Staying After Infidelity: Establishing Transparency
Healing. Trust building. Letting go of the past.
It’s all part of moving forward after infidelity.
If you’ve been hurt by the betrayal of the one you love, this might be one of the most trying times in your life. And the most confusing, if you’ve decided to stay.
Today, more than ever before, we experience the shaming that goes on towards those who choose to stay with their unfaithful partners. As world- renowned couples therapist Esther Perel notes, for many betrayed partner’s, “staying is the new shame.” You have probably experienced quite a bit of disruption to your emotional equilibrium as you’ve contemplated what to do next and how you and your partner could really recover.
Many times, without the support of others in your life, you have to make the brave decision to stay and heal. But the way to healing is paved with the unknown that creeps in.For example, do you find that, despite a commitment to relationship building, you experience sleepless nights, recurring flashbacks, and the constant need to know about the affair?
Maybe there are times when you ask your partner about it in the middle of the night? Perhaps you too often keep your fears to yourself?
Slowly but surely, resentment and feelings of anger can begin to surface.
Slowly but surely, you may doubt whether you can continue to do this.
Now, more than ever, you need answers
Please understand that most of all, you need a partner who will provide those answers honestly and willingly.
You need transparency.
To move forward without asking the questions you most want to ask is a mistake you don’t want to make. Allowing fear or avoidance keep you silent hurts your chances of recovery and seriously compromises the renewed connections you want to establish as a couple.
No doubt, you’re wondering:
- why the affair happened
- what happened exactly (how long, how often, when/ where,/who was aware)
- whether there was emotional bonding, sexual involvement, or both
- if the affair is really over; and the affair partner is permanently out of their life
All of this is a perfectly normal reaction after infidelity.
Yet, it’s very important that the answers you seek do you more good than harm.
If you’re not careful, certain answers to certain questions can worsen flashbacks and deepen the distance between you and your partner. Yes, you definitely need to know what happened, but you also need to know what to ask, specifically, so that you don’t end up in deeper emotional pain.
Learn key transparency questions to help you heal
How do you know what to ask your unfaithful partner about the affair?
The key theme here is to show interest in your partner’s world, not enact an all-out interrogation of all their bad choices. Sometimes this isn’t easy.
However, in the long run, you’ll find that you need to understand your partner and their decisions much more than you need to torture yourself with every little detail you can pull out of them.
Therefore, the questions you ask should reflect a desire to get answers that are more geared toward shedding light on his or her perceptions, behavior, and reactions rather than getting stalled in accounts of every betrayal, liaison, and lie. That will just prove to be counterproductive.
Try to avoid
- asking for all the explicit details of the affair knowing it exacerbates your distress
- obsessively viewing materials such as text messages, recordings, pictures, emails, etc. connected to the affair
As hurt, as you are, moving forward, will provide a better sense of control and eventually lead to the compassion and perspective that supports forgiveness and recovery.
Again, what you really want in access to your partner’s inner world.
How do you obtain such transparency?
First and foremost, the transparency is cooperative, view it as necessary teamwork integral to affair recovery.
- First, your partner must embrace transparency as a means of increasing trust
- Second, you need to choose questions that give you the best chance of gaining clarity and understanding for the sake of rebuilding trust (Staying After Infidelity: Mistake # 2 Worksheet Download)
Be aware that the delicate transparency process happens over time with a commitment to the work
You have the potential to recover and be happy in your relationship again, but it will not happen in a day or two.
Requirements for affair recovery are strength, hope, and dedication to change. Healing may take months. Emotional hills and valleys are to be expected. But you can do this. There are a wealth of tools and support at your disposal. As a couple, you need to know how to handle such conversations for maximum benefit outside your marriage counselor’s office.
To aid your transparency and recovery process, I developed an online course titled It’s Okay to Stay – Healing After Infidelity. The video material and workbook create a safe, supportive environment meant to facilitate meaningful conversations encouraging transparency and understanding as well as healing and regaining lost trust.
The course has a whole module dedicated to helping the hurt partner deliver questions designed to gain access to their partner’s inner psychological world to better understand why the infidelity happened. In addition, the betraying partner has a safe, structured way to answer those questions that communicate commitment and builds trust.
My goal is to support deepening connection and healing for you both in an ongoing way.
Continue to revisit the following points while you work on transparency together
- Recognize that you may be traumatized. Pay attention to your reaction to the infidelity or affair. Many partners suffer a PTSD reaction to infidelity. Reactions include intrusive thoughts, images, or perceptions. You may experience distressing dreams, flashbacks, a tendency toward hypervigilance, and more.
- Repair of trust happens through the active facilitation of transparency. Again, access to your partner’s inner world builds trust. This is especially true when you feel like you don’t know who your partner is anymore. Maintain your focus on rebuilding rather than rehashing.
- Only use the questions that allow transparency
- Why him/her? What was missing in our relationship that made you reach out to someone else? How did you experience yourself differently with him/her?
- When, where, how long or often. How did it begin? When? How long did it last?
- Physical/sexual/emotional involvement. Are you in love with the affair partner? Was there any show of affection between you? if so, what was it? Did you have sexual activity (avoid explicit details)?
- Is it over. Did you end it? Who ended it? How? Are you in any contact with him/her?
- Avoid these “transparency don’ts.” Give recovery a chance. Refrain from sabotaging your partner’s desire to be transparent and your ability to cope with what you learn.
- Don’t blame when you ask questions.
- Don’t attack the answers you receive.
- Don’t ask “how could you do this to me?” There’s no answer to this one.
- Don’t ask for explicit details of the sexual encounters. Avoid getting the kind of information that will stick with you when you go to sleep every night.
- Don’t hold onto and obsessively look at correspondence between your partner and their affair partner. This information has the potential to stick with you forever.
You and your partner have a lot on your plate, the more support you have the better. The well-known author of Healing From Infidelity, Michele Weiner Davis answers Esther Perel’s observation that “staying is the new shame” with this:
“You are trying to learn from life’s experiences and grow, despite the pain. This is the sign of a strong, brave person, not someone deserving of shame. You should feel proud of your desire and dedication to working through hard times. That’s what life’s about. Feel good about yourself for your willingness to stay.”
In essence, credit yourselves with moving forward together. Do what you can to ensure transparency is a fundamental part of your communication from this day forward. You’ll find that your chances for full and worthwhile recovery are greatly improved.