A Metaphor for Affair Recovery


By Doug

A few weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep.  Usually when this happens I either head down to my basement office and start working, or I head to the couch, flip on the TV and hope to find some sort of sporting event I can watch with the sound off so that it puts me to sleep.

That night turned out to be a couch night.  To my dismay however, I couldn’t find any sporting event on the 1572 channels I think we have on Direct TV.  I flipped back to the Big 10 network hoping to find a rerun of an Ohio State football game, but to no avail.  Hell, I would have even settled on watching a Michigan game!  Anything to help me nod off. 

What I did find was a show called “Being PJ Fleck.”  Unfortunately, I had to turn the sound up to know what the heck was going on – and it sucked me in.  Sleep alluded me that night.

For those of you who do not know who PJ Fleck is.  He is the current head football coach at the University of Minnesota.  Previously he was the head coach at Western Michigan University where he took a crappy team (1-11 his first year) to a great team that went undefeated during the 2016 regular season. 

And this dude is unreal.  He is intense. He could motivate a dead person.   I can see why young men would want to play football for him.  I really think his players would run through a brick wall – or worse – for him.



But what really intrigued me about the television program was Fleck’s mantra of “Row the boat.”

Row the Boat

So, what does “Row the boat” mean?

From a coaching and football standpoint, “Row the Boat is a method of how our whole program will fit together,” Fleck said. “It’s also a saying that has such a simple meaning, but there’s so much behind it in terms of a way for the whole community, the whole faculty, administration, players and student body can rally behind something greater than itself.”

“I had ‘Row the Boat’ a long time ago, but I never brought it out. It’s very simple when you break it down. There are three parts to rowing the boat. There is the oar, which is the energy behind rowing the boat. There is the boat, which is the actual sacrifice, either our team or the administration or the boosters or the audience or whoever is willing to sacrifice for this program. There is also the compass. Every single person that comes in contact with our football program, fans or not, they are all going for one common goal and that is success.” 

The Literal Meaning

The mantra transcends the football field and was introduced to Fleck during a low point in his life.

His and his ex-wife Tracie’s son, Colt, died shortly after birth due to a heart defect when Fleck was the wide receivers coach at Rutgers from 2010-11.

Before reading on, you should watch the video as Fleck discuss this and puts the mantra in perspective.

See also  The Wayward Spouse Must Take a Leading Role in Your Recovery



A Metaphor for Affair Recovery

I like metaphors.  I think they can help put things into a perspective that most people can understand and relate to. 

  • “Oars” are the first part of the metaphor, which represent the energy a person brings to those around them. That includes positively affecting their spiritual life, academics, career, etc. Choosing to have the oar in the water shows a person is moving forward in their life, and having it out of the water means staying in place.
  • The second piece of the mantra is the boat, exemplifying sacrifices a person is willing to make to achieve their goals.
  • The compass signifies the direction of the group, set by the leader. 
  • Rowing the boat conveys that the team is working together trying to achieve a common goal.
  • When rowing, your back is to the direction you are traveling – the future – which you cannot control, nor can you see. You don’t know what’s ahead of you.  You’re rowing in the present, which is the only thing that you can impact and have control of.
  • You can either choose to keep rowing or put your oars back in the boat and stop. And while rowing, you are looking in the past, which is the only thing that you can actually learn from – but can’t change.

Can you see how this can be a metaphor for saving a marriage and/or healing from an affair? Heck, it’s a metaphor for life!

As with PJ and his ex-wife losing their son, after an affair your whole life changes.  What you believed in and how you believed in it.  What you’ve done up to that point and how you’re going to live your life – all changes.

So how can we relate this to affair recovery?

Here are some affair recovery elements that I think should apply.

For one, it’s about choosing to use your “oar” by making a commitment, working as a team and putting forth effort.  Unfortunately, this is often where things break down from the very start.  One person typically is doing all the work – or at least the majority of it. While the other person hasn’t yet made the decision to commit and/or make an effort.

This is often due to a variety of factors such as the affair is ongoing, one person is unsure they want to remain in the marriage, fear, laziness, avoidance and/or ambivalence.

Ideally there needs to be an equal sharing of effort whether it’s initiating discussions, increasing relational knowledge, going to (and participating in) therapy, etc.

Forgiving Infidelity and Making a Commitment

Both parties need to make sacrifices.  Is affair recovery and healing an easy process?  Hell no!  Does it take longer than you want?  Hell yes!  It’s also not easy for some folks to be patient, to be empathetic, to talk about their feelings, to be honest, to deal with their shame and guilt, to not get angry, to not blame, to not punish, to give up their affair partner…I could go on and on!

See also  After the Emotional Affair - The Thought of Him Leaving Still Causes Pain

The point is, we have to get uncomfortable.  We have to do and say things that are risky and that make us nervous and scared.  We have to have those difficult conversations at 2 AM.  We have to face our demons and our deficiencies.  We have to throw away our egos and our selfish behaviors. 

In other words, we must make sacrifices if we are to be successful.

It helps if there is a common (shared) goal. If we go back to the first point, and we have a situation where only one person is doing all the work, chances are there will not be a common goal shared by the couple.

One person may want to save the marriage and is willing to work like crazy to do anything in their power for that to happen, while the other person just wants to sweep the whole thing under the rug with minimal effort.

This my friends, is a recipe for marital resentment and unhappiness.

At first, many will state that they want to save the marriage, but often they do not back that up with action We must understand that with any goal, there has to be sufficient motivation to achieve that goal, or it will just fade away like last New Year’s resolutions.

So, a good exercise would be for each member of the couple to write down what their motivation is to save the marriage (or whatever), and then share and discuss these motivations with one another. Then come to an agreement as to what the shared goal(s) will be.

Learning from past mistakes but not being a victim to the past.  I talk with a lot of people – both betrayed spouses and unfaithful spouses.  One of the most common issues I see with both that tends to hold back recovery and healing is the unwillingness to let past issues in their marriage go.  They hold on to resentments and anger which tend to keep them stuck.

I’m not saying that there isn’t good reason to be mad or resentful for the way their partner acted or how they treated them.  And sometimes the betrayal or wrong committed is so heinous that it can’t be overcome.  But often it’s the little resentments that linger on and build and build and never seem to go away.  The hamster wheel becomes the couple’s permanent state of being.

Additionally, everyone makes mistakes and makes poor decisions at times. It’s what we learn from those mistakes and choices – and the changes we make as a result – that matters and truly defines who we are.

Taking responsibility for your own actions, thoughts, etc.  I’m talking about taking ownership of your own behavior and the consequences of that behavior. Until you accept responsibility for your actions or failures, it’ll be very difficult for you to develop self-respect or even have the respect of others.

It is about moving beyond yourself and taking action to help your partner or in situations around you that call for your support and assistance. 

See also  What Are the Key Milestones in Affair Recovery and How Do You Navigate Them?

The real difference between being responsible and being irresponsible is an indication of how effectively we’re managing our lives when the opportunity to make a good or bad choice presents itself.

And I’m also talking about not relying solely on your partner for your happiness and self-worth.  These are in your power and should be up to you to develop and achieve. 

We can’t alter our genetic blueprint and what it has created for us, and changes in life circumstances usually don’t have a lasting impact on our happiness.  But we can increase and sustain our happiness through intentional activities.

If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings.

Our Intentional Activities Are The Key to Happiness

Assessing where you’re at and making tough decisions.  Often what happens is that there is seemingly very slow progress throughout the recovery process.  It seems as though things are creeping along and there is a level of frustration and concern about how slow things are moving.

To my way of thinking, slow progress is better than no progress.    However, there needs to be a relationship assessment done every so often to ensure that goals are being met and sufficient progress is being made.  There needs to be an analysis of where things are going good and not so good and then make any necessary changes.

Of course, a couple can try every strategy in the book. They can spend thousands on therapy and marriage retreats.  They can put forth 110% effort for months and months only to discover that it’s not going to work.  This is when those really tough decisions need to be made. 

Do you continue fighting a seemingly losing battle?  Or, do you shift your focus towards ending the marriage in the best way possible?

In closing…

I realize that for many of you “Row the Boat” doesn’t even seem like a possibility right now, because you are reeling and in severe crisis mode.  And that is completely understandable.  But for most of you in that situation, know that it isn’t going to last forever (though that may seem hard to believe right now), and you will eventually get your opportunity to at least pick up your oars and get in the boat.

Opt In Image
Survive and Thrive after Infidelity
You deserve to have a marriage that doesn’t just survive - it thrives!

We’re here to show you the right way to survive infidelity so that your marriage doesn’t become some sort of statistic.

We’ve been in your shoes and are in a unique position to put all of our experiences – both good and bad, successes and failures – and use them to help lead you out of the pain and into a better place.


    18 replies to "Row the Boat – A Metaphor for Affair Recovery"

    • TheFirstWife

      Doug. Bravo on an excellent article!

      I think there are great points here.

      My favorite is that we are responsible for our own happiness.

      So true. No one or nothing can “make” you happy.

    • Doug

      Thanks TFW. You are correct indeed, but that is often a tough concept for some folks to grasp a hold of.

    • TheFirstWife

      I think this is an underlying concept of an A. The AP makes the CS “happy”.

      It “magically erases” the issues or pain or depression or failures or whatever is going on in real life.

      The illusion of the A and the “infatuation” of the A equates to “happiness” for the CS.

      And there is where it begins – the illusion of the A.

      This is my opinion but I have observed this in so many cases – the A starts b/c of “unhappiness”. Except the CS “forgot” to tell the BS they were unhappy.

    • Rose

      Yep…but lately I’m rowing by myself. ☹
      Update: H never did ask or go to that gathering (where OW was going to be). I didn’t ask him about it and he didn’t mention it.
      MIL came home from the nursing home yesterday after being in there for a month. A month where H still did her laundry, saw her 4-5 times a week, and brought her food because the food at the home wasn’t good enough for the queen. So, he took her home yesterday and spent almost all day there. It was kind of nice having him gone and having a breather…but last night, we sat without the TV on, having a glass of wine, and were almost about to get into a discussion—FINALLY—about the things bothering me…when the phone rang at 10 p.m. It was his lunatic MIL again. She was already drunk and needed him for whatever, but he didn’t answer the phone, just listened. Anyway the discussion mood was gone at that point.
      This morning, the ONE day when I can sleep in, the phone rang at 7:30. Her message? “I’m soaked (she is totally incontinent), I can’t get out of my chair, I’m hungry and need my medicine.” Off he went. He’ll be home in time for fireworks tonight, maybe, but in the meantime I’m just pissed off again. The nursing home said she could walk and was doing great. So she gets out and all of a sudden can’t do anything for herself? Every time I mention her going in a home permanently or getting other help, he gets mad. He says she can’t afford it (she can). So I just keep my mouth shut now.
      Back to the rowing…TFW, you keep saying that we need to start putting ourselves first, and I think that’s really my only option here. I have my first kayaking lesson on Saturday! I joined a group of paddlers here in the NW, and they seem like a great bunch, and we are going to try and get together at least every couple of weeks. I HAVE to do something for myself and break the cycle of anger because it is not helpful at all. He is going to do what he is going to do, and I’m always going to be second. Always have been, now that I look at it. When MIL goes, I’m sure he’ll find someone else who NEEDS HIM. Sigh.
      Going to do the pick me thing…just going to PICK ME. Row row row my boat.

    • TheFirstWife

      Rose ???? – Good for you!!

      Putting yourself first – there is nothing wrong with it. As you said you have to do something to make your life happy.

      And even if he was perfect – you still need to put yourself first. Otherwise you are not living life to its full potential IMO.

    • Exercisegrace

      More thoughts later, but the first thing that came to mind was a saying I have on my Pinterest quotes board:

      “Make sure everyone in your boat is rowing, and not drilling holes while you aren’t looking.”

      If that doesn’t adequately sum up what is happening in an affair, I don’t know what does!!

      • Shifting Impressions

        That says it exactly!!!!

      • TryingHard

        EG–That is so good! And so true.

    • TheFirstWife

      EG. Love the analogy.

      As my friend from South America says – you are either with me or against me. If you are against me – don’t block my path.

    • Michele

      PJ Fleck and his row the body philosophy is his look at me, selfish mantra. Yes couples experience disasters. Yes not all make it. PJ Fleck had an affair with his “car” dealer person with a house full of young children. Where I come from you admit and work on your problems instead of running. Children you brought into the world come from the one woman you pledge to love and honor, for life. This is the greatest gift you can give your children. Love their mother. Not cheat on her Bc you are in pain. Deal with the pain. Own your faults. Forgive each other. This is how real love grows.
      Commit yourself to the woman you married. But it’s all about PJ Fleck and HE is what matters. His football antics don’t coach games. His record is ok at best. I find his actions unimpressive but he loved to talk the talk. A lot of me, my and I.
      Sorry but it’s the man beneath the words who shows who he is by day to day, actions. . The one who stays with his family in the good AND the bad. Grows with his wife, denies himself. Acts as the man God intended, not a mouse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.