Sunday, March 16, 2008


Can a relationship be saved after an infidelity?

A few years ago, Jeff Williams (not his real name) came home from a business trip and heard the words every married man dreads. His wife was having an affair. So what did he do, call his lawyer to file divorce papers? No, he headed to the self-help section of the local bookstore to figure out how to save his marriage. "I know enough people in second and third marriages, and they've all told me, 'If I had dealt with the issues in my first marriage, I'd still be married to that woman.' I knew I wanted to save what I had." What he found at the bookstore was Make Up, Don't Break Up, and he was so inspired that he called the author to see if she would help him. That was about seven years ago. Today, the Williamses are still together and happier than ever.The woman who saved their marriage, sought-after couples therapist Bonnie Eaker Weil, PhD, has developed a nearly foolproof approach that treats infidelity like an addiction. She claims that 98 percent of the couples she treats stay together.

In fact, her advice is so in demand that she now runs a lecture series at New York's 92nd Street Y and does phone therapy with couples all over the world. Her theory, called "the biochemical craving for connection," is based on the idea that people cheat because of a chemical imbalance in the brain. The affair, she says, is a way for them to correct this imbalance, but it usually becomes addictive. The first thing Weil has patients do is contemplate life without their spouses. If it frightens them, she says, that's the sign that love still exists. Here's her five-step program to help you overcome an infidelity:

Come clean.
Be honest about when and where the affair started and why. "This is the hardest part," says Weil, "but it's essential if you want to fix your relationship. You might think you are going to hurt your spouse, but it will help her understand what was missing and why you strayed."Identify the source.Pinpointing the cause can help break the cycle and prevent it from happening again. Think about your idols growing up. Was one of your parents or relatives a cheater? "Adultery tends to be a learned behavior," says Weil, "so you might be copying the behavior of your primary role model or someone you admire. Understanding that can help you realize that you have a choice in the matter."

Share the blame.
"You need to acknowledge that you are both partially responsible for the affair," says Weil. "After all, the betrayed usually knows about the affair long before the confession, between all the late nights at the office and the unanswered cell-phone calls." By staying quiet and letting it go on, says Weil, the noncheating spouse is acting as an enabler.

Take time apart.
After you've both taken responsibility for your actions (or inactions), put your relationship into perspective. Weil takes this to the extreme. When a cheating spouse has trouble ending an affair, she has him move in with the lover. "Playing it out as reality and not just fantasy makes people realize that it's not what they really want," says Weil. If that seems like a bit much, she recommends spending anywhere from a weekend to two months living separately. "Distance will remind you why you got together in the first place and why it's important that you two figure out a way to stay together now."

Start fresh.
Reintegrating your lives should be done slowly, especially after time apart. "You're going to have to accept that things won't be the same right away," says Weil, "and that this might be an open wound for a long time." Now's your chance to impress her all over again, by doing the things that made her fall for you. Prove to her that you're still the same person who swept her off her feet.

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