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Spouses With Cheating Hearts Shatter Marriages

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RALEIGH — Extra-marital affairs are more common than most people think. They are more common than most married people want to think. These affairs risk everything, but the infidelity is just the beginning of the problem.

Denial is a classic response when adulterers' deepest secrets are revealed.President Clinton eventually did admit to improper behavior, and he is not the only one in Washington in recent months to air his dirty laundry.

Public admissions may be rare, but extra-marital affairs are not. Studies indicate that 30 percent of all men and 10 percent of all women stray at some point during their marriage. The result often can be devastating.

"No, it was not a death, and I can't compare it to death. But for me, I cannot imagine grief any more than the grief I've gone through," explained one victim.

WRAL will call her 'Jane' to protect her identity. She says after 20 years of marriage, she was stunned when she learned her husband had been unfaithful. That was in the summer of 1996, and she's still trying to get over it.

"I was just so hurt and so fearful of what my life was going to be like," she explained.

"People just get emotionally overwhelmed," explained Don Baucom, a professor atUNC.

Baucom is conducting one of the broadest studies ever on the subject of infidelity. He says affairs can happen with anyone, anywhere.

"They're often relationships at work, often friendships, social relationships, and it's not one-night stands, and it's not people looking for affairs in the majority of cases," said Baucom.

But whatever the reason affairs start, they're not easy to recover from. That's why Baucom is studying a new way to treat those who have been through it.

Baucom's study is based on the premise that infidelity is more than just a marital problem. He says victims of adultery experience the same symptoms as victims of other traumas like rape or incest.

"People's whole sense of predictability, safety and trust is disrupted, and that is what makes it a trauma," said Baucom.

Baucom's technique to treat victims of the trauma is three-fold.

First, he says they must absorb the blow. Then, they need to understand why the affair happened. Finally, Baucom says they are ready to move on.

"People have to face the trauma. They can't just avoid it and push it away as if it didn't happen. Psychologically, it just doesn't go away," said Baucom.

Jane's marriage did not survive, but Baucom says other marriages can with the proper treatment.

As for preventing affairs in the first place, take it from someone who has been there.

"I think communication is the most vital thing. That's the only hope a marriage has," said Jane.

Baucom's study involves 12 marriages that have been rocked by infidelity. It should be completed by the end of the year. Marriage therapist Dianne Occhetti also contributed to this report.


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