I became familiar with Esther Perel because she is an expert at couples counseling who works with Tony Robbins. Quite naturally, given what she does, she has dealt extensively with infidelity issues. Her perspective on infidelity is not conventional, but it’s also difficult to categorize. Throughout the book, there were multiple times where I said, “I really hadn’t thought of it like that.” With that in mind, enjoy the best quotes from the book. I think you’ll find these quotes may change your thinking, at least a little bit, with regard to cheating.
— Around the globe, the responses I get when I mention “infidelity” range from bitter condemnation to resigned acceptance to cautious compassion to outright enthusiasm. In Bulgaria, a group of women seem to view their husbands’ philandering as unfortunate but inevitable. In Paris, the topic brings an immediate frisson to a dinner conversation, and I note how many people have been on both sides of the story. In Mexico, women proudly see the rise of female affairs as a form of social rebellion against a chauvinistic culture that has forever made room for men to have “two homes,” la casa grande y la casa chica—one for the family and one for the mistress. Infidelity may be ubiquitous, but the way we make meaning of it—how we define it, suffer from it, and talk about it—is ultimately linked to the particular time and place where the drama unfolds.
— In the American marketplace, adultery is sold with a mixture of denunciation and titillation. Magazine covers peddle smut while preaching sanctimony. As a culture we’ve become sexually open to the point of overflowing, but when it comes to sexual fidelity, even the most liberal minds can remain intransigent.
— Because I believe that some good may come out of the crisis of infidelity, I have often been asked, “So, would you recommend an affair to a struggling couple?” My response? A lot of people have positive, life-changing experiences that come along with terminal illness. But I would no more recommend having an affair than I would recommend getting cancer.
— The motives for straying vary widely, as do the reactions and possible outcomes. Some affairs are acts of resistance. Others happen when we offer no resistance at all. One person may cross the border for a simple fling, while another is looking to emigrate. Some infidelities are petty rebellions, sparked by a sense of ennui, a desire for novelty, or the need to know one still has pulling power. Others reveal a feeling never known before—an overwhelming sense of love that cannot be denied. Paradoxically, many people go outside their marriages in order to preserve them. When relationships become abusive, transgression can be a generative force. Straying can sound an alarm that signals an urgent need to pay attention, or it can be the death knell that follows a relationship’s last gasp. Affairs are an act of betrayal and they are also an expression of longing and loss.
— The definition of infidelity is anything but fixed, and the digital age offers an ever-expanding range of potentially illicit encounters. Is chatting cheating? What about sexting, watching porn, joining a fetish community, remaining secretly active on dating apps, paying for sex, lap dances, massages with happy endings, girl-on-girl hookups, staying in touch with one’s ex? Because there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes infidelity, estimates of its prevalence among American couples vary widely, ranging from 26 to 70 percent for women and from 33 to 75 percent for men. Whatever the exact numbers may be, everyone agrees that they are rising. And many fingers point to women as being responsible for the increase, as they rapidly close the “infidelity gap” (research indicates a 40 percent jump since 1990, while men’s rates have held steady. …In fact, when the definition of infidelity includes not only “sexual intercourse” but also romantic involvement, kissing, and other sexual contact, female college students significantly outcheat their male counterparts.
— “I love you. Let’s get married.” For most of history, those two sentences were never joined.
— Even today, more than 50 percent of marriages globally are arranged.
— First we brought love to marriage. Then we brought sex to love. And then we linked marital happiness with sexual satisfaction. Sex for procreation gave way to sex for recreation. …Today we are engaged in a grand experiment. For the first time ever, we want sex with our spouses not just because we want six children to work on the farm (for which we need to have eight, since at least two might not make it), nor because it is an assigned chore. No, we want sex just because we want it. Ours is sex that is rooted in desire, a sovereign expression of our free choice, and indeed, of our very selves. Today we have sex because we’re in the mood, we feel like it—hopefully, with each other; preferably, at the same time; and ideally, with unflagging passion for decades on end.
— Emotional closeness has shifted from being the by-product of a long-term relationship to being a mandate for one.
— Never before have our expectations of marriage taken on such epic proportions. We still want everything the traditional family was meant to provide—security, children, property, and respectability—but now we also want our partner to love us, to desire us, to be interested in us. We should be best friends, trusted confidants, and passionate lovers to boot. The human imagination has conjured up a new Olympus: that love will remain unconditional, intimacy enthralling, and sex oh-so-exciting, for the long haul, with one person. And the long haul keeps getting longer.
— “My needs aren’t being met,” “This marriage is not working for me anymore,” “It’s not the deal I signed up for”—these are laments I hear regularly in my sessions. As psychologist and author Bill Doherty observes, these kinds of statements apply the values of consumerism—“personal gain, low cost, entitlement, and hedging one’s bets”—to our romantic connections. …In our consumer society, novelty is key. The obsoleteness of objects is programmed in advance so that it ensures our desire to replace them. And the couple is indeed no exception to these trends. We live in a culture that continually lures us with the promise of something better, younger, perkier. Hence we no longer divorce because we’re unhappy; we divorce because we could be happier.
— The more sexually active our society has become, the more intractable its attitude toward cheating. In fact, it is precisely because we can have plenty of sex before marriage that exclusiveness within marriage has assumed entirely new connotations. We used to get married and have sex for the first time. Now we get married and we stop having sex with others.
— On what she calls “D-Day,” she sat for hours digging through the digital evidence. She was flattened by the images. Hundreds of photos, emails exchanged, desires expressed; the vivid details of Costa’s eight-year affair unfolded before her eyes. Just a few decades ago, she might have found a phone number in a suit pocket, lipstick on a collar, or a dusty box of letters. A nosy neighbor might have blabbered. Caught, Costa would have told her the story as he saw fit, omitting choice facts to protect her or himself. Today, courtesy of technological memory, Gillian is more likely to burrow into the excruciating details of her husband’s duplicity. She can study her own humiliation, memorizing pages of painful electronic evidence.
— Infidelity is a direct attack on one of our most important psychic structures: our memory of the past. It not only hijacks a couple’s hopes and plans but also draws a question mark over their history. If we can’t look back with any certainty and we can’t know what will happen tomorrow, where does that leave us?
— Much as I’ve tried to identify patterns in the interplay between action and reaction, I have yet to find a tidy correspondence between the severity of the offense and the intensity of the response. Even after decades of this work, I still cannot predict what people will do when they discover a partner’s affair. In fact, many have told me that their response is far from what they would have predicted themselves.
— Economic circumstances also play an important role in how we experience and react to a betrayal. For the financially dependent partner, it may literally be a case of “I cannot afford to leave.” For the financial provider, the idea that “I’ve been working all these years to support you and this family and now I will have to pay alimony while you go to live with this loser” can be unbearable.
— The breach-of-contract script—“you’re my husband and you owe me loyalty”—no longer cuts it in the age of personal happiness. The “I love you and I want you back” script is risky, but it carries emotional and erotic energy and dignifies the hurt.
— We often hear that revenge is sweet, but research and life prove otherwise. Behavioral scientists have observed that instead of quenching hostility, delivering justice, or bringing closure, revenge can in fact keep the unpleasantness of an offense alive. The exultation of self-righteousness is a shallow pleasure that traps us in an obsession with the past. In fact, when we don’t have the opportunity to exact a penalty, we move on to other things faster.
— I had always been told that sexual problems are the consequence of relationship problems, and that if you fix the relationship, the sex will follow. While that was indeed the case for lots of couples, I was seeing countless others who kept telling me, “We love each other very much. We have a great relationship. Except for the fact that we have no sex.” Clearly, their sexual impasse was not merely a symptom of a romance gone awry.
— People stray for a multitude of reasons, and every time I think I have heard them all, a new variation emerges. But one theme comes up repeatedly: affairs as a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or a lost) identity. For these seekers, infidelity is less likely to be a symptom of a problem, and is more often described as an expansive experience that involves growth.
— The one theme that I hear above all else from those who have bitten into the forbidden apple is this: It makes them feel alive. Countless wanderers narrate their excursions in similar terms: reborn, rejuvenated, intensified, revitalized, renewed, vibrant, liberated. And many, like Danica, report that they didn’t even recognize the absence of these feelings until they were caught unawares. The sense of aliveness is rarely the explicit motive for an affair—in many instances they don’t quite know why it began—but it is often the unexpected meaning that is found there. In the decade I have been studying rebellious love, I have heard this sentiment expressed all over the world. Affairs are quintessential erotic plots in the ancient sense of eros as life energy.
— In the past, going to a prostitute was often considered less egregious than cavorting with the neighbor’s wife. It hurt, but it didn’t endanger the marriage because he wasn’t going to leave his wife for her. In fact, many people didn’t even count sex workers as cheating, and some went so far as to declare that hookers exist so that men won’t stray. Today, however, many women view cheating with a prostitute as worse than a noncommercial affair.
— Infidelity hurts. But when we grant it a special status in the hierarchy of marital misdemeanors, we risk allowing it to overshadow the egregious behaviors that may have preceded it or even led to it.
— As long as both partners are okay with the situation, love can flourish and stability abounds. But when one person is filled with unmet longings that stretch from one life stage to the next, they become like dry brush waiting for a spark. Given this dual mandate of sexual fidelity and sexual abstinence, we needn’t be surprised when the lustful urge finally bursts free.
— Many people have affairs not to exit their marriages, but in order to stay in them.
— In contrast, infidelity is a unilateral decision, in which one person secretly negotiates the best deal for themselves. They may imagine that it’s the best deal for all involved—safeguarding the marriage and busting up the sexual gridlock—but it is nevertheless an exertion of power over the unsuspecting spouse. Of course, as one man countered, “When she says no every night, did I get a say in that? Who’s been making unilateral decisions here?” He has a point.
— Should couples like this have to make a choice between dismantling the entire edifice of their marriage or never having sex again? In our marriage-is-for-everything culture, divorce or sucking it up tend to be framed as the only two legitimate ways to go—which makes it unsurprising that many opt for the unspoken but increasingly popular third alternative of infidelity.
— Monogamy may or may not be natural to human beings, but transgression surely is. Every relationship, from the most stringent to the most lenient, has boundaries, and boundaries invite trespassers. Breaking the rules is thrilling and erotic—whether those rules are “one person for life” or “sex is okay but no falling in love” or “always use a condom” or “he can’t come inside you” or “you can fuck other people, but only when I’m watching.” Hence there is plenty of infidelity in open relationships, with all of the ensuing turmoil.
— Marriage without virginity was once inconceivable. So, too, sex without marriage.