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Can This Marriage Survive the Affair?

Can you imagine this happening to you? (This is a true story.)

Lost for 98 days in the middle of the ocean in a small lifeboat…

British couple Anna and Steven thought for sure their lives were over. They had drifted so far and for so long that both had given up hope of ever being rescued. By the time the miracle they had prayed for arrived in the form of a Japanese fishing vessel, the couple had learned to eat raw fish, catch rainwater in a hat, patch the raft using threads from an old jacket, and lay perfectly still while sharks and whales bumped against their raft.

When Anna and Steven were rescued, doctors were amazed. They proclaimed it would have been a miracle to have survived even two weeks, much less 3 months, out on the open ocean, tossed around by huge 30 to 60-foot waves, without fresh food or fresh water. Yet, the couple had not only survived but recovered fully, having sustained only minor injuries.

When a reporter asked how they did it…

They explained they had made an unspoken pact never to allow themselves to think or talk about anything other than the best outcome. They learned to ask each other powerful questions. They would visualize in great detail the new boat they were going to buy, all the fresh fruits they would have once they were back on shore, the people they would visit, and the things they would do together. Anna went on to say, “At no time did we indulge in self-pity or worry. Even when we spoke of our possible deaths, we did it matter-of-factly and, no matter how bleak the outlook, we continued to make specific and definite plans for a wonderful future together.”

What an inspiring story!

One that, in my opinion, reveals two of the biggest secrets to surviving any difficult situation:

  1. The power of focusing on positive outcomes
  2. The power of asking the right questions

As one expert puts it:

“When positive thoughts are combined with vivid imagination, the mind energy it creates can become such a powerful force, it could literally move mountains, save lives, and inspire miracles.” I firmly believe that Anna and and Steven are examples of this truth.

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And they’re not the only ones.

I’ve seen many couples survive (and thrive) after infidelity rocked their world, not because they were stronger or smarter than other couples, but because they put these two key principles to work for them. In fact, I’d like to introduce you to one of those couples now.

His name is Petir. He’s a German expat who flies commercial airplanes for a living. He called me for help after his wife walked out of his life on the 4th of July. When she left, she left everything, including the dog, all her designer clothes, and a budding career as a pastry chef in Chicago, to live with a female lover in Missouri. After hearing his story, my heart went out to this guy.

Between you and me, I gotta say it didn’t look so good.

I knew from experience that when dealing with same-sex infidelity, the prognosis for the partner left behind is not great. This guy was clearly in love with his wife. It was hard enough to handle her cheating, but with another woman? The level of deceit, the feelings of betrayal, embarrassment, and insecurity shoot up to another level.

At that moment, I made a decision.

Regardless of appearances… notwithstanding how bleak the situation seemed to be… I refused to allow him to wear the victim cloak. I refused to see him as a victim, a man who was left behind. I told him so. I let him know I would not baby him. Although I would be gentle, we would begin immediately taking steps toward his full and complete recovery. I let him know that I believed a day would come when he would look back at this experience and say it was the best-worst thing that ever happened to him.

I asked him what later became a truly significant question.

I asked him to fast-forward in his imagination and hear himself saying these words: “My wife leaving me for another woman was the best-worst thing that ever happened to me.” What would need to happen to make that true? At first, he had some difficulty imagining this reality. He was so convinced that it was the worst possible thing that could have happened. But with a little prodding, he began to let his imagination fill in the blanks for the best-case scenario, rather than the worst.

He told me…

If it were to be the best thing that ever happened to him, that would mean he and his wife were back together, not the way things were before, but with absolute openness and honesty. She would have to break down and tell him that it was just a fling, that she was simply experimenting with that other woman, that she really wasn’t gay. He imagined that (by a miracle) this experience made their relationship stronger, more intimate, more open than ever before, and that he would feel as if he knew her inside and out, body and soul. He imagined that as a result of all this pain, they would both realize (beyond the shadow of a doubt) they never wanted to be apart again.

A tall order, right? 

Maybe you’re thinking, the chances of anything like this happening for him are slim to none. Yet the one thing I’ve learned over the years is that judging what is possible for others is NOT the highest use of my imagination.

My function is healing.

And that means helping people get in touch with the power within themselves that makes that healing possible. Over the next couple of weeks, Petir and I worked together twice a week. He completed all his assignments, and by the end of the third week, he was back to getting a full night’s sleep.

Somewhere around that fourth week…

A series of what can only be described as awe-inspiring events began to happen.

Here’s what I mean.

Awesome event #1: The runaway wife agrees to talk to me.

The reason this was unusual is that once a wayward partner moves out of the home and moves in with the affair partner, the last thing that person wants to do is talk to a marriage coach! So, it was amazing that she agreed to talk with me.

Awesome event #2: She is surprisingly honest

My first call with Alison went extremely well. She told me she was truly in love with her new lover, but that she wasn’t a bad person. She pointed out that Petir was controlling, heavy, closed-minded, and not spontaneous, while she was more of a free spirit, wanting to taste all of life before she died. 

She talked openly about her lover, a woman she called Becka whom she described as another free spirit. 

She told me how they had so much in common, how together they planned to open a bakery in Kansas City. 

She confided that she was truly happy that Petir had found someone to take care of him (referring to me) since she felt guilty about destroying someone else’s happiness in order to have some of her own.

After listening to her story…

I was again tempted to believe the marriage was a lost cause. But after 10 years of working in this field, I’ve learned to look past appearances. So instead, I began to look for deeper clues.

I asked lots of questions to help her discover what it was that she truly wanted. What were her dreams, goals, and desires before the affair? I asked her questions about why and how she loved these two people, what they had in common, and where they contrasted. I asked her to tell me what it was about Petir that drew her to him and what it was that pushed her away.

Apparently, Alison (being a typical artist-soul) needed something to push against. A big part of her free-spirit image is defiance, rebellion, and the need to see herself as being different, unique, and special. In her mind, the role of wife, mother, and soccer mom wasn’t creative enough to inspire her. Over and over, she kept saying “It just isn’t me.”

The next day, with Alison’s permission, I spoke with Petir and went over the details of our conversation. To say that it saddened him would be an understatement. By the end of that call, he quietly said “I have given up hope.” To which I said, “That’s okay because right now, it’s not hope you need; it’s faith.”

Awesome event #3: The runaway wife calls her husband.

Later that week, out of the clear blue, Alison called Petir; it was the first time she had initiated a phone call since she left. They ended up talking for three hours. The next morning, Petir sent me a long email telling me all the details of the conversation. Even though he acknowledged that it didn’t sound like his wife, he felt like for the first time in four years, he really had listened to her. This represented a giant step for Petir since one of the main reasons his wife gave for cheating/leaving him was the fact that he never listened to her.

Awesome event #4: They agree to a listening date.

In another surprising move, Alison agreed to do a couple’s assignment called a listening date. Petir was to ask Alison nine questions, and Alison was to ask Petir four questions during dinner. They were not to leave the restaurant until they had both totally listened to each other’s answers and felt they had totally answered all the questions.

Awesome event #5: Listening works! 

listening works

Petir reported that they wound up talking for so long that they closed the restaurant. He said she shared things with him that he never knew she felt. He said that it was as if he was seeing her for the first time. He also opened up and shared things with her he never thought he could, and he was surprised at how much she understood. Since Alison was staying in a hotel, Petir dropped her off and went home alone. He told me she had lost some weight and looked more beautiful than ever. He also said that dropping her at the hotel without so much as a kiss or holding her hand was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.

Awesome event #6: The betrayed husband sees the power of letting go.

One of Petir’s ongoing assignments was to practice the art of letting go. Once he understood that holding on too tightly would send her running for the hills, he agreed to pack some of Alison’s clothes and return them to her, things that he knew she would be missing. After their listening date, he packed several boxes that included her cherished chef’s knives, pictures, and collectibles. When he returned to her hotel with them, Alison was so overwhelmed at his gesture that she broke down crying, which started him crying. He told me that walking away from her hotel room was the second hardest thing he’s ever had to do.

Awesome event #7: Learning the lesson changes the lesson.

Alison and Petir didn’t see each other again for about a month. They did speak on the phone sporadically, but that was not our focus. Petir worked on the issues that were pushing Alison away. He worked on his control issues; he learned that being relaxed was much sexier. He learned that he also wanted to be much more adventurous, but had to learn the difference between risk and recklessness. He learned that listening is the key to seducing women. He began to understand how to make use of his tone, voice, and words to become more appealing to the opposite sex.

Awesome event #8: Their phone calls increase.

A few weeks later in the process, Alison and Petir began a pattern of talking to each other every day, sometimes spending as much as 1 or 2 hours on the phone. Now that Petir was in the role of the forbidden fruit and thanks to his diligent listening skills, Alison was beginning to enjoy talking to him. And because of his more relaxed attitude, Alison began feeling less anxious with him. And because of his sincere willingness to learn about her, Alison was becoming intrigued with him.

Awesome event #9: The runaway wife reconsiders.

In a phone call almost four months to the day after she left Petir, Alison told me she was beginning to question her new lifestyle. She explained that she was feeling confused, because the man she had loved (and left) was now treating her like the woman she had left him for.

Interesting, isn’t it?

When you know what someone is looking for, how easy it is to give it to them! What had happened between Alison and Petir was the same old culprit that sinks so many other relationships: lack of communication. Maybe she hadn’t been able to communicate what she wanted in a partner because at the time, she didn’t know. It was only when she met Becka that she had realized what she was craving.

Awesome event #10: The what-if question turns the tables.

I asked Alison to consider the magic question… 

What if…

She could wave a magic wand and give Petir all of the qualities of Becka that so attracted her; or give Becka the qualities of Petir that she loved. 

Which of the two would be more appealing to her? 

Without hesitation, she said Petir. Now, she was crying in earnest. She told me that she did want to have children some day. She didn’t think that she really was gay; she thought it was probably just a phase and that in fact, she was getting bored with it. 

Now that she saw how much Petir was willing to change, she could also see where she had been selfish in the relationship. (This was her first acknowledgement of any responsibility). She admitted to being intrigued with Petir’s strength, confidence, and above ALL, his willingness to let her go.

I told her that the tables had turned, and now she needed to work on winning back Petir’s trust and confidence in her.

Awesome event #11: Alison is willing.

Alison was willing to try. She asked me to talk to Petir (to pave the way for her to return) and asked for my help to end the relationship with the other woman. I arranged a second date for her and Petir, this time at their former home. Both were given instructions about what to do that night to make sure their communication stayed on track.

The good news…

Alison never went back to Kansas City. Alison and Petir began their reconciliation that evening. Both agreed to do a 12-month marriage wellness program, at the end of which they would either undo their marriage OR renew their vows.

Now, that you’ve heard their story…

Do you believe what happened to them should be written off as a relationship miracle? Maybe it was. However, I believe a big portion of it can be explained.

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In my opinion, what helped Alison and Petir’s marriage survive infidelity was the same as what helped that British couple survive three months at sea. I think it came down to focusing on a positive outcome and asking themselves the right questions.

Focusing on a positive outcome. In Petir’s case, when he used his imagination to visualize in vivid detail how this event could become the best-worst thing that ever happened to him,

I believe those images gave Petir hope. And when he came to the end of his rope, his faith that things could (and would) work out kept him hanging on.

Asking powerful questions. I believe the fact that Petir asked himself some powerful questions led him to finding some key answers. Perhaps the most powerful of all is the what-if question.

Try this:

Ask yourself: WHAT IF… your experience turned out to be the best-worst thing that ever happened to you as a couple? What would need to happen? How would things have to end up for you to be able to look back and say that? Your answers could become a real game-changer. I know it has been for my clients.

Putting it all together…

In the end, it comes down to this: relationship success as well as relationship failure is the result of your thinking. And one of the most powerful aspects of thinking is the quality of the questions you ask yourself.

Is it as simple as that? Yes. (But not easy.) Now, if it seems a bit too New-Agey (as one client pointed out), that doesn’t make it any less true. Think back to that British couple lost at sea for almost 90 days. Ask yourself what if they had allowed their minds to become consumed by doubts and negative images? What if they had spent hours visualizing death? What if they had focused on the bleakness and the slim-to-none chance of rescue? What if they had told themselves they wouldn’t or couldn’t survive? Would they have had the same result? Personally, I don’t believe they would have.

The bottom line?

Surviving infidelity (or any other crisis) depends on how you think. In the end, the question isn’t whether your marriage can survive this… of course it can… but rather, are you willing to do what it takes to make sure that it does?

Notice the key word… willing.

5 reasons

Willingness is the secret ingredient:

  • You’ve both got to be willing to visualize this experience pulling you closer rather than tearing you apart.
  • You’ve both got to be willing to focus on what’s working rather than what isn’t working.
  • You’ve both got to be willing to commit to do whatever it takes to rebuild trust, intimacy, and honesty.
  • You’ve both got to be willing to learn how to forgive and let the past be over.
  • And above all… you’ve both got to be willing to learn how to create and sustain passionate monogamy.
Are you willing?Then you’ve already taken the first step. But it’s not the only step you have to take.Wishing waits. Willing acts. If you’re ready to put some *action* behind your wishes, I suggest you enroll in my Happiness After Infidelity – Marriage Rebuilding Home-Study Course for Couples and allow yourself to discover exactly what it takes to create and sustain a marriage that remains infidelity-free for life.

Now, I have an intuition about you.

Seeing that you’ve read this article from top to bottom, chances are, you wish to save your marriage. Maybe this means you’re willing to do something about it today. If so, then consider all the things you’ve learned on the website and all the things we’ve talked about in this article, and notice how much of it you already knew. 

And yet, knowing the path is not the same as walking the path because knowledge waits… but it takes courage to act. 

And when it comes to saving a marriage after infidelity, you need both knowledge and courage. 

knowing the path

So don’t wait. 

You’ve had all the time you need to think about things. Now, it’s time for action.

Until we speak again…

Remember… Love Wins!

Suzie Johnson