I’m an unfaithful spouse. I empathise that talking about your affair is horrendously difficult. However, I also know that talking about the affair has been transformative to my wife and I’s recovery. My wife’s already written some excellent words about disclosure here (see this link). I believe there’s more on the way. I’m going to take this opportunity to appeal to the unfaithful spouse to start talking about the affair.
Talking about the affair is going to be tough
Affair Recovery’s YouTube channel (which you can find here) has a lot of great content about talking about the affair and I plead with you to check it out. They’ve put out some transformative videos on the importance of disclosure (here), whether you should tell or not (here), and how much you should share (here). The significant one for me, however, talks about the cost of not discussing the affair (here).
In my experience, it’s pivotal that the unfaithful spouse commits to full disclosure and share as much as your faithful spouse wants/needs to know. Consequently, the important point for an unfaithful spouse struggling with disclosure is the impact you’re having on your faithful spouse and your recovery. I know it’s hard. I know it sucks. It’s much easier, I know, to keep it inside and repress the painful memories. Your faithful spouse’s life, however, would also be much easier if we hadn’t had an affair in the first place so it’s time to take some personal responsibility. (I wrote about taking personal responsibility here.)
Think again: What it’s costing you when you’re not talking about the affair
If you don’t talk about the affair: you’re blocking healing in your relationship and yourselves. I understand it’s difficult. I understand, furthermore, you might tell yourself it’s a double negative. In other words, you might ask yourself ‘why do they want to hear painful details about my affair?’.
Samuel sagely says your faithful spouse is trying to put together the pieces of your affair to help them understand the traumatic event that’s torn their life limb from limb (the full video is here). How can you ask, let alone expect, your faithful spouse to heal if they don’t know the details about your betrayal?
They need to know, for instance, why you did what you did, what you did, where you were, what you said, and everything in between. They need to know, more than anything, your taking steps to be a safe person again. (My wife wrote about the importance of safety here.)
They need to know, furthermore, that you’re willing to do the work to connect with them again and stop blocking them out of your secret world. When you had an affair you blocked your faithful spouse out of your emotional and/or physical life. Yes, of course, it’s going to hurt your faithful spouse to talk about their affair. They aren’t talking about this for fun or because they haven’t got anything better to do.
They’re talking about it because the person they trust the most has betrayed them and they need to know if you’re willing to begin discarding your selfishness and arrogance. In other words, if you’re not talking about the affair, you’re screaming loud and clear: I put your needs in a blender when I had an affair and they’re still more important.
Sob story: You’re not a victim
Let’s be absolutely and wholeheartedly clear about this: you’re not a victim. It’s really that simple. You’re the one who had the affair.
I’ve seen and done it all. The way in which you roll your eyes when your faithful spouse asks you to talk about the affair. How about the way in which you sigh when your faithful spouse asks a question you’ve already answered many times before, the way in which your brain is screaming for mercy, or the way in which, worst of all, you find yourself defending the horrible things you did when you were having the affair.
I’ve been there and experienced them live and in living colour. I’ve got the scars and I hate each and every one of them. Do you know what it’s saying to your faithful spouse? It’s saying ‘I’m a victim and you’ve no right to keep hurting me’. I appeal to you to let that sink in for a moment. ‘I’m a victim and you’ve no right to keep hurting me’. It sounds really fucking stupid when you think about it, doesn’t it?
Feeling hurt is absolutely not the same thing as being a victim. It’s absolutely normal to feel hurt when you’ve done something egregiously wrong like tear your faithful spouse’s world in half. I get that. That’s ok. Acting like a victim is not ok. It’s not ok to put your wishes to control the flow information above your faithful spouse’s need to understand what the fuck’s happened to their relationship and their life. I plead with you to consider that.
So what should I do?
It might feel like you’re hanging by a thread sometimes. If you’re genuinely experiencing remorse it’s perfectly normal to feel like your hanging from a thread. Talking about your affair will help you and your faithful spouse gain some control of your recovery.
- Start by taking personal responsibility for your affair and owning it. I wrote about that last week (you can find the post here). You’re responsible. Nobody else. Demonstrate to your faithful spouse that you’re owning the responsibility for what you did.
- Stop being defensive. Affair Recovery (Rick and Samuel) have more sage words on this subject (you can find the videos here and here). Think about the way in which your defensive impacts on your faithful spouse when they’re trying to understand the cause of the trauma that’s enveloping their life. When you’re being defensive you’re defending and justifying your actions. You’re also breaking your safety down even more than you already have, creating even more uncertainty and blaming your faithful spouse for your affair.
- Stop expecting your faithful spouse to hear you say things like “I’m sorry I’m a terrible person” or “I’m so bad”. Not only is it insulting to your faithful spouse but you’re telling your faithful spouse you expect them to comfort you when you’re supposed to be helping them get to a place of healing. Your healing is your responsibility.
- Read helpful things like this book How to Help Your Spouse Heal From Your Affair: A Compact Manual for the Unfaithful
- Start being empathetic. Samuel isn’t wrong to say empathy is a game changer in recovery. (In fact, he does just that here.). It’s vital to your recovery for you to share your faithful spouse’s experience of trauma. It’s vital to your recovery that your faithful spouse that you get it, that you’re aware of the damage you’ve caused, and that you’re connecting with the reality of the choices you’ve made and the way in which those actions have made your faithful spouse feel. Empathy’s probably another post in its own right but I plead with you to learn how to be an empathetic spouse to support your faithful spouse’s healing.
- Start being humble and accept your shame. You’re going to feel shame. It’s normal. It’s normal to feel ashamed of yourself when you’ve fucked up. That’s ok. Samuel’s done a video about what recovery’s like when there’s no humility (which you can find here). Taking a step back to humble myself to my faithful spouse and my actions have been a bonafide game changer for my wife and I’s recovery.
- Start letting go of the need to be “right” or, as Samuel says, stop “defending the 10%” (you can watch the video here). You’re going to find yourselves in positions where you find a minor part (10-20%) of your faithful spouse’s comments that are either inaccurate or untrue. It doesn’t matter. Grasping on to that 10% (or whatever it is) tells your faithful spouse it’s more important to defend yourself than to validate their feelings and perceptions. I’m not saying you should admit to things you didn’t do. I’m saying you should own the things you have done and tell your faithful spouse their perceptions matter.
One last thing…
Start being ready to talk about the affair. This is a hard one. You’re already living in abject shame. I get it. I’ve been there. It’s vitally important for you to do everything you can to build up your resilience because not only is it impossible to escape the chaos into which you’ve plunged your failtful spouse, there’s absolutely no reason why you should even try. Be open and ready to engage in honest and transparent conversation with your faithful spouse. It’ll be tough but I promise you won’t regret it.