Mar­riages can sur­vive af­fairs

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

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 Ne twork (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 stor y 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 co­worker 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.”

Cher yl Wetzstein can be reached at cwet­zstein@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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