Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

A Crucial Step To Surviving Infidelity: Discovery. Guidelines - Part 3

4 Part Series:  A Crucial Step to Surviving Infidelity: Discovery

  1. How Do I Handle Discovery?
  2. Advice for the Wayward Spouse
  3. Guidelines
  4. Goals for the Betrayed

I watched in horror as police handcuffed my wife and drove off. I was only trying to get her to be quiet and let me sleep. Every time I tried to call a timeout she would come after me and demand I listen to her. It was 2:30 in the morning and I needed sleep. I called 911 thinking the police would tell her to give me space. When the police arrived they knocked on the door and I quickly went outside, closing the door behind me. They could hear my wife’s rage as she yelled for me to come back. The officer yelled through the door for her to stay inside while they spoke with me, but she was totally out of control and burst through the door and began hitting me. The second officer pulled out a weapon and fired. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe they’d just shot my wife. Then as I saw her go to the ground I realized it was a taser. At that point they handcuffed her and put her in the car. How did we get to this place? Is healing after an affair even possible?

This week’s article, “Guidelines for Discovery,” is the third installment of a four-part series on the discovery process. I hope it can prevent the above-mentioned situation after the affair. Without establishing proper boundaries and guidelines, raging emotions will hijack the process and delay healing after an affair. I have provided my suggested guidelines for discovery. These are not written in stone. Every situation is different, but I hope to at least help create a safe container for the process. Remember the goal of discovery is to make things better, not worse. Couples in recovery need other shared experiences beyond dealing with the infidelity; they also need regular interactions and positive experiences. You can’t deal with the negative aspects of the infidelity all the time, but you also can’t stuff them and avoid addressing the situation without those feelings later reappearing as anger, a critical spirit, disengagement, depression, etc.


To make the process productive and safe:


Both parties need to make a commitment to the discovery process after the affair and commit to be safe enough for the process.

1. Maintain healthy boundaries for discovery:

Agree to no verbal or physical abuse.

  • Agree not to talk after 11:00 at night. You’re ability to control emotions will be limited if you’re tired.
  • Make the goal to have a rational conversation verses an emotional conversation.
  • Don’t talk around your children. Both parties need to agree to keep the children out of your marital issues.

2. Agree on whom you each can speak with about your situation. Try to agree on two or three safe people each of you can speak with about your struggles.

3. Deal with questions as they arise.

Attempting to deal with questions at predetermined times, (such as on Wednesdays at three o’clock) can be counterproductive. If the injured spouse has to wait to ask questions the frustration of waiting builds, which may in turn cause the unfaithful spouse to be defensive. Dealing with questions as they arise, when it’s appropriate, helps the discovery process be less emotional.

Only ask questions in a safe space. For instance, continually texting your mate at work or calling them will be counter productive. Especially if they have a job where it’s not safe to talk.

Don’t make any major decisions until you’ve had time to process though the information and had time to calm down.


Guidelines for the Injured Spouse:


1. No Deal Breakers

a. Commit to the process. Agree not to make any decisions until you’ve gone through the process of discovery. Don’t punish by threatening divorce or threatening to have your own affair each time they tell you something you don’t like.

b. It’s difficult for the unfaithful spouse to answer questions if there’s a gun held to their head. If the injured spouse wants the information, they need to make it safe enough for their mate to share the answers.

c. To encourage your mate’s disclosure, try to not react. If you can’t be safe enough to receive the information they won’t feel safe enough to give the information.

d. For the unfaithful spouse to rebuild trust they first have to trust you with the information. For them to trust, you need to avoid punishing them for being honest.

e. If you’ve been guilty of over-reacting in the past, acknowledge your mistake and make amends.

f. This isn’t condoning what they’ve done, but without honesty there is no way to deal with the deception. Their willingness to be honest indicates their move toward intimacy, loyalty and commitment.

g. Keep reminding yourself that regardless of how devastating the information, the fact that they are answering your questions is also positive in that it indicates change and hope for the future.

2. No Marathoning

a. Most questions can be answered in ten minutes. If it goes longer than that you’ve started lecturing. If each question asked takes hours to answer then it’s not going to encourage the process. Letting them answer the question and then moving on helps the unfaithful spouse be more open to the process.

b. Try to stay rational.

If emotions escalate out of control, stop the conversation. The objective is to have a rational conversation. If either party gets overly emotional the conversation will be hurtful rather than helpful. Both parties need permission to call a timeout when it’s apparent the conversation will only make things worse.

c. Use timeouts.

  • Both agree to a timeout protocol.
  • Either party can call a time out. It’s not a request.
  • The person calling timeout has to say when they will resume the conversation (ex: 30 minutes).
  • Don’t focus on argument during the time out, instead read something and relax.
  • When you come back first seek to understand their perspective before trying to be understood.


d. Allow your self to take breaks from discovery. If you need a break and want to go out and have a good time tell your mate they can take you out, but that nothing has changed. It’s just that you need a night off. Tell them tomorrow you’ll probably go back to where you were the night before.

e. Make sure you’re getting the information you need.

Ask yourself two questions2: Why do I need to know this? Will the answer to this question help me move forward in my healing? If the answer to either of these two questions is no, then as difficult as it may seem, don’t ask the question.

Limit “why” questions. Your mate probably won’t know the answer. Generally they thought no further than, “I’ll never get caught.” You can ask, but don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out in the discovery stage. It may be months before they understand why.

Try to ask the appropriate questions. Don’t ask comparison questions. They will only create intrusive thoughts.

Agree to the 24-hour rule. If a question is asked where the unfaithful spouse feels the answer would cause intrusive thoughts, (such as sexual positions) then allow them to use the 24-hour rule. They will agree to give you the answer in 24 hours, but during that time think about it and make sure it’s an answer you want. This is key to healing after an affair.


Guidelines for the Unfaithful Spouse:


1. Agree to answer your mate’s questions.

2. Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. More damage is done by the deception than by the sexual acts. It’s the deception that creates the sense of betrayal. Not only can they not trust you, but they can’t trust reality or their intuition. They don’t even know if they can trust their gut about what seems real. Answer their questions. It’s the only way to help them find what’s real.

3. Cut contact with your affair partner

4. When asked “why,” if you don’t know then say so. Also let them know you will do whatever is necessary to find out why.

5. Listen to what your mate has to say. If it’s true let yourself feel it. If it’s not, let it pass. If you don’t know then ask others if it’s true.

6. Take note of what makes your mate anxious and do what you can to minimize those situations. Put proper boundaries in your life as proof that you’re doing what’s necessary to not only protect your mate, but also to protect you.

7. Don’t be defensive; rather, take full responsibility. Don’t blame your mate. Bad marriages don’t cause affairs. Two people can be in a bad marriage, but usually only one has an affair. That shows that bad marriage is not the cause. Bad marriages don’t cause affairs, bad choices do. Take responsibility for what you’ve done.

8. Be patient with the process. Discovery and surviving infidelity takes time and may include times of irrationality. This process takes up to two years. Don’t expect your mate to “get over it.” They care enough about you that they’re willing to go through this in an attempt to find something new for the two of you.

9. Don’t minimize what you’ve done. Be rigorously honest. That’s the type of honest where you share the parts you don’t want to share. If you minimize it your mate won’t believe you. If you tell it honestly at least your mate will know you’re trying to be honest.

10. Let your mate decide how much information he or she needs. You don’t know what they need to know. Ask them what level of detail they would like and answer their questions. Don’t try to control your mate by the flow of information.

11. If they begin asking comparison questions use the 24-hour rule. Tell them you will give them the answer, but you want them to think about it for 24 hours to make sure it is information they want.

12. Give your mate permission to talk with others.

13. Don’t make the process all about you. If you become self consumed with guilt and shame about what you’ve done you won’t be able to be present for your mate.

The discovery process is a highly emotional time. At times it’s difficult to understand what’s happening to “us,” but following the above-mentioned guidelines will help with the process and healing after the affair. The Affair Recovery courses. Recovery courses are another tool which helps provide a safe container for discovery. If you find things get too emotional when trying to discuss what happened, get professional help. Remember that the goal of discovery is to make things better. The last thing you want to do is to make matters worse.



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If I may, I would like to add one thought


If you truly love one another and honestly want to survive this with your marriage in tact (and hopefully healthy), please remember to have patience and sympathy for each other during those tough moments. Remember that you are both hurting, albeit in different ways, but being together is the most important thing.

As you (the betrayed) are plagued by triggers and reminders of the pain and deceit, your partner is also pained each time you experience these feelings and sometimes react poorly.  The guilty partner needs to remember to have patience and understanding, recognizing that you are trying desperately to fight off any anger, resentment and negative feelings...simply because you love him/her.

For those on the other side, the betrayed need to remember that a truly repentant and remoreful spouse will be flooded with shame, guilt, pain and anger at themselves for their actions.  You need to have patience and understand that sometimes his/her feelings might be hurt by our words or action....when, in fact, our spouse is only trying desperately to make it all better.

I forget this sometimes. I promise to try and consciously have patience. Patience for my own self - to heal, learn to trust and rebond with my wife. Patience for her - to know that she is doing everything she can to make me happy and heal our relationship and that sometimes she needs my sympathy as well.


Excellent advise

Excellent advise

Great advice

Great advice

What now.

It has 8months since I discovered other woman #1 and 6 months since I discovered other woman#2. My husband says he does not remember how or when either of them started. #2 lasted several years somewhere between 6 and 10 years. #1 started out being 6 months but I have found evidence that it has been at least 2 years and it could be as much as 15 years. Does it really matter? Should I be able to get past him not being willing to answer these questions?


"It may be months before they know why."  I have known now for 8 months of my husband's 6 year relationship with a woman that I know.  While I think that I have it all going on, of course! - bright, attractive enough, happy, loving, good mom, this other "thing" is far from any of that.  I humor myself with the fact that that's good, because he wasn't looking for anything better but was looking for the sexually charged chatter.  He doesn't know why it happened, it just did.  Do the unfaithful spouses come to some moment where they do understand why?

surely i should be allowed to

surely i should be allowed to be angry and emotional! should it not be a guideline that he should understand this?and is it not just making it easier for him if i have to try not to be? and is it not bad for me to try not to be? after all i am!!

Trusting Again

It has been over 2 years since I discovered my husband's long term emotional affair.  I thought we were making progress but I had a 'gut' feeling that he was still not being honest with me, even though he promised he was (and even got mad that I didn't believe him). He kept saying 'I wish I knew what to do to make you believe me'. 

Months ago he had agreed he would take a lie detector test, so I wrote a list of questions, all of which I had asked him previously,  and told him that these were the ones I would have the person ask.  He asked to see them, and I let him. (The person who would administer the test had told me that my husband would get to see the questions in advance.)

Well, he read the questions, and said he'd like to have some time to think about them.  I didn't really understand that, but went to the other part of the house and did chores for several hours.

When he was ready, he had marked several of the questions as ones he had not told me the truth about.  He told me the answers, and said he hadn't told me the truth when I asked him before because he 'didn't want to hurt me anymore'.  But, only 1 of the answers would have made any impact on me, and it was nothing like the things I already knew. The others were just silly things, which make me think he wanted to keep 'some secrets that only he and his affair partner knew'.  He really had no answer about why he kept those things secret.

My real concern now, is can I really trust him, and can I ever trust him again, since he has been continuing to lie to me for over 2 1/2 years, all the while swearing he was telling me the complete truth.

This has created a real barrier between us.  I wonder if I asked other questions, would he have other 'new revelations' for me.  And I wonder if he lied, and is continuing to lie about his affair and affair partner, then can I believe him when he tells me other things, not related to the affair?

Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.




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