Affair healing Blog
Jacob sits at one end of the counseling couch, downcast, head in his hands, elbows on his knees. His gaze finally lifts from the space between his feet to settle on his wife, Cara, curled up in a tight ball at the other end of the couch. "How am I supposed to believe you?" he asks.
She hesitates, obviously frustrated with her inability to convince her husband. "Whether you believe me or not, I'm telling you the truth."
"You told me that before and I found out you were still lying. This whole affair was about making me believe one thing while you were doing something else. So how how can I believe you're being honest now?"
Cara remains silent. Jacob shakes his head, then turns to me as I sit in witness of their struggle. "Do you think I should trust her?" he asks, somehow hoping my counselor's insight will provide him with assurance one way or the other.
He desperately wants to believe Cara. He wants to believe the affair is over, that she desires him and not the other man, that she is committed to truthfulness, that it is safe for him to risk trusting her again. But her betrayal makes it impossible for him to be convinced, and so he asks me to make a judgment.
I've watched hundreds of couples go through the steps of affair recovery and have listened to many affair confessions. Because of this experience, couples rely on me to guide them through the process of recovery. Like Jacob, many betrayed spouses want me to tell them what they ought to believe or not believe. Honestly, I wish I could make it that easy for them, but I can be fooled by lies, too.
The words of confession are necessary, but they cannot be the only measure of truthfulness since everyone (the liar and truth-teller alike) swears they are speaking honestly. A more accurate measure of sincerity is behavior, not words.
If you are a betrayed spouse, what signs of authenticity can you look for? I've found the following behaviors to be reliable evidence of true or false confessions.
Evidence of a True Affair Confession
Evidence of a False Affair Confession
Isn't it common sense to expect that someone who broke trust should take responsibility for fixing it? Yet I regularly encounter unfaithful partners who seem annoyed with this expectation. Their reluctance or resistance indicates a heart that remains self-focused. Unless that changes, there can be no real return to trust.
Consider these comments written by partners struggling with confession uncertainty:
If you are a betrayed spouse, an open and honest confession provides a clearer context in which you choose to either leave or stay in your marriage. If the evidence points to a false confession, however, you should follow these basic guidelines. (Chapters 7 & 8 of my book Affair Healing: A Recover Manual for Betrayed Spouses deals with this in more detail.)
Give the responsibility of trust-building to your spouse, whether they succeed or fail. If you take on this duty, you can expect to continue spending much emotional effort reach and maintain safety in your marriage. Since your security depends on your vigilance, you'll wear yourself out doing the work that your spouse should be doing. And in the end, you will be no closer to trusting.
Determine what "life without truth" means to you and act accordingly. Don't work on rebuilding a marriage if your partner is not working to repair the damaged foundation. This choice may lead you to separation or sacrifice (temporary or permanent), but you will be taking responsibility for your healing even if the survival of your marriage is in question.
Use new information as a ruler, not a crowbar. You may discover more evidence that points to your spouse's dishonesty. Instead of using it as a tool to pry out another admission of guilt, hold on to the information as a measure of your spouse's commitment to honesty. There is little value "trickle-truth" confessions that only drip out by being squeezed. But when they admit to things they don't know you know, you have increased confidence in their trustworthiness.
I recently interviewed a couple who, seven years after the husband confessed to multiple affairs, enjoy a satisfying and trusting marriage. When I asked them about the factors that contributed to their relationship renewal, he made this comment:
There's a major difference between those who are caught and those who are confessors. I think that’s a key contributor... One of things that really helped us was the fact that I was very open about the ways I cheated. I gave her passwords to every e-mail account I had. I welcomed her to check anything on the Internet. She had complete access to my social media.