I recently had the opportunity to attend a one-day conference in Toronto in which the incomparable Esther Perel presented. The topic was “THE STATE OF AFFAIRS: A NEW CLINICAL APPROACH TO INFIDELITY”. The day was provoking and filled with extraordinary insights about what infidelity means, as well as how to recover from it. What follows are what I consider my 20 top take-aways from the presentation. You may find some of Esther’s points controversial or at least, different. My request is that you think about each point with an open mind.

Esther Perel has many strengths as a clinician and researcher and I consider her a tremendous gift to us all. Esther is refreshing because she questions the status quo. She challenges current views and then she expands them. She gives us an opportunity to look at infidelity through a different lens, one that provides people affected by infidelity an opportunity to heal in the truest sense.

  1. The victim of the affair is not always the victim of the marriage.
  2. There are many types of betrayals, infidelity is one type.
  3. Why would you risk losing everything? For a moment of what?
  4. Infidelity has less to do with sex and more to do with desire.
  5. Affairs are a romantic plot about being alive.
  6. In our culture, marriage is considered to be for family. Passion, desire and sex happens elsewhere.
  7. Infidelity is the greatest of all traumas.
  8. Trust is the ability to live with not knowing.
  9. Is trust about feeling safe so then you can take risks. Or is trust about taking risks so then you can feel safe?
  10. Part of re-connecting is taking risks.
  11. Transparency is not always necessary. You don’t need to know everything. Ask yourself, “do I need to know, or is this about me wanting to know.”
  12. It’s not about the doing. It’s about what it meant. The sordid details don’t matter.
  13. Affairs are erotic plots, a story…and in the story you write and say what the story requires. It’s true in the moment but not true later, after the affair ends. There’s context. Don’t take it at face value.
  14. It’s hard to give up the affair, not because it’s an addiction, but because it’s meaningful.
  15. The obsession of the affair, we can say it’s about the other person. Or, we can say the obsession is getting yourself back. It looks like it’s about who you met, but it’s about who you became. Your fear that if you give it up, that that part of you won’t be able to exist.
  16. Sometimes when we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become. We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves.
  17. Cheating is cruel, selfish, dishonest and abusive.
  18. Understanding why the infidelity happened and what it signified is critical, both for couples who choose to end their relationship and for those who want to stay together, rebuild and revitalize theirs.
  19. I am not asking you the same question to annoy you. It’s by hearing your answers over and over again that slowly it seeps in and until the threat detector goes off. It’s because when you aren’t saying it again and again that it’s not working. It’s working because you say it over and over again.
  20. When you are lying next to your spouse at night: What’s the last thing you touch before you go to sleep? And, what’s the first thing you touch when you wake up?

I hope you gain as much from these insights as I have.

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