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

Searching for Truth: Snooping Won’t Help

Stop reading their mail! Secretly reading your mate’s journal or recovery materials won’t reveal the truth and will delay your recovery from infidelity.

Have you ever read your teenagers journal? Was it helpful? How did it work out? I have no idea how many hundreds of sessions I’ve had with parents who were devastated by something they read in their teenager’s journal. Reading something their child never meant for them to see wrongly skewed their opinion of the child and  potentially destroyed  their child’s trust.

Why do we choose to let something that was “vented” in a moment define our mate?

Have you ever said something in anger you didn’t really mean? Have you ever had too much to drink and said something you later regretted? Even worse, have you ever had someone take those words spoken in a moment of rage or hurt and nail you to the wall saying something like, “I knew it! That’s how you really feel about _____!”No matter how many times you tell them that’s not the truth they continue to define you by what was said in a moment of distress.

If I have the spouse of a client ask what their mate is saying in therapy, I respond by saying I’m not going to tell them because it’s not true. “What do you mean it’s not true?” they ask. “If they’re lying then what’s the use of meeting with you?” “I’m nothing more than a journal,” I explain. People don’t journal to record the truth; journaling is the process they go through to discover the truth. By writing it down they’re able to get it out of their head and gain perspective. Therapy is a journey taken to find the truth. Why would anyone come into therapy if they think they know the answer? They come because they’ve accepted they don’t even know what they don’t know and they want to find the truth. What’s said in the process of therapy and what’s written in a journal is the process of finding truth, and it’s only a reflection of where that person is on that particular day, in that precise moment. It has little or nothing to do with what they believe the next. If I were to tell you what your mate said, you’d let that influence how you see them and that would be far from true. Many times professional help is about removing distortion from the equation and helping a spouse begin to find clarity and understanding for themselves first. Only then can they begin to determine what is true about the marriage.

We have a tendency to minimize or truncate our mate. Human beings are wonderfully complex, but to wake up each day knowing how little I know about my mate would be unnerving. Therefore we take shortcuts by truncating them, which allows us to define what they mean or who they are. We take their actions and things that are said or written and we presumptuously let that define our mate. In reality there’s a good chance that how someone feels about something in one emotionally-charged moment won’t be true the next day, but we still see them through the lens of what they said the day before. We usually don’t want to even consider that they may change because we need to maintain our negative perception to justify our responses to them. Many times our judgments reveal more about ourselves than they do about our mate. We have a tendency to be jaded in our perceptions when recovering from infidelity.

Take for example John’s story:

Michelle has a tough time communicating. It’s just not easy for her to open up and share her thoughts. After our recent fight, I was frustrated with her inability to tell me what was really going on inside her head. I had had enough and decided I would take matters into my own hands and read her journal when she wasn’t looking. As I read though the last few entries, I was livid. From indictments upon me to a complete unwillingness to accept any responsibility for what was going on, I threw it down and punched the bed several times. Within an hour I had scheduled a meeting with Rick. I decided I wouldn’t talk or engage at all over the next couple days, and certainly wouldn’t tell her I read her journal. The problem was, I just simmered and grew more and more indignant  as I mounted the perfect defense to her accusations in the journal. When we finally got to Rick, he asked Michelle to go first, which I clearly knew was a big mistake. To my chagrin though, Michelle went on for about ten minutes on how much clearer things had become since that last fight. She noted that she had work to do on herself, and that not everything going on in our marriage was my fault. This was a complete 180 from her journal entry I had initially spied from. I sat there stunned and beginning to blush. I was still so worked up from the pre-arranged defense I had established that all I could was stutter and stammer my way through the session. For over three days I experienced so much wasted anger, resentment and frustration, all because I pried and trusted my own ability to decipher my spouse instead of trusting the process of recovery. Not to mention I had violated her trust and was now embarrassed and angry with myself for stooping so low.

Recovery takes courage to look at the deepest most shameful aspects of our life.

It’s about learning to see our own self-centeredness. It’s about identifying our own distorted desires. It’s about accepting our own defects of character. It’s about learning to focus on how our actions impact others rather than only focusing on what they’ve done to us. Finding the answer to those things requires writing about what we’ve done. The process of writing out what we believe allows us to to look at it objectively to decide whether or not it’s true. It’s painful to process if someone’s mate reads that material, and even worse when they act on that information alone. It’s just not the whole story, and a mere journal entry, a private expression of your spouse’s individual recovery, can launch us into a foolish tirade. There is something mystic about the written word. For whatever reason, when we see something in writing we automatically believe that it is true.

Your spouse may have been lying to themselves and are just now developing the courage to look at themselves honestly. We don’t lie to ourselves because we are appalled at our true nature. We lie to ourselves when we have been behaving in ways we never thought we would, in ways we most likely don’t even enjoy. Remember, behavior does not always equal motive. To navigate out of the deception these behaviors trap us in requires difficult honesty.  

If the person has to edit what they write to make it acceptable to their mate they will never be able to be honest with themselves.  Therefore our controlling tendencies have done two disservices. First, we’ve stifled our mate from revealing what is truly going on in their pursuit of truth. Second, we’ve trampled on boundaries to get at what we think is true, only to find it may have been the truth of the moment but not the truth of the relationship.

As much as we want to, we just can’t control how fast our mate heals, forgives or “gets it.” We don’t have that much control in this equation. We can, however, focus on our own healing from infidelity which will in turn allow our spouse freedom to recover at his or her own pace.

Though we cannot control our spouse’s actions, we can control the choices we make. Harboring Hope for the betrayed spouse and Hope for Healing for the unfaithful spouse are both open now. These courses focus on your individual healing, and provide a safe place to discern what that looks like for you.

 

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Comments

Other types of snooping

When I read the title, I got a glimmer of hope. Reading the article, I figured out it did not apply to me. I have never read my spouse's journal or other written work which we agreed was private. However, I have an issue with other areas. Some days I can not stop myself from inspecting his clothes; sometimes when he is standing right there in them. I keep thinking I will see some damning hair or smudge, find some unaccounted receipt in his pocket, or something else that will reveal some undiscovered truth. It has been 9 months since the reveal. After this long, without discovering anything significant, I want to stop looking. When I try to avoid snooping, it disturbs me. It feels like I am not doing everything I can to protect myself. I am aware that this is probably a waste of time, but there is nothing to replace the action which provides any relief. I know I would be blindsided if there were another affair and there is no way to see it coming. I know that working together on a better relationship is the best way to reduce risk. We have done, and are doing, many things to rebuild, but this is my comfort habit. Perhaps it has become an obsession. Any suggestions?

I am a part of a support

I am a part of a support group for partners of sex addicts, and we talk about this issue a lot. If you feel it is controlling you, I suggest checking it out, or an S-Anon meeting in your area. I don't feel it is a bad thing to periodically check if your spouse is telling the truth in other ways, such as looking at credit cards, phones, etc. but it should all be above-board. I do think looking at a journal is an invasion of privacy. My spouse and I are trying to do a regular check-in, where we sit down together and look at these things so he can demonstrate he is telling the truth and is trying to rebuild trust. My problem is that I was an ostrich and did not choose to see signs in front of my face, so I think some checking can be appropriate.

Phone

I understand not reading your spouses journal but is checking the phone different?

building trust

I have been working on building trust with my husband. He has cheated on me three times. I logged out of his Facebook, knowing he had changed his password. My anger and resentment began to subside. I kept thinking about what he might be doing, but I refused to try to look at his stuff. But today I did. I looked at his email, and what I found broke my heart. I thought he wanted to reconcile with me. I thought things were going better. I found out the girl he had an affair with came back to his class today (he has gone back to school).He has been emailing her all day. Telling her how beautiful she is. Telling her how much he had missed her (she left him). Telling her he just wanted to hold her and spend time with her. He told her he loved her and felt that he had more than proved his love. The last few weeks he had been telling me he loved me. Telling about a future together. I now feel like I'm starting over. My heart is breaking again. How do I move on from this? How do I heal again? I am so lost right now, I don't know whee to turn and I really don't want to go back to that dark state of depression!!

Great article! Our recovery

Great article! Our recovery has been hindered, in part, because I have not had the freedom to express myself in my journaling knowing that my spouse reads my entries. Journaling has always been helpful to me in trying to understand what the truth is. My spouse & I have discussed this issue. This article has helped him to realize how important it is for me to be completely open in my journaling and not hold back. I desperately want to heal & find the truth about me.

Snooping

Rick, I can agree with your article on not snooping because it's not necessarily a true reflection of where your spouse is at in the process. I see it as part of the "venting" that we all do from time to time. But what about snooping to get more of the truth about our spouses affairs? I read one of my wife's journal entries one time, while she was still in the lying/denial stage, and found out about another sexual affair that she had never told me about. I'm not condoning snooping, but where do we draw the line on investigating our spouses sexual and emotional experiences wih other people? My wife has lied and covered up her past for over 20 years, and now all I get is "I don't remember". So is that to say that we should just let it slide and never know? I've learned through our journey that what is allowed to stay hidden really never gets dealt with. Thoughts on this?

How does this relate to

How does this relate to snooping in emails and cell phones? Is it the same principle? Reading the messages sent to the person who they cheated with...how does the mind reconcile not knowing if the dishonesty is still occurring.... Do I the betrayed spouse just blindly hope my spouse will not betray me again?

I understand the point you

I understand the point you are making Rick and agree that both partners need to have privacy with journaling. I think the remarks that have hit home for me is that "people say things they don't mean in anger". True but how much does one endure? After recovery started, my husband continued to say things in anger and then act like it never happened. Words hurt and especially if heaped upon piles and piles. I know those outbursts are about him but at what point are they held accountable. I mean in a way it's emotional abuse. It seems their behavior is always excused. To me, writing in a journal is a lot more healthy than again dumping on your spouse.

Very helpful

The information is very helpful to me. I decided long ago that if God wanted to reveal something to me about my spouse, He would do it, as He did on D-day; yet I find myself snooping some times. When I feel like "investigating," it is probably that I have allowed fear to lead my thoughts. I am glad to know snooping is not helpful and that continuing to care for my own healing is what I should continue to focus on. Journaling is very helpful to me. Thank you Rick.

Heat of the Moment

Rick makes an excellent point! I remember many years ago when my husband and I had an argument and he was sitting in the chair and all I could think of was that I wanted to say something, anything...anything that would..."rip his heart out!" See, I was so angry all I wanted to do was use my words to injure him as deeply as I could at that precise moment! When we journal, we do so with the intent of venting our hurts, our anger, our feelings, and many times we do it so that we are NOT using our words to rip out our loved ones hearts but to get that poison out of our hearts and souls. It has to come out somehow in order to cleanse out the wound or it will just become an infection that spreads and consumes us!

An Obsession

I think the hurt spouse often times becomes obsessed with snooping. My husband is still attempting to track my whereabouts at all times and he will also get in my phone, emails, Facebook, you name it. I can't journal because I know he would read it, therefore I wouldn't be able to be 100% honest in my writings. He says he is trying to stop and our therapist has told him it isn't helping the situation, but it really is like an obsession. He can't stop himself. We're 8 months or so from d day and he still can't stop. I do think he is trying though. He did it for so many years through all of my infidelity, it's become a part of his life. Snooping is what he does to feel safe. I hope that 1 day I can make him feel safe enough. I'm completely honest with him and have nothing to hide. I don't like his snooping at all, but we'll get through it soon I hope.

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