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

Discovery: Part 1 - How to Handle Discovery

Discovery Part 1

Discovery 4 Part Series:

  1. How to Handle Discovery?
  2. Advice for the Wayward Spouse
  3. Guidelines for Discovery
  4. Goals for the Betrayed

Betrayed spouses, why do you really want to know what happened?

Unfaithful spouses, why would you want to tell your spouse about your infidelity?

Is it really that important for healing after an affair?

No Disclosure...No Momentum

Next to stopping the affair or acting out behavior, how couples handle discovery may be the most critical factor in recovery and surviving infidelity. If the discovery process isn’t handled with both compassion and strategy, it’s likely that all attempts at restoration will either falter or become hopelessly frustrating.

Couples may even give up their attempts at restoration more out of exhaustion and confusion than because of the infidelity itself.

Couples in crisis struggle to answer a litany of pivotal questions during the discovery phase. Here are just a few of the tough questions you’ll need to discuss early on:

  • Why is discovery so crucial to surviving an affair?
  • What exactly do you need to know?
  • How can couples handle the instability created by questioning?
  • What are appropriate questions to ask?
  • When is it time to stop asking questions?
  • Why do they keep asking me the same questions?  

My hope is to provide you with as much insight into this process as possible and to provide a framework to your recovery despite the pain of what you may be going through.

However, before beginning I want to stress that our goal at Affair Recovery isn’t just saving marriages, it’s helping people find extraordinary lives of meaning and purpose. Thankfully, a common result of those who tackle this issue in the right way, is a restored life and a saved marriage. Our community is living proof that infidelity can serve as a catalyst for positive growth, but if you don’t change your direction, then you’ll wind up where you’re headed. Our hope and prayer is that you will have the courage to navigate this process in a way which brings new life and total restoration for you and quite possibly your spouse.

Why Not Knowing...is Paralyzing

A primary barrier to couples surviving infidelity is “not knowing what happened”.  As counter intuitive as it may seem, statistics clearly support that recovery is facilitated by the unfaithful spouse answering all the questions of the betrayed spouse. Those answers extend to the betrayed spouse much needed compassion and respect. Alternatively, the betrayed spouse needs to be the one to determine if they want to know the details and how much they really want to know.

The late Peggy Vaughan, one of the research pioneers in both infidelity and compulsive behaviors, found that 72% of betrayed spouses reported that they recovered from the sexual activity in the affair before they recovered from the fact they were deceived.1 It’s the deception during and after the affair that creates the biggest challenge for reconciliation.

Deception creates the sense of betrayal and destroys not only the trust toward their mate, but also their trust in themselves. They no longer feel they can trust reality or their intuition. They’re not even sure if they can trust their gut about whether what they see is real. Providing answers to their questions allows them to find footing in their new, albeit painful, reality.

Remember: if you can’t accept where you’re at, you’ll never get to where you’re going.

Discovery is the first step to accepting where we’re at, both as individuals and couples. While it is possible for a couple to continue living together after betrayal, without discovery, they will never reestablish a deep trusting and meaningful relationship.

Again - discovery has everything to do with surviving an affair and getting to a better, more fulfilling and peaceful place. Couples may live under the same roof, but without trust, intimacy can never be reestablished.

Before the betrayed spouse can trust their mate, the unfaithful spouse must first trust them with the information and details of the affair. This is the minimum - but infinitely important - requirement for establishing loyalty.

You’re Only As Sick As Your Secrets

Time and time again, I’ve heard people bemoan the fact that they never had full disclosure. Without full disclosure, they feel insignificant and, quite frankly, foolish. The message, “you are not capable of handling the truth” or “you don’t deserve the truth” is clearly communicated, which only adds to the hurt they already are enduring. This leaves them feeling even more disrespected and unimportant. While they may continue in the marriage after the affair, without full disclosure they will never get over it.

As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, you’re only as sick as your secrets. Choosing to withhold information perpetuates a pattern of deception. I could never be a decent partner to any person until I could be rigorously honest with self and others. Failure to do so left me vulnerable to repeating patterns that destroyed my loved ones. For unfaithful spouses, if they ever hope to have intimacy with their mate, disclosure is an absolute necessity for healing after an affair.

During my recovery the last thing I needed was to continue lying. I didn’t need to be perfect; I needed to learn how to be authentic. If I ever wanted to have an extraordinary life of meaning and purpose, I had to begin to be honest about who I really was. My biggest fear was that no one would accept me if they truly knew who I was and what I had done. In reality, my deception was costing me the very love that I so desperately wanted. You can never be loved unconditionally as long as you only conditionally let others know who you are. It was through the process of discovery that I was finally able to admit who I was and what I had done.

The process of discovery realigns loyalty in the relationship. As long as I withheld information from my mate regarding my extramarital activities, I maintained a covert alliance with those with whom I’d cheated.

Refusing to give information clearly communicated that I held myself and my affair partner in higher regard than my mate. Releasing those secrets through the process of discovery provides the betrayed spouse the necessary security to continue in the process and to continue healing after the affair.

For those of you at this stage of recovery, I hope you don’t think I’m minimizing the difficulty of this process. In fact, I can’t underscore enough the need to go through this painful but vital step in the journey towards healing and restoration. Infidelity creates a pain like no other and you may certainly find it helpful to have a qualified therapist or others who have already gone before you to facilitate this process.

We believe so strongly in the process of achieving full disclosure, that our EMS Weekend creates the opportunity to come clean with new or even more information, in a safe, expert driven environment. If you need help today with disclosure, forgiveness, or finding hope for your future, I hope you’ll give some thought to joining us at our EMS Weekend. For a better idea of what goes on at our weekend intensives, I hope you’ll also watch this video

 

1.    Vaughn, Peggy. The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairs. New York: William Morrow, 2003. Print. 

 

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Comments

I couldn't agree more

Without open and honest disclosure, I began creating wild scenarios and over thinking my wife's affair. After hearing truth, I began to understand how it unfolded, what factors made her vulnerable and how serious it was.

With this last note, be careful what you ask for. She made statements that still haunts me.

In all this, handle discovery with care, concern and honesty. It is so much better for the betrayed to know the truth and the story. It brings some grounding to their dismay and allows them to know where they stand.
Then it is the betrayed partners option to live with it, or live without it.
Please be honest.

wish I could get this.

8 mos later and I still have no answers. wish I could get my wife into a course here so we can get healing and out of limbo. it's so empty here.

Spot on! This is precisely

Spot on! This is precisely why recovery and restoration never happened in my marriage.

Why don't all marriage counselors have this information......

Before D-day and after D-day, my wife and I went to several marriage counselors trying desperately to save our relationship. In the beginning of this process, I knew that something was going on, but just could not put my finger on it. During these ‘challenging’ times, most of the things that you say in this article, I said to my wife (betrayer) over and over. Especially the parts of your article related to, "Without full disclosure, they feel insignificant and, quite frankly, foolish. The message, “you are not capable of handling the truth” or “you don’t deserve the truth” is clearly communicated, which only adds to the hurt they already are enduring. This leaves them feeling even more disrespected and unimportant. While they may continue in the marriage after the affair, without full disclosure they will never get over it". And more importantly, for me, without the full disclosure, I could not even begin to trust her, and hence start the healing process. What you wrote in this article seems so simple and so obvious. But what I don't understand is why marriage counselors don't have articles like this one, to give to the husband and wife, so they can begin to digest this information and understand how to move forward. No matter how many times I tried to explain the information in your article to my wife, she just did not 'get it'. And I fully understand that she might not "get it" with the information coming from me, but she did 'seem' to have respect for our counselors, so their words/advice would have been critical in helping us move forward. But even with 2-3 different counselors during our 3-4 year period of trying to move forward, never did they once try to explain what you explained in the article above. So help me, and all of us understand why? In hindsight, I wish that I had actually taken some of your articles, given them to our counselors, and ask them to go over the information during our sessions. But then again, my wife might have just thought I was trying to manipulate the situation?? From my point of view, the betrayed person is trying to understand what happened, could it happen again, can we be 'happy' staying together and working on our relationship. But what we (betrayed) MUST have is information that we need to make the 'best decisions' that we can. The last thing the betrayed person wants is to be back in this same situation again. In the end, she would not share the information that I needed to move forward in our relationship, so I was never able to fully trust her. Eventually, I had to pick among two choices - stay or leave - neither one was a 'good choice' or rather a choice that I wanted to make. So either I took a leap of faith and hoped for the best by staying, or I would need to leave the relationship. It has been 4 years since D-day, and I am still sad at times as I have lots of very good memories with her before D-day. But now looking back, I can accept or have accepted (trying to accept?) that I made the best choice of two really, really, really difficult choices.......... . Rick, thanks for your articles.........I will always wonder if the counselors had shared this information with us, would I/we be in a different place today.

So right on

JD, I could have written the exact same response, word for word. The only difference is that my wife hid her affair from me for so long (20 yrs), that she says she can't remember details of how it happened. This has been one of my biggest challenges to restoration, is how to move forward without knowing what happened. All I know is that it did happen. As a husband, it makes me feel like I will never know what happened, could it happen again, and that she will never have to answer for it, she was simply able to do it and walk away. It would be good to hear Rick's thoughts on that scenario, when an affair is kept secret for so long.

True but difficult

As the one who had a 6 month emotional affair I am faced with questions daily. "Is there anything else?" I feel I have disclosed everything but those seemingly insignificant little things continue to pop up. These to my wife are huge things. I feel like there is no end to this discovery process. I have scavenged my mind and yet something is always left out. God has showed me that self never is good. He has opened my eyes to the beauty of the gift He gave me. I see my wife as I did so many years ago. The affair was an ego boost I guess. It happened before I truly realized and then I found it hard to stop. Friend, flirts, chats, sharing emotions, building all the wrong connections. It should have been going towards my wife.
How long does it really take before all the things I view as little and she as big come to light? It's tough to heal when the scab is always being ripped off the sore.

Additional need.

I very much concur with the article. However, for me the problem came with the attitude in answering the questions. Although after a couple of years and various counselors, my wife answered my questions, although at times with anger at me for asking repeatedly in search of an answer I could believe was complete. However, along with the answers came justification and blaming, very little taking responsibility, showing signs of remorse or expressing regret. One counselor told me I was to never bring up the affair again, giving my wife justification for anger at me when I did. Consequently, our marriage is lacking the intimacy desired.

I totally agree and believe

I totally agree and believe that is why my husband and I are healing so well regardless of the incredible pain his deception has caused me. He has been honest and shared with me all that he can and all that I ask and this has been healing (also as I see the pain he feels for what he has done and how it affects me).

What is the truth?

I agree that full disclosure is vital to healing the marriage. My problem is that in light of all of the lies that my wife told me during her affair, how do I know if she is now telling me the truth about the details of the affair?

How do I know she is not covering up multiple affairs?

How do I know if anything coming out of her mouth is truthful at all?

latest article

Thank you Rick for your latest article. It has been six months since I found out about my husbands affair. The first few weeks were hell but I'm glad I didn't leave. Since finding your website I find I am able to move forward in a positive way and look forward to each weeks article. If I am having a really bad day I find lots of inspiration in your free resource section. It is reassuring to know that all of my feelings are normal and we can survive this. I don't know if I could handle this without your support. You and your team are very appreciated by me. God Bless !

Leaking Truths

I’ve been cheated on several times during our 42 marriage.
My spouse is doing so much harm with destroying me with truths of he and his AP’s. He lashes out to hurt me and it’s been going on for 2 years since this times 1st D/Day. He’s still doing it. The last tricking was 2 weeks ago. He shuts me down and surely he knows that every time he does this it puts me back to square one. It’s horrendous. He’s even divulging intimate sexual acts he’s done mostly with #3. It’s disgusting and devastating. He wonders why I’m not able to move on. He’s also been into porn. He’s dipping his toe in the waters of recovery and just checking off the boxes. He’s told me he was in love with #1 and #3. The first was my best friend and his best friend’s wife. These both lasted a year each. I just don’t understand this horrible behaviors.
Idk what to do. We’ve been separated twice. I think it’s probably time for a permanent one but we were told to wait at least a year after you’ve gotten the “correct help”. Idk if I can wait that long. Maybe another separation with strict contact. I’m so confused. I feel worthless, unimportant, rejected, and abandoned.
My depression is so bad I don’t want to say.
Thank you for reading!

Leaking truths

My heart is heavy reading your post. Im so sorry you are going through this. Please believe you are not worthless or unimportant. I know you’ve probably heard a million times it’s not you or your fault.. it really truly is not. It appears that your husband has deep unresolved issues and these issues are impacting your life over and over. The repeated damage to you is reinforcing all the negative things you’ve learned to believe about yourself. You need to believe that you are not broken, but deeply hurt by his actions. If he is just checking boxes and not committed to the work involved then it may be time to walk away. Don’t allow someone to devalue you. You are a trusting beautiful person that just believed in the vows you made... not your fault he is broken.

#'s 1-3

Wow, this could have been written by me. - right down to last one being 2 years ago.
I am 64 y.o. and too old for this.
The last mistress just died, and we are in a tailspin.
5 kids and very little money, except I have 2 good properties in my name.

Disclosure

My husband got emotionally close with an old friend who had been a girlfriend many years ago. I was noticing as the weeks & months went by, that they were communicating more and more often, by texts, by phone, by email. They also met up, but infrequently as she’s in another country, so only when he was there visiting an ill family member (which was pretty often last summer and autumn). It took several conversations instigated by me, and several months, for him to accept that their ‘friendship’ was crossing boundaries and hurtful to me in its exclusion of me, and was heading in a dangerous direction. He stopped contact a few months ago, and we are rebuilding our relationship, which has generally been close & strong, over the 18 years we’ve been together. My bugbear though is that he refused to show me any of their communications. It felt important to me to know how they communicated, to see for myself what they talked about. All along he insisted that it was just a friendship. I wanted evidence of that, which he could have given me by showing me some of their email interactions. By refusing, it made me more convinced that he / they had something to hide. He says it’s just about privacy, that he wouldn’t ask me to show him emails between me & my friends. I have come a long way to letting what’s happened go. But there will always be a part of me that wonders if they were more involved than he let on. He could have reassured me (or not!) by showing me some of their emails. The worst part of love friendships or affairs, in my view, is secrecy & lies.

In the same boat

My husband insists that his contact with a former lover whom they had a child that has just been discovered 22 yrs later was only talk and texting/phone calls that he hid from me and deleted from his phone I’ve asked just to see what they talked about if it was no big deal. But the calls and texts last throughout the night and early morning hours. I discovered these via the phone bill but hours upon hours of both calls and texts each month, when he told me and others he had no time to talk because he was traveling over the road. He came off opioids after 7 yrs of addiction he states he feels like he’s living again, I’m here after dealing with literally all the crap of those years and being a caretaker more than a spouse to this and he’s angry that Inwould accuse him but if there wasn’t anything why can’t I be reassured. I really want t contact AP and ask I feel like that will help me but do I?? It keeps trickling in as I receive cell phone bills then home phone bills. I own both accounts and have blocked all calls texts from house and his cell number to hers I have that much control

Secrets and lies

I can’t agree more. The secrets and the dishonesty are so difficult to understand and process. Patience, meditation, exercise are helping me.

Gruesome Details

We were both unfaithful. Is there a limit or a line that should not be crossed on the details? I understand trying to make the betrayed spouse understand what happened for their own safety but what if their questions are unproductive, humiliating and shameful? I understand there will be hurt and shame associated with infidelity but there are questions being asked that only trigger him and makes him more angry as he says. The questions are explicit and degrading and I don't see how they help the situation. He's looking for every little detail. (When, where, how long, on top, sexual acts performed) How does this help the relationship? Because of past experiences, I don't trust him with the information and I don't feel safe. I know I had a part in this and I want t reconcile but I don't want to further damage the relationship.

Help!

Gruesome Details

No, you should not be sharing 'gruesome details' about each other's adulterous sexual acts. It's important for the betrayed spouse – both of you in this case, it seems – to know the outlines of the relationship, the frequency of assignations, the level of emotional involvement. But intimate sexual details are guaranteed only to torment indefinitely. I'm a man whose wife betrayed me, btw, & I've never asked for intimate sexual details. I think your husband is asking for them only in order to have something more to punish you for. You might consider going together to a therapist to see if he can be persuaded to cease & desist.

Trickle Truth is a killer to chances at restoration

I wanted to thank all those in the Affair Recovery program. You have been a key resource to my recovery from my husband's betrayal and sex addiction. Though we are recently divorced, I would attribute Trickle Truth as one of the primary killers to chances at restoration, this and the unwillingness to cease acting out and affair activities. I wanted restoration and my husband did not. He struggled with honesty - I would get bits and pieces (staggered disclosure) and half-truths, or straight up lies. He noticeably retracted from restoration processes with any mention of full disclosure. This article defines the problem very well. Thanks Rick!

Useless Answers

"As long as I withheld information from my mate regarding my extramarital activities, I maintained a covert alliance with those with whom I’d cheated...Refusing to give information clearly communicated that I held myself and my affair partner in higher regard than my mate."

So perfectly encapsulated, Rick!

And that is how I still feel after hearing far too many 'answers' consisting of "I don't know," or "I don't remember now." Had these been in response to just one or two minor points, I might feel differently. But when this involved the vast majority of my questions, and especially questions regarding the most SALIENT details of what I unearthed, it only reeked of more deception, more cover-up, more underlying attitude of "I fundamentally matter more than you," and that restoring any peace of mind to me was of very low priority to him.

His covertly manipulative diversion tactics also caused more damage.

For instance, a third party work colleague had made an assumption, and so straightforwardly asked the OW whether she and my spouse were "together now," right after she had just dumped another man. I had then expressed the reasoning and logical extensions behind my dire suspicions that there must have been a lot MORE going on between the two of them than what my spouse was admitting to, considering his pointed question. I mean, who would even suspect two people would be starting to DATE each other, unless their actions (even in public!) implied such intimacy and connection? But I got another blunt and wholly unsatisfying "I don't know, I can't explain that," along with the diversionary statement of "I don't even remember that guy" (the man who had inquired), as if the plausibility of my rationale was highly dependent upon this witness's identity. It wasn't. It was dependent upon the kinds of ANSWERS I got.

So distrust, disloyalty, and destruction to others' psyches is also caused by what appears to be very "selective memory" of events and people who were supposedly important in one's partner's life. I hope this aspect, too, will be covered in another wise article.

He Doesn't Remember

2+ years and counting since discovery. When I ask certain questions about how it started, details, and EXACTLY when, I sometimes get "I don't remember." She remembers. She made sure to tell me all kinds of details via email, text, and private messages when I found out! The destruction was nearly complete until I was finally able to block her communication completely. But he has shared his feelings, thoughts, impressions felt during the affair and tried to fill in blanks for me in honest, painful conversations. I guess I wanted to relate what was going on in his world with what was happening to distract me. I've come to realize even though there was a lot going on at the time, it's not my fault. We have come a long way and, while I know we still have some work to do, I finally feel like we can make it.

This article is spot-on, Rick

This article is spot-on, Rick. The Affair Recovery weekend was a perfect venue for honesty and acceptance. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and the deception continued, resulting in divorce. If you truly want to preserve your marriage and restore trust with your spouse, own your choices and be honest. It only hurts worse when continued deception is revealed. Don’t think you’re protecting your spouse by hiding truths. You’re not. It all comes out eventually and the consequences are greater. Trickle down honesty only makes things worse. If you really want to save your marriage, put it all out there, answer the questions honestly and humbly, ask for forgiveness, & demonstrate your intent.

Is it too late?

Is it ever too late to go through the discovery process? It has been over a year since it happened. I have forgiven him because I know no one is perfect, but I have also put boundaries in place and he is very aware of the consequences should it happen again. I've asked questions but I really hate bringing it up. I don't want him to think that I can't get over it. But sometimes I feel like I do want to know more. Without answers from him, I make them up in my head and sometimes they make me sad and sometimes they make me angry. I can't pretend it didn't happen and that it still doesn't hurt, so do I ask when I want to know? Or do I just leave it alone?

This is also my question/dilemma

I have this same question, is it too late for a proper discovery process? My husband's affair was years ago (2002 - '03) and he claims it was very short (less than a year) but I believe he is not telling the truth. I believe he was involved with her up until 2013. I have uncovered many details on my own, that when put together make a very strong case that I am correct. When I try to discuss this with him he blows up and says he "told me everything", or "what more do you want from me", or "get over it." He acts as if I am crazy.
What I need to know is the extent of his affair. there is a big difference between having a six month fling and an affair lasting years. How can he say it meant nothing when he continued to see her over a ten year period. To me, she must have meant more to him than he is letting on. I have a problem with this aspect of it and this lack of truth makes it hard to give myself fully to this marriage. It is hard to forgive if you don't know what you are forgiving. He does not understand this when I say it, or at least he doesn't want to try to understand.

So, my question is: Am I wrong for bringing up what he says should be left in the past or is it fair to expect truthful answers to my questions, regardless of how long ago it was?

What type of affair was it?

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