Helpful Insights on Rebuilding a Marriage

By Anne Bercht

This is a conversation Brian and Anne had one Saturday morning over a cup of coffee while discussing one particular woman (Jane’s) situation. Because Brian has so many valuable insights into the mind of the betrayer to share, we recorded the conversation and later had the words keyed into a computer. It was originally never intended for sharing with others in this way. However, we have shared it with a few people who have profusely thanked us for the insights it provides. So by popular demand we are making it available this week on our website. These insights are for those who wish to learn about rebuilding a marriage after the devastation of an affair, and assume they have had a committed relationship where they genuinely love each other. One of the keys to healing the marriage is hours and hours of dialogue, discussing the affair, which brings mutual understanding, but how can that be achieved when it is so painful for both?

Anne: What you’re saying is that the unfaithful person needs to be rewarded in some way; they need a positive experience to come home to in order to facilitate the beginning of the healing process?

Brian: Yes. Both people are really hurt. He hurts as much as she does, but it doesn’t seem that way. The Betrayer goes through a different kind of hurt but it hurts just the same. He’s aware that she’s hurt. He knows that he is the one who has hurt her. Obviously he still loves her because he’s still there in the relationship. But he has to deal with the emotion of knowing that he has hurt someone he loves by his actions. This is the struggle that he has. If they always talk about her and her hurts than the relationship will never work out, because he’s just as important of a factor in the whole thing as she is. He needs to go through the process of discovering that. One thing I had to discover and learn through the process was that I say stuff that is not necessarily true. But at the beginning it helped me to begin discussing the situation if I wasn’t judged and confronted instantly for every false thing I said. It was a lot easier to blame you. It was a lot easier to look at outward things as opposed to inward things. So if I could look at things that I blamed you for at least it was a start to communication. As we continued the talking I began to discover what I did wrong, which was far more difficult for me. When you were willing to listen to me without reacting or passing judgment you facilitated my healing. When you didn’t listen to anything I had to say or when you reacted negatively every single time I said something, then I didn’t want to talk to you anymore.

Anne: Then you are saying that part of the fact that you opened up to me and were willing to discuss the situation was to your credit that you were willing to do that, but part of it was to my credit that I actually helped you by creating an atmosphere that made it possible for you to open up and begin to openly share your true feelings. So when people complain that their spouse is not willing to talk about the affair, part of that could be their fault that they are not creating an atmosphere where they can share. It might not be all their spouses fault that they aren’t opening up. It might be partially their own fault.

Brian: Most unfaithful spouses that want to heal their marriages don’t want to talk about what they have done wrong at first. It’s a humbling thing to say “I hurt you, I made this mistake, and I’ve done these things wrong.” Nobody really wants to have to go through that. Nobody really wants to face their own mistakes. If in fact you’re going to get reamed out for doing it, it discourages you from trying at all. The betrayed spouse needs to try to create the atmosphere or opportunities for discussion and when those opportunities arise, which could be in the midst of an argument; they need to work on recognizing that it is an opportunity. They need to listen to what their spouse has to say and somehow try to put themselves in their spouse’s shoes and imagine “if I were the one that had the affair, and my spouse talked to me the way I talk to my spouse, would I be willing to talk? Would it be pleasant? Would I feel respected and loved? Would I feel that my spouse truly desired reconciliation? Or would I feel that they just wanted to get all the details, without really wanting to understand WHY I had the affair? Would I feel that they truly desired to UNDERSTAND me?

Consider the analogy about the jigsaw puzzle (Joseph’s letter). The person who had the affair sees the whole picture. The BP (betrayed person) only sees the parts of the picture which have been revealed by the unfaithful spouse. One guy has all the puzzle pieces. The spouse that went through the affair knows all the details. They have the whole picture. The part that got overlooked in this analogy, the part you really want to know is what the painter is like, not every detail of the picture. It’s the painter who has painted the picture. It’s important to get all the details, but it’s more important to understand WHY the spouse had the affair. Our imaginations create mountains out of mole hills. Here’s where the trust factor is affected. If you don’t understand me, the painter (the betrayer), and why I did what I did, we will not be able to make positive changes in our relationship, and you will not be able to trust me again. If I do one little thing wrong, if I’m 10 minutes late, your imagination can create a tremendous fantasy which is all untrue. So though the betrayed spouse is told all the details, there is no understanding WHY the Betrayer did what they did. Then it’s just a detail that doesn’t mean something. And I think that if people really want to work out their relationships, BOTH persons in the marriage need to be understood.

Anne: But someone has to step out and do the understanding without yet being understood. The BP feels victimized and devastated, yet they’ve got to step one step beyond that.

Brian: Certainly the hurt period is there and it can go on for a long time, but you can’t wait until the hurt period is gone before you begin the work of healing. In the midst of all the pain, the BP has to somehow listen to their unfaithful spouse. You are dealing with someone who has a character flaw right now. I believe that it is more difficult for the betrayer in their present state of mind to say “honey I think we need to sit down and talk about the things that I’ve done wrong in this relationship. This is what has happened.”

Anne: That’s the thing that’s backwards from what one would expect. We, the betrayed, feel that we’ve been wronged and now it’s time for the other person to pay us back and reconcile and be willing to be the one to step up to the plate, but because of the way the betrayer is feeling and thinking at the time, it’s highly unlikely for that to happen. So if you, the betrayed person, want to reconcile the relationship you have to understand how difficult the whole thing actually is for the betrayer. The betrayer is not really willing to say they are sorry. The spouse has to understand.

Brian: I think the betrayer does feel sorry.

Anne: Yes, but they’re not yet verbalizing any of that. They are not doing anything to make it easier for the spouse to listen and to calm down. Even though the person that’s been betrayed has been really hurt, if they want to reconcile the relationship they can increase their chances for healing tremendously by stepping above their hurt and endeavoring to understand the betrayed person first, even if the betrayer has not yet expressed great remorse, brought home flowers and whatever else the BP may be expecting of them in order to try and right the wrong.

Brian: No, no. Certainly the betrayer needs to work on making amends for their actions. In our relationship we spent countless hours together doing fun stuff and countless hours in discussions about the affair. The betrayed person has to be wooed back to some kind of emotional connection with the betrayer. And the betrayer has to bring some level of reconciliation there. They can’t just leave it up to their spouse to just deal with it. No, that will never work.

Anne: Do you think that when a spouse has had an affair, where they may have been close before, now there is a great separation and they are miles apart? There is a huge gap in the relationship emotionally. The betrayed person who has also moved far away emotionally expects the betrayer to come back to where they were before it happened all in one step, but the reality is that the betrayer says they are sorry but usually not in a very nice way, yet it is actually a positive step forward. Then the betrayed person gets mad because it’s not the way they wanted it to be. They think it’s not good enough. Instead they need to recognize the positive effort the betrayer is making to move forward and reward that positive effort with perhaps an understanding conversation or a fun time out, so that they make it more attractive for the betrayer to take steps in the right direction. Then the betrayer will be more likely to move forward in the marriage. If the BP retaliates and gets angry then the gap widens again. We are all looking for the big steps but they usually don’t happen. Maybe we need to acknowledge and look for the small steps the spouse is making towards reconciliation.

Brian: Well certainly, you can’t be devastated and then get back to the same spot as before by one action. If that was the case we wouldn’t have needed to go out for dinner for three months in a row. It takes a long time because there is this huge hurt. Everyone needs to take these little steps towards the right thing and just because they don’t say things in one particular fashion does not mean they didn’t mean it. It just means your perception of what they said; your imagination is telling you something else because our natural reaction is to be angry. We want to retaliate. We want them to be as hurt as we are, without really understanding that maybe they are, but in a different way. Well maybe not the same hurt but they are obviously hurting also. The betrayed person tends to think that the betrayer is just having fun and not having any emotional struggles.

Anne: I think it takes quite a measure of grace for the betrayed person to step up to the plate and listen to the betrayer while they are still hurting so much, but that’s the part that has to happen. And that’s what’s so hard. In another way it shows the fact that I’m finding that they betrayed person does not understand the 3rd party at all. They think “who is this bitch with no morals that can sleep with my husband and doesn’t she realize what she’s doing to me? She’s the ultimate bad of bad people.” One woman felt that single woman need to be educated and understand how much they are hurting families. (She didn’t even understand that many of the 3rd parties are married women!) What she’s saying is let’s just take the opportunity away from husbands. That would solve her problems, she thinks. The responsibility lies both with the 3rd party and with the betrayer to not have affairs. It would be great if we could create a world where affairs didn’t happen, but that’s just about as likely as achieving world peace. The solution lies not in educating people in how painful affairs are because when people get involved in affairs it’s like a drug or alcohol addiction. Thinking you are going to deter people from affairs by telling them how they hurt people is like thinking that teenagers will stop having sex because of the risk of pregnancy or STD’s. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t deter very many. Talking about the bad consequences does not hinder people from having affairs. What does hinder people is something more complicated. They have to be willing to look inside themselves and ask themselves the questions: Why do I feel this way? Why do I want this affair? What is it I’m trying to replace in my life? What do I really need in my life? They need to look inside themselves at what’s motivating them. That’s where the solution lies. It’s an individual decision. The responsibility lies within both parties having the affair.

Brian: The reason for affairs is there is some emotional need that is lacking in a persons life. The affair is not the responsibility of the betrayed person, but the betrayed person does need to identify and understand their faults in the marriage. They need to recognize those things. There are little negative trigger points in the marriage that are difficult to recognize. If we could learn to recognize these things we would have a much greater success rate in preventing affairs.

Brian: I think it’s almost impossible for the betrayer to come out and start wanting to discuss the whole thing. I think there’s the aspect of confession and the explanation and I think they can do that, but to be able to go through and tell you all the things that happened and why they did it. I think it’s difficult. And I think it’s difficult because they don’t really fully understand it themselves. I think that if they understood it they wouldn’t be doing it, but they are quite confused about the whole thing. They are making decisions to do things that possibly weeks or months or years before, they would never remotely have considered. They don’t really know why they are doing it now, but they don’t take initiative to really examine why they feel the way they do. Certainly, midlife is a common factor.

Anne: Other common factors are things like major financial loss, major career set backs, difficulties with children and dealing with disease or a death.

Brian: Yes, any traumatic experience that hasn’t been worked through creates vulnerability and a need. I think affairs are just an outward expression of some inner struggle that the person hasn’t been able to get a hold of, and it manifests itself in things like affairs. I wouldn’t say 100% of the time, but most of the time people who have affairs have some issues in their lives that aren’t really big issues, but they have been left buried. An affair is somebody trying to do something… but it’s channeled the wrong way and they’re not even aware of it. I think that people who have a fulfilling clear direction in their lives are not people who are falling into affairs. They know where they are going. They have a known destiny and purpose.

Brian: By 40, people have been in their dead end jobs, no purpose, whatever. And with Jane’s husband he’s probably as high up in his corporation as he can go and less sure about his job now more than ever before. He’s probably tired of traveling and sleeping in different beds every night, therefore he’s susceptible to the flirtations of other people. In a job that requires so much travel and never being at home, I can’t see how that can be a healthy thing. He’s probably quite lonely. You’re traveling with strangers who are your colleagues, but how close can you really get?

Anne: It takes a lot longer for them to heal because he’s only home maybe 2/7 of the year or something like that.

Brian: But the problem is that I doubt that they’re having fun in the time that he is home. I think Jane just wants to have her husband back and the other woman out of the picture and then we’re just going to go on with life the way it was, without anything else changing. How hard is this? If she doesn’t want to take a day off work to be with her husband, well how much does he know that? How hard does he think that she really wants to work on it? He’s saying well how much do your really love me? Where is he on her priority list? First she would need to understand that this is important to men. She needs to acknowledge his needs (recreational companionship). I don’t think she really acknowledges what his needs are because I think she’s just wrapped up in herself and she’s not able to look beyond herself at him or anything that’s going on emotionally for him. There are probably a lot of little things that go on that need to be straightened up.

Brian: I needed a friend to say “you know, I see that you are in a tough position and I see that you are going to make the right decision.” I needed to feel respected as a person. That’s what I really needed.

Anne: We think that we are above our spouse and that we would never have an affair.
If we recognize ourselves for who we are and that we are all individuals and that we are all susceptible to failure and moral break down, if we recognize that about ourselves than it becomes so much easier to understand someone else.

Brian: Now we have this ability the Lords prayer “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The first part is forgive us. It’s not the other way around. No, first we need to recognize our own shortcomings and failures, when we do that then it becomes easier to forgive somebody else. That’s how the process has to happen. If we think we are above doing what our spouse did to us we are above bringing real healing. I can’t see how if you think you’re never going to do something like that, how you could understand how your spouse feels. This is going to lag on if you think “you know what, I would never do that.”

Anne: I think that was one of the things that really helped me in the healing process and in understanding. I did try to get a grip on myself and say to myself “hey, I’m not better than Brian. It could have been me. I have a hard time seeing it but ok different circumstances, different pressure, different opportunity – all I know is that I am a human being and I have the ability to fall.” Also thinking about things that I have done wrong. Ok it wasn’t affairs, but an affair could have happened to me, if you weren’t meeting the needs in my life.

Brian: If people think they are above their spouse because they would never do it they’re first off never going to bring healing into their relationship. If they think nothing can compare to this level of hurt. I’ve never done this level of sin. The problem is we don’t talk about affairs, and I can understand it because it’s uncomfortable and everyone thinks it will never happen to them. Yet, it’s no different than other things in life we do wrong. We need to recognize that all wrong is wrong and stop ranking them thinking “You’re a worse person than I am because you’re wrong is worse than mine.” We view affairs as really bad (and they are), but we don’t think of all the other wrongs people commit in marriages as really bad too.

We hope you enjoyed these helpful insights on rebuilding a marriage!

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©Copyright 2005 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.

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