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This Week in Magazines: Inauguration, Infidelity, and Vogue
January 25, 2009
by: James Warren

Infidelity, like the emerging Obama stimulus package, impacts many. One only hopes the stimulus will be far better understood than marital infidelity, if the American Journal of Family Therapy is to be believed.

Then, too, we might all wish that infidelity would occasionally wind up as well as it has for actress-writer Isabel Gillies, as she recounts in "An Affair to Remember" in the February Vogue (this hereby marks the first time Vogue, the American Journal of Family Therapy and "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" are deservedly mentioned in the same sentence).

"Helping Couples Work Together Toward the Forgiveness of Marital Infidelity: Therapists' Perspectives" is the handiwork of three Florida State University academics whose somewhat clunkily-expressed aim was "to explore how therapists treat infidelity and work toward forgiveness with couples presenting with extramarital involvement."

Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that there is far, far less research on this subject than one would assume, especially in a culture so obsessed with finding easy recipes for contentment.

Spencer Olmstead, Ryan Blick and Lilbourne Mills III interviewed ten marital and family therapists and, it's apparent, brought distinctly academic methodologies to bear. "Major categories, themes, and subthemes were generated from open, axial, and selective coding analyses. Participating therapists described treating marital infidelity and incorporating forgiveness sequentially."

"Infidelity treatment included assessing family of origin and relationship history, and discussing mutual acceptance of responsibility. When working toward forgiveness, therapists described: (a) assessing client understanding, (b) psychoeducation, (c) clarification, (d) client languaging, and (e) time. Implications for research and treatment are discussed."

Well, I'll save you a somewhat challenging effort and inform that there are no satisfying conclusions.

"Infidelity is a couples problem that has far reaching and often damaging effects. As such, it is one that therapists find difficult to treat in therapy. Although research on the topic of infidelity and working toward forgiveness is limited, this study helps provide a thicker description of the process and interventions some therapists use while helping Forgiveness of Marital Infidelity couples work through the wake of infidelity and move towards a place of forgiveness."

So, in case you didn't assume same, be apprised that you best say you're sorry a whole lot of times if you screw around and get caught. And, even then, you might not be as lucky as actress-author Gillies, who plays macho Detective Stabler's wife on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

In February Vogue, she crafts a poignant account of how her philosophy professor husband betrayed her and their two sons while he taught at a small Midwest college. She'd thought she had a blissful situation, leaving New York City for Cambridge, Mass., then Ohio. She worked on an organic farm, got a teaching job herself, shopped at the farmers' market, went to concerts at the conservatory, showed up at anti-Iraq War protests at the college, and used one of the great perks of academic life, long vacations, to summer in Maine with her spouse and young boys.

But "just at the moment when life seemed too good to be true," her husband "stopped it dead in its tracks" by falling in love with a colleague. For a bit, she thinks that it's a momentary crisis. "We had endured rough spots, but doesn't everyone?" They'd had a hectic few years, with multiples moves and two kids. "We were feeling the burn, but we were a team. We were married and we were making it work."

Not really. He was serious and had found someone, she now realizes, better suited to him. With anger and frustration, she packed up the kids and returned to live with her parents in New York. She was 35 years old and a single mom. But, then, she stumbled into meeting another guy and fell in love, partaking in an old-fashioned courtship. Things have turned out well both for her and for the ex, who comes off as about as sensitive a cheating spouse as one could find. The ex said that he and his new wife raised a glass to Gillies the night of the second wedding. "I believed him because we are still a family, just in a different shape."