The posts of a couple of betrayed spouses whose blog I stumbled upon recently got me thinking. I read a lot of of stuff on blogs and message boards about how we as Wayward Spouses must answer every question put to us by our Betrayed Spouse so that they can “heal.” Personally, I think some details need to be known, but others will only serve to undermine recovery and will be used instead as punishment and humiliation. I think that distinction needs to be made. This business about “details” is really a two-edged sword and a fine line that the couple in recovery must walk. Carefully. Some questions and their answers HELP recovery, others HINDER it. Know the difference. Again, I write from the perspective of the male WS. I don’t know if female cheaters feel the same, though I suspect they do.
Right after D-day, I answered honestly every question she had. And for several months after. I felt like I had told her all there was to know the how, where, and the why, without going into salacious details. As humiliating as it was, I did it. It was awful, to be honest.
However, when my wife about 6 months after D-day ambushed me with emailed questions while I was on the road, using language that was apparent was not hers (eg, someone coached her from a fairly militant Betrayed Spouse message board), I was seething mad. I resented it. I dug in my heels. I wouldn’t do it. I felt like I had covered the ground already. I told her that I felt this represented a regression in our recovery. If she had pushed the subject, I would have resented her. I would’ve been tempted to walk. Fortunately, she did not push it. But why was I so defensive? I had to ask myself that. I did the research.
I think it’s important to know why people like me don’t want to discuss all the details, and are uncomfortable in general with the whole discussion of the affair, especially almost a year later. I thought a couple articles nailed it and I combined the ideas:
Men Don’t Always Spill All Of The Details Of The Affair Because They Are Ashamed And Embarrassed: The biggest reason why men do not want to discuss their affairs with their wives is shame. Men by nature crave admiration from women. In fact, many affairs are driven by this need. Men love to be admired and will even risk happy marriages to fuel that desire. They also understand that cheating significantly lowers their wife’s opinion of them, so they try to get out of having to talk about the affair in hopes of minimizing the damage.
“She’ll never look at me the same way again” is what men fear the most when they refuse to talk about why they cheated This fear makes men very defensive because they can’t bear the thought of their wife looking down on them.
Let’s face it. There’s no need to sugar coat it. A husband who has had an affair has behaved in a deplorable, destructive, and embarrassing way. Because of this, it’s often that same husband’s instinct to diminish this behavior as much as he can. It’s embarrassing for him to tell you or explain how he carried on with someone who had no place in your lives or how he allowed all good sense and logic to go right out the window. He doesn’t want to document to you how he almost threw away a life time of good will, hard work, and memories because of one selfish decision that he often wishes desperately he could take back, but now can’t.
Worry that Disclosure Will Scuttle Reconciliation: Another top reason why men don’t like sharing details of affairs with their wives is that they’re afraid it will destroy whatever chance they had of staying married. Men fear that the more a woman learns about an affair, the more “worked up” she gets and then she’ll be too hysterical to forgive him and move on. When a man cheats on his wife and refuses to talk about it, it’s not because he thinks he’s done nothing wrong. Quite the contrary, it’s because he’s so consumed by guilt and plagued by the fear of losing his wife’s respect and, with it, his marriage.
Men who cheat are afraid that the more the wife knows, the less likely she is to forgive him, so they hang on to the details of the affair hoping to patch things up before they lose everything. Then they hope that once the relationship has patched up, the wife won’t want to know for fear of reversing all the progress they’ve made as a couple.
Husbands Don’t Always Give You All Of Facts About The Cheating Because They Think They Are Sparing You Pain: Husbands don’t always understand that you need to understand exactly why the affair happened. Often, they insist that the affair was their mistake that had nothing to do with you. In truth, this is partially correct. They alone made the decision to cheat and often, this decision is made from a place of low esteem or in an attempt to gain something that they feel is lacking in their own life or in their own minds. In this sense, they are right — the fault of the affair is theirs alone.
But, there are always places where a marriage was vulnerable and knowing this allows you to affair proof your marriage in the future. Husbands often don’t understand this. But, whether your husband will level with you or not, you can almost always start with a lack of attention or intimacy. The majority of unfaithful husbands who contact me for advice on saving their marriages confess that they didn’t feel understood, valued, or appreciated by their wives. And frankly, they are embarrassed to need or want all of this reassurance and attention, so they don’t tell their wives this.
He’s Not Telling You The Whole Story Because He Thinks You Will Use It To Punish Him Or To Distance Yourself From Him Even More: Men are sometimes more perceptive than we give them credit for. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that every time you discuss the affair, you become more angry, cold, and distant. This is usually the exact opposite of what they want, so to put a stop to this, they will just become tight lipped. They don’t want more bad feelings and more destruction, so the topic is avoided.
I think this “I NEED TO KNOW EVERY DETAIL” isn’t just baloney, but actually can result in ending the very marriage that some of you claim you want to save. Demanding every detail is often more about punishment and shaming the cheater, than about forgiveness, understanding and recovery. It’s a way to hold it over your spouse’s head forever. It’s power.
I’m not suggesting that the Betrayed Spouse doesn’t have a right or need to know the details of the affair — they do!! And it should be discussed early. And then it needs to be put aside and the couple needs to focus on how they can improve their marriage. Bringing up the past affair details will only send the clock on recovery backwards. All the way to D-Day. In fact, knowing all the details will actually harm most betrayed spouses. But that’s my opinion. Here’s what someone else says — a betrayed spouse herself and a counselor — and I generally agree with it.
The faithful spouse most definitely has a right to know if your sexual infidelity has put their or your health at risk. They also have the right to know if a pregnancy is a possibility. And, they have a right to the information that is going to allow them to get an accurate idea of what sort of situation they are up against.
So, it’s absolutely fair for them to want to know how long the sexual contact went on for, whether it was risky in terms of health, and whether or not it is completely over. But, usually details like certain sexual positions or small details about your encounters are the type of things that will usually hurt the faithful spouse more than it will help them. These are the kinds of details that they will continuously think about.
And, I can tell you from experience that if you are the faithful spouse, you will often use this knowledge to come up with haunting images that you know hurt you deeply, but you are unable to banish from your thoughts. In short, once you get these mental images into your head, it’s very hard to get them out and they will often continue to hurt you over and over again. And, sometimes, even when you want to move forward with your husband, the images will continue to make you insecure and angry so that you remain in a negative place for much longer than you might need to.
If you are the faithful spouse and you really want to “know everything,” please reconsider this. There is a difference between knowing generally what went on and for how long than in knowing specific information like her lingerie color and the things that they did. These sort of details will often not give you the relief that you are hoping for. They will often only hurt you more. I often tell the cheating spouse to give their spouse the information that they need to make an informed decision about where they want to go from here, but to focus on the things that are going to make them feel better rather than worse.
Sometimes, it’s best to approach them from a loving place and to say something like: “I know that you want as many of the details as possible and I am willing to take responsibility for this and to be as honest with you as I can. But, I’m concerned that some things might hurt you and might keep us from moving on in a healthy way. I want to give you the information that is going to give us the best chance of working this out and recovering. Let’s just take this day by day and we’ll go through little bits of information at a time. I don’t want to fling too much at you you too soon. Please trust that I’m trying to do what I think is best for you and for us. Let’s just take it slowly.”
Your spouse might not accept this immediately, but as you conduct yourself with responsibility, dignity, and grace over time, it’s possible that the demands for these sexual details will begin to wane. And honestly, as your spouse begins to believe that you still love them and are serious about rehabilitating yourself and your marriage, these details will become less important because your spouse will be more interested in looking forward rather than in looking back.
There was a time when I thought I would never get over my husband’s affair and that we could never save our marriage, but this is in the past. Although I never would’ve believed this two years ago, my marriage is stronger. It took a lot of work, and I had to play the game to win, but it was worth it. Because of all the work I did on myself, my self esteem is at an all time high. I no longer worry my husband will cheat again.
Brilliantly put. Some of these Betrayed Spouses will hound their Waywards until the person gets discouraged and leaves anyway.
Is that what you really want? To me and my wife, we had work to do. It wasn’t easy. But the goal was always the same one. Fixing “now” and the future — not being fixated on the rear view mirror. It takes character. Strength. Humility. And the ability to be vulnerable.
Seeking justice while trying to recover? Punishing while courting? It doesn’t work.
You know what’s interesting? Probably my biggest critic here is a woman who, years later, she can’t get past her husband’s affair. Her blog is “Not Over It”. Well, duh. The way she approaches it, she will NEVER get over it. She doesn’t WANT to get over it! She LOVES playing the victim. She goes on and on, day after day, week after week, blogging and whining about how she can’t get past this, can’t trust her husband’s efforts to make amends and show her that he loves her. She can’t. Or won’t. Nothing he does seems to make any difference. She’s determined to ruin her life (and his) over this. Why he stays, I have no idea, to be honest. I wouldn’t.
But funny how she is supporting my position on details and doesn’t know it! It would cheese her off to no end. But I must thank her!! Last week she blogged about how she knows so much about his affair, that she could “write a book” and that she “knows more about the affair than he does” now, from her constant badgering of him for details. And she calls all this detailed knowledge a “plague” and a curse to her. That her own coach (therapist) says that having all this knowledge has KEPT her from recovering and moving forward.
I think putting aside the details of the affair has facilitated my wife’s and my recovery. Why ? Our focus is on the future, not the past. Fixing the causes, not fixating on the symptom (the affair). Because she decided that forgiveness and healing was more important than bludgeoning me because of her hurt pride and ego. And I decided that making massive changes to my behavior was far more important than fixating on the affair. Showing my wife how I love her and the changes I was willing to make to live a more authentic, honest life. To make her feel safe again. THAT was the focus.And yeah it’s working.Details aren’t going to help you recover. They serve only one purpose – you think that by knowing ever possible detail that you can now control all the circumstances in your spouse’s life to keep them from straying again. Bad plan. In the end, you won’t recover. And unless they have no other options, eventually they will get discouraged and leave you anyway. It’s your choice to get over it and get past it. Recovery occurs when you stop focusing on the affair and start focusing on your relationship, and improving it. Meeting each others needs. Communicating like never before.If “justice” and “punishment” are you agenda, you won’t recover anyway. They are incompatible with forgiveness and healing.