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

Discovery: Part 3 - Guidelines for Discovery

Discovery: A Four Part Series

Part 1: How to Handle Discovery?
Part 2: Advice for the Wayward Spouse
Part 3: Guidelines for Discovery
Part 4: Goals for the Betrayed

A client once shared the following story with me. As always, I've changed some of the details out of respect for the parties involved:

"I watched in horror as the police subdued my partner. It was 2:30 in the morning, and I needed sleep so I called 911. I thought the police would simply tell them to give me space. When the police arrived, though, they could hear my partner's rage from the other room. They were yelling and screaming, before they eventually busted through the locked door and lunged at me. Once they began hitting me, the officer moved into action and tased them. I couldn't believe what was happening in front of me. I was only trying to diffuse the situation after many failed timeout attempts. How on earth did we get to this place?"

Guidelines for Discovery

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 disclosure of an affair. Without establishing proper boundaries and guidelines, raging emotions will hijack the process and delay healing. Below, I've provided my suggested guidelines for discovery. While these are not written in stone and every situation is uniquely different, I do 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.

Making the Process Safe and Productive

Both parties need to make a commitment to the discovery process after the affair and commit to be safe enough for the process. Some ways to go about this include:

1. Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

Agree to no verbal or physical abuse during discovery — or ever in your relationship, for that matter — as well as not talking after 11:00 at night. Your ability to control emotions will be limited if you're tired, so try not to put yourself in these potentially charged scenarios. Also, make it a priority to have rational conversations versus emotional conversations. Agree to keep children out of your marital issues and don't talk around them.

2. Agreeing on People to Loop Into Your Situation

Try to agree on two or three safe people each of you can talk with about your struggles. Some of the best people to lean on during this time are other survivors of infidelity. Be careful not to share your story with everyone, though, as this can cause you to relive the trauma again and again rather than begin to heal and move forward.

3. Dealing 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 betrayed 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.

That said, only ask questions in a safe space. For instance, continually texting your mate at work or calling them will be counterproductive — 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 through the information and calm down.

Guidelines for the Betrayed Spouse

1. No Deal-Breakers

First and foremost, 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. It's difficult for the unfaithful spouse to answer questions if they feel as 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.

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

Most discovery 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.

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. When using timeouts:

  • Both agree to a timeout protocol.
  • Either party can call a timeout.
  • The person calling timeout has to say when they will resume the conversation, e.g. in 30 minutes.

Don't focus on the argument during the timeout; instead, read something and relax. When you come back, seek first to understand their perspective before trying to be understood.

Allow yourself 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 that tomorrow you'll probably go back to where you were the night before.

3. Get the Information You Need

Ask yourself two questions: "Why do I need to know this?" and "Will the answer to this question help me move forward in my healing?" If the answer to either of these questions is "no," then, as difficult as it might 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 more 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 really want. This step is key to gaining ground in both spouses' recoveries.

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. Please answer their questions; it's the only way to help them find what's real.

3. Cut off all 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 whether 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 to also protect yourself.

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 might take up to two years or longer. 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 honesty 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 really 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 controlling 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.

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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.




Contacting the other betrayed spouse

Is it ok to contact the other betrayed spouse? Several years have passed since the D-day. We were all friends prior to our spouses having an affair and since then we have never spoke.


I first logged on to AR June 2015, after learning what I later found out was just a drop in the bucket concerning my husband’s infidelity.
My husband is a sex added. He was unfaithful throughout our 30 year marriage.

I take exception with some of the guidance in your article.
“Ask yourself two questions: Why do I need to know this? Will the answer to this question help me move forward in my healing?”

I needed to know the full truth. Period.
And no, not one single question has helped me move toward healing. However, without the questions and continued searches for the truth, I would still be in the dark about the full extent of his betrayal.

As far as the sexual details are concerned, I didn’t need to ask. He posted excruciatingly graphic details about his “appointments” on The Erotic Review, for the entire world to read. Had I stopped investigating and trusted that he had answered all of my questions, I would not have found them.

The reality of what he was doing (prostitutes, among many other things) has been and continues to be devastating. Unreal. Incomprehensible.

Make it safe for him so HE can rebuild trust?
Try not to “over react.”
Are you kidding me?

Every time I hear or read about the 18-24month timeline, I feel like a failure. Almost three years out and I continue to die on the inside a little more every day.

AR has provided some invaluable information, but unless you have lived it, you can not possibly understand the degree of disorientation and sheer agony that comes with knowing that the man you loved, supported and sacrificed for was capable of regularly blocking you out of his mind and conscience to pursue other women -throughout your entire marriage.
The fact that he wrote about it makes it very difficult to buy in to a supposed struggle with guilt and shame, which further details me.
I won’t even get started on the lies, manipulationl, and.gaslighting.

The implication that I struggle to heal because I “know too much” is infuriating.


Agreed. Thank you for saying

Agreed. Thank you for saying what many of us might be thinking feeling after reading the post.

blaming the victim spouse

I really do feel that the innocent or victimized spouse often receives too much blame and is expected to take on too much responsibility for healing.

The fact is that when someone has an affair, it is wrong. Or, at least it used to be in our society. I am not saying we need to put a scarlet letter on those who have affairs, but I think more needs to be done to let them know that they caused the problem and the innocent spouse is not to blame.

When an affair comes to light the innocent spouse, should be angry, they should be distrustful....forever going forward because the person has shown themselves to be capable of profound life-changing deception.

To my mind, a lot of harm was done to me by well meaning counselors who continually focused on me and things I perhaps was doing to make my husband unhappy. I felt as if I was being victimized all over again. And, yes, I know counselors do not like the word victim.

But, really, innocent spouses are victims of deceptive mates, who could have brought home a deadly disease by having sex outside of the marriage.

As far as the person having an affair being unhappy.......Well, I was not happy, but I did not cheat. I found other things to fulfill me.


I know how you feel except my husband was unfaithful during our entire 40 year marriage. He was in the ministry all that time as well. He had many AP’s. He convinced himself that as long as nobody knew it was ok. Sometimes it was an emotional affair with kissing.. The last one was an all out affair. He thought he was in love with her. I was always suspicious, and questioned him many times about the very women he was involved with. He looked me right in the eye and lied. He always said he hadn’t done anything wrong. The fact that he could lie to me so easily hurts as much if not more that the sexual acts. When I learned of this affair I made him tell our kids, and he had to resign from the Church where he was on staff. I had always protected him and I was done. We didn’t divorce and I forgave him again. I really thought he had had an experience with God, and had changed. He had gotten us into significant debt also. He told me about that too at this time. I asked him every few months if he had talked to his AP and he played it perfectly saying he had not talked to her. Of course that was a lie. I found out he and the AP had spent very little time apart and he’d been lying again. This time I forgave him and we are still together, but I told him I was giving him to the Lord. If he cheats on me again I believe God will handle it in His way. Other than the cheating and the lying we’ve had a good marriage. I know that sounds crazy, but he’s always been good to me. He’s a giver so he’s always given me wonderful gifts. He has a servants heart so he takes great care of me. Our motto is Let’s Finish Well. I truly hope he will remain faithful until the Lord calls us home. BTW I did ask lots of questions and he answered truthfully I hope. We have a Goldwing that we rode a lot during this time. We just rode and talked. This time was healing for me.


You are absolutely correct. I am about 14 months post discovery of my husbands affair. I needed to know every detail. I felt it was my right to know to make an informed decision as to whether I could stay in this marriage or leave. I could have stuck my head in the sand and had half the story but I chose to know all of the truth. It still hurts. It hurts he told her he loved her. It hurts that he put my health at risk and had unprotected sex with her. He put our marriage and children on the line for her. The lies upon lies in the beginning trickled out over weeks- supposedly to protect me from the details. This hurt the most. I could not trust anything he said for the truth. He said he never called her after my discovery but phone bills say he's lying. He was trying to "fix it". He was supposedly trying to shut her up so I would not find out all of the details. We had marathon fights behind closed doors for weeks. Discovery time was he'll but I would not change how I handled it. I even confronted his affair partner which I also do not regret. I think I have PTSD from the whole thing. I stayed in my marriage because I still love my husband and I want my kids to grow up with both parents. Our children were spared the details of our rough patch but knew our marriage was stressed.

Your situation is terrible. I'm sure your marriage feels like a sham. I certainly felt that way for a long time. I felt jipped and it cheapened that last 15 years of our life together was tainted by his affair. To know he discussed personal details of our marriage and details about me with her was appalling. I am a very private person. The picture he painted for her of me was appalling. I work full time as an RN and manage most of what goes on in our household. I have arthritis and follow with a rheumatologist for it. I do get run down and have runs of fatigue due to this. His affair partner convinced him that I was just lazy and really nothing was wrong with me- and she told me I should seek help! Seriously! I could not believe the manipulation! His affair showed his true selfishness at that time in his life. I could not believe that my once very considerate and sensitive husband had turned into a lying cheater. This guy was so straight and narrow all his life- I mean he won't even run a yellow light. But yet..he sunk to having unprotected sex in cars at public parks with a whore who has cheated on her own husband several times.

Discovery time is an eye opener. No, I did not always make it safe for my partner to open up. I was an emotional mess. He needed to see what he caused to fully understand the wrong he did to me. I would not change a thing I said or did to him during that time. Why should I minimize my hurt to make him feel secure when he turned our world upside down?

I 100% agree

AR has provided some valuable insight but timelines of 18-24 months in my mind are not realistic. Every situation is unique and has its own set of circumstances.

I’m 4 years out and you there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have a thought or a reminder. I’ve accepted the fact that this is my new life and unfortunately I feel like I will never fully trust Anyone again. This new “Life” of mine is what I planned and in my opinion creating a safe environment is a slap in the face. There was a safe environment but my spouse made the choice to make it unsafe.

I wish you the best of luck on your road to recovery!!!


I must admit that I had a very hard time with the guidelines for the injured spouse....It's been nearly 3 years since D-day. The despair and ultimate rage I felt early on is melting away. Slowly.... If I said I was never enraged to the point of physical and verbal outbursts, I would be lying. To suggest that the betrayer is entitled to an environment of safety and an ability to trust in the reactions of the injured only makes sense.....rationally. However, emotions are raw, especially early in the process. My husband thought nothing about what he had been doing for nearly 10 years. On some level, he knew exactly what he was doing to me (and us) for so many years - even while he was doing it. Emotionally speaking, he should be taking what comes his way during discovery. To say he has the right to demand or even expect controlled reactions or specified treatment during discovery is quite honestly unrealistic and more importantly UNFAIR. If he is any kind of decent human being, he will take whatever comes his way during discovery.
I was and am quite honest with my husband, telling him there are no guarantees. I have no expectations and neither should he. We will go through this process and let the chips fall where they may. This attitude has helped me. It has taken the pressure off me to heal and trust again. And I no longer look at the calendar.....
So my feeling is, any expectation from the betrayer during discovery is unfounded. They chose to behave the way did ..... and now they should be strong enough to face the music. If they truly want reconciliation, they should be willing to accept any reaction. Their approach should be selfless, holding themselves accountable for their choices and behavior and responding to unfavorable reactions with kindness and understanding. They should not be encouraged to be allowed to place conditions of whether or not they fully disclose information to the injured spouse. There is NO exception, the betrayer should fully disclose whatever is asked....unconditionally.


I can relate to all the comments on here. My discovery is almost at the 1 year mark and I still feel traumatized with flooding, wanting to know why, and the desire to ask more questions. We have done a marriage intensive and professional counseling together for a short time. I am struggling with the fact that he has done nothing individually to try and figure out what his issues are. As he has done our entire marriage of 27 years, we just sweep issues under the rug and never deal with it. I struggle with “getting over this” and wonder if we ever will get to the place others have spoken of-“our marriage is better than ever!!” Right now it feels like it could happen again at any time! I also spoke to his AP, who provided me with truths that he chose not to tell me. He said it was so I wouldn’t leave him-sooo manipulative. I still wonder if I have all the truth. When I read these emails and comments I can relate to everyone on here and just still wonder if it will ever feel better.

Subtle digs on B/S

It’s so unfair (on top of being unfair) that the betrayed spouse is expected to be calm, open, receiving, without judgement, when hearing all this crap! Quit treating the unfaithful spouse with kid gloves! They deserve to take ALL the heat from their choices and then some. It’s nothing near the heat the betrayed spouse will feel the rest of their lives! And the flooding that inconveniently comes up, I’m sorry but no job is more important than to stop what your doing immediately and address the flooding your B/S is going thru. If you lose your marriage I guarantee your business life will suffer greater than you walking out of a meeting. The middle of the night flooding, so sorry to inconvenient the poor U/S who’s just so ‘exhausted’ from his life of shame. A/R could do a lot better job at defending the B/S. The PTSD is real. These guys are the U/S not the B/S and I don’t care how much you think you know. Until you’ve walked in someone’s shoes you can’t really know their pain. No man, even if he’s a OB-GYN, is going to tell me what childbirth feels like. If we’re trying to void buildup of resentment then U/S have to 100% take the heat.
God bless any B/S going through this nightmare. Maybe in 5 years you’ll have ‘2 days of peace’.

Subtle digs on b/s

Right on jstagrljean, and so many of the other commenters here! The unfaithful are coddled here so often on Affair Recovery, and this needs to be addressed and deeply considered! Also baffling is why is there NEVER any RESPONSE from Affair Recovery to any of these comments/responses? I see on ever single one of these articles, people with questions and comments, pleading for answers, and it's just crickets on the side of Affair Recovery.
Affair Recovery should take all if these comments from betrayed spouses into consideration when providing content/suggestions/advice, and refrain from adding to what is already a completely devastating experience and relaying bad counsel, plus giving license to the unfaithful to manipulate situations to their advantage through the neverending coddling and normalizing of semi-abusive behaviors. This needs to change on this forum, and provide a better recognition of the safety, needs, boundaries, and sensitivity to the complete and total betrayal trauma the betrayed have endured. Please get it right Affair Recovery!!

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