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

A Crucial Step To Surviving Infidelity: Discovery. Goals for the Betrayed - Part 4

surviving infidelity handle discovery

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

Advice for the Hurt Spouse

“I’ve been having an affair with Sandra,” He told her.

Shock and disbelief flashed across her face.

“I knew it,” she said, “For how long?”

“Six months,” He told her. From there the questions began.

How do you navigate the process of discovery after such a nuclear bomb is dropped on you?

Infidelity creates a pain like no other and a disorientation that leaves the injured spouse unsure of their past, their identity, and their future. Why wouldn’t they want to discover the reality of their life? If you are the one who has been betrayed, why wouldn’t you want answers? Without the answers to your questions as to what’s happened, how do you get your feet back on the ground? To make matters worse, you're probably experiencing an intensity of emotions unlike anything you've ever imagined, which makes objectivity and healing after an affair seem impossible. Please don't think I'm minimizing the situation with these suggestions, but experience has shown that there are in fact, practical ways to move through this crisis and into a better life. I hope you will find this information both palatable and helpful for your difficult journey ahead.

Goals for discovery:

Making the process safe:

Trying to understand what has happened after discovery of the affair is a highly emotional process. If the unfaithful spouse doesn’t make it safe by disengaging from their affair partner (AP) then it will be impossible for the betrayed to feel safe with them. While that complicates matters it doesn’t mean you can’t get help for your situation even if the unfaithful refuses to end the affair. Equally true however, is the truth that if  you, the betrayed can’t control your potentially damaging reactions, you may not be safe enough for the unfaithful to share the information you need in order to process it all. (I’m not talking about you being emotional; I’m talking about harming your mate and doing more damage or harming  the affair partner, yourself, or even your children.) To begin the process of discovery you both need to establish the necessary boundaries to make it possible for the two of you to discuss what has happened.

Please attempt to get the right information:

  1. Understanding what happened: Until you are able to get your mind around what happened, there is a part of you that may continue searching for information to understand your new reality. It’s completely normal. Until  the betrayed spouse has those answers, it’s difficult, at best, to even know how to move forward. In fact, these answers play a vital role in healing after discovery. Without answers your mind can run wild imagining situations that may have actually never happened. But, one very telling question always arises: how much do you really want to know? To begin, you need to know the basic details of what happened. Below are a few helpful guidelines to provide insight for you both:

Questions for a physical or emotional affair:

Is this your first affair? How many others have you had? When did it begin? Was it a physical or emotional affair? How long were you attracted to this person before either one of you expressed feelings for the other person? Was the affair with someone you knew? Who was responsible for initiating the affair? What did the two of you have in common? How did the two of you connect? Was an effort made to stop? If so, how? Why do you think it didn’t work? Is the other person married or in a committed relationship? Does the affair partner’s mate know, and how did they respond? When and where did you get together and how frequently? If it's a sexual addiction, when did you act out and how frequently? Is this person someone you’ve known for a while? How long had you been feeling attracted to the other person prior to the affair? When did the relationship first become flirtatious? When did it become sexual (if it was sexual)? How long did the affair last? If you were sexual how many times did the two of you have sex? From your perspective, was the relationship more emotional or sexual? How did the two of you communicate and what was the frequency? Was there any unprotected sex? Have you been tested for STDs? How much money do you think you spent on the affair? Did you buy your AP any gifts? Did your AP ever buy you any gifts? If they bought you gifts what have you done with them? Has the affair ended? How did it end? When was the last time the two of you had contact? How is this time different than other times when you’ve tried to end the affair? Have you contacted your AP since you ended it to see how they are doing? Did you decide to end the affair, or was it a joint decision between you and your AP? What makes you think this time will be different? What measures have you taken to make sure there will be no more contact? Who else knows about your affair? What does your AP want? How do you plan on responding if your AP initiates contact? If others know, how did they find out, and what did they do? Have you been giving the AP any financial support? If so, what do you intend to do as you go forward?

Sexual addiction:

If it is a sexual addiction you would want to know when the acting out behavior began after marriage. Was this a problem for you prior to our marriage? Did you ever consider telling me? If so, what stopped you from letting me know? If you were acting out with other people, did I know any of them, or was it anonymous sex? How did you hook up with those people? What types of acting out behaviors have you participated in? What is the frequency? How did you keep it a secret? Was there any unprotected sex? Have you ever tried to stop? What did you do? How did those efforts turn out? Do you feel you have a problem? What do you plan on doing now? Who else knows about your acting out behavior? How did they find out? What did they know? How did they respond? Have you been tested for STDs? How much money did you spend? When was the last time you acted out? When did you typically act out? Where did you typically act out? Are you willing to get help? Are there other potential complications such as pregnancies?

One night stands:

If it was a one-night stand, when did it occur? Who was it with? Where did you meet them? Where did you act out? Did you know the person before that night? If so, had there been any flirting before that evening? What happened when you were done? Were plans made to meet again? Are they married? Does their partner know? Are there any possible complications at work as a result of what you did? Did you have unprotected sex? Have you been tested for STDs? Does anyone else know? How did they find out? Have you had any further contact with that person? When was the last time the two of you communicated? If there has been communication, what was the means of communication? What’s the frequency of communication?

2. Avoid comparison questions: I know it may sound crazy, but one thing you’ll want to refrain from is asking comparison questions, such as specific questions about how they acted out sexually with the affair partner. (These questions add to the already established difficulty with reminders, triggers and intrusive thoughts.) Also, as best you can avoid asking about physical attributes, which could cause you to continually compare yourself against the affair partner. Remember, it’s not an apple to apples comparison. These questions don’t provide relevant information and will add to the intrusive thoughts well after the affair has ended. The urge to ask these types of questions will be strong. Please hear me when I say that this information has the potential to cause unnecessary difficulty in the healing process and ultimately surviving this process altogether.

3. Limit “why” questions: Without some understanding as to why it happened, how do you determine whether there’s hope to prevent this from happening again? However, there is a strong likelihood that your mate doesn’t fully understand why it happened yet, so try not to get stuck on this question. In fact, their “why” may not even be based upon reality or truth at the timing of disclosure. It will take some time and the right help before they can answer this with any large degree of truth and accuracy. As difficult as it might be to believe, most likely your mate wasn’t thinking about anything other than the fact that they wouldn’t get caught. If they do share their alleged interpretation and understanding of why, probably all they can share are their justifications for what they did.

4. Don't make matters worse by…

Making hasty decisions: You can never tell the end of the story by the beginning, which is certainly true of couples dealing with betrayal. To get the needed information, both you and your partner need to feel safe. This presents a challenge if ensuing chaos created by the discovery leaves the two of you unable to interact. It's tempting to try and stop the pain by trying to decide what to do about the marriage, but now isn't the time to make decisions. Your best decision won’t be made in an emotional state. Give yourself permission not to decide. Decide rather to commit to getting proper help, then you can make an informed and educated decision. Leaving your marriage may be your best course of action, but if your mate is humble and committed to change, you wouldn't be a fool to stay and be a part of the healing process. Hopefully, after the dust settles a bit, your goal may really be to find a better life in light of your new reality. You may find your best opportunity for that life is in your current relationship.

Transmitting your pain: You’ll find it tempting to try and make your partner hurt as badly as they hurt you during the process of discovery. Unfortunately, it won’t help you feel better in the long run. In fact, you’ll only end up hurting yourself. As you learn what they’ve done you may be tempted to retaliate by doing the same thing so they can discover how it feels, but you’ll only continue to hurt yourself and others. Pain that’s not transformed will be transmitted, and the last thing you want is to transmit this pain to other innocent parties. It’s not fair, and you did nothing to deserve what they’ve done, but hopefully you can be the one who begins to respond in a way to heal the pain by grieving what has happened. Try not to attack them for answering the questions you ask. This is critical in the discovery process and can pave the way to true and genuine healing.

Letting your emotions run unchecked: Anger is understandable, and you didn’t deserve this. Failure  to keep your anger under control leaves both you and your mate at risk. Take care of yourself by setting safe boundaries with your mate. Don’t allow yourself to behave in ways that can get you in trouble with the law. Domestic violence is against the law, and even if your mate has had an affair, you need to keep your anger in check.

Refusing to get help: You didn’t cause this, and it probably seems grossly unfair for you to have to do anything to fix it, much less get help. Consider for a moment the situation where you were driving a car involved in a wreck and your child was injured. Even though they didn’t cause the wreck, they may still need physical therapy to overcome their injury. In the same way, moving beyond this injury may require outside help. Don’t let pride keep you from getting the help you need to find healing and a better life, and don’t let your desire to punish your mate keep you from the healing you desperately need. Surviving this nightmare called infidelity requires humility, rational behavior, and a decision to get needed help.

Don’t try to get them to “get it:” It’s tempting, but at this stage it will only drive a wedge. Lecturing puts you in a parent to child interaction, which will only inhibit further communication and frustrate both of you in the process.

Don’t tell them what they are feeling or their motivation for what they’ve done. Telling them what they are feeling or why they did it won’t allow for safe communication. If you want the information, listen to what they have to say, and try to make it safe enough for them to talk to you. Remember, they probably don’t even know why they’ve done what they’ve done, and if they don’t know, I can assure you that you won’t know. You telling them won’t help the process. It will take time. It will take strategy. Please try to be patient. Finding the right, expert help can minimize any further trauma and provide much needed direction for you and your family.

If you’ve read this far, you're aware of what you need to know, but remember you both have to establish safe boundaries to make the process of discovery safe. In part III of the discovery series, I shared guidelines explaining how to create the safe boundaries needed to facilitate discovery. My hope is that this series will aid you in the process.

If you’re ready to begin healing after an affair please consider our upcoming EMS Weekend. With expert insight from both myself and other therapists who have also experienced infidelity personally, we guarantee you’ll be 100% satisfied you attended our weekend retreat. If you’d like more information on attending our weekend or any of our courses you can reach out for help please email info@hope-now.com or call 888-527-2367.

 

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It's very difficult to relate

It's very difficult to relate to this. My husband had an online affair, phone sex, cybersex and he proposed to her. Their emails just prior to discovery were to my beloved and betrothed and from your bride to be. They never met each other. But her suggestions were about hiding "his" assests.

We have been married 34 years and he is an alcoholic/addict. The online group(she is part of) believe that he has cut back because of them. Some even send him money. With addicts NOTHING is ever their fault, ever! And his affair is no exception. What I know is from looking, I got nothing but lies from him. Its been almost 2 years. He hasn't left, but he did withdraw what little affection he was willing to give before discovery. His overwhelming attitude is that I owe him an appology for discovering the affair. What's worse even leaving his online group didn't help since the others are all friends.One even offered to forward messages They are also on facebook, have each others multiple email addresses. I discovered 3 and as soon as I confronted him he opened a fourth. The nicknames he has for several of them tie directly to the very violent videos he had on the computer. I don't think they know that. His wholehearted belief that he is completely entitled to secrecy in his phone calls, emails, and friendships with other women is like a nightmare that doesn't end. I didn't feel threatened by his friendships before this, but now. I can't even discribe the pain I felt when I joined facebook and discovered that several women were commenting on letters sent to my husband or received from him. He had been hiding ALL of it. He simply never expected me to look or to participate at all. And now he portrays me as some crazy jealous person who doesn't let him have any friends. It's surreal.

I am affraid to confront him anymore. He threatened to break my things and then threatened me with never walking when I was five minutes late. If I try to discuss anything about the affair he makes financial and relational threats. How do I cope when he's smart enough to never have the police envolved and seems to have no conscience?

I wish I had had all this

I wish I had had all this information when I first found out about the affair. I wanted to know EVERYTHING. My husband was really good about answering my questions. I'd asked most of the questions under number one. But I made the mistake of making comparisons. It was so hard not to - and today, almost 9 months later, some of those things still creep into mind. I'm tempted to ask the missing questions from 1 because they've been playing on my mind. But they aren't the most important questions (they're the ones like did you buy her gifts) and I've been working so hard on putting it in the past that I feel like if I ask them now, its just pulling it back into the present. I'm still humiliated by the fact that my husband was 'that guy' and that is something I'd really like some advice on moving on from.

Am I the fool?

 

I just recently started receiving these articles and am grateful for them.  It has been two years since my discovery of my wife’s affair. I stayed with my wife and we went to counseling but when the one year anniversary came of the affair I started drinking heavily and she insisted I leave at that time.  I was so depressed that I went ahead and left and filed for divorce. After several months we started going to counseling again. We were talking about reconciling and were spending time together when I discovered she was seeing another man. When I found out through my daughter that she was with him I called her  at 10:00 at night to see why she was with him she said it was strictly business and said she loved me and was wearing her wedding ring and for me not to worry. Well she ended up having sex with him that night and confessed the next day that she had been with him several times.  I was devastated again.  Several months later we tried to reconcile, but I started drinking again . One night I ended up drunk and she told me to leave again.  Figuring I was falling into addiction and didn’t know what to do, I left again.  It has been four months now living separate my drinking has stopped (accept for the rare occasional drink) I have been attending some twelve step meetings to deal with my self-medicating.  But what I have figured out is that from the initial discovery I never allowed myself to grieve and process my anger.  There was this expectation from my wife that if she was sorry that I should just trust her and get over it and all is good, but it wasn’t. I have tried to spend time with her and I think she has learned from her mistakes and she seem sincere but I don’t feel safe with her anymore and this breaks my heart.  She is angry that it is taking me so long and but if I force it and pretend it affects everyone I am close to, especially myself.

 Why am I grateful for these articles?  Because I have realized that there was nothing wrong with me grieving and processing through the emotions and regardless of what she says, I need to grieve! I don’t want to punish her I love her, but I do not want to put myself in the situation to be hurt over again.

Oh and so true about asking about comparisons, I asked and I really didn’t need to know, it just feeds into myself doubt.

 

 

 

He Still Works with Her

I found out almost exactly a year ago about my husband's (together 18 years at that time) 10-month affair with a married co-worker. He had called it off just before my discovery. I "knew" for quite awhile, but he kept lying about it. He is a lousy liar, so I played his messages, and was horrified at what I heard. He was an honest man before meeting her. Our marriage was in an incredibly dark place when it began/continued. No excuse for the choices he made, but he knows that now, and is trying hard to earn my forgiveness and trust. It is incredibly hard because he still works with her. I know it's best if he can get another job, but the economy stinks, and I would be even more resentful if I have to pick up the financial slack in our family because he chose to have an affair. So, he switched areas and schedules at work (but not departments), checks in with me 2-3 times a day, changed his cell phone number (she didn't honor his continual requests to stop calling), is home when he is supposed to be, provides receipts when he runs errands, and most of all, is "courting me again." He was providing daily reports of "encounters" at work, as she walks by his cubicle 10 times a day to use the restroom, leave the building, etc. That, however, was putting us between a rock and a hard place. While it was building trust, it was also torture for me to hear about her that much. She occasionally would make quick snide comments about me or be sure to mention "his wife" knowing he couldn't respond without starting something in front of co-workers, who are unaware of the situation. I am the enemy to her, as I "won" in her words. Our counselor suggested we have 1-2 conversations per week to bring me up to speed unless there is something crucial I need to hear about. Daily conversations about her were killing me. Any other ideas?

Surviving

I wish I would have seen this sooner. It feels like everything I've done since the revelation of my husbands affair has not helped or been wrong. I keep praying we will survive.I fear many days though that there is to much damage. That what I have done up to this point has pushed my husband to far away.....

I wish this was the first thing I read after D-Day

I wish I had read this right after D-Day. My husband was (and continues to be) be very open to answering any questions I've had. But I never really thought about the impact some of the answers would have on me long term. It's almost 2 years and because of some of the questions I asked (and subsequent answers he provided), I now have a lot of triggers and intrusive comparison thoughts. I think the list of questions you provided are perfect and going beyond those (like I did) is probably not the best for the betrayed spouse, long term.

I never expected to have the relationship we now have, especially post-affair, but it is possible and it CAN be amazing...given the proper tools and support.

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