Peggy Vaughan, 76, author of “The Monogamy Myth” and “Beyond Affairs,” died at her home in California on November 8th after a four-year battle with cancer.
“I think it’s useful to share my own personal experience in dealing with affairs (rather than just talk about the issue from the ‘outside’) because I believe that despite whatever differences may exist in the specifics of our experience, those of us who have ‘been there’ share a common bond … ”
Peggy Vaughan is the first person I know of to go on national television to talk about infidelity in her own marriage. Monica Lewinsky was just seven years old (Bill Clinton was 34) when Vaughan and her husband shared the intimate struggle to rebuild their marriage on the Phil Donahue Show in 1980.
After a four-year battle with cancer, Vaughan died at her home in La Jolla, California on November 8th, the same day CIA Director David Petraeus sent his resignation letter to President Obama following public reports of his affair with Paula Broadwell.
When she died, James Vaughan, the same man she first married in a “Tom Thumb Wedding” when they were 6 years old and formally in 1955 when they were both 19, the man whose affairs nearly ended their marriage and destroyed their family, was by her side as her husband of 57 years. Despite it all, Peggy and James Vaughan had kept their commitment to stay together “’til death do us part.”
After making the decision to share her personal story, Vaughan became the go-to person for national news stories about infidelity. It’s more than likely producers coast-to-coast were dialing her number when news broke about General Petreaus.
I first met Peggy Vaughan after her address at the 1999 Smart Marriages conference in Washington, D.C., where she shared insights from her personal experience overcoming infidelity and helping thousands more through the “Beyond Affairs Network” (BAN) she created and nurtured for 32 years.
Upon her death, Vaughan made much of her extensive writing on marriage, affairs and infidelity available for free to the public via her DearPeggy.com website. In dozens of articles and books, she provided greater depth to the key points she made in her 1999 Smart Marriages keynote, excerpted below.
While Peggy Vaughan will be dearly missed by family, friends and the many thousands of people who reached out to her for help understanding and overcoming infidelity in their own marriages, her legacy will undoubtedly continue to contribute to the world for generations to come.
Why Affairs Happen: (A combination of three different kinds of factors.)
- Factors that PUSH people into affairs (problems/faults/shortcomings of individuals or relationship).
- Factors that PULL people into affairs (excitement, curiosity, enhanced self-image, “falling in love”).
- Societal factors that CONTRIBUTE to affairs (fascination with affairs, using sex to sell, deception learned as teens due to our inability to talk honestly about sexual issues, and the secrecy surrounding this issue that serves to protect those having affairs from dealing with the consequences of their actions).
How to Prevent Affairs:
- What will NOT work: Assuming it can’t happen to you, being “in love,” promising to be faithful, threats or ultimatums, religious commandments, having more children, repeating the marriage vows, spicing up your sex life, trying to be “perfect,” and trying to meet all your partner’s needs.
- What is MORE LIKELY to work: Being aware that no one is immune from having an affair, making a commitment to honesty (rather than just a promise of monogamy), and engaging in ongoing, honest communication about everything that impacts your relationship, including attractions to others.
How to Recover if an Affair Occurs –Rebuilding the Marriage:
- Answering all questions and hanging in through the inevitable emotional turmoil.
- Severing contact with the third party and building trust through actions, not promises.
- Making a commitment to Honesty and to ongoing honest communication.
- Accepting the fact that monogamy is an issue that’s never settled “once and for all.”
Personally Recovering from the Emotional Impact:
- Accepting the fact that it happened (no more “if only…” or “why me?”)
- Deliberately focusing on dealing with it and talking openly about what happened.
- Allowing time to heal and, most of all, believing it’s possible to recover.
- Understanding that this is not just personal failure…that societal factors play a part as well.
The “Monogamy Myth” includes the belief that:
- Monogamy is the norm in our society and society as a whole supports monogamy.
- You can assume monogamy when you get married, so there’s no need to discuss it.
- Most people are monogamous, so an affair indicates a personal failure of your particular marriage.
Challenging Society’s Monogamy Myth:
- Monogamy is not the norm. Society gives lip service to monogamy, but actually supports affairs.
- No marriage is immune from affairs. There needs to be ongoing honest communication.
- No couple can fully understand why an affair happens by looking ONLY at their own marriage.
Bottom line: recognizing the POWER OF HONESTY:
- Definition: Honesty is more than just “not lying;” it’s “not withholding relevant information.”
- Prevention: Despite whatever factors lead someone to be tempted to have an affair, whether or not they act on the temptation depends on their willingness to be dishonest and deceptive.
- Recovering: Ongoing honesty is essential to both personal recovery and to rebuilding the marriage.
- Society’s Role: While this is an intensely personal problem, it is also a societal problem. Any effort to help people deal with this issue on a personal basis requires that we also address the societal factors, especially replacing the general secrecy and hypocrisy about this issue with responsible honesty.
Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in marriage and relationship education for more than a quarter century.