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

Discovery: Why Do I Want to Know?

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Handling the Details: A Two-Part Series

Part 1: Discovery: Processing the Details of the Affair
Part 2: Discovery: Why Do I Want to Know?

Last week, we kicked off our discussion on discovery and the processing of details. Today, I’d like to continue the conversation by presenting an important fact: During disclosure after infidelity, there comes a point where more details actually hurt rather than heal. There’s such a thing as knowing too much.

Yes, knowing what happened during the affair is critical for the betrayed mate to heal, but there comes a time when they’ll have enough information to move forward. So why do they continue to ask questions after they’ve gotten the details they need, figured out what happened and wrapped their mind around the betrayal? Often, it’s because of fear.

Why the Betrayed Mate Keeps Asking Questions

We want more answers because we want to know the last date and time when we were made a fool of. We start wondering: Is it even worse than I thought? Do I have a false sense of safety? As long as your mate continues to answer your questions, it somehow makes you feel a little more safe and secure. There comes a point, however, when getting more information and detail becomes quite destructive.

Often, betrayed mates continue asking questions after they’ve already gotten enough information. They believe that more answers will help them make sense of everything; that if they just get a little more information, they’ll be able to wrap their minds around the betrayal. But, in reality, you’ll never be able to fully understand what’s happened. At some point, you have to accept that maybe you’re only going to understand about 80% of it. There will never be a good enough answer to justify what the wayward mate has done, and that’s what you’ll ultimately have to accept.

In her book* "Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken: Finding Forgiveness and Restoration," Cindy Beall gives an interesting example that she and her husband went through:

One day, she had another question. She asked it and her husband looked at her, held her hand and said: “I’ll answer any question you ask for the rest of my life, but will my answer make you feel any better?”

That one thought really caught her. She realized that he was right: The answer wouldn’t make her feel any better; the only thing it would do is tell her the day and time that she was last made a fool of. It wasn’t going to help her move forward, but it would keep her stuck. And once you begin to get the view of what happened, 70% to 80% of the time additional answers will make you feel worse.

Why Too Many Details Can Hinder Recovery

There comes a point in recovery, honestly, when you need to stop asking questions and accept that you have enough answers to begin moving forward. You have to accept that you’ll never be able to fully understand why your mate did what they did. You have to accept that they’re trying, with all their heart, to give the answers that’ll help you heal. And, eventually, you have to accept that enough is enough.

If your mate isn’t answering your questions and you’re still trying to understand what happened, that’s one thing. But if your mate is answering your questions, then I believe after about six weeks if curiosity begins to knock on the door and you want more details, you need to stop and ask yourself two things:

  1. Do I need to know this? Often, the answer to this is “no.” Likely, it’s your pride convincing you that you need more details. You’re probably still looking for the last date and time when you were made a fool of. If its answer will only make you feel worse and keep you stuck, then your question is probably better left unasked.
  2. Will it help me heal? Far too often, the answer to this question is also “no.” Once you’ve gotten enough information to see the picture of the affair, new details can just add to your hurt. It’s difficult, but you need to resist the urge to look for more and more details when they’re prone to cause you pain.

Remember, at a certain point, more information stops being helpful and starts becoming destructive to your healing and happiness. It can keep you stuck rotating in the first part of recovery: the realization and understanding stage. So when you’re craving more information, I urge you to pause and use the questions above as a litmus test. If both answers are “yes,” then you can confidently ask new questions knowing they’ll help you move forward; if both answers are “no,” then I urge you to table your new question. This way, you can begin moving into the next stage of recovery: Releasing your pain.

Why Comparison Questions Are Especially Damaging

As you begin to move forward and release your pain, there’s one behavior that can sabotage your efforts: Asking comparison questions. You don't want to ask a question that allows you to paint a picture in your head. Comparison questions aren’t helpful in any way, shape, form or fashion. Not only that, they’re probably the most difficult questions to ask and to answer.

Am I adequate? Am I inadequate? These comparison questions are practically guaranteed to cause pain. Additionally, questions that deal with what was said to the affair partner, sexual positions, physical attributes or things that help you paint a picture of the events are harmful to infidelity recovery. Their answers can trigger intrusive thoughts.

Comparison questions tend to draw us in because we want to see our own inadequacies. But if you resist asking comparison questions, it can significantly help your recovery. Before seeking new information, keep asking yourself: “Do I need to know this?” and, “Will it help me heal?” Again, if these answers are “no,” then you may not want to ask the new question. Likely, the new details you’re seeking won't help you move forward or heal.

How to Accept That Less Really Is More

When it comes to disclosure, I urge you to consider the possibility that less really is more. You may already understand the betrayal as well as you’re able to, and continuing to ask questions over months and months — or longer — can keep you stuck in a period of pain. And at a certain point, new details might not facilitate your healing or help you move forward — whether or not you decide to stay in the relationship. Eventually, I hope you’ll reach a place where you feel you have enough answers to truly begin healing.

With that being said, it’s challenging to get to this place. That’s why I encourage betrayed mates to enroll in our Harboring Hope online course. This restorative course will give you the tools you need to break the cycle of questioning, rebuild your confidence and begin moving forward. It’s a course specifically designed for betrayed mates by betrayed mates, and it’s helped thousands of participants over the years. For more information and to register, please visit our Harboring Hope course page. I hope you’ll use this life-changing course as a resource during your healing journey.

*As an Amazon Associate, Affair Recovery earns from qualifying purchases.

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“After we enrolled in the EMS Online course for couples, we finally reached a stage where my husband could fully disclose of his lifelong porn and sex addiction, and where I had the necessary emotional support to deal with the obliterating impact. Affair Recovery has been a beacon of light during the darkest time in our lives. Without their help and support, we would not have had the help to survive the deep and devastating effects of betrayal.” — L., Australia | EMS Online participant, November 2020.

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Comments

Looking for answers to lessen the pain

I think the reason that I continue to ask questions now at 9 weeks is in the (vain) hope that the next answer will be better, smaller, somehow lessen the pain that I feel. It reminds me of a small child who asks after an injury, "Is there blood?" as though if told "No, it isn't bleeding" they can look, relax a bit, and know that they will be okay/handle the pain. I suspect that at this time I need to let go of the asking. My spouse is genuinely trying to make things right, not hiding things deliberately any longer - but I am still told "I don't remember" and "I don't know" in reply to most of my questions. Ten years of EA deception in a 20 year marriage, and an additional simultaneous text and phone relationship with another AP for the past 3.5 years. How do we know when we really have enough information to trust again - rationally? I hope this helps someone else to recognize and let go of questioning if they're hoping to find "soothing" in the answers, it doesn't seem very likely or productive, still we keep hoping.

Questions about the affair

The cheaters of the world will appreciate this article. The last thing they want to do is answer questions. I believe the betrayed spouse gets to decide what information they need and should continue asking questions as long as it takes to get answers. I need to know there are no more secrets to even begin to heal. If my husband provided complete and accurate answers instead of withholding what he decides I don't need to know (which of course means withholding the worst of it), then I would be able to stop asking. It's a continuation of the lies, betrayal, and manipulation of the affair.

"Last Made a Fool Of" ..no no no

We must change the language here. The faithful partner was not made a fool of -- noooo It's the last time the unfaithful was a liar and a cheat. Period. Please stop any negative verbiage pertaining to the faithful partner.

Slanted view, secrecy and lies

I agree with all the above! However it only serves to be reasonable NOT to keep asking if your wayward partner has fully disclosed. I went through almost 18 months and was lied to about the answers I asked or go the, now constant, ‘I can’t remember’.

I found out the truth of some key responses where he lied to me. Not little lies but big ones.

Therefore, I continue to ask while I know he hasn’t told the truth because I will not be the ‘little woman’ who needs to be quiet and accept his version of events - always totally sanitised by the way.

Lies are what got us to where we are. They keep us stalled because he doesn’t want to face what he did and fully admit his double life. That’s tough. Life is tough now for me and yet I did nothing to deserve this situation.

So when I have there truth and nothing but the truth, I will stop asking, until then I will bide my time and make my decision based on HIS actions and not his sanitised closure fairy tale.

Knowing too much

Nobody knows what is too much to learn about their cheating spouse until all of the betrayed’s questions are answered honestly. I find the betrayer’s question a form of gaslighting and another attempt at manipulating the betrayed and sweeping their cheating under the carpet AGAIN. Supposedly ALL of the betrayed’s questions are to be answered honestly by the betrayer.

Asking questions

Without asking more questions, his version of the “full truth” would have amounted to about 30% of what actually happened.

Details vs trickle truth

So what if your spouse has been minimizing everything and trickling truth over a period of years and months and these are the details that they choose to withhold from you instead of extending rigorous honesty? If they’ve lied about every other stupid detail, and you know it, it can be the only way that they can prove that they are willing to give FULL disclosure. Not holding back the last little bit because they are ashamed, but being completely transparent because that is the way to achieve true intimacy. I’m a huge fan of your program and your advice, but there are situations wherein those little details are the last little traces of trickle truth, and they “just don’t matter.” When you’ve been trickle truthed to the brink, those little traces mean everything.

Disclosure

JoIf the wayward spouse has done a thorough disclosure, they would have also included a thorough timeline of all acting out behaviors, therefore preventing the betrayed spouse from having to ask the particular question regarding dates and times. To not include this on the wayward's part is to hold back information, therefore not disclosing all information. The wayward spouse needs to be very thorough, and including the timeline with dates is a basic outline and should be expected. The betrayed should be clear regarding the level of detail they would like beyond that.

Questions

Does anyone else feel like the wayward spouse gets to keep their secret love all to themselves and we get the questions and intrusive thoughts. I feel that he values his affairs and the love he had for these two other women more than he values me or our love. The reason I keep asking questions is in the hope that he will actually open up and share what it was all about. I usually get defensive answers and stonewalling.

Disclosure

The betrayed would not have to ask the last date and time they were, "made a fool of," had a FULL Disclosure been done by the unfaithful. A FULL Disclosure would include ANY and ALL dates AND times of sexual acting out and related behavior. This timeline, along with much other information is basic to any formal disclosure and should never have to be asked for by the betrayed. The betrayed will choose what additional questions to ask following the reading of a carefully and thorough well-written Full Disclosure is given/read to them.

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