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WETZSTEIN: Marriages can survive affairs
Question of the Day
The stunning news of John Edwards' affair — and possible love child — with a younger woman who worked on his presidential campaign and Elizabeth Edwards' anguish at learning of this betrayal while she battles breast cancer and cares for their two young children is all too familiar to Peggy Vaughan and Anne Bercht.
It's been 34 years since Mrs. Vaughan received the devastating confirmation of her husband's infidelities, and nine years since Mrs. Bercht heard her husband say, "Anne, I've been seeing someone else."
Mrs. Vaughan and Mrs. Bercht both salvaged their marriages. Both went public — with their husbands by their sides — and told their stories in books, speeches and media appearances.
Moreover, Mrs. Vaughan decided to fight back against the despair, secrecy, isolation and shame that surround affairs. In 1980, she founded the Beyond Affairs Network (BAN), a support system for betrayed spouses. Mrs. Bercht is now BAN's director.
Their mission is to educate couples about how to avoid infidelity, and to help those who fall into the abyss find their way out.
"The average person is afraid to even say the word, 'affair,'" says Mrs. Bercht, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and tells her story at www.beyondaffairs.com.
John Edwards' behavior "is classic," says Mrs. Vaughan, whose latest book, "Preventing Affairs," came out in May. "He is the perfect poster boy for the 'never tell; if questioned, deny it; if caught, say as little as possible.'"
Mrs. Vaughan suspected her husband of cheating years before he finally admitted it in 1974. She tells the story of their marriage recovery at www.dearpeggy.com.
When Mrs. Bercht's husband, Brian, told her he was seeing a co-worker in 1999, she sat up all night, thinking about how her 18-year-old "great marriage" was suddenly over.
"If anyone looked in love, it was Brian and I," Mrs. Bercht says. "We were Christians and like a 'pillar couple' in the church."
Back then, "if you had asked me to live through a whole day at once, I would have said I couldn't do it," Mrs. Bercht says. "I got through it by giving myself two-hour segments. Nothing felt pleasant, but I would set up a coffee [date] with a friend, and tell myself, 'It's 9 a.m. You're having coffee at 11 a.m. Just make it to 11.' And with those kinds of segments, I could make it through the day."
A few weeks after his announcement, Mr. Bercht got cold feet and came home; his paramour was married, too. But the next three months were traumatic, and the family was battered by car accidents, health scares and vandalism.
After that, the Berchts finally started "dealing with the marriage issues," she says. "We were fighting a lot," but the conversations were at least addressing underlying issues.
By six months, the marriage had stabilized, but, "I was very sad and Brian felt guilty," she says.
The most profound breakthrough happened a full two years later, when Mrs. Bercht realized she had to "get over" the affair, "or get out." She went for a long hike and sat by a river. She took out some paper, wrote down all her sorrows, cried and threw it in the river.
"I decided to forgive," she says. "Then when the painful memories came back, I put them out of my mind."
It would take another six months for the sadness to finally leave.
Bottom line, she says, it takes 2 1/2 years for a marriage to escape the grip of an affair, provided both spouses work at it, and the betraying spouse is scrupulously honest and determined to rebuild the trust.
Affairs happen to good couples, Mrs. Vaughan and Mrs. Bercht both say. "My goal," adds Mrs. Bercht, "is to make BAN as available and as well-known as other support groups."
Next week: How to prevent affairs.
• Cheryl Wetzstein's On the Family column runs Tuesdays and Sundays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.
Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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