People ask: Can my marriage survive an affair?
Yes, it can. But will it? And is it worth it to try to save yours?
The truth is some marriages are salvageable, and some are not. Yes, marriages can, not only survive affairs, they can become stronger on the other side of the devastation, pain and chaos that comes first.
How do you know if your marriage can survive an affair?
My husband, Brian Bercht, and I have dedicated our lives to helping marriages survive and thrive after affairs. Over the past fifteen years, we have personally helped more than 2,500 couples restore their marriages. So is there hope? Yes, lots of hope. We ourselves have experienced 19 years of monogamy post affair. We feel we have the best of all worlds – a shared history, excitement and passion, security and deep friendship, and we got to keep all our money too! You can have that also, if you are both willing. That said, the largest number of recovery stories begin with only one spouse in the right head space. Something about affairs and betrayal can make both spouses “crazy” after disclosure.
Obviously, we do not have a 100% success rate. Although when BOTH spouses attend our programs and actually DO the things we lay out in our roadmap to recovery, there is actually a 100% success rate for those couples who both do the work.
The journey is not easy. Even so, Brian always says he is jealous of our clients because it can be so much easier for you than it was for us, because we are able to provide you with a roadmap and all the tools you need, through our Healing from Affairs Program. Your path can be much smoother, and you can avoid the painful, but common post-disclosure mistakes.
It’s important not to write off your marriage too quickly. Don’t make knee-jerk reactions while you are in the emotion of the moment. Chaos, more lies, trickle truth, intense emotions, misunderstandings, setbacks, and just plain stupidity are common in the early weeks after disclosure. So much so, that one could easily draw the false conclusion that “this marriage is hopeless,” when in fact it is not.
Five days after disclosure in our own marriage, I had my husband backed into a corner while I shouted, “Her or me? Make up your mind! I am not sharing my husband!” To which he responded by shouting back, “Her then!” And he packed a duffle bag of clothing and left. Any onlooker might have assumed that was the end for us. But it wasn’t. I was in a state of trauma. My husband was in affair fog. We were a mess. Since then, we’ve experienced 19 years of monogamy. We are very much in love, and we never think about the affair that occurred in our own marriage anymore, even though supporting others on the journey has become our specialty, our life mission, our passion and our work.
A situation that has happened not infrequently in our office, is to receive a phone call from a couple we have begun working with that sounds something like this, “Anne & Brian. Thank you so much for your help. It has been above our expectations. That said, we had a huge fight this weekend and have decided to divorce. It’s over. Thank you anyway.” We’ve learned to sort of ignore these phone calls in the context that two days later they call us back, having gotten beyond that horrific argument and they are back on the mend. And they make it.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those couples who sometimes attend our intensives, or work with us personally, who don’t make it. So how do you know?
Can my marriage survive an affair?
While none of the criteria below are a definitive diagnosis, we have found that positive answers to the questions below usually lead to successful reconciliation. As you read, “can my marriage survive an affair?” is more a matter of character traits – than practical, outwardly measurable things.
1. Are you willing & open? The number one trait, we notice among couples who make it is WILLINGNESS & OPENNESS. Are you willing to try?
2. Do you have good life skills? Social skills? Emotional intelligence? Then there is a high probability of your success. Skills are something that can be developed. If you honestly evaluate yourself and realize maybe you do have poor life skills – that you struggle in general with jobs, relationships and finances, then you can do something about that. Stop blaming others for your life not working out the way you want it and decide that you will develop these skills. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
3. Can you accept responsibility for your shortcomings without casting blame elsewhere? This overlaps with good self-esteem, which can be developed. When a person has good self-esteem, they demonstrate an ease in talking about both their accomplishments and their shortcomings with directness and honesty, because they have a healthy relationship to the facts. They are open to criticism and comfortable acknowledging mistakes because one’s self-esteem is not tied to an image of perfection. If you are not at this place, don’t worry. You can get there. Both our Take Your Life Back and Healing from Affairs programs have components that help husbands and wives build their self-esteem.
4. Can you accept instruction? Are looking for answers and asking for outside help? The couples who make it have awakened to the fact that perhaps they don’t have all the answers.
5. Are you prepared to work hard? Couples who make it are not afraid of hard work. In this life we are rewarded according to the effort we are willing to put in. It’s going to take effort. If you and your partner are both willing to put in an honest effort, your chances of success are great. In life we repeatedly find ourselves at a fork in the road. The fork always looks the same. There is the road that appears easy, which becomes the hard road, and there is the road that appears difficult which becomes the easy road. Do the right thing.
6. Are you compassionate? When husbands and wives are willing to listen and see the world through their spouses’ eyes and show compassion, they have a high probability of success. Couples who end in divorce have in common a failure of compassion.
7. Are you focusing on how YOU need to change? (not on how your spouse needs to change) When you focus on your spouse, you make yourself powerless, because you do not have the power to change them. Only they can do that. When you focus on yourself, you take back your power, and maximize the chances of restoring your marriage. In most situations, when one spouse makes positive changes, the other spouse responds by making positive changes too. Take away your spouses’ ability to point a finger of blame at you. Saying, I won’t do this or that unless he/she does this or that first, is a sure way to stay stuck in a lose/lose stalemate. Are you doing the things from your side that lead to restoration?
8. Does your spouse have a good heart? And are they willing to grow, learn and change? Are they well-intentioned? Do they have a track record before the affair of caring? Is your spouse reading books? Talking with you? Going for counseling? Willing to attend seminars? Anything? All the issues that got you here in the first place don’t go away by themselves. Time does not heal all wounds. It’s time plus doing the right things. You will learn the “right” things at the Healing from Affairs intensive for couples. You’ll leave with a roadmap for recovery, and the right tools.
9. Did your marriage have a strong bond to begin with? Have you got a track record of love in your relationship? If your relationship was in trouble even during your dating time, the road to recovery is bigger and more difficult. That said, there are always exceptions to the rule. No person needs to remain a write-off. The help is out there if someone decides to grow and change and become a better person. But they have to do it for themselves. You cannot do it for them.
10. Does your spouse have a track record of monogamy? In other words, betrayal is completely out of their character. They are a person of integrity, who somehow completely lost their way. Before they got caught up in an affair, they judged others who had affairs, and if you would’ve asked them before they did this, if they ever might have an affair, they would’ve said, absolutely not, and meant it. If your spouse actually embraces the value of faithfulness your marriage stands a much greater chance of recovering.
11. Is this a one-time event or a pattern? If it is a one-time event, the hope for recovery is greatly increased. If it is a pattern, there is still lots of hope. It just needs to be acknowledged that patterns are hard to break. The will to break bad patterns must come from the one who is doing the bad behavior, in the same way that an alcoholics’ loved ones are unable to keep him or her sober. They can support the addict on the journey, by being encouraging, holding them accountable, and learn to avoid enabling, but the will to change and break the pattern permanently must come from the person who is giving up the bad behavior themselves.
12. Do you believe in God? People with faith, statistically have a higher recovery rate than those without, and when they recover their recovery tends to be more complete. Perhaps betrayal of this kind is so big that every healed marriage is actually a miracle. There is something about true restoration after infidelity that cannot be explained through natural means. Healing is spiritual – supernatural. Faith is not a deal-breaker. There are couples who do not believe in God who also recover, but if God is on your side and you know it, you’ve got an asset that makes a difference. If you’ve been on the cusp; God has been out there somewhere in your life, but not something you’ve given much thought to, well, this might just be a good time to investigate that further.
The more yes’s you have to the questions above, the greater your hope. You ask, “Can my marriage survive an affair?” The answer is yes if you are both willing to do the work.
PS – We’ve noticed greater success rates and less agony, pain and mistakes for couples when the betrayed spouse takes the Take Your Life Back seminar first. While it may seem unfair: “He had an affair. He needs the work. Why should I attend a program first? I am not the one who did the bad thing.” I get it, and you are right. The problem is you’re the one who is hurt and broken and angry and unable to trust etc., and it’s hard to engage in healing work from this broken place. By giving the betrayed a chance to process some of all that pain and regain clarity, the couples work becomes much more productive.