Coping With Marital Infidelity: Dr. Jay and Julie Kent-Ferraro Are 'Surprised By Love'
It seems as if everyone is talking about infidelity these days. Too often, though, the conversation begins and ends at the mea culpa, and doesn’t go much deeper.
Married couple Dr. Jay and Julie Kent-Ferraro decided to do something about that. After experiencing infidelity in their marriage (Jay cheated and the pair split, wrenching apart their family of 3 young kids) the couple eventually forgave one another, reconciled during a family trip to Disneyland and—wait for it—remarried each other and had another baby.
While most couples might prefer to forget such an unpleasant episode, the Kent-Ferraros decided to put it under a microscope. Together, they wrote "Surprised by Love: One Couple’s Journey from Infidelity to True Love." In their brutally honest memoir, which came out last month, they tell their story in alternate voices without sugar coating, in the hopes that doing so might help others. On Monday night, they bared their souls again, opening up on the new OWN network series “Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal,” which features couples who have survived cheating (9 p.m. EST).
The pair recently spoke to Huffington Post about the book, the OWN show, and how they got to marriage--again.
It’s one thing to have an affair and recover from it, but another to write a book about the experience. Why’d you decide to do that?
Jay: The idea to write the book came from a couple of places; it started as a journal for myself and for Julie. Then we began to see the people coming out of the woodwork reporting having affairs. We watched one too many public empty apologies. I remember watching Eliot Spitzer on TV [after his affair was exposed]-- I stood up and said, ‘someone’s gotta tell the truth about infidelity!’ And at that moment, the large hotel mirror was standing right in front of my face.
Julie: Yeah, writing about it wasn’t initially the intent. We just decided that what we had done was so rare. And had we learned it earlier on, we could have saved ourselves a lot of pain. We thought that making the book in that form maybe could have helped someone else going down the same path.
What do think in set the affair in motion?
Jay: I don’t think that people wake up in the morning and say, ‘I think today is a good day to have an affair.’ It is a gradual erosion. Even though an affair is chosen by one, the decision is made in the context of many. So the context was, Julie and I became managing partners in ‘Life, Inc.’ After seven years in the marriage, which I would describe as really quite good, we realized we really were intimate strangers. The friendship that had brought us together had really grown distant. What we had in common was mortgage payments and childhood responsibilities.
As is common in a lot of relationships today, the vibrancy of it became very devitalized. I began to feel unappreciated, taken advantage of. I began to describe my experience at that time as feeling like a ‘success object.’ Julie had the same feelings in a negative side because I wasn’t putting her needs first. I was so busy trying to be successful and having a good life that I completely ignored her. We missed each other profoundly in those ways. Then my contribution kicked in.
Julie: Jay was obsessed with success. When we first met, Jay worked in a hospital, and the goal was then to have a private practice, and then once the private practice was successful, then it was a private practice that didn’t accept insurance and was fee-for-service, then it was a seminar business, and the a consulting business, and then he went back and got an MBA. It felt like every time he got to where the goal was, he raised the bar. And so I began to be really angry with the fact that I felt like he was never gonna be satisfied. His famous lines with me were, ‘you’re not good at sacrifice,’ and so at some point I decided to quit complaining because I was supposed to be sacrificing, and I think what we were sacrificing was ourselves.
Tell me more about the marriage as a managing partnership-- a lot of couples experience that. How did you move through that?
Julie: Both people have to recognize it. I think that people don’t acknowledge that it’s a problem until something else happens. There are probably so many people who don’t think about that right now, but if they heard that they might say, ‘oh my gosh, that’s me.’ Everyone is working and running and busy—that’s kind of how life is. What happens is the friendship between the couple deteriorates, and people get angry about things, and then there’s resentment. Unfortunately the resentment is generally unspoken, and it just kind of erodes the relationship. The minute the friendship is gone and the relationship is suffering, you’d better get CPR for the relationship—it’s on its way out.
Jay: What we expect from relationships today in our culture requires much more than we invest in them. You have to maintain a robust friendship—you have to invest the time, energy and focus in the relationship and make that primary, not secondary to mortgage payments and taking care of kids.
In our culture we tend to look at cheating as a game of victim and perpetrator, but my sense is that it’s always more nuanced than that. Do you agree?
Julie: We understand that this relationship had to have been in bad shape for Jay to have made that choice. We have both had to come to a place where we accept responsibility for what we did wrong in the relationship. I certainly want to take responsibility for what happened in the marriage to help create the conditions for that to happen, but what I don’t accept any responsibility for is Jay’s choice to have an affair, because there were certainly ten thousand other choices he could have made besides that one that was so painful.
Jay: Once you convince yourself that you are a victim of anything, you can justify anything. And I did convince myself in a distorted, delusional state that I was in, which is characteristic of affair behavior—I convinced myself that I was the the one being taken advantage of, and “the victim.” And subsequently that just added to my sense of entitlement and my sense of disillusionment, all of which led to the choices that I began to make.
Jay, you’re a therapist--do you think that made it easier to justify some of the things you did? Harder?
A lot of people find out you’re a therapist, and they say ‘either you’re very incompetent, or very narcissistic, or both.’ The truth is that being a therapist gave me more rationalizations and more language and excuses to hide behind, which contributed to the problem.
Julie, after the divorce, you were diagnosed with lymphoma. On the show you say that divorce was much more difficult to manage than the cancer. How so?
Julie: At least when you’re facing an illness, you know what the treatment is, you know what the plans are, you know what the statistics are, you can go find answers and proactively seek treatment. In my relationship, it didn’t matter how much I wanted to try to make things right, as long as Jay was still interested in having an affair, there was nothing I could do about it.
Was there a moment you knew you were going to rekindle your relationship?
Jay: There were two things that converged. One, the fantasy of the soul mate that I was obsessed with imploded and I realized that soul mates are not found, they’re created. And so the fantasy that I was chasing exploded in my face. I got out of the [affair], and I was not with anyone or doing much of anything other than trying to figure out the mistakes that I’d made. Fortunately, Julie and I maintained our friendship around the children. And that’s how the trip to Disney came about. So we were on the Disney Train that goes around the park. We had one of our children between us, two in front of us. It was just a calm, surreal moment—we were just looking at our kids’ happiness, and we just looked at each other. Our eyes met, we were fixed in a gaze. I said to her, ‘how in the world did we ever miss each other and miss this?’ And she said, ‘you had to go out and get a girlfriend!’ And we both laughed. It was one of those magical moments. I felt the connection that I hadn’t felt in years. It was my friend, Julie again. We were in the aftermath of the divorce and my affair. Our children were there. And yet we felt this very strong connection. And that was really the seeds of our courtship were sewn in that very simple moment.
Julie: I remember that. The whole thing was a little strange at first for me. If anyone had seen us, they would never know that we were two divorced parents with our kids on vacation staying at opposite ends of the hotel. It was like, ‘wow, Jay is back.’ The crazy, selfish Jay that I had known for the last six months was finally gone. What happened for me was that the entire time that Jay and I were apart, I kept saying, ‘this isn’t Jay.’ I always believed that at a certain point, he was gonna snap out of it. I felt like he was kind of coming out of the dark. That was the most clear and like himself that I had seen him in a long, long time.
Jay just kind of invited himself on your trip with the kids? Did it occur to you that that might be confusing for them, given that you were already divorced?
Julie: The entire time that we were navigating through this, I always wanted to make the decisions that were in the best interests of the kids. And what would help foster the best relationships for them with their dads. I also knew that there was no way that Jay would ever be able to take 3 kids on vacation. For me it was more like, ‘this may be the only chance they have to create that memory with their father.’ For me, it quickly became a no-brainer.
Your kids from the first marriage are 7, 11, and 12. You also have a 1-year-old. How are they all doing now?
Julie: When I try to mention it to them they say things like ‘we’re just so glad it’s over, whatever.’ They have totally moved on and are so comfortable and thriving that for them, this is just a painful past and it’s not even much of a topic of discussion for them.
Jay: They did not go through therapy, and I think part of that is because even though we did a lot of things wrong, we did a lot right. We really rallied as far as our relationship as parents. In fact that’s where our relationship got regenerated. We both adore our children, and we came together and did some things right there. We talk a lot about contributions. And the book and the opportunity to do the OWN show is really about helping other couples; they have a lot of friends whose parents are going through divorces. We talk about this as an opportunity for us to share with other families and try to help them, and they get that.
What advice can you offer to other couples who have experienced infidelity in their marriages?
Jay: While I think it’s possible to have a relationship thrive after an affair, it’s not easy. There are three specific commitments that we found actually work, and we consider to be responsible for our success. One is you have to put the relationship first as a priority—the betrayed partner gets to set the agenda. I had to be completely transparent, I had to be empathic, to take responsibility, to have genuine remorse. The second is you have to do the work--one is healing work, one is redesign work. Healing is restoring trust, respect, reestablishing a friendship. And then secondly is designing a marriage that works for most people. The decision is made by one but in the context of many. The third is, you have to evolve as an individual. Both people have to be willing to evolve and look at how they contributed to not meeting each other in ways that were necessary to creating a fulfilling relationship. It’s a long, difficult process, but it’s entirely possible.
Julie: Both people have to be willing and committed to doing the work. Until you have both people willing to make that full-on commitment, it isn’t really possible to do what we’ve done. One person can’t make or break a relationship—it has to be both people. And it requires work on both sides. Not just on the person who had the affair, but the betrayed partner as well.
Watch clips from the OWN show here:
How Jay and Julie met:
Living two lives:
Jay’s affair is discovered:
How to stay together after an affair: