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

Searching for Truth: Snooping Won’t Help

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.
Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe Now!

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.

Hope Rising 2020 On Demand released today for purchase!

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

Hope for Healing registration opens next week, November 18th. Subscribe to be notified.
This online course for unfaithful spouses fills up quickly, so don't wait! Discover how a supportive non-judgmental environment paired with expert content can provide life-changing hope, clarity, and healing.

Subscribe Now!



RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:


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.


I had a lot of trouble snooping on facebook and other social media. I found myself searching out posts and likes and checking those who liked her posts and comments. Similar to what the article speaks about, what I found was only what was happening in the moment. It only served to intensify my feelings of insecurity and paranoia. My therapist told me that I needed to stop looking for things and concentrate on believing "what my eyes see." I understand this to mean that our relationship and communication will always give me a clearer and more honest picture of what is going on. And even if there are things on facebook or elsewhere that would bother me, the truth will always reveal itself without my help. The freedom that I have experienced from avoiding snooping has been very helpful for my own healing. I can concentrate on being the best partner that I can be and work hard at being honest and open. I still want to look, and it is hard work to keep myself from doing it. But I have realized that nothing good comes from what ever I find, and good can come from me trusting her and working in a positive way to impact our relationship. I am well aware that there could be some damaging things occuring, and it will hurt when those things come to light. But I will work on myself in the mean time and become stronger.


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!!

Recovering from my husband affair

15 months ago I discovered my husband was having an affair with a coworker. We have been married 16 years, most of them were sexless. Everytime I thought of leaving he would do something sweet or we would go on vacation and reconnect. I was sexually abused as a child, raped as a teen and had a very bad relationship early on. My husband was the first guy I trusted. I knew for a long time he was not faithful. The first 12 months were almost more than I could handle, the constant roller coaster. To add to my year of pure hell I was fired from my job in Oct. Looking back I have learned more about myself in the last 13 months then I ever thought I would. Today the OW name came up in Linkedin as she made a job change. I unlinked her today. I do not want to see her name, photo, face, etc. I thought of sending her a letter to share with her the only reason I didnt contact her husband is as a child I heard my dad sobbing about my step moms affair. I just couldnt do that to her innocent kids. To tell her that her shame and inability to look at me is small compared to the pain I experienced. To tell her she wasnt the only one my husband was having an affair with. I did none of this as I decided to be true to my own morals. I now look in the mirror and smile at myself, happy of who I am and the growth of me. I hope that my husbands words are true. I learned I can not control, stop, change or guarantee he will not cheat on me again. We all have our faults, strengths and potential. I am moving forward each day becoming the best person I can be, letting go of years of pain focusing on the good in pursuit of happiness. For anyone in pain from an affair my heart goes out to you. Take care of yourself.

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.

Unsafe Journals

I had this same problem-unable to be honest with myself in my journals. We are approaching the 3rd anti-versary of D'day and I am only now beginning to feel safe. My early journals are full of cautious entries because I feared my husband reading them. He did agree not to read them but I have to keep them in a specific place or I think they are fair game. I like to write and I like to write poems to get feelings out but writing still doesn't feel fully safe to me.


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.

Great Article for both spouses

I have never reas my husband's journals and recovery materials but I have certainly wondered what he writes about. This article has made me realize that I really have no desire to know any more because what I read wouldn't be a whole truth anyway. I hope my husband reads this, too.


My journal is a reflection of my pain and it changes many times during the course of each day.
I question if separation might ease the pain.

Not the journal

I know this to be true from my own journal. As I look back on my recovery. What I was interested in is the emails I read and now ask about. Do you believe something different now? I can't get any answers from her that would indicate that what was written in her mind has changed. So that leaves me feeling that she is not committed to being a safe place to trust. What do you usually conclude from ws that don't take back what they have written negatively about their spouse and don't reframe their opinions of the AP comparison to the spouse?


Thank you Rick for sending this one out. This is something I have struggled with so hard for so long now. The temptation is relentless. For me, its the search to find the real truth. I just want to find some evidence that she really does get it, and really does grieve for me. She flat out lied so much that now I can't believe anything at all. My insecurity tells me that if I could be a fly on the wall of her Hope for Healing class, or a therapy session, or her journaling, then I would see what she says when I am not right there. I could see that she really does care, and regrets what she has done, not for her own embarrassment and shame, but for what it has done to me. I feel like that would make her words feel more real. To know them when they weren't designed just to make me less nervous or suspicious. So far I have kept to my word and not read her journal. I really don't want to break that promise. Its just that not having a sense of sureness leaves me feeling very helpless.

Thanks Rick, this was very

Thanks Rick, this was very helpful for me.

About 6 months into recovery, my husband slipped back into a very dark place. When I made some discoveries, he was very sorry and repentant. He mentioned that as he looked back at his recent journaling he couldn't even believe what he had written. I was so confused and frustrated and I pressured him to let me see what he had written. I so desperately wanted to know and understand what was going on in his head.

Well, as your article proves, that was a mistake. I've spent the past year and a half trying to deal with very hurtful things he said about me. He has begged me to disregard them and even burned the journal in our firepit, but those words still echo in my mind at times, telling me that I'm not enough. Logically, I know I should not give credit to anything he thought or said when he was so lost in shame and self-deception, but emotionally, it is too hard to brush off the hatefulness of someone I have loved and trusted with all my heart since I was 15 years old.

But, reading your words, Rick, was just what I needed to give myself permission to disregard his words, attitudes and actions during that period of betrayal. I understand that he was working his way toward acknowledging his issues and dealing with his guilt and shame. We are in a much better place now, and I am amazed at the healing that has taken place. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise in this matter.

Reading your spouses journal…

Reading your spouses journal… incredibly insightful thank you it helps clear up a lot of very important concepts for me thank you so much for all your wisdom.


My husband found things in my journals from when I was being unfaithful. It is hard to defend and describe that they were more fantasy and fleeting feelings than anything real. I even knew that at the time. Some of it was stories or poems that were my way of getting rid of the feelings of the affairs. But now, because he read them and all my journal entries are dated, they are trigger dates for him. He has no ears for any explanation of momentary insanity so I just go along with his interpretations instead of arguing.


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.

Written word

Human beings are capable of thinking both privately and out loud without writing down our impulsive thoughts. When you take time to write thoughts down, they will always carry more weight than when we just think them out loud. People should think twice before they write or email or text Their thoughts while they “work something out.” Who might read this 10-20 years from now, after I’m over whatever selfish dilemma I’m contemplating this month? These are concepts that have been around for centuries. Written words might last forever. Think first or be willing to suffer consequences.

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer

Free Surviving Infidelity Bootcamp

Our experts designed this step-by-step guide to help you survive infidelity. Be intentional with your healing with this free 7-day bootcamp.
I would highly recommend giving this a try.
-D, Texas