Ben Affleck was on his best behavior. Following the premiere of his new superhero movie, Justice League, presented by Mercedes-Benz at the Dolby Theatre in LA on Nov. 14, the actor hit up the nearby afterparty. With his publicist as his plus-one, Ben — looking fitter and fresher than he has in months — chatted with industry colleagues and dutifully smiled for photos as co-stars such as Gal Gadot mingled nearby. While Ben, who has openly imbibed booze in public on several occasions since he completed a rehab program just eight months ago, did drink a beer, a witness confirms it was a nonalcoholic brand. Indeed, a Ben source says that in recent weeks the actor “has been making an effort to improve his life.”
One very important person has taken notice: his estranged wife, Jennifer Garner. The pair split in 2015 in part because of Ben’s partying and alcohol addiction, and though Jen’s been “extremely understanding regarding his battles with alcohol abuse,” says the source, she’s also grown frustrated by his relapses. But his recent strides have pleased the 45-year-old Mother’s Day star so much, she invited Ben, 45, to come over to her LA home on Thanksgiving to be with her and their three kids, Violet, 11, Seraphina, 8, and Samuel, 5. “Jen wants to spend the holiday at home like they used to,” according to a friend, who says the idea came up in their biweekly family therapy sessions. Says the Ben source, “She’s taking him back. It’s a huge step for them.”
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Ben hopes it’s the first step toward a permanent reunion. He has been dating Saturday Night Live producer Lindsay Shookus since the summer, but the source says he’d “dump her immediately” for a second chance with his ex. “Ben never wanted this divorce to happen and would absolutely get back together with Jen in a second if she would have him.” Lindsay knows it, too. “She thought Ben was over Jennifer, because he truly convinced her that was the case,” says the source. “Now she’s telling friends that she knows ‘his heart isn’t with me.’” Adds an insider: “She was devastated” when Ben broke the news that he wanted to spend the holidays with Jen — and it led to a major fight. “Lindsay broke down in tears when Ben told her, ‘Jen’s giving me a second chance.’ ”
Ben has focused his attention on Jen and is doing everything he can to stay in her good graces. After all, it was just last year that the friendly exes traveled with the kids to Montana for Christmas. Ben, who went to rehab three months after the trip, “kept disappearing for hours at a time,” says the source, who adds that Jen suspected Ben would go off drinking on his own. “She vowed never to put herself or the kids in that situation again. She didn’t want the kids questioning where their dad was.”
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Ben swore there would be no repeat performance this holiday season. In a heartbreaking confession, “Ben broke down in recent weeks and told Jen how sorry he was for putting her through hell,” says the source. “He promised that he would try to do better.” And though Jen has heard it before, she’s seeing that his actions now match his words. As In Touch previously reported, he’s been attending sessions at LA’s Refuge Recovery addiction treatment center after friends and family — including Jen — begged him to get more help. While it isn’t the inpatient rehab some believe he needs, it’s a stark contrast to just two months ago, when he and Lindsay were openly drinking at an Emmy afterparty (and days after that, he was spotted leaving an LA liquor store carrying a brown paper bag).
Thanksgiving at Jen’s is always a day of family fun. “Jen and the kids are going to be baking and will include Ben in the preparation of their Thanksgiving meal later in the day,” the source said just days before the holiday. When asked if he had big plans for Thanksgiving on Today on Nov. 17, Ben said, “Jen and I and the kids — Jen cooks, and she makes a great meal. It’s a good time.” Ben didn’t mention Lindsay, although the source says he was considering leaving Jen’s house to spend some of the day with her. Lindsay, 37, can’t help but silently stew as she watches Ben grow closer to his ex. “She’s hoping Jen is nasty to Ben and that there’s no chance of a reconciliation,” says the source.
In an ironic, only-in-Hollywood twist, dating Lindsay has made Ben appreciate his ex more. Sure, he had his fun as a single man, but some close to Ben feel Lindsay “enables him by drinking with him,” says the insider, noting that “Ben needs to focus on getting healthy, and he realizes Jen could help with that.” While the movie stars struggled as a couple during their 10-year union — they’ve admitted they attended couples counseling, and Ben even called their marriage “work” in his infamous Oscar acceptance speech in 2013 — Ben has a new respect for Jen ever since they announced their separation in 2015. Even though they are no longer a couple, “Jen was so unbelievably supportive of Ben with his sobriety struggles,” says the source. “That has only made Ben love her more. He has told friends that the biggest heartbreak of his life was losing Jen as his wife.”
Jen clearly still has feelings for Ben, too. “I would go back and remake that decision [to marry him in Turks and Caicos],” she told Vanity Fair in 2016, a year after they split. “I ran down the beach to him, and I would again.... He’s the love of my life.” And she knows that he’s a wonderful dad. “Jen has instilled boundaries as far as her relationship with Ben,” says the source. “However, when it comes to Ben and the kids, Jen’s heart will always win. She loves seeing them together.”
The season will only make Ben and Jen more wistful for what they once had. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are always a sentimental time for the couple,” says the source, who adds that Ben is hoping 2018 will be a very happy new year. “If he can get through the holidays without relapsing, there’s a good chance that they will reconcile.”