How do you know if there is hope for your marriage after betrayal?
- A discussion with Brian & Anne Bercht, and some of the people they have worked with.
There is always hope for your marriage after betrayal if both people are willing to give the marriage a chance and do their own part in the healing.
That said, many healed marriages began their healing journey with only one partner being willing.
The bottom line is you can’t know if there is hope, until you’ve given your marriage an honest chance and gotten some good help.
Can a relationship really heal after an affair? YES!
Often times there is one spouse who believes it can, and the other spouse doesn’t, and that is not necessarily related to which spouse acted unfaithfully.
Can your marriage after betrayal be better than before? YES!
Brian: Many, many couples have in fact put back together the broken pieces of their broken marriage after betrayal, and most of those couples will never tell you what they have been through. That seemingly picture perfect couple next door, may well be a couple, who has healed their marriage after betrayal. Prior to our own healing journey, now 18 years ago, I had never met anybody who had survived, where their post-affair marriage seemed desirable. Usually you see stories where the affair card gets played post affair when there is an argument. I remember wondering; could Anne ever forgive me? We embarked on our personal journey, hopeful, but skeptical. People forget that it took us 2.5 years to live through the events that can now be read about it 8 hours or less in our book.
Through not only our own lives, but the 2500+ couples we have personally worked with and seen build stronger marriages after betrayal, it’s been proven that if couples are willing to do just a little bit of work, they can have a great relationship on the other side.
Anne: For me in the early days after disclosure of Brian’s affair, I walked around with such sadness, that I wondered if it was even sane to believe that I would ever know a single day of happiness again. Since then we have had many, many years of joy and happiness together, and some great experiences; special times with our children and grandchildren, some amazing trips, great new friendships, and the joy of being engaged in such meaningful work together. And in those 18 years (post affair) life has also thrown us some incredibly difficult challenges. Life is like that. How thankful I have been to have Brian to walk with me through those dark times too! That’s one of the rewards we got for the effort we put in back then. Back then it seemed like a long time. Now looking back, it’s become like a blip on the map of our lives together. (I can’t believe I am even saying that now, but it’s true!) I have absolutely no pain associated with the memory of Brian’s affair. I have an excellent memory, and I remember Brian’s affair and all the chaos, pain and uncertainty that went with that painful time. But when I do remember, the memory comes without the great pain. Now I think of it as a victory rather than a defeat, because we won together over the evil that threatened to destroy our lives back then. The greatest reward of all has been earning the respect of our children. They have all said, “You know what mom and dad, most of our friends parents have gone through exactly the same thing, except they just gave up and quit. You faced your problems and worked through them. We really respect you for that.”
Affair recovery was an unbelievable nightmare. We worked through it and, so can you!
Brian: I feel jealous of our clients today, because it’s so much easier for them than it was for us, because we are able to give them the tools and a road map, encouragement and help.
How do you know if there is hope for your marriage after betrayal?
First is your attitude, second is your willingness, and third is getting the help and the tools you need.
You need to be willing to give up our cultures “soulmate” mentality towards marriage. If you ask couples who have been married 25 years or longer and are still in love, what their secret is, one answer you won’t get is: “We were just lucky. We were soulmates. We found each other and lived happily ever after!” Instead you will hear stories about respect, commitment, effort, laughter, time and learning the skills. The willingness to seek and implement good advice from good mentors is usually a factor.
The couples that struggle the most are couples who were REALLY never in love in the first place, couples who slid into marriage instead of deciding into marriage. Yet we’ve seen couples, who have been married many years, and reported very low levels of love, nurturance and happiness in those years, that DECIDED to fall in love after an affair happened by doing the things we taught them, build very successful and happy marriages post affair. So again, the biggest deciding factor on whether or not there is hope for your marriage is your attitude as a couple, and the quality of the help you receive. With the right attitude (for both husband and wife) and with the right skills, any couple can build a loving post affair marriage.
There is always a lot of pain, hurt and anger, but those things can be overcome with love and security.
One necessary step to recovery is ending the affair relationship. Everybody’s situation is unique but the draw, the intrigue, the pleasure, and the payoff in the affair is always there. When the unfaithful spouse makes the decision to give up the affair, they are giving up something that has been giving them a payoff in some way, and coming into a broken relationship that is very difficult, painful and uncertain in the early stages of recovery.
Julie: My husband had an affair with a friend of mine. In the beginning I was real unsure. I didn’t know that I had hope. I just wanted to try something. But after the Healing From Affairs weekend with Anne & Brian, it was then that I first felt I had hope.
Tim: I wanted things to work out. Every affair is different. Not too many people have the same type of situation. But the steps we learned apply to everyone. We knew that we wanted to heal. We just didn’t know how to go about it. We were really poor communicators before the Healing From Affairs weekend. The tools we’ve learned have improved not just our relationship with each other, but also with our kids and everyone else in our lives too.
I was afraid Julie would never be able to forgive me. We took it one day at a time. Sometimes things get better for a day and then it goes backwards. It’s a rollercoaster. But you get to a place where the ups and downs are not so bad.
Julie: We’ve been married for 27 years now. Healing from Affairs was 10 years ago. We have been fully healed for years. We are much better at communicating. We are in a comfortable place. I feel very secure and safe in my relationship. I don’t have any worries that it will happen again.
Tim: That’s a good feeling to hear her say that. It’s just a matter of doing the right things, step up to the plate. It’s work. But it’s the person you want to spend the rest of your life with so it’s your job to prove that that mistake is not going to happen again.
How hard was that work compared to the 17 years pre-affair?
Tim: I had to learn to do the right things. When you know the right things to do, it’s easy. Then you begin to see positives from the good work you are doing, so you just want to do more good things towards your spouse.
Janet: I am separated for 6 months now. My husband is living with his Affair Partner and has filed for divorce. The person he is with is a bipolar alcoholic. I am not able to talk with him on the phone, because his AP has forbidden it. What are my chances?
Brian: It ain’t over til it’s really over, so you just don’t know. Sometimes it takes time for the unfaithful spouse to come to understand what the AP is truly like. The light does come on at some level some time. Every person has problems, and those problems don’t show up until the affair relationship becomes the primary relationship. So there is always hope that your unfaithful spouse may come to their senses at some level.
As unfaithful spouses begin to get wrapped up in their affairs, they have a tendency to rewrite their marital history in their own minds making the bad things in their marriage greater, and the good things in their marriage smaller, in order to justify their actions to themselves.
Anne: Relationships ebb and flow. You don’t live at the mountaintop of your best day every moment. At some point the newness and the excitement of the affair will wear off, and then the unfaithful partner is likely to also return to the point of willingness to consider reconciliation, but are you willing to wait that long? And there are no guarantees! It may never happen.
If your spouse is not willing to work on reconciliation at this point the best thing you can do is stop trying to control what you cannot control and start working on yourself and your personal healing instead. It’s often when you let go of trying so hard that you do get your relationship back. Don’t be too soft. Sometimes tough love is needed. If you continue to meet your spouses’ needs while they are still in the affair, then they have the best of both worlds. Tough love is lovingly helping your spouse to experience consequences (not punishment) for their choices. Like maybe you stop keeping their secret for them, because they are threatening you that if you tell anyone, then the marriage will be over for sure. They just need more time they say; more time and more time. I’ve seen that go on for years sometimes.
Colleen: I’ve been married for 16 years, and have 5 kids under the age of 12. My husband is a great dad. He moved out for a couple of months and then moved back in. Yet my husband is not working towards establishing a meaningful relationship with me. I’ve read everything there is to read about it from everybody. It feels like a series of chess moves.
Brian: If there is to be hope the person who has been unfaithful has got to be willing to make some changes. That takes courage and it takes self-reflection.
For any unfaithful spouse that is willing, it’s really not that hard to do. It’s not just about what the faithful spouse is willing to do, it’s also about what the unfaithful spouse is willing to do. If the unfaithful spouse is not willing to even give the relationship a chance, there is not a lot of hope. If he or she is not reading and being proactive, it’s going to be difficult.
All those things can change. So many husbands and wives, both the unfaithful and the betrayed, who have struggled to communicate, have learned how. Both the unfaithful and the betrayed have to be willing to learn, grow and make changes.
Anne: The greatest tragedies are those who never give it a chance, and who therefore must live with regret, haunted forever with thoughts of “what if?” “What if we had tried a little harder?” Inevitably if you don’t change, you find yourself repeating the same things again in a new relationship, and you slowly discover that you are the common denominator in your serial monogamy, as you move from one relationship to the next.
Laura: An affair happened 22 years into our marriage. Now we’ve been married 25 years. My husband had a pretty intense love affair that was discovered several months into it, and yet it continued for a year after disclosure, with many more betrayals along the way. My husband said he was in love with his affair partner and that he had never been in love with me. All of that wasn’t true, but that’s what he said and believed at the time. Talk about an affair story that seemed to leave our marriage with no hope! This was the last thing I could ever have imagined could happen to us. I thought we had good communication, but our pre-affair communication was nothing in comparison to the communication that we have now after the skills we learned at Healing from Affairs. It took work, but even we made it!
The most important thing to give hope to our relationship, was Brian’s advice to my husband to take 3 months and go cold turkey, and give up the affair partner for this period of time. He told my husband that if the affair was worth pursuing, it would be worth pursuing in three months and it could handle three months of zero contact. My husband turned around after he took Brian’s advice about that even though it was really hard for him.
Brian: Laura did you ever lose hope on your journey?
Laura: My husband was still involved with his affair partner and lying the whole time. He lied in therapy. While he lied, he was still trying. I give him credit because there was some part of him that was still trying. Today we are more in love than ever, and so happy to be together. From where we were, I could never have imagined that we could get to this place. There were times when I felt without hope. My story shows there is hope even for situations that seem impossible. You just never know. Each person must make their own decision as to how long they are willing to hold on, when they don’t see the right things happening on the side of their spouse. I know not all unfaithful spouses do turn around. One thing that did give me hope was the strength of the love I knew we had before my husband got wrapped up in his affair.
Brian: The unfaithful needs to look at what are they giving up in their relationship with their spouse, to get what they are getting with the other person. What they don’t realize is that if they put the effort into their marriages that they put into their affairs, in most cases, they can have the best of both worlds. They can have their marriage, reputation, money, self-respect, relationship with children, and the excitement of a fulfilling exciting romantic relationship with their spouse as well.
When is it time to give up and say there is just no hope anymore? At what point do you have to say enough is enough, and I just need to get a divorce?
Anne: Get out a private journal and write a list of characteristics that you would require in a husband/wife if you are going to be married. Not a pie-in-the-sky, prince-charming list, but a minimal standards list. Then give yourself smaller 4-month time lines. During that time work on your part, and don’t worry about what your unfaithful spouse is or isn’t doing. If there is no forward movement in 4 months you can give your permission to go, or you can choose to give it another period of time. Wait at least 6 months from the time of disclosure before making any major life changing decisions. Sometimes the unfaithful spouse only changes when you actually seriously take action towards divorce. And remember threatening divorce is not the same as meaning business. Threats weaken the relationship.