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After her husband confessed he’d had an affair,
silver threads and golden needles could not have mended her heart. "For
an instant I went, ‘Oh. Now I know. Now I know the truth.’
There was a calm," she says, in a voice that is quiet but not calm.
"And then my world just caved in."
Something fundamental died in that one moment, call it
faith or trust. She would call it naivete. "I think when you get
married you assume that people are going to be faithful to each other,"
she says. "It’s just an assumption."
Two and a half years later, the Little Rock woman can
recall the moment of disillusion with acceptance, because she no longer
imagines that infidelity is rare or improbable among good people. She
no longer assumes that only a few egoists, philanderers or gorgeous people
This Little Rock woman, who asked that her name be withheld
to protect her still-beloved husband’s reputation, leads Arkansas’
only chapter of BAN, Beyond Affairs Network. The network is a nonprofit,
volunteer-led and Internetassisted support group for people whose spouses
have had an affair.
The straying spouses can’t participate, nor can
professional counselors just looking to help people, nor can reporters.
(Coun- selors struggling with their own spouse’s infidelity are
Members can meet face to face or they can remain anonymous,
corresponding through email. Either way, their confidentiality is protected,
the leader says.
Although the Arkansas coordinator and her husband eventually
worked through her grief to forgiveness and renewed commitment, she says
the network does not set out to save marriages. It also doesn’t
intend to replace professional counseling.
She describes the group as simply "a safe haven"
where wounded people can talk about their feelings without fearing exposure
or censure. "I’m not a counselor. I’m not supposed to
give advice," she says. But she and other group members are qualified
by experience to tell shattered and suffering people, "These are
normal feelings. You’re not crazy." She says the pain can go
on so long that people do wonder if they are. She did. "I was really
relieved to find out, after I found BAN, that I wasn’t crazy, that
my feelings and actions were in line with how many people react to and
process a spouse’s affair. That is what BAN is all about. We are
members, albeit unwillingly, of an exclusive club. But, everyone has the
capacity to survive this, and who better to help than someone who understands
" It’s about moving forward, and it’s
about personal healing, not so much healing your marriage. Some people
want to do that, some people don’t. But it’s about healing
yourself and knowing that you’ll survive. "
Interested Arkansans can contact her through a Web site
operated by psychologists Peggy and James Vaughan of La Jolla, Calif.:
www. dearpeggy. com or e-mail her directly at LR firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Beyond Affairs Network was founded by Peggy Vaughan
in the 1980s after she and her husband began speaking about how they survived
James’ infidelity. In 1974, after 20 years of marriage, he realized
his dishonesty was a wedge between them, confessed and began working on
The fact that monogamy was not easy for either of them
led to their first book and appearances on talk shows including The Phil
Donahue Show. That sparked national debate about whether it’s wise
for straying spouses to confess.
In her book The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for
Recovering From Affairs (New Market Press, 2003), and on her Web site,
Peggy Vaughan writes that affairs can happen to" good marriages"
for three reasons. Those who stray can be pushed by problems and dissatisfactions
within the relationship or pulled by excitement, curiosity, enhanced self-image
or "falling in love."
The third factor is societal. "In reality, while
society gives lip service to monogamy, there are significant societal
factors that actually support and encourage affairs," she writes.
These include the assumption that only a few, bad people
have them, which discourages partners from talking about their natural
attractions to other people; tacit acceptance of sexual dishonesty beginning
in adolescence (pretending that "good" kids don’t experiment);
glamorization of affairs in movies and books; commercialization of sex
through advertising; rigid notions about the roles a husband or a wife
must play; fairy-tale notions about soul mates; and media fascination
with celebrity affairs.
Honesty is so fundamental to the health of a marriage,
she writes, that if one partner does cheat, the marriage will sicken until
the offender confesses. Once cheaters do confess, they and their partners
suffer, but that suffering can lead to deepened commitment, she says.
In his book Infidelity: A Survival Guide, Don-David Lusterman
notes that "not everyone who has discovered marital unfaithfulness
is equally wounded." But for some, learning about a spouse’s
affair can be so shocking that the recovery period looks like post-traumatic
One member of the Arkansas support group (who asked that
his name be withheld) describes "a period of intense hurt, anger,
shock and disbelief. Besides one’s beliefs concerning marriage and
monogamy, infidelity will cause the injured spouse to question many of
their other core beliefs.
" My situation progressed to and recently culminated
in divorce. Still to be determined is what effect my experience will have
on future relationships I may become involved in. "
Because such pain is devastating and healing takes years,
some counselors say confession does more harm than good.
The Arkansas group leader says that viewpoint was wellexpressed
in October during an episode of the brief-lived CBS drama The Brotherhood
of Poland, N. H. A teenager learned that her father, the mayor, was being
blackmailed by a former lover. She pleaded with her father not to confess
to her mother." Because she will leave you, "she said.
Vaughan does not insist that cheating spouses must confess.
But she disputes the idea that they should never tell. In The Monogamy
Myth, she writes that" while some relationships come apart from not
being ready to deal with the truth, many more relationships come apart
because of the effort to keep an affair hidden. "
Ultimately in Brotherhood, the father did confess, and
his wife did not leave him. Two weeks later, she had forgiven him and
moved on. But that was a TV show. In reality, the Arkansas leader says,
healing takes years.
" We didn’t sleep much in the first months
afterward, "she said." I would keep him up to all hours of the
night asking him the same questions over and over again, which is so normal,
which I didn’t know at the time .... There’s a need to know,
and the betraying or the cheating or the whatever spouse almost has an
obligation to answer those questions, over and over again until they’re
exhausted. "Vaughan is not alone in believing that confession of
betrayal can result — eventually — in deepened commitment.
Before her death in October, psychologist Shirley Glass advocated honesty
about the emotional connections that can lead to affairs. Others who insist
that honesty is essential to marriage are Michelle Weiner-Davis (Divorce
Busting), Lusterman (Infidelity: A Survival Guide) and Diane Sollee, founder
and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education
and the director of annual Smart Marriages/Happy Families conferences
(www. smartmarriages. org).
In its Consumer Update pamphlets, the American Association
for Marriage and Family Therapy states," The majority of marriages
not only survive infidelity, but marriage and family therapists have observed
that many marriages can become stronger and more intimate after couples
But that is not to say that every marriage should be
Lusterman notes," There are some signs that mean
that a point of no return has been reached. The clearest is, of course,
the absolute refusal to admit an infidelity despite powerful evidence
that it is ongoing. The second is the absence of any expression of remorse
for the pain that lying has caused. The third is that sometimes even truth
and remorse can’t revive love. "
The Arkansas support leader wants people to know"
that affairs are more common than we can even imagine, that it can happen
to anyone, that it can heal and that personal healing is more important
at least initially than even saving your marriage. "
" You’ve got to heal for your own sake. You’ve
got to put yourself back together.... "Although BAN doesn’t
take the place of counseling, which will certainly help with issues such
as communication and other psychological issues, BAN members are uniquely
qualified — by experience — to lend a sympathetic ear."
Full credit for this news article goes to: Arkansas
Democrat Gazette, AR