Understanding infidelity

The recent breach of security at Ashley Madison has thrown infidelity into the media spotlight once again. But what can we learn about the way we understand affairs?


I began researching infidelity about four years ago. My novel, Unsteady Souls, is the result. I believe that infidelity, and the emotions and behaviours behind it, are not well understood in our society. The result is often either the glamourising of affairs, or utter condemnation without reprieve. This lack of understanding is one good reason for the prevalence of extra-marital affairs. The past shows us that whenever we fail to comprehend human behaviour, we expose ourselves to the same vulnerability. In other words, when we don’t learn from our mistakes – and the mistakes of others – history has a tendency to repeat itself.

I have never been in the position of any of my characters, but I have read hundreds of real stories from all sides, as well as numerous articles and books by professionals.

It was interesting to read how many people’s views changed when infidelity became a reality about the person they loved and had built a life with, rather than an abstract. Or when people realised what they had done and were at a loss to understand how they could have done it or how to address the changes needed in themselves.

Some of the behaviours in infidelity are counter-intuitive and incredibly difficult to understand, but I wanted to write an infidelity story as realistically as possible, with a journey of understanding for each of the characters, whilst showing the devastation those behaviours can cause.

There are many people rebuilding their lives after infidelity, whether alone or together, and whichever side of it someone is on, I’ve seen that it takes immense courage to work towards reconciliation or to end the marriage, because it often means either accepting a terrible betrayal, or working every day on the darkest parts of oneself and living with the guilt of the pain caused.

Unsteady Souls is a creative, not a didactic, work, but my hope is that the treatment of infidelity in the novel will broaden understanding of affairs, and encourage us to avoid a simplistic view of a very complicated subject.

Annie, I’m sorry

As Ian McEwan recognises in Atonement, authors often do terrible things to their characters, in the name of good writing. Rarely do they apologise. So here is my apology to one of my main characters, Annie.


Annie, I’m sorry.

I’ve betrayed you just as much as he has. More, because you told me your innermost thoughts and I didn’t let you in on what was happening with him until it was too late. I put you on what the natives call the roller coaster from hell, just to explore how it feels, just to watch it burn, just to try to sculpt the prose to do justice to this whole sorry mess.

I wanted to see what it felt like. Does that put me on a par with the gossip-ridden bitches I sent you out for coffee with? Maybe. But think about what we’re up against. The Notebook-esque idea that you jump in and tear apart a marriage if you feel like you have a prior claim; the supposed “glamour” of infidelity. We’ve got an ugly truth to tell. We’ve got a war to wage, Annie, and you’re my soldier.

You may not feel strong now, because I’ve put you in the dirt. Quite literally. You’ve got to spend at least part of a chapter face down in a flower bed.

But know this.

I want to grow you up again, make you strong, watch you fight back.

You know it’s worth fighting for.

Keep going. Please.

I’m sorry.