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

Discovery: Part 1 - How to Handle Discovery

Discovery: A Four Part Series

Part 1: How to Handle Discovery?
Parts 2 through 4 coming soon!

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 often 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 for 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 for your spouse.

Having said that, there are many who are unable to navigate the recovery process with ease and find themselves with no choice but to endure divorce. How a couple handles divorce can absolutely ease the process of uncoupling and create space to co-parent as well as move on to the next chapter of their lives in a healthy and whole way without further pain and trauma. When both spouses commit to a proven process, the outcome, while not always the desired outcome, can be healthy and safe for all parties.

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 much needed compassion and respect to the betrayed spouse. 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.

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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.

Discovery Part 1

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 it may be extremely helpful to have a qualified therapist or others who have already gone before you to facilitate this process.

In the following video, Samuel and MJ Denis, an expert in the field of trauma and infidelity discuss how disclosure impacts us both physically and emotionally.

Some of the main topics they will cover include:

  • How we experience grief
  • How we can get stuck in grief
  • How we can get unstuck
  • How the emotional pain can manifest as physical symptoms
  • How to get back on your feet and regain stability

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-facilitated 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 upcoming Virtual EMS Weekends. For a better idea of what goes on at our weekend intensives, I hope you'll also watch this video.

Cover more ground faster with the life-changing experience of EMS Weekend for couples.

This isn't another light-and-fluffy program that only scratches the surface of your pain. The EMS Virtual Weekend Experience is a safe space for you and your partner to start putting the pieces of your life back together, transform your trauma and begin healing from infidelity. Skeptical about the effectiveness of this virtual experience? Don't be! Backed by a slew of previous participant testimonials, EMS Virtual Weekend delivers the same positive experience — if not better — to couples as our in-person format does.

During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist — all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand — as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

For more information, watch videos from Rick and Wayne as they discuss this exciting virtual experience. Plus, we're now offering a $1,000 discount for virtual months during the COVID-19 pandemic. Limited availability.

Sign Up Now!

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

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