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

How to survive an affair – How much should I share with my spouse?

My family loves puzzles. One year they worked on a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle called "Will the Real Santa...". It was made up of over 32 Santas who all looked basically the same.
Each had a white beard and red costume. For hours my family sat around a table taking each of the thousand pieces, comparing them to the picture on the lid, and trying to distinguish
all of the slight differences. They claimed it was rewarding when they were able to make
just one more piece fit. For some strange reason they found a sense of fulfillment
in an activity I considered to be torture.

Understanding the Puzzle

The details surrounding an affair can be likened to the pieces of a puzzle. Imagine trying to assemble a 1,000 piece puzzle with no picture on the box to reference. Even the most determined person would find this task incredibly difficult. Now imagine several extra pieces were thrown in the mix. Wouldn't that feel nearly insurmountable? I'm not sure it would even be possible for my experienced family members to work an imageless, 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle with extra pieces. Even if you were willing to risk the personal pain and proposed mockery by casual outside observers, where would you even hope to begin in assembling this puzzle?

When a spouse learns of betrayal but is given no details, it can feel very much like they're trying to accomplish this task. Obviously the stakes are much higher. We're not dealing with mere puzzles – we're dealing with real life feelings, years of time spent together and possibly even children's lives. This "how to survive an affair" puzzle can be a real mess.

Finding the Pieces

One can't expect a betrayed spouse to put the pieces of a highly emotional and gut wrenching puzzle together without help. Without receiving full disclosure they are frequently still in the dark holding several extra pieces their imagination decided to create.

So how many pieces of the puzzle should you give? That amount depends entirely on the betrayed spouse's personality -- not on what the unfaithful spouse is willing to share. There are some individuals who prefer to work the 500 piece puzzle. They do not care to know every little detail, and seem to be more comfortable living in denial, or at the very least, living with a limited knowledge of what has transpired. There are many others who work at the 2,500 or even 5,000 piece level. They must work it, understand it, and bring it all into focus in order to heal.

It's important to check with your mate about the level of detail they would like. For the sake of helping them heal, it's crucial to give them the information they need in order to attempt to forgive and move on. Years of experience have taught us that most couples are incapable of moving forward after betrayal until the hurt spouse knows what happened. There is no easy way around this part of recovery.

Accepting Responsibility

Some unfaithful spouses feel no obligation to provide information for the sake of their mate's healing. But if one's actions seriously wound another person, then it is one's responsibility to give the hurt individual the information necessary to heal.

Let's say I hit a parked car in the parking lot. I could avoid responsibility, continue to drive as if nothing had happened and think as long as they didn't catch me it's their problem. Or, I could recognize that even if I did not intend to cause them harm, I did and should accept the responsibility for my actions by at least leaving a note with my contact information. Failing to take responsibility in order to help the wounded spouse heal is nothing more than driving away from an accident.

If fear of your spouse's reaction is the thing keeping you from disclosure, you may have a valid concern. It's not uncommon for some spouses to be afraid to share all the information due to fear of how their spouse will react. However, it doesn't excuse the need to share the information in a safe and controlled environment. If you find yourself in this situation I'd highly recommend finding an expert or safe third party who can help provide stability and support while the unfaithful shares the details of the affair. This third party must be a safe person who will not "pile on" nor add to the already charged emotion of the moment. While not all cases require this, some situations need this extra person to minimize any collateral damage that may arise due to new information being shared.


Love will always act in the best interest of another. Even if you've made choices that caused your spouse pain, you can choose to truly love them by doing what is in their best interest to help them heal. Day Five of our Free 7-Day Bootcamp for Surviving Infidelity is a great resource to use when it comes to disclosure. If you are looking for a safe environment to share these details I hope you will consider our EMS Weekend. Couples in a safe and stabilized environment for both disclosure and processing of new information increase their chances of healing significantly.

Looking for more resources on disclosure?
How Do You Handle the Disclosure Process?
How to Handle Discovery

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Following up

Rick,

As I always tell the men in our s3x addicts support groups: "You may lose your marriage because of your past behavior, not because you gave 'full-disclosure'. Correcting your past behavior should be the focus of restoring your marriage. A major 'piece' to that puzzle is complete honesty within the confines of your wife's desire to know what she desires to know so that she begin the healing process. Guys, your wife can't forgive what she does not know.

discovery process

I am wondering what the discovery process is like at AR? There is a ministry here where someone meets with both the betrayed and the betrayer to get to know them, learn their history, then they are with the couple for the disclosure. A lie detector test afterwards is optional. We met with them once and my husband claims to not "like" one of the counselor's and won't go through it with them. He came up with lots of reasons, they are money grubbing, didn't like the atmosphere, etc. I think he is just afraid. We did go through an EMS weekend a year ago and he took a lie detector test. Unfortunately, I didn't ask all the questions I should have and the test exposed the fact that he has cheated on me since I became pregnant with our first son. I am having a hard time moving on because I feel he has left a lot out and never volunteers any information. He has no empathy and I am losing my feelings of love and hope.

How to survive an affair – How much should I share with my spous

Hi Rick,
This article came at the perfect time I needed. We attended ems weekend in December 2014. At this time my husband had been caught having a affair with his high school girl friend this was the start of my nightmare.

I waited for his disclosure and after a year and still nothing and the communication was getting worse and I was feeling really lonely and on my own to figure out his secret life that he so kept me in the dark about. I will say through this I Have learned to listen to my gut and if something I feel is not right I asked more questions and I could tell he was holding back something because what he kept telling me did not fit in my puzzle at all and did I know the extent of this darkness that was never told in a loving way or anyway I could understand it . How is this happening to us what is this all about and how come all of a sudden I have no idea who this person is and now my life is something I know nothing about.

How do you go about finding the truth with no honesty from the man you trusted your life wife and your children's life with. It was a complete shock to me and my family and the depth of the deceit was a mystery to us. I started going through my life pictures, old cell phone numbers anything that I felt I could relate with of my life. This is when I found the extent of his affair and the only time he would disclose the truth was when I had evidence of his betrayal. My life seemed to be someone else's not mine and the answers we not being told to me to help me heal it was like doing as you say the puzzle in the dark this was my life. I was so alone and scared with no support from the man I loved how does one person turn into a person that now you know nothing about and why?
I knew what love is and I only knew I loved him with all my heart and this might of been my problem that I did not see his true self and what this man was capable of doing to our family and marriage. I will say when we would talk I got to see the signs of his lies and how it was more important for him to protect his own fears then to ever help me heal to know what this deception was all about and why.
It has now been close to 2 years and through my own perseverance and the love and support from EMS and yes you Rick also I have came to realize this is so much deeper and darker of anything I could of imagined in my life.
I knew I needed more help now and set up therapy for myself and harboring hope also. I have found out why it was so important for him to lie and try to get me to stop looking for answers that he would never admit he had anything to do with a separate life that he was living. The only way I could get anything out of him was to do a polygraph and our first one was a disaster in that he told the man doing the test that he was not honest with me and he would not pass. Could my husband look me in the eyes and tell me himself no he had the polygrapher do it and he told me that my husband was not being honest to me and there were more women. How is this what and who's life is this not mine for sure, nor was it my loving husband that did this he was not capable of doing something so devastating to his family.
After picking myself up off the floor I went home and barely could talk from the shock of this was more than one affair. My husband and I sat down and he told me of 9 others almost like he was pist that he was caught and now it was to much for him to ever explain this to me or even give me some instructions how to put this all together. This truly is not my life it's a nightmare and I would pray for God to wake me up and tell me this was not happening to us.
Having a hard time even trying to think that this was the man I loved and how did I fit in to this puzzle because for me it was not my life and no where was I going to put myself I was to much of a strong person to let this man manipulate me in such a way to dis honor me and walk all over me to get his selfish needs meet that did not include me at all. When your all alone and trying to put the timelines and your life back together now as you found out the life you had was not reality at all now I have a new reality and not one I even wanted or was willing to participate given the chance. How do you even start to visualize how this happened and do you really know this is true or who was I living with what kind of monster is this person that I loved and how was I so blind to what was going on..... I can only say that love is blind and I trusted him with everything I had in my heart and that has been ripped apart by his betrayal.

I have asked him to help me with this new betrayal and of course he cant remember very little about them and now the one affair has changed into many and everything that was told to me almost 2 years is now a lie... How do you even begin on this with no accountability to his actions. He tells me he loves me and that he can't live without me and this is suppose to make me feel good it does not I want to know how this happened and why and who were these people that you so loosely gave yourself to and did you even care enough about me to wear protection of course not. This monster only had one thing on his mind and that was sex and how he could get it nothing was going to get in his way because he was a pro now at hiding his double life and keeping his secrets to himself. Another polygraph to see if this was the truth and we could somehow put this together.
After the test the polygrapher said it would take time to put test together and home we went. I Love will always act in the best interest of a

I still look at my husband and wonder how could he do this much damage and get up each day and look in the mirror and be ok with the devastation he is causing with his actions and the very way he's taking reasonability or lack of in his case. After a hour the test came to my email that the man I loved was still being deceitful, I looked up at God and I said you have to handle this I can not take anymore and I don't want to I only want my life back and what do I need to do. Again my husband disclosed 5 more and said its not what you think it was only kissing like this makes a difference in this puzzle here do you put them and it did not make any sense or fit into my puzzle at all. I called to see if the polgrapher could give me some incite on how the questions were asked and would this apply to kissing. What he told me was that the test is very specific and so are the questions and that being said. The question was Did you have sex with someone you're still concealing from your wife and he said NO. Nest question Did you have sex with someone you're still concealing from your wife and he said NO. Test said DECEPTION INDICATED GREATER THAN .99. I can only say that when you have been through betrayal and the one you love is not helping you and no honesty in his words that this devastation is so big and ugly with darkness all around that the only one that can even understand is God and with this I have turned my life over each day for him to make any sense of it and for me to trust that he knows what parts of my puzzle I need and which ones I don't and no longer look at answers from the person who can still deceive me and not care about my healing and only about his fear of disclosure and personal protection of his affairs. My husband has moved out and left me to try and understand 15 different affairs and what will this puzzle look like and Rick I will ask you if this puzzle has a chance or should it be burned and trust God will take care of these ashes because I can not even begin to know why my life was nothing but a allusion ..... Forever Grateful for your program .....

when the torture continues

As a betrayed spouse I feel I am entailed to have as much detail from my husband as I want. If he is concerned about my response to the information then he should have considered that when he decided to have affairs.

Obviously his only concern at the time was ensuring I didn't find out by lying - for the years during his affairs and for at least 11 months after. I cannot tell you how much he has further compounded the hurt and pain for me by slowly over months telling me more pieces of the puzzle by denying things and then a month later admitting to it and then denying it again when he forgot he told me. It has been slow torture and at almost 3 years post discovery I am still finding out information. It is this that may now result in the end of our marriage. As I have hung in this long I think I have proven that the affairs in themselves may not be the cause of our marriage breakdown but the ongoing lies may well be.

Right from the beginning his response to many of my questions was and still is "I can't remember". I understand this is not an uncommon response by betrayers. Is it an excuse? Do they choose not to remember? or do they really forget until something and only remember when asked directly about a specific detail?

It defies logic to me. Surely as a betrayer you would just want to spew out everything. Then you would never have to worry about your spouse learning any more detail and you would never have to remember what you have and haven't told them.

Power

Great article just the wrong audience. Like me, it's mostly betrayed probably reading this. And we all agree we should get honest answers to what we want to know. But few do. And most cheaters won't read this stuff. BTW I'm male, married 25yrs, wife had EA and PA with old HS boyfriend 2 years ago.

Disclosure has been trickle truth, painful, hostile, more lies and omissions. Most of the major events I've learned on my own. I think there are still major events not revealed.

In my case I think it's denial, delusion and immaturity preventing full honest disclosure. Plus a big one - POWER. By not telling you all, they feel a sense of holding power and control over you, to feed their narcissistic tendency. They need to hold on to that to their last breath. Otherwise they become bare, naked, exposed and vulnerable. "Secrets about your affair keep you bound by your heart to your affair partner."

I am sorry you are hurting. I

I am sorry you are hurting. I just wanted you to know that I do read these articles & I was the unfaithful one. Also I do not feel ANY power in withholding information. I'm just plain scared! Frankly, I feel he is the one with all the power. I want to make our marriage work. The decision is all in his hands now. We are 3 yrs after my PA & 1yr from my EA discovery. My husband has not asked many questions & I assume doesn't want to know the details. His main question was why. I think it does depend on ones personality. If it was the other way around I know I would torture myself wanting all the details. I may be in denial ( I can't believe I did what I did!). Narcissistic, I don't think so. The details won't make me feel any more vulnerable or exposed than I already do. I am thankful for a forgiving, loving God. And I thank Him for my husband! Best wishes to you & your family

Thank You

Thoughtful reply Renee. Just the fact that you're on this site, reading, and wrote what you did shows your level of commitment in my opinion. I agree it does depend on personalities or needs, and is the unfaithful spouse willing to do the work the betrayed spouse needs to heal. I wish I had more evidence of that in my situation. Hoping the best for your and your family toward successful recovery.

A Good Hard Truth

As the unfaithful spouse I am trying to learn, and grow, and empathize, and "understand", and frankly just do things right. I am told by so many people/sponsors/counselors/pastors/friends not to tell this, not to say that, "that's just too much information", or, "that will just be damaging to her".

But my wife is standing on the other side pleading for more information, and oddly enough, she usually seems to do better after she gets answers rather than living in the dark with outstanding questions.

Rick, thank you for the comments.

So true

I was the betrayed spouse. I am the type that wants to know it all. I never got enough information. We divorced, partly due to this. Thanks for helping people understand how important it is.

Reply to so true

Are you happier divorced. I struggle everyday with that decision. The anger is gone but I struggle with my decision to try to make it work.

Me too.

I too needed the truth and ALL OF THE TRUTH. He was not capable/able etc. to do that or give any reason why he couldn't. After giving him ample opportunity (4-1/2 yrs) I realized he had no intentions of being honest or caring about what he had done or what he could do to improve the situation, he just wanted to move on together and live as he wished without any regard for how I wanted to live my life.

Reply to a good hard truth

For those of us who have been betrayed, answers give us the salve for healing. There are details I no longer care to discuss with my husband but that is my choice. There are things he lied about that I do not care to revisit. However, I have made that choice because I realize he has so much shame and guilt---- but also -----because trying to have such a discussion is beyond his pay grade in life. It is frustrating to realize your spouse was at a moment in time --- a real jerk.

However, if we are to ever know and love you again----- honesty is everything. So glad you understand that the healing process is as much about her as it is you. You really have to carry the burden of what you did. It seems that burden would be so much lighter with honesty.

Tell the truth

In not telling your wife what she wants to know, you are denying her having all of the facts she feels she needs and lying by omission. In other words NOT TELLING THE TRUTH.

How much to share

This column is good in emphasizing that the person in charge of how much is shared must be the betrayed spouse, not the unfaithful spouse. Here are some other pointers about that:

Typically the betrayed spouse needs to ask the same question a number of times before they can absorb the answers enough not to need to ask that question again. If the unfaithful expresses impatience, frustration or contempt about repetition, that will just create more conflict and slow the process down, so the unfaithful needs to be willing to go over the same ground a number of times.

A gift for the unfaithful in the repetition is that he/she will often come to new insights in going over the same ground more than once.

Both the betrayed and the unfaithful need to be careful of asking about or sharing sexual details. Yes, the number of times, the places, how the trysts were managed with work and children and so on – all that is very important to share. But sexual positions, degree of pleasure and so on? – Try to steer clear of those because they will just imprint images and impressions that will be difficult to get over. So if the betrayed asks for those, try to agree on a 24-hour or 36-hour waiting period, after which you share those details only if the betrayed still really wants to have those.

Typically, the betrayed spouse is the one doing most or all the work, which is unfair. A terrible breach has opened up and there are deep wounds. Often the unfaithful spouse just waits for the betrayed spouse to bring the subject up, all the time hoping, "Maybe he/she won't bring it up. Maybe they're over it. Maybe I won't need to talk about this again!" No. In order for real healing to get underway, the betrayer must take initiative in conversation to discuss aspects of the adultery: things he/she thinks the betrayed might find helpful; insights the betrayed spouse has come to about what prompted the adultery; what he/she has learned, etc. The unfaithful spouse must not only take responsibility for the affair, but also responsibility for the post-adultery healing.

The Puzzle

The puzzle analogy is very accurate, personally I'm a 10,000 piece sort of guy. I need to know everything - emotions, mind set, intentions, physical aspects - you name it, I need it.

I have spoken about this with my wife, and calmly (externally) accepted and dealt with each drip feed. I needed to know, not only for healing and understanding, but also for a real picture of our 20+ year relationship through her eyes - and for a real picture of how she sees herself - and ultimately a real picture of where I'd like to be in my future. I think this prevents some unfaithful spouses from providing all the pieces to the puzzle - the fear of losing someone they finally realise they love. In the meantime though, we still try to solve the puzzle, it's very counterproductive.

Tell your spouse as much info

Tell your spouse as much info as they want. Do not withold anything ir try to sugar coat it... I’m dealing with what my husband has done and the answers he’s given me do not even qualify as answers..’I am not stupid and it just makes him appear more guilty and as if he’s continuing to lie.... he doesn’t understand the lack of answers will cause me to imagine things probably a million times worse, I will stay angry until I get the truth, while truth and nothing but the truth and there’s no way to move forward without the truth! And please do not expect your hurt spouse to ask once... betrayers are liars... the truth doesn’t change and yes we will ask more than once so we make sure we have everything... if the answer changes, you forgot something then you might as well hit the reset button! And don’t make the disclosure like an interrogation if we feel we have to interrogate you to get answers that’s not helping anything either... just means anytime we want info it’s like pulling teeth and you cannot be forthcoming ownd therefore cannot be trusted

How Much To Share About The Affair

I’m a person who wants to know it all, so I can process what has happened and why. But how can you trust what the betrayer tells you, when they have just lied to you about everything they were doing? My husband won’t share anything. He thinks I should just get over it and move on. His motto is “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”. I probably wouldn’t believe him now if he did open up and tell all. I still don’t trust him, don’t believe him, and am suspicious about everything he does. Not a good way to live. To all the betrayers out there, be honest and answer the questions from the beginning.
And stop telling lies!

Divorce or no?

I would like to hear from anyone on this site that has divorced following an affair.
Are you happier?

Just a little off topic.....

Hey, a little off topic but in my experience I've known/know of more females who've cheated on their partners than males. During the last two years I've been reading and occasionally contributing to discussions on this forum and I've realised there are a lot more ladies who comment and share their experiences than men. Anyone care to enlighten me as to why this seems to be the case? It seems to be yet another interesting lesson in psychology....

More women than men on here

Women réalisé that things need to be talked about in order to get worked out, more often than men do. Guys usually don’t seem to even want to attempt to work things out, or talk about them especially if the problems are caused by them. In many cases guys believe they haven’t done anything wrong when they cheat, that cheating is a God given right for guys.

Puzzle analogy is very good

I am the betrayed spouse and the 1,000 piece puzzle solver. It took nearly 2 months to get what I needed and even then it felt like he was withholding a piece or two. He has recontacted her twice in the past 2 1/2 years which effectively tossed the puzzle and damaged the image on the box. I have not fully recovered from the last one because I now can’t trust him at all and it hurst. He now laments our broken relationship. Because of all of this, I have learned my husband is not very introspective and outright refuses to do what he needs to heal himself and protect us. I cannot trust his promises and words because his lack of action on this and other issues show me he will never be involved at the deeper level.

My puzzle is incomplete, there will always be a missing couple of pieces. I am trying to heal for myself and my son and if my husband wants to join me, he knows what he must do.

When the third person isn't helpful either...

I needed every detail possible and my husband wasn't willing to give me any information, all while he spent 18 months (after Discovery Day) in full denial of his actions. Unfortunately, the couples therapist told me he didn't have to tell me the details if he didn't want to. I told her she and my husband were wrong and I wasn't going to go along with their eagerness to keep his actions hidden. Thankfully I didn't listen to the therapist. In reality, he was hiding so much information about what was really happening and it would have all stayed hidden if I hadn't have kept pushing for the truth. He was desperately trying to keep his actions hidden because of his shame. Only after he revealed his actions were we able to begin to start the very long road of recovery. I absolutely believe I still don't know everything but I know "what he can remember" which is better than the information that I knew he was hiding in his defensive denial.

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