Extramarital Affairs and the Media
by Peggy Vaughan

Back in 1980, James and I were the first couple to appear on television (on "Donahue") discussing their personal experience in dealing with extramarital affairs and staying together as a couple. At the time, I was proud of the show and of what I think we accomplished by appearing on the program. Over the years I've appeared on many other television shows; but I now say "no thank you" to most invitations because I'm terribly concerned about the direction they have taken, convinced that most of them are doing far more harm than good.

Almost everything about that 1980 show was different from today's shows—which have become an embarrassment at best and dangerous at worst. In 1980 we were the ONLY guests on Donahue, just the two of us for the entire hour. Today, panels are loaded with as many bodies as the stage will hold. In 1980 there was no "expert" on the show to give instant advice about our situation. Fortunately, we were "experts" ourselves in that we were discussing our personal experience as a way of providing information, understanding and perspective about the whole issue of affairs.

Today I still hear from shows, usually looking for "guests" (people who will get up there and spill their guts for the voyeuristic viewing of the public). The shows know that I have personal knowledge of hundreds of people who have dealt with the crisis of an extramarital affair, so they want me to help them reach these people. But due to my concern about their thoughtless, irresponsible way of "using" people, I simply tell shows that I don't "pimp" for them. Actually, I've never been comfortable with the idea of soliciting guests for shows, even when they were more reasonably presented, because I couldn't predict the potential impact of this kind of public scrutiny.

While I chose to "go public" with my own story, I don't advocate that kind of public exposure, primarily because I've experienced first-hand the critical, judgmental comments people may make. Nevertheless, I'm a strong believer in more open discussion of this topic so that people can gain better understanding of all the complex factors involved instead of seeing it ONLY as a sign of personal failure. I think it's important for people who are dealing with the knowledge of an affair to be able to discuss it with the relevant people in their lives. When an affair is seen as "too awful to talk about," it's likely to be seen as "too awful to get over"—and the pain can continue for a lifetime.

In the final analysis, the media have contributed to both the best and the worst aspects of the issue of affairs. They have promoted the idea of talking more openly about affairs—but they have done it in an irresponsible way. It's my hope that we can continue to deal more openly with the issue of affairs while protecting and respecting the feelings of those who struggle personally with this issue.

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