Do the true stories on 'Diary of an Affair' help as well as titillate?

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"My name is Brian Davis. I was married to my wife for five years and I was the proud father of two when it happened," says the mustachioed man on the TV screen. "This is the story of my affair."

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/"Ooooh, lost in passion..."

a breathy woman warbles as the words passion, forbidden and desire float across the screen.

"How did this happen?" the singing continues as the floating words anticipation, guilt and betrayal fade in and out.

"My diary..."

So begins an episode of The Style Network's "Diary of an Affair," which asserts that 40 percent of all married women and 60 percent of all married men have affairs.

Infidelity has been daytime TV fodder for years, from soap opera story lines to real people sitting with Oprah, Montel or Maury pouring out their broken hearts.

"As reality television started to bloom, [infidelity] was an area of reality that wasn't being addressed on a wide scale," says Linda Ellman, executive producer of "Diary of an Affair," which airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. with repeats on Style and E! "The next step was to take it to an interview, documentary level."

That's what "Diary of an Affair," which has 13 new episodes slated to begin airing next month, aims to do.

In Davis' story, he and his wife, Ginger, tell how they met through a personal ad and fell in love.

All was fine for a time. They had a happy, lusty marriage. Then, five years in, life became increasingly busy and the sex dwindled.

"I was in love with Ginger, but I was bored with being married. I was bored with our life," says Davis, who's a firefighter/paramedic. "I'm the kind of person if I get bored, I get myself in trouble."

That's when he started frequenting an Internet chat room where he met Jennifer, a nurse. They started out talking about work, but the e-mails quickly became flirtatious.

"It went like a wild fire," he says. "It went fast and furious as far as the conversation turning sexual."

They started talking on the phone, even having phone sex.

After a time, Davis and Jennifer decided to meet at a bar, then ended up in a hotel room. After a couple more liaisons, he put the brakes on the relationship although they still talked on the phone.

When Jennifer told him she was pregnant, he denied he was the father and ended all contact. His wife, Ginger, hadn't suspected a thing and he decided not to tell her.

A year and a half later, Davis received a certified letter from his local child support office. He knew he finally had to tell his wife the truth.

"He said, 'I had an affair' and I didn't really want to believe him," Ginger Davis says. "Initially, it was the fact that he cheated that was tearin' me up. Then, it wasn't the cheating as much as it was all the lies and the deception and all the lengths he went to to cover it up."

He took a paternity test, waited 20 long weeks for the results and learned Jennifer's baby wasn't his. That provided the couple some relief, but their marriage was still in turmoil. Davis started the long, uphill battle of trying to rebuild trust.

"Through counseling, faith and a lot of hard work, Ginger and I managed to work through our issues," he says. "Now, we focus on each other and our family."

Sharing the pain

"Diary of an Affair" isn't done to glamorize or glorify affairs, Ellman stresses. The soft-focus, cinema verite-style shots of actors re-enacting scenes of both the married couples' courtship and the illicit trysts -- meeting in a bar, holding hands, embracing, hugging or kissing -- are symbolic imagery intended to take viewers into that emotion-filled moment, Ellman says.

"We're not judgmental or moralistic. We're not about right or wrong," she says. "We're about exploration about what happened, why it happened, and it actually holds the cheater accountable because it's always from the viewpoint of the cheater.

"What were they feeling when they did it? How did they feel during it and how did they feel after it?"

Why would anyone go on national television to discuss one of the most painful chapters in his or her life? Ellman admits "Diary of an Affair," which is one of The Style Network's top-rated shows, has been the most difficult show to book in her 30 years in television.

"You're asking people to open up their lives ... and expose their own faults and vulnerabilities and pleasures," she says. "You're asking people to talk about probably the biggest secret they've ever kept in their lives."

Anne Bercht, who wrote the book "My Husband's Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," (Trafford Publishing, $24.95) did the show with her husband because she hoped people could connect with and learn from their story.

"Many people think an affair happens because somebody else is sexier, prettier or more exciting than the original spouse, and that's not true," says Bercht, 43, of Abbotsford, British Columbia.

After 18 years of marriage, she and her husband thought that because they had a good marriage and a great sex life that an affair couldn't happen to them.

"When he met this other woman through work, she was like a buddy to him and he wasn't especially attracted to her initially," says Bercht, who runs the Web site www.passionatelife.ca/. "But once you start to create that emotional connection with someone, then it's easy for it to cross the line into a sexual affair."

The 'new infidelity'

That's the "new infidelity" described in the book, "NOT 'Just Friends': Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity" by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D. with Jean Coppock Staeheli (Free Press, $15).

"Good people in good marriages are having affairs. ... he new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they've crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love," wrote Glass, a licensed psychologist, marital therapist and infidelity researcher who died in 2003 but whose Web page still is maintained at www.shirleyglass.com.

More than 80 percent of the 200-plus unfaithful partners Glass counseled had affairs with people who started out as just friends. Some relationships people form with work colleagues and online can be potentially threatening to their marriage, she wrote.

Most people think if there's no sexual contact, there's no infidelity, but with the new infidelity, affairs don't have to include sex, Glass wrote.

Bercht says her husband wishes he would have understood that affairs are more about emotional connections than sex in many cases because he would have been more on guard.

When he told her he was having an affair, she went into an emotional tailspin. She couldn't eat. She couldn't drink.

"I remember sneaking into the local bookstores with dark glasses, looking for a book on infidelity," she says. "I was so embarrassed and so ashamed, though I hadn't done anything wrong."

Affair survivors, she says, often isolate themselves because of the shame they feel but what they really need is support and to talk about it.

Part of the reason Bercht wrote her book was because when she went looking for one on the subject, she didn't want just another how-to-survive-an-affair book by a therapist, although many of those books are helpful.

"I wanted somebody's story," she says.

Her husband's affair was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to her at the time, but it became the best thing that ever happened to her.

"You let it destroy you or you choose to become better," she says.

The Berchts think "Diary of an Affair" did a fair and accurate job in presenting their story.

"There are a lot of good messages in our story, you just have to be kind of quick at picking them up," she says of the show. "You can rebuild a marriage after an affair and that it's not just about the sex."

Their only criticisms of "Diary of an Affair" in general is that the show doesn't offer viewers information about where to go for help, and that it somewhat hypes the sexual aspect of the affairs.

"Diary of an Affair" is enlightening to viewers, especially anyone who might be considering having an affair, Ellman says.

"You can see the kind of pain it causes," she says. "If you're in it, it might give you the strength to deal with the situation a little better. And for someone who is looking to take a ride into somebody's life, it's an interesting ride."

Most people who've done the show have been happy with the results, Ellman says.

"Either they left [their marriage] for their own self-esteem or to better their situation, or, once they've [stayed and] worked through it, they're not sitting on their laurels," she says. "They've decided [marriage] is something you have to work at and it's worth working for."

Finding help

Marriage counselors say although the show may seem exploitative, it also may have some redeeming value.

"If we see enough of this, perhaps it will demystify it," says Austin, Texas-based marriage and family therapist Pat Love, Ed.D., who runs the Web site www.patlove.com. "The big part of the attraction in the affair is the mystery, the unknown.

"The down side of it is that it may normalize it and justify it, and I don't think there's any way, even watching it on TV you can come close to representing the misery of this kind of betrayal and how it does tear families apart," says Love, author of "The Truth About Love: The Highs, the Lows and How You Can Make It Last Forever" (Simon & Schuster, $14).

Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W., a Woodstock, Ill.-based marriage counselor who operates the Web site www.divorcebusting.com, thinks such shows can be done responsibly.

"If the viewer goes away with the feeling, 'Now I can see why that sort of thing can happen and I can see what we can do to prevent it,' there might be some value to it," says Weiner-Davis, author of "The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage" (Simon & Schuster, $13).

"It also gives people a bird's-eye view of how these things happen and how, if it happens in their marriage, to come out the other side," says Weiner-Davis, who is working on a BBC show in which she helps a couple on the brink of divorce. "For couples that have the happy endings, it spreads hope."

For more information about "Diary of an Affair" visit http://www.stylenetwork.com/Shows/Diary/


L.A. Johnson can be reached at ljohnson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3903.


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