Therapy, support, faith often keys to recovery

More often than not, marriages resemble that of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, said John Hill, a marriage and family therapist.

"It's easy to watch it unfold on television and say that's not me, but there are an awful lot of people like this," said Mr. Hill, the executive director of the CSRA Center for Care and Counseling in North Augusta. Estimates vary, but one study he quoted estimated that up to 70 percent of marriages involve affairs.

Even conservative estimates place the number between 30 to 60 percent, said Dana Anderson, an educator with the Augusta Marriage & Family Initiative.

"We can learn a lot by watching the Sanford family," she said. "There's something to be said for coming clean."

An honest, heartfelt confession such as Mr. Sanford's can pave the way to restoration, Mr. Hill said. He advises his clients -- about 60 percent of whom seek marital counseling -- that honesty really is the best policy.

"Of course it's best not to be in this situation to begin with, but once you're there, there are steps that can be taken to restore a relationship," Mr. Hill said.

First among those is finding professional help.

"Therapy," Mrs. Anderson said, "can help a couple get to the point where they can talk, not about the nitty-gritty details, but about what opened the door for the affair."

There's also practical advice to be found in counseling, said Brad Hambrick, who leads marriage workshops for Crossroads Counseling, a Biblical counseling center in Augusta.

"Couples tend to fall into a trap. They don't know anything or they want to know everything," he said. "There should be a comfortable transparency. We should live as married couples in a way that there isn't room for surprises. It should be normal to view cell phone records or have access to e-mail accounts. Do them on the front end before the crisis."

Couples who make it tend to have therapy, a network of support and a faith background, said Mr. Hill. When Mr. Sanford confessed, he not only apologized to his wife of 19 years, but also recognized that he had broken "God's law."

Statistically, people of faith, as Mr. Sanford described himself, have just as many affairs as people without faith, Mr. Hill said. But, "the difference comes in that people with a faith background, they have an understanding of the need for forgiveness and restoration."

Generally speaking, it takes a year of "very hard work" to recover, Mr. Hill said, "and even then the odds are against it. It's like going through a fire. You don't want to if you can help it."

Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or kelly.jasper@augustachronicle.com.