Guidelines for Discovery and Disclosure

Author Linda J. MacDonald, M.S., LMFT From How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair: A Compact Manual for the Unfaithful 5 years ago 7960

Few experiences in life are more traumatic than learning of a beloved partner’s intimate betrayal. As infidelity expert, Dr. Shirley Glass states, the private calamity of discovering that your partner has become someone you don’t recognize and has lied to you as if you were an enemy blows your secure world to pieces. She goes on to observe, in just a few seconds, the safest haven in the world is turned into the source of the greatest treachery/- No wonder the online message boards for betrayed spouses refer to the day of discovery or disclosure as "D-Day".

It behooves the unfaithful to handle the initial disclosure of their betrayal(s) with care. These guidelines can help you avoid worsening the already terrible blow to your spouse when he/she learns about your affair. If you brace yourself for a radical ride of crazy emotions and follow these initial guidelines, you will increase your chances of navigating the perfect storm without sinking your marriage.


1. Successful Rebuilders tell their spouses the truth about the affair, rather than waiting to be discovered.

When a betrayer voluntarily admits to an affair he/she increases the chances the marriage will survive. If the unfaithful person discloses an affair on his/her own, as hurt as the faithful spouse is, he/she is often able to accept the devastating news with more grace. Your decision to tell your spouse the truth up front, rather than waiting to be found out, communicates a vulnerable first step in trustworthiness, despite your utterly untrustworthy actions.

On the other hand, rebuilding is more difficult when the faithful spouse finds out about the affair through other means, such as: being told by a neighbor, finding a suspicious receipt, sleuthing, receiving a call from the affairee or the affairee’s spouse,accidently coming across emails or texts exchanged with the lover. When spouses learn of a partner’s infidelity through such indirect means, the resulting hurt and distrust are magnified. Once the initial shock wears off, the injured one is left wondering how long the betrayer would have kept up the facade. This “wondering” often becomes a source of torment.


2.If the affair comes to light through "discovery," vs. direct disclosure by the strayer, Successful Rebuilders show instant shame and remorse and are not defensive.

While direct admission is more desirable, the ways a betrayer responds to being found out can make all the difference. Once their behaviors are exposed, Successful Rebuilders feel ashamed and remorseful. They willingly tell the truth without their spouses needing to pry it out of them.

When faithful partners see instant sadness and remorse on the strayer’s face, they find a measure of comfort despite their tremendous pain. When betrayers choose a humble stance, spouses are also less likely to retaliate in extreme ways.

When the unfaithful act defensive or evasive, they invite more distrust. And if they try to manipulate their way out of hot water, like using romantic gestures to “soften up” an enraged spouse, they only make matters worse. Later, when the dust settles and the betrayer sheepishly wants to save the marriage, those initial, self-protective reactions tend to make repair efforts less believable.

Two other factors that complicate future healing after disclosure: prior tactics and threats of divorce

The array of tactics the betrayer used to protect him/herself prior to disclosure can interfere with the hope of reconciling. For example, if the faithful partner suspected something was amiss, asked a few questions, only to be met with flat deniais, further damage was done. The more denialsand lies the faithful spouse heard prior to learning the awful truth, the more difficult it is to win his or her trust back once the affair is out in the open.

Another problem that interferes with recovery is if the betrayer combined the initial disclosure about the affair with the threat of divorce. Such double betrayals - the affair and the plan to divorce are so catastrophic, many spouses cannot recover from the shock in order to trust again. Down the road, if the betrayer has a change of heart and wants to eat his/her words and save the marriage, the chances for repair are significantly reduced.

These points illustrate the fact that the ways you handle the initial disclosure can greatly enhance or hinder the potential for future healing in the marriage.


3.Once the affair has been disclosed, Successful Rebuilders willingly break off all contact with the affair partner, including phone calls, texting, emails, and physical presence.

Successful Rebuilders recognize the danger and damage of continued contact with the affair partner. They seek to quickly put as much space between themselves and the former lover. They accept the fact that once a married person crosses the line from colleague or friend into romance with an outside person, the betrayer loses all rights to relate to the “friend” or “colleague” if he/ she wants to save the marriage. Successful Rebuilders are willing to suffer the accompanying losses because they decide to value their marriages more than their “rights” to maintain contact with the other person-no matter what.

If the affair was with a coworker, 95 percent of the time this requires a job change by one of the affair partners. The other 5 percent of the time, the betrayer might get by with being transferred to a new department where physical proximity with the affair partner is unlikely. However, the faithful spouse gets to have the biggest vote on any job changes. No trying to be “just friends.” No regular interaction at work. No continuing to professionally supervise or be supervised by the other person.

Besides it being next to impossible for you to return to mere platonic relating, your continued exposure to a former lover will keep your partner on emotional pins-and-needles. Each encounter at work reassaults the injured spouse and rips the scab off wounds that have barely begun to heal. For hurt spouses, the past is difficult enough to recover from without adding the daily threat of old sparks reigniting or being compared to a former flame.

If there are further complications, such as children who are friends with the lover’s children, or if the affair partner is a relative, the cutoff with the lover must still be enforced, even if others are deprived of relationships as a result. It is essential that all overlapping opportunities for information flow be walled off to the highest degree possible and in ways that help the hurt spouse feel protected.

Such decisions are costly. However, the initial pain and inconvenience should not be determining factors. A divorce would be far more costly financially, emotionally, and relationally in the long run. The ones who initiated the heartbreak of unfaithfulness must make an effort to accept these

losses as consequences of their behaviors.

These necessary sacrifices in the early stages of recovery will increase a spouse’s sense of emotional safety and result in a closer family unit down the road.


4. Successful Rebuilders allow their faithful spouses to determine if, how, and when any final "closure" is conducted with the lover.

If the unfaithful partner feels the need for closure with the affair partner, Smart Rebuilders first seek permission from their spouses. No secret "goodbyes" allowed. In some situations, a clean break along with changing phone numbers and e-mail addresses will suffice. Other times it is helpful for the faithful spouse to witness,review, or listen in on a final communication with the lover. Effective closures usually include:

•a declaration of love for the spouse

•an admission that the relationship was wrong

•a firm insistence that the relationship is over

•a request for the affair partner to make no further contact with the betrayer or other family members

If the wounded partner feels as though he/ she has to twist your arm to sever all contacts with the other person, you lose credibility that the affair is over. It is best if you come up with what to say and have your spouse review it. However, if the faithful partner composes the script or has to do the confronting, your personal "buy in" will be doubted later on and the subject of many arguments to come. You will come across more believable if you do the work of confronting and closing the door to the lover,with the faithful partner's full knowledge and approval. But what if you are afraid to cut all ties with the lover?


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