A Former Top Cop and His Wife Help 'Victims' Deal with Adultery

updated 03/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

I found my husband in bed with four different women," the speaker confides. Her listeners—37 of them—gasp.

"Okay, okay, not all at the same time," she adds with a wobbly smile. "Now he's going to marry someone else, and I love him, and I'm afraid."

But that's not all. Soon she launches into a tearful description of her own vengeful affair with a married man and Its sorry conclusion. "Finally the man's wife and I got together," she says. "We found out he was lying to both of us. I thought he loved me; she thought he loved her."

Welcome to WESOM (We Saved Our Marriages), a Chicago-based self-help group founded two years ago by Richard Brzeczek, now 45, and his wife, Elizabeth, 44. The Brzeczeks' 16-year marriage had begun to crumble following Richard's appointment as Chicago police superintendent in 1980. During a flight to New York for an appearance on Good Morning America, the tall, impeccably groomed father of four had encountered a flight attendant named Sonja, who was interested in more than his beverage preferences. Conversation aloft led to phone calls, lunch and eventually to bed.

"I never knew what an aphrodisiac power and stature were," says Brzeczek (pronounced BREE-zek). At first, he explains, the affair was "like a shot of heroin. I wanted a little more of that. And a little more. Before you know it, you're in the trap."

After a 2½-year dalliance with Sonja (and a concurrent 14-month affair with another flight attendant), Richard finally confessed to his wife, Elizabeth. By then he was in the midst of a campaign for Cook County state's attorney. Given two choices—end the adultery or end the marriage—Richard professed to choose the former but continued meeting with Sonja. Elizabeth quickly put two and two together and came up with more than foreplay.

Elizabeth confronted the couple at an apartment Richard was renting for his election campaign and, in a brief and dignified visit, confirmed that the affair was indeed continuing. "There was no anger, no tears," she says. "I didn't plead with him to come home. I didn't raise my voice." Finally, one day after his election defeat—by Richard M. Daley, son of the late Mayor—Elizabeth filed for divorce. ("If he lost, it was not going to be because of me," she says now, explaining why she waited so long.) Five weeks later Richard checked into a hospital and began undergoing treatment for severe depression. When he was released after three weeks, he ended his infidelities and Elizabeth dropped her divorce suit.

Press coverage of the couple's woes—aggravated by charges that Richard had misappropriated public funds by seeing Sonja during business trips (he was acquitted)—prompted calls from others foundering in similar marital straits. Elizabeth decided that a support group modeled loosely on Alcoholics Anonymous—sort of an Adulterers Anonymous—might save a few marriages, and WESOM's first get-together was held in February 1986.

The group, numbering 60 lawyers, cops, janitors, doctors and housewives, meets singly or in couples. Some have ended their affairs, and some are still messing around. All want their marriages back.

"We don't judge," says Elizabeth, who starts each session with the Lord's Prayer, but there is definitely a limit to the founder's tolerance. If two members from separate marriages were to show an interest in each other that went beyond good fellowship, "I would ask them to leave," she says firmly.

The group has become so large that last fall it moved from a cramped storefront law office to a day-nursery room in St. Mary's Episcopal Church. At times it hardly seems big enough to hold the anguish of some of the members.

"What I want to know is, when does it stop—my wife's anger?" asks the veteran of a two-year affair who attends meetings with his wife.

"It's part of the price you pay for two years of lies," she says.

"I don't have to lie anymore," he says with apparent relief. "I'd be lying at home and lying at the other place."

"You mean to the bimbo slut," responds his wife.

Such acrimony aside, WESOM seems to be paying emotional dividends. "The concept is fabulous in terms of results," says Richard Brzeczek. "There are 15 couples getting back together in some way...holding hands, kissing."

The Brzeczek marriage too seems safe on high ground, though both Richard and Elizabeth still feel occasional aftershocks from the affair that nearly shattered their household. Some months ago a neighbor dropped by and tearfully told Elizabeth that a friend had been to Las Vegas and had spotted Richard romancing an unidentified woman. This time, though, Elizabeth wasn't surprised. She was the Las Vegas honey, and the trip had been one of the best birthday presents of her life. "Our lives together," says Elizabeth, "had almost ended, and now we had a chance for a new beginning."

—By Joanne Kaufman, with Barbara Kleban Mills in Chicago

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