By Esther Perel
A book for anyone who has ever loved.
Reviewed by: Dan Williams
The State of Affairs book cover

Having read many such books out of interest and the ongoing need for CPD, I expected the worst of this – a bunch of quasi poetic unsubstantiated psychobabble. Perel does open with an admission that the book is hardly scientific and certainly not backed by hard data. And indeed, the flowery prose does occasionally reach out to needle any latent slumbering nausea.

But by and large, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very balanced, nuanced and thoughtful point of view on relationship and infidelity. Perel does not presume to know but offers reasonable hypotheses and sound ideas based on her experience and insight gained as a therapist and blogger (by the looks). I find couples therapists (and therapists in general) often show a shocking lack of their own unconscious biases which I think substantially reduces their productivity. I think couple therapists often try to keep relationships together rather than help couples work out
what’s best for them in the face of infidelity or any other tensions with which modern relationships are beset. Who knows how Perel actually works with her clients but if her written offerings are as balanced and willing to explore and understand rather than pigeon-hole and
consign and dictate then she is an asset to the industry.

To be fair, as a therapist myself, there wasn’t too much new in this book and I felt a little leery about some of the characterisations of ‘types of people’. Still, a key idea crystallised for me was the idea of the impact of infidelity in the current global context. Regardless of how we’ve got here and whether it’s ‘innate’ in us (humans) or not, monogamy is a pervasive compulsion in the global context.

For the millions who subscribe to it therefore, (in)fidelity has serious implications. Even if the act itself is an isolated sexual liaison (or not even that), Perel points out that the because of the monogamous backdrop in which it happens, the causes and emotional consequences stretch far beyond the act itself. I compare it to helping yourself to a glass of water at a friend’s house in a wet country versus a dry one where water may be in short supply; the social implications might be very different even if the act is the same.

Even if it there wasn’t much new in the book, it’s still nice to see your ideas crystallised by someone else and also to find new ways of thinking about old ideas.

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