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

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

I’ll be honest, I hate puzzles, but some of my family members love them. For some strange reason they find pleasure in what I consider to be a tortuous activity designed to move me toward insanity. One  year, for instance, 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 trying to distinguish slight differences in hopes of getting just one more piece to fit. They claimed it was relaxing and rewarding, but to me it was enough to make me want to sharpen my pencil and fall on it. But oddly enough, this story has a profound parallel to those yearning to know how to survive an affair. So stay with me, I want to paint a picture of how most betrayed spouses dealing with infidelity can utilize this puzzle discussion.

Understanding the Darkness

To go a step deeper, what if there were no picture on the box and all you had were a thousand pieces to try and put together by your own rugged determination? How difficult would that be to undertake on your own? I’m sure my family could still work it, but I bet it would slow them down a bit and you can be assured there is no way I would even participate. Then there are those puzzles where they give you extra pieces, and even go a step further and take away the picture of the puzzle. Wouldn’t that make it a little more difficult? And if you really wanted to make it seem insurmountable, you could always turn out the lights. Even for my experienced family members, I’m not sure it would be possible to work a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in the dark. Would you even want to try that? And if you were willing to risk the personal pain, and proposed mockery by casual outside observers, where would you even hope to begin? Would you try to find all the outside edge pieces, by mere feel, and then begin to see if you could fit them together? What about the corners, would you be able to identify those pieces simply by touch? And if you did get it together, do you think you’d be able to get all the pieces in their right places? And finally, if you were by some miracle able put it all together, you’d still be in the dark and still not be able to clearly see all the detail to what you had worked so hard to put together in the first place.

Having worked with couples dealing with infidelity for over 25 years now, I know countless numbers who have tried just that. If a spouse learns of a betrayal, but is given no details, it can seem very much like trying to work a puzzle in the dark. Yet, in these emotional firestorms, we’re not dealing with mere puzzles, but with real life disasters and feelings, along with years of time spent together, and even children’s lives. This “how to survive an affair” puzzle is a mess.

Finding Extra Pieces

To expect a betrayed spouse to put together the pieces of a highly emotional and gut wrenching puzzle in the dark, is simply incomprehensible. Do you think anyone dealing with infidelity and betrayal would ever be able to get it right after having absorbed so much pain and heartache? Simply put, if a husband (or wife) suspects an infidelity of any sort, and his (or her) mate refuses to address the issue and details of the betrayal, what is he (or she) to do? Spouses in this position may try to work the puzzle, and arrive at the picture, but frequently they are in the dark and due to the unlimited human imagination, they can be working with extra pieces. They can create possibilities in their minds that probably never happened. But how can we expect them to work such a puzzle in the dark? If my family were to come across a puzzle too difficult to complete, we would simply put it back in the box, maybe even throw it away: but for the hurt spouse, it will never be that easy. And specifically for an unfaithful spouse that seeks restoration of any sort, we surely hope it’s not that easy.

Our experience has shown that for most people, it’s impossible to move forward from a betrayal until the hurt spouse knows what has happened. Admittedly, there are those individuals who don’t want to know every little detail, and are more comfortable living in denial, or at the very least, living with a limited knowledge of what has gone on. In addition there are many others who want to know how to survive an affair but who feel they can’t go on until they know what has occurred. In fact, the level of detail seems to be driven by the hurt spouse’s personality. Some may be content to not work the puzzle at all; others must work it, understand it, and bring it all into focus in order to heal. Some spouses need to know exactly what they are going to be forgiving and letting go of. Moving forward and recovering from an affair for some means needing to know the general details of it all. Most every spouse needs to know some sort of details if they are going to find forgiveness and hope. There is just no easy way around that need.

Some betrayed spouses are forced to work 500 piece puzzles. They don’t need a lot of detail, but they do need to know what they need to know. Others need to work the puzzle at the 1000 piece level and still others at the 2,500 or even 5,000 piece level. It’s important to check with your mate about the level of detail they would like, but for the sake of helping him or her heal and get unstuck, it’s important to give the proper amount of information they need. I’m sure you can understand no one wants to work a puzzle in the dark with an imagination sized box of extra pieces.

Even More Damage

Some unfaithful spouses may feel no obligation to give 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. The overwhelming majority of hurt spouses have to understand what has happened and get that puzzle worked before they can ever begin to even attempt to forgive and move on in both life and marriage.

If I were to hit a parked car in the parking lot there are several actions I could take. I could avoid responsibility and drive on as if nothing had happened, thinking that if they didn’t catch me then it’s their problem. Conversely, I could recognize that even if I had no evil intent, I still have done someone else harm and should accept the responsibility for my actions and, at the very least, write a note with my contact information on it. Failure to take responsibility by helping the wounded spouse heal is nothing more than driving away from an accident. Refusing to take responsibility for our actions when dealing with infidelity can cause more damage than perhaps our natural eyes can see or comprehend.

It’s not uncommon that some spouses are afraid to come clean with the information out of fear of how their spouse is going to react. It’s a valid point. However, it doesn’t excuse the need, share the information in a safe and controlled environment. In this scenario 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 someone safe who will not “pile on” as they say, nor will they add to the already charged emotion of the moment. Not all cases require this, but it is true that some situations will require this extra step to minimize any collateral damage that may come due to new information being presented. Our EMS Weekend is an excellent environment to share the details of an affair or double life. When couples are in a safe and stabilized environment for both disclosure and the processing of new information their chances of healing increase significantly.

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s a truth I strive to live by: Love will always act in the best interest of another. Even if you’ve made some horrible choices and caused pain to your spouse with infidelity, if you truly love your spouse, you’ll do what is in their best interests to help them heal.

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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.

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