Do you assume that all infidelity must be toxic for both a betrayed spouse and a marriage? Anne Bercht, relationship coach and author of My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Happened to Me, explains how her husband’s betrayal transformed her and made her marriage stronger.
Q: How did you find out that your husband was having an affair?
A: Brian confessed his affair to me. He met the other woman at work. He had known her for six months, the emotional affair had begun four months prior to his confession, and it had become a full blown sexual affair two months prior. The affair may have continued longer, but in our case the other woman saw Brian as her ticket to escape out of her currently unhappy marriage, so she was putting a lot of pressure on Brian to leave me and marry her. This was not what Brian had in mind. In hindsight, she did me a favour, because she forced a decision. Otherwise the affair may have gone on much longer. The affair happened during Brian’s lunch hour at work so he was not gone in the evenings and he left no signs or warning clues. The two lives (affair life and married life) remained in completely separate compartments.
Q: Were you surprised?
A: I was devastated. I went into a complete state of shock. After hearing the news, I sat frozen in my chair unable to speak or move. I didn’t sleep all night. I just sat in my chair, wide awake, but unable to move. I suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, and was unable to think clearly much of the time. I didn’t sleep for three days, and was unable to eat for 25 days. Complete chaos followed in our once happy, role model family.
Q: How did you turn what happened into a positive thing for your marriage?
A: Let’s be clear; the title of my book is NOT “my husband’s affair became the best thing that ever happened to my marriage.” It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I walked around for 2.5 years wondering if it was even sane of me to believe I might ever know a single day of happiness again. Everyone knows being betrayed in marriage is bad, and that they don’t want it to happen to them. They have no idea just how bad, and never will unless they experience it.
I made up my mind, someway, somehow, I was going to survive this. Nothing was going to keep me down for the rest of my life. The pain caused me to reach down deep inside myself. It caused me to face my own demons, and to deal with the baggage from my past, that had been holding me back from reaching my full potential.
After deep personal growth and healing work, I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore. I was done living my life according to the agendas of other people. I believed in myself and wasn’t afraid of taking risks. For too long, too much of my identity had been wrapped up in who I was as a wife and a mother. I became me. And because I presented myself whole, fully healed and empowered as a person into my marriage, the marriage became better. It helped that my husband in his own way choose to go on the same journey, face the man in the mirror and become a better, stronger man. Today, so many people engage in the “You complete me” relationship mentality, which is highly detrimental. I’m complete and happy by myself. I do not need my marriage in order to be happy, therefore I’m free to choose my marriage everyday. My identity has not been lost in the relationship. That’s what makes our marriage so much better today.
Q: How did you get over the anger and distrust?
A: I got over the anger and distrust by facing and processing it completely. I gave my anger a voice without harming myself or anyone else. I used the energy from my anger to make changes in my life, so that I would not be hurt in this way again. It also helped that my husband was willing to be completely honest and transparent with me and answer all my questions about the affair, so I could understand what had happened. This in turn began to work towards rebuilding trust. My trust was something my husband earned back, by taking full responsibility for his actions instead of blaming me for his wrong choices. I didn’t just give it to him blindly, and I wasn’t going to settle for words (expressed remorse and promises that it would never happen again). If promises were enough the wedding vows would’ve been sufficient the first time.
Brian did the hard personal growth work of discovering the root causes of what led him to cross a line, that, a couple of months earlier, he was 100 percent sure he would never cross. He then made the appropriate changes. I experience Brian differently today. We have a much higher degree of openness, honesty, and transparency in our relationship. He lets me “know” him in a much deeper way. He has also developed close friendships with other men who value their wives, marriages and families.
Q: How has the affair helped your marriage?
A: I want to be clear on the fact that the affair did not “help” our marriage. Instead it nearly destroyed it. It’s a horrible thing and I certainly would not want to leave anyone with my words as an excuse to go out and have an affair. However, once an affair has taken place, no one can turn back the hands of time and undo what’s been done. We can, instead, redeem these bad things in our lives and turn them around into something good.
The difficult journey of healing from the affair caused us both to grow up! We developed the skill of incredible honesty. The pain caused us to throw aside our insecurities. We improved our communication skills. Every relationship has the potential to be better. There is no time like an affair, to take an inventory of what can be improved. We both did this and that has made our marriage stronger.
Q: What advice would you offer a woman who has just found out that her husband has been having an affair?
A: Don’t make any major decisions for at least three months, preferably six months. Take care of yourself first. Pamper yourself. Find a way to get some nutrients into your body, and to sleep. You are being faced with some of the most important decisions of your life. Your brain functions best when you take care of your body. Get some support. Join a Beyond Affairs Network (BAN) support group. Don’t suffer in isolation. Don’t do (or say) things in your anger that you may later regret. Don’t lose your dignity. Just because your spouse had made a choice to lose their dignity does not mean you have to lose yours. The best revenge is to be above reproach in how you handle yourself and to emerge on the other side living an even better life. Get educated. Read some good books on the topic.