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

A Crucial Step To Surviving Infidelity: Discovery. Advice For The Wayward Spouse - Part 2

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 didn’t know what to do. My wife kept asking for my affair partner’s name. Initially I lied, telling her it was nobody she knew. I could only imagine the uncontrollable chain reaction if she discovered after the affair that it was actually a close friend at our church. I believed Lorena Bobbitt’s slicing routine would be mild compared to my wife’s reaction. “I don’t believe you,” she said accusingly. “Why would I lie to you?” “Great question,” she answered sarcastically. “I’m not lying!” I yelled in exasperation. “If you don’t tell me who it is right now, we’re done!”

Do I tell? All she wanted was to talk about the affair and all I wanted was to forget it. I was willing to try to salvage the marriage, but we needed to deal with our future and she was stuck in the past. I cared, but I couldn’t see how talking about it was helping. All talking seemed to accomplish was to get her upset. I felt all I could do was avoid these conversations and protect her from things that would hurt her. But here we were once again: Do I dare tell her? How could telling affect healing after an affair?

Few things in life are more difficult than the initial stage of dealing with infidelity. The discovery stage is critical when it comes to recovery and surviving infidelity. Until your mate understands what happened after the affair they never move on and redevelop trust. Without this understanding, your relationship may survive, but there will never be a meaningful connection and trust. So what do you do? I hope you find these tips helpful as you try to navigate the process.

Make the process safe:

Discovery is a highly emotional process and requires the two of you doing what is necessary to keep the process safe. Your partner will never be able to find the safety they need for this process if you don’t first break off the relationship with your affair partner. Let your spouse know that you’re willing to explore why you’ve done this and you also want to understand their perspective.

Ask if they will agree not to harm themselves are others during the process. This process is highly emotional, but if it becomes harmful to self or others then boundaries need to be established to keep the process safe.

Don’t just answer the questions. Instead, go to them with information you know they want. Your willingness to voluntarily share information reveals your commitment to the process. Let them know you’re not trying to hold anything back.

Answer their questions:

It’s impossible for your mate to redevelop trust for you if you don’t first trust them with information. Let them know you will answer all their questions, but ask them to be careful about the questions they ask. Suggest that they read the article Advice for Hurt Spouses. Bottom line, research supports answering your mate’s questions. When you trust them with the information they can begin understanding what happened and move on to grieving the loss.

Our advice for the injured spouse is that they avoid asking questions that compare your marriage to what you did with your affair partner, or compare themselves against the affair partner. If they ask these types of questions tell them you will give them the answer, but you’d like them to think about it for 24 hours to decide if that’s information they really want.

Don’t be defensive:

Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood. Defensiveness is nothing more than pride. It is manipulating and controlling how others see you. Even if you are thinking about others, your primary concern is how others view you, so it is still 100% totally self-centered. Rather than being concerned about how others see you, try to understand their perspective. If they feel you’re interested in their perspective, rather than defending your own, they will be far more likely to return the favor. In the long run, all defensiveness accomplishes is creating more distance between you and your mate. Healing after an affair means walking in their shoes.

Be rigorously honest:

Rigorous honesty is sharing the details you don’t want to share. It’s bringing to light the pieces you swore you’d take to the grave. You can never be loved unconditionally if you only let others know who you are conditionally.

To begin, be rigorously honest with yourself. If you can’t accept where you’re at, you’ll never get to where you want to go. Review the patterns of your life. You may find you’ve been singing the same song over and over again. If good intentions haven’t created change in the past, they won’t work as you go forward. Accept the fact that you may need something new to change direction. Bad marriages don’t cause infidelity, bad choices do. What is it about you that caused you to make those choices? How did you justify your actions? Discovery isn’t just for your mate, it’s also for you.

After this, be rigorously honest with your mate. Any deception will destroy their ability to trust. According to Peggy Vaughan, 72% of people recuperate from what their mate did sexually before they are able to recover from the deception. It’s the deception which destroys their ability to trust after the affair. Don’t extend the journey by continuing to lie.

Remember: you’re only as sick as your secrets. The parts of the story that remain untold are the places where the devil has a stronghold. If you’ve spent your life trying not to disappoint others it will be difficult to let others know who you really are, but this is your best shot at being known. Be honest. Regardless of how they respond, you can at least know you’re no longer robbing them of the right to make their own decision.

Try to understand what it’s like to live on the other side of you:

Remember: discovery isn’t just for your mate, it’s also for you. Until you can communicate to your mate that you “get” what you’ve done to him or her, it’s impossible for them to feel that they matter to you. Use this time to listen to your mate. If what they say is false then discard it. If it’s true then let yourself feel the weight of it. If you don’t know then at least agree to ponder it and consider whether it may be true. At the very least try to understand what your actions cost your mate.

Do what you can to help them heal:

If you created this mess, why wouldn’t you do what you can to help them heal? Part of their healing after an affair is simply answering their questions. Let them know, daily, that you appreciate that they are still with you and working through this process. A big piece of surviving infidelity is selflessly helping your mate.

The trauma created by your betrayal may create emotional flooding. Try to get your mate to agree to a ‘time out’ protocol where either of you can ask for a 30 minute time out to let things cool down. It’s impossible to be rational when we flood emotionally. Rather than letting emotions and actions get out of control and make things worse, agree to take a break to protect your relationship.

Take responsibility for your own healing:

Your mate seeing you taking responsibility for your own healing after the affair will facilitate discovery. It is difficult for your mate to ask you questions if they fear pushing you back to an old lifestyle. On the other hand, if they see you getting help apart from them, it will make it safe enough for them to risk asking the hard questions. It will also provide you with support as you walk through the emotional instability created by discovery.

One goal of recovery is to learn to how to have rational conversations rather than emotional conversations. When the two of you learn how to rationally process what happened you can begin coming up with ways to keep it from reoccurring.

If you’re having trouble navigating the discovery process, consider coming to the AR EMS weekend. Not only does it provide a jump start toward healing, but our therapists can help you through the discovery process. To learn more go to EMS Weekend.

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