Your partner had an affair. How much do you want to know about the details?
It can be tempting to try to rush through the healing process. You don’t want to know the affair details because they are painful. You want to just put it all behind you and move on.
However, that can be a big mistake. If you have unanswered questions and unprocessed feelings, then the damage done by the affair may resurface later.
The person who had the affair may also want to put things quickly in the past. It’s painful to see the damage you’ve caused to someone you love. However, if you don’t take responsibility for bearing witness to that pain, then the two of you may never move past the infidelity.
Of course, there’s also the flip side; some people want to know all of the affair details. Can openness go too far?
Honesty and Openness Help Rebuild Trust
Repairing trust is critical in the aftermath of an affair. When you give your heart to someone, you trust that they won’t harm it. It’s hard to re-open to that person. Honesty and openness about the affair details are crucial to rebuilding that trust. You need to feel like your partner has told you what you need to know. You need to be able to trust what they say.
In his book What Makes Love Last, Dr. John Gottman explains the importance of answering all questions. This is best done with the help of a therapist. People have so many questions about affairs. Some of those questions include:
- Why did you choose that person?
- How long has this been going on?
- When and how did the relationship start?
- Did you ever think about telling me?
- Where did you meet up?
- Do you love him (or her)?
Couples may not want to go over all of these details. However, getting answers to those questions will help you feel like you have finally started to get some honesty in your relationship. This is the first step to healing.
Bearing Witness to The Pain
Either partner may be tempted to say, “this is in the past, let’s just move forward.” We do that to avoid pain. Your partner likely feels guilt about cheating. They may find it hard to look your hurt in the face, knowing that their actions are the cause. The willingness to sit with that pain is critical to recovering the relationship. You need to be able to see that your partner takes responsibility, validates your feelings, and is willing to be with you in the murky waters of finding your way back to love.
The most important thing is that the person who cheated accepts responsibility without defensiveness. Gottman writes, “Atonement cannot occur if the cheater insists that the victim take partial blame for the affair.” There may have been underlying issues in the relationship, but the first step is simply to take full responsibility for the affair.
How Much Information is Too Much?
Some people want to push past the problem and pretend it never happened, which is damaging. Others are the opposite; they want to know all of the affair details. You might feel like having that knowledge will help you understand what happened. This is true. However you can also torture yourself by replaying the affair in your mind.
Gottman’s philosophy is that you should take a tell-all approach with one exception. The exception is in the details of the sexual acts. This is the thing most likely to lead to “obsessive rumination that retriggers or exacerbates the posttraumatic stress.” A skilled therapist will guide the couple to get all questions answered without straying into this potentially damaging territory.
Do you need help recovering your relationship after an affair? I am truly invested in the well-being of my clients, so I want to help. Learn more about me here.