Dr. Smith's Elixir. Human beings are too complicated for anything to be fool-proof, and hyped claims tend to focus on the commercial side of any book, rather than on seriousness value. The authors talk, for example, about "The Three Emotions That Cause Infidelity." These are fear, loneliness, and anger. This is such an extraordinary simplification that it becomes unhelpful. Are to subsume every other emotion under these three categories? I am sure the authors don't, and so I see this as simplification for popularizing. What about sadness? Grief? Anxiety? How about depression? How about illness or traumatic life events which can affect a person's psyche?
I know the book assumes infidelity has already occurred, but it might have been an idea to make this a book as I suggested — one to be given to couples getting married, so that they have a guide book to prevent infidelity. But the book is what it is. I still would leave out the fool proof, affair proof, absolutist, one-and-only claims.
Ultimately, I must say I am disappointed with the book and it's shorthand, "LTLR", "AI", the many stages and categories and the too-technical new language, which make the book hard and even boring slogging when people are usually suffering enough, and need easy access, not unnecessarily opaque access to helpful information. The work to be done to heal is hard enough — to create language blocks along the way can even add to the difficulties. Yet, there is value in the book, which is why I suggest giving it to a couple before commitment. People in the depths of the betrayal of infidelity need more nurturing, less of the intellectual approach, and more of the emotion, sensitivity, and empathy than I feel this book gives. I think this is a pity, as the authors' do themselves acknowledge the primacy of emotion.<
Julienne Mullette is an Australian who has lived in the United States for many years, as well as in other countries. She was educated in Scarsdale, New York and La Chatelainie in Switzerland. In addition, she received her B.A. in Philosophy from Western College, and did graduate studies at Harvard University in Psychology and Philosophy, at Miami University in Religion, and at the Instituto do Filosofia in Brazil in Philosophy. She was the founding president of ISAR ( the International Society for Astrological Research), whose founding occasioned the only mention of astrology in The Times of London. Julienne's work has been written about in The New York Times and other newspapers, magazines, and books. Julienne's radio and television programme, "You and the Cosmos," has aired weekly on National Public Radio affiliates and other radio and television stations over the past decades, and she has guested on other programmes in Canada, Australia, and the United States. Julienne was also the founding editor of KOSMOS, the in-house publication of ISAR, and The Journal of Astrological Studies. She is the author of The Moon, The Unconscious World, and of many articles published in such publications as "Considerations"; "The Mountain Astrologer"; and many others worldwide.
Copyright © 2006 Entelechy: Mind & Culture. New Paltz, NY. All rights reserved.