Dr. Shirley Glass

New York Times Obituary
of Dr. Glass, 10/14/03

Dr. Shirley P. Glass in 2002
Shirley P. Glass in 2002.

Shirley P. Glass, a psychologist who strove to redefine the nature of infidelity, died on Oct. 8 at her home in Owings Mills, Md.. She was 67.

The cause was cancer, said Ira Glass, her son and the producer of ‘‘This American Life’’ on public radio stations.

In magazine articles, a recent book and interviews on ‘‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’’ and other television programs, Dr. Glass examined how the emotional intimacy of the workplace and the Internet had led even people in successful marriages to slip into emotionally intense relationships that could easily lead to affairs.

Dr. Glass said that even if these intense relationships did not lead to sex they were a threat to marriages and part of what she termed ‘‘the new crisis of infidelity.’’ The reason, she said, is that the emotional intimacy with the friend gradually, almost invisibly, supplants that with the spouse. Still, some critics questioned the utility of changing the traditional definition of infidelity.

Dr. Glass also made an impact among marriage therapists by saying that betrayed partners in adulterous affairs often suffered from post-traumatic stress similar to that experienced by combat veterans.

She advocated a new means of dealing with the aftermath of an affair: absolute honesty about every detail, down to sexual details if the wronged partner wanted to know them.

But based on wide surveys of other therapists, Dr. Glass found that it was most common to exclude the extramarital affair from the therapeutic discussion. She described this as ‘‘waxing a dirty floor.’’

Dr. John Gottman, a therapist and author who is executive director of the Relationship Institute in Seattle, said, ‘‘This insight is threatening to everybody,’’ but added that it was ‘‘potentially very healing.’’

He said that Dr. Glass’s achievement lay in taking the moral component out of discussions of infidelity and treating it as an everyday, if exceedingly difficult, problem. But it is a different kind of problem than commonly assumed, Dr. Glass argued. One of her findings, based on her clinical research in Baltimore, was that the majority of men who have affairs characterized their marriages, including their sex life, as ‘‘happy’’ or ‘‘very happy.’’ At the time of her death, Dr. Glass was beginning a more academic study to follow up her first book, ‘‘Not ‘Just Friends’ ’’ (Free Press, 2003).

Shirley Bernice Politzer was born on March 1, 1936, in Richmond, Va. Her father ran a hardware store, and she grew up in the Pimlico section of Baltimore. She graduated from high school at 16 and from an honors course at the University of Maryland in three years.

She met Barry Glass, an accountant who became her husband of 48 years, at a swimming pool when she was 15. They married when she was 19.

In addition to her husband and her son, Ira, of Chicago, Dr. Glass is survived by two daughters, Randi Murray of Hillsborough, Calif., and Karen Glass Berry of Los Angeles, and two grandsons.

Dr. Glass taught high school math while earning a master’s degree in psychology from Towson State University. Later, she was a psychologist in the Baltimore public school system. She became interested in the subject of infidelity after learning about a friend who was having an affair, and she pursued the subject in a doctoral program at Catholic University, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1980.

Mr. Glass said recently that he and his wife respected each other too much to have had an affair. ‘‘We were always the best of friends,’’ he said.

Copyright © 2003, The New York Times

© Dr. Shirley Glass