(RealSimple.com) -- The shocking discovery of an affair nearly devastated their marriage, but a series of couples support seminars helped repair and strengthen their bond.
Angie and Greg Cooper
Married 20 years
One afternoon in the fall of 2002, Greg sat down at the family's computer with the intention of researching their upcoming trip to Walt Disney World. He never got that far.
Once he woke up the monitor, he made a bewildering discovery: The screen displayed the in-box of an unfamiliar e-mail account registered to his wife, Angie, 43. Perplexed, he called her into the room.
Angie realized she had forgotten to close her old account and knew it was time to come clean. "It's over," she said. "But please don't read the e-mails." Angie then made a startling confession: For nearly a year, she had had an affair. It had ended only seven months earlier. "I was sick to my stomach," says Greg, 46. "I thought, I'll never get over this. We're getting a divorce."
Angie, an insurance account manager, and Greg had been growing apart for years. Before the birth of their sons, Nicholas, 17, and Aidan, 10, the couple had liked to curl up on the couch to watch Marx Brothers classics and while away hours perusing local flea markets for antiques.
That had changed: Angie was spending her time either at work or at home with young Aidan, while Greg, a photographer, busily coached Nicholas's soccer team and led his Cub Scout pack. "I didn't feel important to Greg beyond being our children's caregiver," says Angie."I just felt lonely and trapped."
She was flattered when, in the spring of 2001, the married father of one of her son's friends began flirting with her. When he took her aside at a neighborhood gathering and proposed they meet privately, Angie agreed.
"I never wanted an actual relationship with him. I was drawn to the craziness of it, seeing what we could get away with," she says. Eventually the affair fizzled out. But for reasons she can't explain, Angie never deleted the e-mails or the account she had used to correspond with her lover.
After Greg learned about the affair, he furiously warned the man, whom he knew casually, never to come near Angie or their sons again. (The man and his family moved away a few weeks later.) Angie said she hoped to reunite with Greg, but he told her he was dead set on divorcing.
That's what he said, anyway; emotionally he was ambivalent. "I stayed awake for two nights, thinking, I still love her. I can't end it," says Greg. Ultimately he told her he wanted to stay together -- but acknowledged he had no idea how to reconcile.
For months they slept in the same bed but rarely spoke to each other except in their therapist's office. Aidan was too young to notice the change in his parents' behavior, but Nicholas, aware of their unhappiness (though not the cause of it), became quiet and withdrawn.
Greg began suffering from anxiety and insomnia. His moods swung from anger to grief. "It was terrible to watch him trying to cope," says Angie. "I knew it was because of my actions." Close friends even suggested the couple consider divorce, but Angie wasn't ready to call it quits.
In July 2003, she searched online for marriage support groups and found Retrouvaille, a Catholic seminar that promises to help couples communicate better. She signed them up for the next three-day session. At first Greg wasn't thrilled. "I envisioned a group where everyone just aired their grievances," he says. "How could that help?"
But he agreed to try it. There they met some couples who had gone through the program after experiencing infidelity and had come back as mentors. "We were encouraged to see others who had survived the same thing," says Angie.
Over the next year, the couple attended more seminars, including one in October 2004 where they discussed the reason behind Angie's affair for the first time. It was revelatory, says Greg: "I had no idea Angie had the affair because she felt lonely. I thought she had done it because she didn't love me."
Now they mentor other couples at Retrouvaille, an experience Greg has found so rewarding that he's returned to graduate school to become a marriage and family therapist. He and Angie check in with each other constantly about how the other is doing.
When Greg began worrying recently that his course load would force them to spend a lot of time apart, he spoke up. And she reassured him: "I reminded Greg that it's all the things we've been through together that have led to this new career. I told him I love him and believe in him, and we will be fine. Neither of us is going anywhere."
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