The State of Affairs | Esther Perel

Summary of: The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity
By: Esther Perel


Embark on a journey of exploring the complex and ever-evolving concept of infidelity through the summary of Esther Perel’s book, ‘The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity’. In this insightful exploration, you’ll discover the blurred lines that separate fidelity and infidelity, the role of secrecy, sexual chemistry, and emotional involvement in defining affairs, and how these infidelities can fundamentally impact our identities. Along with that, you’ll delve into cultural perspectives on infidelity, the intertwining of love and lies, and even the alternative approaches to monogamy, such as consensual non-monogamy.

Infidelity Uncertainties

Infidelity is on the rise, but its definition remains unclear. The lack of a clear consensus on what constitutes cheating has resulted in varying estimates of infidelity. The author identifies three elements – secrecy, sexual chemistry, and emotional involvement – the majority of infidelities share. A sexual connection does not necessarily involve sex, and emotional involvement causes more pain than physical infidelity.

The Betrayal Identity Crisis

Infidelity poses a threat to one’s sense of self-identity as it shakes the foundations of a relationship that is integral in building one’s identity. In long-term partnerships, the betrayal can cause individuals to question their self-worth, leading to a crisis of identity. In America, romantic love is a supreme achievement, causing acts of infidelity to be construed as such. However, this is not the case in other cultures. Betrayers may also lose their sense of self as they are forced to see themselves through their partner’s eyes. Infidelity can lead to individuals assuming new identities that conflict with their true selves.

The Taboo of Jealousy in the West

Jealousy, an emotion prevalent in literature, is often left out in western self-help books that aim to address love and betrayal. Betrayed partners in western countries rarely admit to feeling jealous to avoid losing the moral high ground. However, in many non-western countries, jealousy is accepted as a normal emotion and is often the centerpiece of counseling sessions for couples dealing with infidelity. Previously, jealousy was considered normal in the west, especially for men, but as gender equality emerged, jealousy became shameful for both genders. While jealousy is not a feeling westerners learn to welcome, it could strengthen relationships in small doses as it proves that a partner loves and cares for you.

The Truth About Truth-telling in Relationships

The idea that honesty is the best policy when it comes to relationships is not always true. The context matters, and sometimes, keeping a secret might be necessary to protect your partner or yourself. This summary explores different scenarios where telling the truth might be a bad idea, including cases of infidelity, end-of-life situations, and more. Ultimately, it invites readers to reflect on their motivations for telling the truth and to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

The Hidden Intricacies of Infidelity

Infidelity is not always a symptom of an unhappy relationship. In fact, even those content in their partnerships can stray. The reason lies in the desire to explore alternate identities. For instance, a person who has always led a life of conformity and never prioritized their own desires may engage in an affair to live a different lifestyle. Such was the case with Priya who was in a happy relationship with her husband Colin when she began having an affair with an arborist. Priya’s affair was thrilling because she was able to explore her desires and live a life she never pursued before. Her sessions with the author highlighted that she had always played the role of a “good girl” and never defied expectations. Through infidelity, Priya was able to explore her own identity and choose her own path, away from the one she thought was expected of her.

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