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

A Crucial Step To Surviving Infidelity: Discovery. Part 1

4 Part Series:  A Crucial Step to Surviving Infidelity: Discovery

  1. How Do I Handle Discovery?
  2. Advice for the Wayward Spouse
  3. Guidelines
  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?

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.

Why is discovery so crucial to surviving an affair? What 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? 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 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.

A primary barrier to couples surviving infidelity is “not knowing what happened”. If you haven’t had a chance, you might want to start by first reading this article. 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.

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. To learn more about the discovery process, join the Recovery Library and read the articles found in the Handling Discovery category.

The EMS Weekend Retreat or EMS Online Course is a great way to navigate this step in the recovery process. You’ll find that going through this process with others really helps. Don’t put off your healing. Please take the steps to get what you need to move forward. It’s not as hopeless as it seems.


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



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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 !

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