Affair healing Blog
First Step: Have a Total Truth Talk.
I frequently encounter unfaithful partners, and sometimes even other therapists, who believe that recovery can be achieved apart from an honest conversation about affair details. Refusing to talk openly and honestly about the affair leaves the wound infected; confession is a cleansing ritual that allows the injury to heal.
Most affair partners are reluctant to talk about the affair, even if their only motive is a desire to guard against further pain. If you have been betrayed, you need to be clear about why it is important to know the truth. Give assurance that you do not want to use the information to accuse or shame your partner, but help him/her understand that before you can start to trust, they must be willing to risk being honest. And before you can forgive, you need to a clear understanding of the offense.
One of the best expressions of this need is found in a letter one man wrote to his wife explaining why he needs her to tell him about her affair. He starts the letter this way:
“I know you are feeling the pain of guilt and confusion. I understand that you wish all this never happened and that you wish it would just go away. I can even believe that you truly love me and that your indiscretion hurts you emotionally much the same way it hurts me. I understand your apprehension to me discovering little by little, everything that led up to your indiscretion, everything that happened that night, and everything that happened afterwards…
“I can actually see that through your eyes you are viewing this whole thing as something that just needs to go away, something that is over, that he/she doesn't mean anything to you, so why is it such a big issue? I can understand you wondering why I torture myself with this continuously, and thinking, doesn't he/she know by now that I love him/her? I can see how you can feel this way and how frustrating it must be. But for the remainder of this letter I'm going to ask you to view my reality through my eyes…”
Is there a limit to how much detail should be shared? Absolutely. Anything that comes out of this conversation cannot be unheard, so care should be given in regard to what questions are asked. Spouses who ask detailed questions about sexual experiences, or places, or specific dates and times usually regret knowing these things later on, although they seemed desperate to know them in the moment. (Chapter 8 of my book, Affair Healing: A Recovery Manual for Betrayed Spouses, gives specific instruction on working asking these questions.)
Great consideration should be given to whether each question will help or hinder ongoing recovery. In the end, however, the betrayed partner should be the one who finally decides what questions should be asked. If the affair partner has concerns, then you both should agree to only discuss these things with the help of a qualified counselor, religious leader, or someone you both agree to be trustworthy and fair.
Second Step: Intentionally limit ongoing conversations.
Once questions have been answered, the betrayed partner should begin limiting the number of times they talk about the affair. Some infidelity counselors insist that affair questions stop completely once the "Truth Talk" is done, but this seems too abrupt for most clients. Instead, I encourage injured spouses to begin self-regulating their conversations. If they were previously talking about the affair every day, I challenge them to commit to only 3 conversations a week for two weeks. I also recommend defining a limit to the length of each talk (15 minutes to an hour) and never starting a conversation just prior to bedtime.
Between conversations, any question or thought about the affair should be written down. Prior to a planned conversation, the written questions can be reviewed to determine which issues still need to be discussed. After two weeks, move to 2 conversations per week, then down to one, then “as needed” but no more than once per week.
Third Step: Announce your final affair conversation.
At some point, after a period in which there has been open dialogue, ongoing questions about the past need to stop.
For the betrayed partner, talking about the same things again and again may bring some momentary relief, but without long-term comfort. If the pattern does not change, the one who had the affair will eventually become increasingly resentful or avoid conversations altogether. When no new significant information is being discussed, make the choice to stop talking about affair details. Announce this decision and commit to following through.
You can continue to be honest about the feelings you experience as a result of the affair (fear, sadness, hurt, anger), and the triggers that are likely to come for years, but keep the focus of your conversation on the present pain, not past details. Only talk about past affair details again is if new information arises, or if both of partners are in agreement concerning the desire to discuss these things.