Details - How Much Do I Want to Know?

As I first ventured into the world of betrayal recovery, I listened to several experts advise against asking too many questions and getting too many details about their spouse’s betrayal. They cautioned that the details can be damaging and cause lingering intrusive thoughts. The predominant advice is to stick to the basic information of timeframe and generic summary of events but otherwise to steer clear of anything that could be considered a question related to comparison, like physical appearance, body type, specific sexual experiences, etc. The advice was that these things don’t serve to promote healing, and it is better to keep them unknown. (A list of suggested questions to consider asking instead can be found here.)

Not asking for details is very sound advice, and if that works for you, I agree that would probably be best. It made logical sense and I really tried not to want to know. But that is just not who I am. My perspective may not be the same as yours or anyone else’s, but I found myself needing to know everything. I couldn’t live with my husband having any lingering secrets with the affair partner. The years of secrets made me feel like he was protecting her or preserving something special between them. So now that the truth was out, I needed to know anything she knew. Unless you've experienced it yourself, it is hard to find the words to express the unique feeling of being an outsider in your own marriage.

Initially, I tried the suggested “24-hour rule” many times. The 24-hour rule is where you consider a question that might be harmful to ask, write it down, wait 24 hours, and then see if you still feel the need to ask. I did this on a number of occasions and had a literal notebook full of all the things I wanted to know. Not once did the passage of time make any difference in my need to know the answers to those questions. I wrestled with it internally for a while, like I was a bad person or doing this wrong by still wanting to know. Eventually I realized this is who I am, and I would never rest without all of the information. My first therapist said I was a “nooks and crannies” type of person. I needed to get into the weeds to process things, including the details of the affair.

If you are like me and not knowing eats you alive, then you may want to consider asking for the details. What is the downside? You have the details. They can paint full color images in your head you will never be able to “unsee”, but for me, the images were there anyway, and most of those in my imagination were worse than those he eventually shared. The mental movies I envisioned before I had the details were already embellished with music, lights, sound, and thematic elements that weren’t actually part of the real story. Still, my brain romanticized it and made connections to make sense of it, even if they weren’t true. When there are gaps in details, our brains often confabulate - using our imagination to fill in the blanks. In this case, I concluded how it must have played out since the affair seemed to be so important and carried on for so long. This led to many scenarios I assumed to be true, but in reality, they were not even close.

I needed every detail, and in a few specific instances, I needed to hear them over and over again to overwrite the narrative I had long held in my head. I had a long time to sit with my version of events going unchallenged in my imagination, so they were hard to unravel. It was traumatizing, but the reality was I was already traumatized, and this process was going to be difficult no matter what those details were.

Every person is unique in terms of what they need, but I also think the type of affair or betrayal may make a difference in the potential helpfulness of details. If it was a highly limerent affair, details may not prove beneficial. But if it was a more rudimentary affair it might be helpful. My husband’s affair was sexual but not particularly connective, and that is not uncommon. It was ongoing but not romantic. It was clumsy and haphazard and much less “sexy” than what I envisioned. It was still completely wrong and devastating to me, so I am not minimizing it in any way, but it wasn’t the twitterpated, steamy, romance novel scenario I assumed it to be. It was more of a series of rushed, awkward, unconnected encounters that happened to include sex. John Haney often refers to this as “masturbation with a partner”, which conveys the selfish, meaningless, unconnected, and often mechanical sex that is common in affairs. They barely knew each other in any authentic way. They were very familiar on a surface level and obviously in a rudimentary physical sense, but most of their conversation was flirtation and fluff. Nothing deep was shared. No meaningful plans were made.

On the receiving end of the betrayal, I obviously assumed there was a deep, passionate, and romantic connection underlying all of this. Why else would he have an affair? So all of my “mind movies” and images were along those lines, with perfectly choreographed Hollywood-type sensual scenes running through my head.

It turns out that in reality, there was little conversation, no beautiful scenery, little warmth, and no real passion. It was just hurry-up-and-get-it-done kind of stuff, like teenagers trying to get away with something before they get caught. It was not a particularly coordinated or beautiful experience.

In my case, the pain caused by learning the details was less than the pain caused by my runaway imagination. It helped me to create context for what my husband’s affair was - and wasn’t.

The truth and my husband’s commitment to what I needed to heal were a huge factor in our ability to grow closer through this experience. The process was challenging for him, too, but he patiently shared anything I asked, as often as I asked it. I know I could not have felt safe otherwise. It is not the right choice for everyone, and I acknowledge those details are painful, but I do think about them. But for me, they demystified so much of what I had imagined, and living with those imaginary scenarios would be much worse.

I feel like the typical advice is not to ask too many questions about the details, and I felt shame in wanting to know, like there was something wrong with me or if I was being petty. The stronger I got in this process, the more I understood that we are all unique and that there is no “right” way to do it. Sometimes, seeking more and more information gives the false perception that it will all eventually make sense, but in reality most of us will never fully understand the betrayal. Part of the healing process is learning to accept that fact, but that is not easy and comes much later than we would like.

Not every betrayed spouse needs or wants to know everything, but some do. While it was painful, it was the right choice for me. I would only caution you to consider whether you are ready to hear the answer before you ask a question. You can always wait and ask at a later time - there is no expiration date on questions.

The betrayed spouse must be given the control over how much and when they need to know. Even if a betrayed spouse doesn’t want all the details, they need to know that if they want to know, they can, and that the unfaithful spouse would be willing to share anything the betrayed spouse felt was necessary for their own sanity and potential healing.

I wanted to know what I was forgiving and never look back and wonder about what I didn’t know. I don’t regret my decision, and I appreciate my husband’s willingness to share everything with me and then sit with me while I was in the pain it caused. It showed me he prioritized me over his secrets which was an important piece of our recovery.

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How did you know he was telling the truth?

Thank you for sharing. My husband had a 7 year affair and I do believe they had some level of connection as she was convinced he’d leave me for her. He tells me it was no way as I imagined it but how do I know he’s telling the truth? He says that if he wanted to be with her, he would be (I have told him the door is open if he wants to be with her). But equally if he wanted to be with me, he would’ve ended it with her years ago. He tells me he was blackmailed a lot and felt stuck on how to get out and that it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I’m scared for intricate details and not sure he’d give me them anyway but how do I believe the overarching narrative? It’s almost as though I want o hear that he was madly in love with her! Why?!

Hi Woundedhousewife

How did I know my husband was telling the truth? Fair question.

We all have to determine whether we feel confident in the answers to our questions and there is no definitive way to prove whether they are true. My husband told me things that were hard for him to say and hard for me to hear. He could have left things out and I never would have known, so the fact that he willingly shared things that were definitely not complimentary for him showed me he was more interested in being honest than in saving his image or avoiding consequences. That took a long time though. It wasn't instant and I didn't really believe him for a long time. I was very skeptical until I started to understand more about affairs and talked to others (online) who had been unfaithful and found consistency across many of the stories.

So how will you know if your husband is telling you the truth? That is very hard to say, and I'm sorry. I will say this though. Just because his AP thought he may leave you doesn't mean he ever wanted to. Two people can be in an affair together and have very different perspectives about what it actually is. I don't know how long it's been since discovery but these things take time, and I think you will come to know if he is being honest. And if you are scared to ask about details, you can always ask later when you are more ready - or not at all. Or, you could ask just one and see how you feel - it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Some people do better without details. I am just not one of those people and I know I'm not alone.

So why do you want to hear that he was madly in love with her? Probably because you want this to make sense to you. Infidelity is very hard to understand from our side of the street so looking for "reasons" is just a natural way to try to understand something that makes no sense. It will probably never make total sense to you, because it is illogical.

Thank you for commenting and I wish you the best on this journey. You are not alone.

why would you want to hear

Maybe you want to hear he was madly in love with her, simply because that would be the reason that actually makes sense to you. Perhaps if it was you having the affair, the only reason would have been because of feeling so madly in love with another, much like so many romantic movies that we've seen. At least that would have been true for me, so thinking he loved her would have helped the whole thing make sense. My husband didn't love her, didn't want to have a future with her, wasn't really all that attracted to her and called it recreational sex. That to me was horrific! If he didn't love her, how could he make love with her for almost 8 years? That was so far beyond my understanding. Trying to make sense of an affair is like trying to empty a lake with a slotted spoon. For me, it hasn't happened.


Yes exactly. It can be so hard to understand, so we naturally assign motivation toward it to try to make it make sense, even though it might not be accurate.

I think the assumption that we will come to fully understand is misleading. Affairs are not logical and are rooted in dysfunctional/faulty thinking: moral justification, self deception, etc. Coming to a place of general understanding is helpful, but we can't expect to 100% understand something that never made sense in the first place.

I appreciate you sharing your experience and perspective.

I needed to know also, and it's totally one's right

Am like you, i coulndt R while leaving things to my imagination and letting her keep secrets of joyful and sexual moments w her AP.....
So while you will have those mental images time will loosen their grip they have over you....
However the most difficult part for me was accepting and living with the fact that you will NEVER know the real truth of those details since they are extremely likely to wash down the reality of what happened.

Hi Prcmrj

I hear you. You're right, some people will whitewash the truth to avoid consequences and discomfort. Some won't.

I don't know how long it's been since discovery for you. Sometimes time impacts the desire to be totally honest. I think humility in recovery is critical, and humility and empathy is what allowed my husband to be completely honest. He had already kept his secret for 10 years so by the time he confessed he was ready to tell the whole truth. That is not everyone's story but I hope you find the truth you need.

I have to admit this article

I have to admit this article was a little triggering to me , as my husband did have a highly limerant affair.
The way you described things as how they would be in a romantic steamy emotional way , was not really helpful to read , as it gave me more details things to think about.
Maybe this should be prefaced before someone whose spouse was in a very limerant affair reads it.

Hi lag831

I'm so sorry. I certainly don't want to make things harder for anyone and I'm sorry this was not helpful to you.

I think material about infidelity is all triggering to some degree, and I know I have had that unfortunate experience as well. I appreciate you sharing your perspective and wish you the best in your healing.

Spot on!

This article is spot on! I needed to know everything! After our 2nd D-day, when I discovered the affair hadn't ended as promised 6 months prior, my husband gave me his password to his secret email account that contain over 1000 emails between him & his AP, including pictures she took of herself & them together. I poured over these emails, did screen shots, used a photo AP to cut them apart & put them in chronological order. Her husband asked me to save them for him, but ultimately, he never wanted to see them.
I did have problems with ruminating & I got counseling to deal with that, but I don't think I could have lived without knowing every detail. I too, wanted to know what I was forgiving.
His affair was with someone he met online in a game, & though they lived 3000 miles apart they found ways to get together physically & sexually through fake business trips, etc.
Some details were like pulling teeth, but eventually I believe he has told me everything. I'm still leary & play detective, I think, just to find a reason to leave him. But I love him, & we are so much better. Finding a long hidden secret now would Likely blow up my world, though, I would still want to know. That's just how I roll.

Hi Ginger

Everything you said makes sense. I can definitely understand wanting to piece it all together, and I couldn't rest without filling in all the gaps either. It must have been hard to see all of those emails and photos, but I'm glad it helped you.

Feeling skeptical and looking for more lies only makes sense after so much deception. I sought confirmation that my husband was telling the truth for a long time. I wanted to trust him but it was very hard so I needed to verify as much as possible for a long time. I think it is only natural.

I'm glad things are so much better for you now. Thanks for your comment. :)

My imagination was worse

Thank you for your post. I too needed to know every last detail, many times over. Even though it was horrible, and even though my unfaithful husband needed to be asked questions in just the right way before he would be completely open, I needed to hear it. I didn't want to give his affair any more power than it had over me. I wanted to shine a bright light on the whole nasty thing. And unfortunately I too have a very vivid imagination, that made his affair seem like an amazing love story, but in reality it wasn't. I also asked the same question many times, not only to get it straight in my head, but also to see if the details changed. It is an awful thing to go through, but for me, it was like taking all of the snapshots of their time together and laying it out on the ground like a collage so I could see the whole picture (I'm grateful there were no actual photos). I will also say that my husband is still dealing with his own triggers, and is trying to still face some of those things head on. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I wish you healing and happiness.

Hi Sarah 655

I'm sorry you had to work so hard to get your questions answered, but I'm glad you were eventually able to get the answers you needed. I'm sure he was terrified to tell you the details.

I agree, sometimes getting it all out takes away some of the power and mystery it held, but it can be rough to go through the details to get there. I also asked some questions over and over, for the same reasons you mentioned. When I got the exact story again and again I started to relax and feel like I had the truth. I also found as I processed more of it over a period of time, I sometimes asked again, as I had a different perspective. The answers were the same but I was in a different place to receive it, if that makes sense. That was very helpful to me and continues to be.

Thank you. I wish you healing and happiness as well. (and as a side note, I am happy today. Things really can get better 😊, so hang in there)

Thank you!

Thank you for sharing this! I felt a bit alone, a little over two years ago, when most of what I read or was told was to not ask questions that provided "too much" detail, but feeling like I would never be able to heal with ANY secrets. I mean, what my spouse and his AP did together had become part of my story too, and I wanted to know what was on the pages I hadn't been permitted to read.

Thank you for acknowledging that this is not a "one rule fits all" situation, and that each BS should examine how they normally process information and figure out the best path forward for themselves.

Hi Palmini

I assumed for a long time it was just me, and somehow everyone else was able to just let those things go and be ok not knowing all the details. I'm sure there are some who truly are ok and maybe even better off without knowing, but it took a long time for me to feel like it was ok to go against the grain and advocate for what I knew all along that I needed. So I'm glad if this helped you feel less alone.

And you're right, it is your story too, and I appreciate the analogy of knowing what was on the pages you had not been able to read. Thank you for sharing that.

Jen’s perspective

I feel like Jen interviewed me and wrote this based on my experience. Thank you so much.

Hi Jsna

I'm glad to have represented your experience. Betrayal can often feel so isolating, so I hope it helps to know you are not alone.

Thank you for your comment.

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