Affair healing Blog
The Dilemma: Getting to the painful truth about an affair is essential for healing, but the truth also becomes a source of endless agony for many who have been betrayed. So what truth helps? Can some truth actually harm? How can we know the difference?
Truth That Helps
An affair shatters trust, the foundation of marriage. Rebuilding it requires an absolute commitment to honesty by the one who broke it. In the process, the injured partner has the right to know the exact measures of the betrayal: When did it start? Is it completely over? When did it end? How far did it go? Who was it with? How has it affected you?
The truth about betrayal will always be painful. Couples who hope for healing need to work through the hurt together as the unfaithful partner recommits to openness and honesty.
Truth That Harms
In their pursuit of clarity, however, many wounded partners feel the need to uncover every possible detail about the affair. Fueled by needs to expose each secret and reclaim control, they ask every question that comes to mind.
Some truth, however, doesn't help. Some truth actually harms. Counselors can point to countless examples of betrayed partners who insisted on knowing affair details that became hindrances to their recovery.
Since I've heard them so many times, I can anticipate arguments against my attempt to encourage boundaries within the question-and-answer process. "I have the right to know. My imagination is worse than the reality. They shouldn't get to keep any secrets. I can't stand knowing less than the affair partner."
But here's a fact: we spend a lot of time helping clients who wish they could unlearn the details they once demanded. In contrast, clients who avoid those specifics don't tend to regret it.
The Challenge: Helping Without Harming
As counselors, we are committed to "do no harm," so this process creates a dilemma for us, too. Where do we draw the line between encouraging painful honesty while avoiding information that is likely to result in ongoing harm to the client?
There is no easy answer, but here is how I've chosen to handle it with my clients. I do my best to build a case for avoiding harmful questions, discouraging the pursuit of any information that will create unnecessary "hooks" to embed the affair more firmly into the psyche of the injured partner. This definitely includes sexual details, but it may also include specific places, dates, words, events, etc.
I'd guess about 90% of my clients come to embrace these limits for themselves. For the other 10% (the ones who insist on knowing all the details) I tell them I will not participate. I do not attempt to control their choices, but if an injured partner insists on asking those kinds of questions during a session, I will leave the room until that conversation is over.
Yes, that's how strongly I feel about the risk they are taking.
Finding a Balance for You
Here are a few suggestions to guide you toward truth that helps while avoiding truth that harms.
The trip to recovery is made with small steps on a path cluttered with obstacles and distractions. You will fall a lot and frequently wander in a wrong direction. Each time you do, get up, check your compass, and get back on track. The journey will be harder than you want and take longer than you expect, but you'll eventually join others who have made it to a better place.
Unless otherwise noted, articles are written by Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor and creator of this site and its resources.