"Life is Short... Have an Affair!" - That's the tagline for Ashley Madison, a website encouraging married people to have an affair. When hackers exposed more than 300,000 people connected to Ashley Madison, the media went crazy. Many reporters ended their story saying that divorce lawyers need to prepare for a steep increase in business.
"If we could speak to those 300,000, we would tell them to push the pause button and don't automatically head to divorce court," says Carrie, whose husband Greg (not their real names) utilized social media to initiate more than one affair.
"Infidelity rocked my world. It was embarrassing. I asked myself a million times, 'How could my world look one way and have such a dark underside I had no clue existed?'" Carrie says. "I am a CEO and have been a policy advisor. I am a smart woman. You would think being married for 29 years, I would have a clue something was going on, but I didn't."
Greg describes himself as "that guy nobody could believe would do this." He was a family man, active with his children and various church activities.
"For 27 of our 29 years of marriage I was in and out of affairs and dabbled in porn," says Greg. "I had decided my marriage would not survive when I engaged in my most recent affair. When the affair was exposed, I found myself confronted by what I had become. All these years I was oblivious to the destruction I was sowing. I know it's hard to believe, but it is true. Looking back, I can't believe I operated like that."
Initially, Greg told his wife what he thought was just enough. He described a battle going on in his head over telling her everything or keeping her in the dark.
"At some point I couldn't take the hiding, lying and deceit anymore and decided to tell my wife everything," Greg says. "That is when things started to change. I had no idea whether my marriage was going to survive, but I knew I was moving away from something that had had a stronghold on me for a very long time."
Greg and Carrie entered counseling with someone who understood the traumatic impact of marital infidelity. Additionally, they attended a weekend intensive for hurting marriages.
"When I first found out about the affairs I was devastated, in shock and then furious," Carrie says. "I curled up in a fetal position for a couple of days. I journaled hundreds of pages as I walked through grieving what I thought had been my marriage.
"When we entered into counseling, I remember the counselor asking me why I wanted to stay married. I responded that I honestly didn't know that I wanted to stay married. He said, 'OK, let's explore that.' It was through counseling and the weekend experience that we learned we had no idea how to talk to each other or care for each other. We learned how to stop doing things that were hurting our marriage and utilize tools to help us communicate better. We learned a path to intimacy in our marriage we had never known before."
Greg and Carrie began this journey 15 months before sharing their story. Though it hasn't been easy, they've been able to bury their old marriage and build a new, 100% different marriage.
"We have worked hard to rebuild trust," Greg says. "I have accepted responsibility for my behavior and Carrie, while she is not to blame for the affair, has been able to look at her behavior as well. We have set healthy boundaries and put safeguards in place and we attend support groups both individually and as a couple. What we have found is an amazing marriage we didn't know was possible."
"With every crisis there is an opportunity," says Kristina Coop Gordon, co-author of Getting Past the Affair. "What Greg and Carrie have described is not just luck on their part as a couple. It is not uncommon for couples who have experienced infidelity to believe that their marriage is over. However, based on 20 years of research and clinical experience, we have found that at least 65-70 percent of couples who choose to work on their relationship survive the affair."
If you are reeling from infidelity in your marriage, you might find these resources helpful: beyondaffairsnetwork.com, and the book, Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help you Cope, Heal and Move On --Together or Apart by Kristina Coop Gordon.