Question: Dear Anne, I’ve heard you talk about the concept of “reclaiming the affair territory.” I think it was in your book, but I can’t find it anywhere. I realize this is what I need to do, and I want to make sure I go about it in the right way. Please tell me how do I go about reclaiming the territory? – one soul on her way to healing
Dear 'Soul on your way to healing,'
First of all I commend you for how far you’ve come. I can hear from the tone of your question, you are beyond the initial trauma, and have done much work to heal yourself already, and now with maturity, are wanting to scale this mountain so you can put the affair behind you and have your life back.
To the best of my knowledge this is an aspect of healing not talked about by other experts. But it is something I end up talking about frequently with the lovely people I have the privilege of working with in person at our seminars. Let me explain.
Inevitably, when a spouse chooses to get involved in an affair, most end up ruining “sacred” places. Affairs are had at our favorite vacation spot, at our favorite hotel, restaurant, city or country. Affairs are done doing our favorite recreation like golf, or ballroom dancing or boating. People having affairs sometimes bring their affair partners around some of our favorite people (like our kids). In extreme violations affairs are had in our own home (or worse our own bedroom!), and in people’s prized collector cars. I could go on, but I’m sure I don’t need to, because having now supported people through their affair recovery journey’s for 10 years,
I know that with few exceptions if you’re reading this you have your own story of “stolen” territory
– in other words something you once liked (or something you would’ve liked to have had the opportunity to like), and now you hate it (and may even be afraid of it), because whatever it is (this person, place, thing or activity) is an affair trigger for you, and you find yourself avoiding it at all costs!
Frankly in the early days, weeks, months after disclosure of the affair it is wise to avoid that territory (sell the bed, the car, the boat etc.).
I like to draw a parallel between your spouse having an affair, and your spouse breaking your leg to illustrate an important aspect of healing and recovering the affair territory. Let me explain.
If your spouse breaks your leg, it is not adequate for them to say, “Gee I’m sorry I broke your leg. I promise never to do it again. What’s your problem? I said I’m sorry already. Get over it!”
Your leg is broken for heaven sake, and saying “I’m sorry” is a good start, but completely insufficient. You need to be taken to the hospital emergency room so a doctor can set the bone back in place … and give you some pain killers to help you deal with the excruciating pain, which comforting words, soothing as they are, are not going to take away. (In your pain you may still feel like swearing at the one saying the comforting words, especially if this is the same person who negligently caused the injury in the first place.)
After the doctor sets your broken bone back in place he is going to put a cast around it for the time that is needed to heal. Why does he do this? Simple, because if he doesn’t you’re going to bump that leg, knock it back out of place while it’s still weak and broken, and if this happens (especially repeatedly), you’re never going to heal properly.
In the same way when your spouse has an affair, your broken heart needs to be taken to the emergency room, set back in place and you need protection around your broken heart to give it a chance to heal. Being exposed to people, places, persons or things that remind you of the affair is like not having a cast on your broken leg. It’s rubbing salt in the wound. So in the early stages avoiding these territories is a good idea.
However, there comes a time when we’re ready to take the cast off, and begin to walk again. And so it is true with your life after an affair. While it is prudent to avoid affair triggers in the earlier stages of healing, if you spend the rest of your life unable to enjoy certain experiences, then truly these good things have been stolen from you. This is what reclaiming the territory after an affair is all about. Not every betrayed spouse will choose to reclaim the territory. This is an individual and personal decision. But if you think you might like to take back what was stolen from you, and reclaiming the affair territory, read on.
In my particular situation, I found out that my husband had taken his affair partner shopping on a famous shopping street in Vancouver, BC, called Robson Street. Fact is, I had actually never afforded myself such a luxury with my husband before his affair, and like most betrayed spouses I decided to hate Robson street for a time after the affair, but as I slowly engaged the personal growth journey of healing after the affair, I began to think differently.
Shopping in a place like Robson Street is fun and enjoyable. Why should another woman exclusively hold this memory with my husband? And why should I allow her to “steal” this positive experience from me? After all, Robson Street is just that – a street. Good things happen on this street, and without doubt bad things (like affairs) happen on this street. This is true of any shopping place or street. At the end of the day, it’s just a street, and I don’t need to associate this place with the memory of my husband’s affair for the rest of my life.
So I chose to ask my husband to take me there. Was I nervous? Yes. Was he nervous? Yes, probably more nervous than I was. But we had already come a long way in our healing at this time, and we were ready.
When we went we walked arm in arm, and we were kind, gentle, honest and real with each other. He told me exactly where he had walked with her, which stores they’d had been in and what they did and didn’t buy. While it was still painful to think of him having an affair here, the deception, and her having this fun time with him, I choose to see the positive we were experiencing today instead of remaining trapped in the past (which is no more).
I was comforted to walk arm in arm with my husband in this place. He was worried about how I would react, but it meant so much that he was honest with me about his fears . I felt compassion for him, and he felt compassion for me.
As he walked with me down this street where his affair had taken place, he was transforming in my mind from a loser who had an affair to a hero who could face his failure with courage, and who was man enough to be honest and forthcoming with me. I imagine the affect this special first day on Robson Street together had on me was a welcome opposite of what he may have anticipated.
It meant so much to me when he shared with me, when we came to a certain corner, that when he had been in this exact place with his affair partner by coincidence she had seen her first husband at a distance, and had become frightened remembering how her first husband used to beat her, and she had grabbed Brian’s arm and whisked him around a corner to avoid seeing him. Piece by piece we were now tearing down the walls of secrets that had surrounded everything about the affair.
We bought some new clothes that day (that were favorites for quite some time), and we shared a great meal in a restaurant. As I sit here twelve years later telling you the story, I’m smiling because that day – reclaiming the territory – is a happy memory for me.
It’s a memory of feeling intensely close and loved by my husband. Please know, making this a positive experience and memory was my choice. To go somewhere or do something in an effort to reclaim the territory in and of itself is not enough. You have to do it being committed to yourself and to your spouse to see the good in it – with a commitment to make it a positive memory, and a commitment not to react negatively.
Rest assured, if your spouse is willing to do this with you, they are being exceptionally brave, because they are likely scared to death that you are going to “freak out.”
Since that day we’ve been to Robson Street many times. I went Christmas shopping with my mother and daughters there. I’ve been on many dates with my husband, Brian, there. Once I remember I had a particularly beautiful dress on, and we both thought it was fun that people were turning to look.
And I’ll let you in on one last secret, in 2006 we had a family dinner on Robson Street to celebrate our youngest daughter, Tamara’s, engagement to her now wonderful husband. The point is, while I’m sharing this story with you, to inspire you that you too can claim back the stolen territory in your life and marriage, I want you to understand that Robson Street is no longer about the affair for us. It’s about our family, Tamara’s engagement, special memories with my wonderful mother, and more fun dates with my husband than I can count.
Yes, for me, the Robson Street day was as terrifying as it was rewarding. Looking back on it now, I can’t imagine how we would have healed without doing this, along with all the other reclaiming.
I was afraid almost every time we discussed the ‘what’ or the ‘where’ or the ‘how’s of my affair. The fear was mostly to do with – how would Anne react, would she freak out, have a meltdown, create a scene, hate me forever etc? I was also afraid of having to face myself – being embarrassed, humiliated, shamed, owning up to what I did, acknowledging my actions – as bad as they were.
One of the greater fears of reclaiming the territory had to do with wondering if Anne thought I was thinking of the other woman at these times, and worrying about how to get her to believe that I wasn’t. If I happened to think about what took place during that time, how would I be able to express to Anne my regret and disappointment for doing what I had done.
The Robson Street experience was by far the biggest and longest thing we had done in terms of replaying the events of my affair. (Let the readers understand that this day took place after we had already been to or done some other smaller events or places, which seemed to turn out fairly OK) However, the length of time we were to be there plus the nature of the day, allowed for a great possibility of disaster and potential harm. While I was aware of this potential, I knew better than to try and persuade Anne to cancel.
During that day, I felt both terrified and relieved at the same time. Terrified because of the potential harm that could unfold at any minute. But relieved because I knew that Anne would know everything about what I did, and her imagination would be put to rest, so to speak. I did not have to hide anything or pretend something didn’t happen or describe what or where something took place. I wasn’t sure that this would help her but one thing I did know was that many of Anne’s ‘what about’ and ‘where/when’ questions were being answered.
The other thing that I realized later on was that there was no longer any secret places or secret events/actions that I had ‘only’ with the other woman. There was not any affair monument or shrine that I had erected or created with the other woman. (And while some of the readers may not have this opportunity to reclaim the territory, this should not prevent you from discussing these things if you choose to do so.)
What took place when we ‘reclaimed the territory’ was that we both were able to take back something that could have been a huge obstacle or barrier in our marriage. We were able to discover things about ourselves and each other that may not have been discovered had we not chosen to ‘reclaim the territory’, and for this I’m grateful.
I’m grateful because Anne was willing to do this, and willing to do this with a certain amount of grace (actually a lot of grace) even though it was not easy for her. She allowed me to tell her, show her and relive it with her. No secrets equals freedom.
So it’s up to you. But when the time is right, and it’s time to remove the cast from your broken heart, and “walk” again, you too can take those places, people, activities and things back!
PS – The Robson Street incident is referenced only very briefly in my book “My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” in Chapter 13 – Meeting the Other Woman (Page 155).
Brian & Anne Bercht
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