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

Searching for Truth: Snooping Won’t Help

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Stop reading their mail!

Secretly reading your mate's journal or recovery materials won't reveal the truth and will actually delay your recovery from infidelity. However appealing it may be, and while it may feel empowering, it only complicates recovery and delays true momentum.

Have you ever read your teenager's 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.

It's a Moment Not a Belief

Why do we choose to let something that was "vented" in a moment forever 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 that 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 moment. 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 with an understanding of 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 how the feel 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.

Searching for Truth

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 do 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.

Decide If It's True or Not

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 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.

Are They Lying to Themselves?

Your spouse may have been lying to him or herself 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. You can choose healing. Harboring Hope for the betrayed spouse and Hope for Healing for the unfaithful spouse can help facilitate your personal healing. These courses focus on your individual healing, and provide a safe place to discern what that looks like for you.

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Hope Rising 2020 On Demand

If you're the betrayed spouse, I want to invite you to our previous Hope Rising conferences now available On Demand. We have an annual one-day conference in Austin, TX where speakers will speak into your specific situation of infidelity and help guide you through the recovery process. It's not as hopeless as you think.

Hope Rising 2019 On Demand
Hope Rising 2018 On Demand

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Thank you so much for this article. I’ve always known snooping at emails etc could be damaging but until now I’ve never really understood why or seen it from my partners perspective. This makes perfect sense and I love the analogy of counselling being like a journal. Looking back at our counselling sessions this is exactly what it is. Your words have given me comfort.

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