"Group offers hope beyond marital affairs" by Vicki Hopes, Abbotsford News, December 6, 2003
Anne Bercht felt like she experienced a death when her husband of 18 years confessed that he had been having an affair.
Cathy Phillips (not her real name) describes a similar feeling in discovering that her husband, too, had betrayed their marriage.
The two women are among those who are turning to a support group known as Beyond Affairs Network (BAN) to help heal the pain and to support others going through similar experiences. The group formed earlier this year in Abbotsford, becoming the first branch of the international organization to exist west of Ontario. Bercht started the local branch after her experience in dealing with her husband’s affair four years ago. She and her husband, Brian, restored their marriage and now have a stronger bond than ever, Bercht says.
She is now writing a book, with the working title My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me. The flipside is revealed on the back cover: It’s Also the Most Devastating Thing that Ever Happened to Me.
Bercht wants people to know that a marriage can recover from such a traumatic blow, but that it can be a long process requiring commitment from both sides. There is hope beyond marital affairs.
“I want to give a message of hope, that for any devastating experience that people go through, they have a choice – they can be bitter or they can be better,” Bercht said.
That’s not to say that BAN is there to enforce “marriage at all costs,” Some members have ended their relationships, but still need to discuss their feelings in a place free from judgment and stigma.
Others have chosen to stay with their spouses – a decision sometimes not supported by their friends or family.
Bercht said BAN is a place where people respect individual choices.
“It’s a totally safe place where you can come and share and be honest,” she said.
It’s not always easy to be open with their loved ones. Disclosing all the personal details can mean that the spouse who has cheated is then viewed with disdain by family and friends. The spouse who stays may be criticized and judged for remaining in the relationship. The marriage itself can also come under scrutiny from people who assume that the union must have had serious problems.
But Bercht says this isn’t always the case. In researching the topic for her book, she has discovered that the main reason people have affairs is because of the adrenalin rush, the excitement they experience from being with someone new.
They may still love their spouse, but they are able to see the affair as something separate.
This is what happened to Bercht’s husband. They had been married for 18 years, and Brian was the type of guy who said he would never cheat on his wife.
Then, he was drawn to someone through work – she, too, was married – and they began an affair. The classic signs - a husband working late hours, buying “guilt” gifts for his wife, purchasing new clothes – weren’t there. Bercht later discovered that the two got together during work hours.
Two months later, the woman began pressuring Bercht’s husband for marriage. Brian was conflicted, and he confessed the affair to his wife.
“I went into complete shock because we were a strong, moral family…There were no signs,” Bercht says “I basically went from a great marriage to a zero marriage overnight.”
Brian left the marriage for two weeks, a period in which Bercht says she was numb with grief.
She arranged a meeting with the “other” woman –the result of some advice given to her, which she now says was a bad idea because it could have backfired.
Bercht told the woman the pain that had been wreaked on the family –she and Brian had three children – and how a relationship with him could not succeed. In the utmost example of grace and dignity, Bercht left the woman with a greeting card. Brian returned home, and the two began the repair work – a process that Bercht says took a good two years.
At first, Brian tried to blame Bercht for his straying. She said this is a common tactic among those who cheat. “The truth is that if they don’t blame you, then they have to blame themselves,” she said.
For her part, Bercht took on another common role – that of the person who wants to make everything better. In the initial stages, she says she became obsessed with being the “perfect” wife. She says it took approximately three months for the anger to set in, and the couple began fighting constantly. That’s when they started talking out their problems, including the specific details of the affair.
It was difficult for Bercht to ask the questions and it was difficult for Brian to answer them but Bercht says it was all that talking, over time that helped repair things. “What it takes is tons and tons and tons of dialogue…The person who has betrayed their spouse has to be willing to answer the questions,” Bercht says.
Phillips experienced a similar pattern of emotions when she discovered that her husbands' affinity for pornography, strip clubs and phone sex lines went beyond that; he had paid for sexual services in massage parlours and similar establishments. She, too, describes the betrayal as a feeling of grief.
“I felt very separated from him and I felt very gone – like part of me was dead,” she says. They attended some counseling sessions, and Phillips’ husband joined a support group for people with sexual addictions. She attended a group for spouses. The sessions have helped improve their marriage, and Phillips attends BAN meetings for additional support. “Now I know that as long as we have dialogue we have hope” she says.
The two women say it has taken time for them to be able to trust their husbands again. They still have times where they momentarily question their husbands’ behavior, but they don’t let it rule their lives.
Instead, they focus on spending time doing fun things with their husbands and connecting with them in what Bercht says is “an incredible degree of honesty” that wasn’t as strong in the past.
“We’re having the time of our lives," Bercht says of her marriage. "There is hope beyond marital affairs."
BAN is open to the spouses of someone who has had an affair, except those who have had an affair themselves. Strict anonymity is guaranteed. Details on meeting locations and time can be obtained by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To order "My Husband's Affair" click here
For information about seminars click here.
For information about confidential coaching with Brian or Anne click here.