Want to Save Your Relationship? Tell the Truth About Your Affair

A couple, both who have faces down or turned away, sit on opposite ends of bedAffair discovery is one of the most traumatic things that can happen in a relationship. Many people who have not experienced infidelity do not understand how earth-shattering discovery can be.

For the partner involved in the affair, their private fantasy world is shattered. Once the secret is out, there can be extensive consequences. It may spread beyond the confines of the primary relationship to family, friends, coworkers, even strangers. For the betrayed partner, discovery may call every belief they had about themselves, their partner, and their relationship into question. Both partners experience a shift that changes the world they thought they knew.

As the involved partner, there are several things to consider if you wish to heal after discovery. One of the most important elements of recovery is honesty. But how to release the truth without destroying hopes of reconciliation?

If you do not give the truth, your partner will create it.

In my practice, I see couples in every stage of infidelity recovery. The crisis stage usually follows discovery. I call it the “data gathering” stage. In this stage, hurt partners tend to be haunted by the affair. They may think about it from the moment they wake to the moment they go to sleep. Many cannot find peace even in their dreams. Some wake in the middle of the night with anxiety, anger, and sadness.

Asking, begging, or demanding the truth is often an attempt to ground themselves. It’s a way to find reality again.

Betrayed partners may have active and vivid imaginations. If they do not have the answers they seek, they will create them. Hearing the truth, even when hurtful, allows them to release worst-case scenarios. Think the truth is bad? They likely imagine much worse. The truth will hurt, but it will probably be less hurtful than their assumptions and thoughts about what happened. Releasing the truth provides the cognitive space to rebuild trust over time.

A couple wishing to recover from infidelity does well when they agree to work through the trauma to build a new, stronger relationship. Part of the rebuilding process involves destruction of beliefs and falsehoods that plagued the relationship in the past. Many betrayed partners will ask the same questions again and again and (perhaps unconsciously) compare responses. Each confirmed truth is a brick in rebuilding trust and goodwill. It serves offending partners well to see these questions as a sign that the betrayed partner is invested in healing.

Offer answers before they ask.

Unfortunately, many involved partners adopt the belief that answering only the questions that are asked minimizes the damage. This idea may make recovery more difficult as it sends a message that the involved partner is holding back. Recovery tends to be more effective when the truth is released in a stream rather than in a trickle. Free-flowing truth, even when painful, will (eventually) help to rebuild trust.

The truth must come out, and the sooner the better. Involved partners may do themselves and their partner more harm as they release truths in small doses.

Some couples find it helps to set aside a predetermined amount of time to answer questions. This allows both partners to prepare. The involved partner can help the recovery process by initiating. When asking questions, the hurt partner may be less likely to be overcome with the buildup of anger.

Revealing the truth early may mitigate the deeply painful stories the hurt partner creates in their mind. The truth must come out, and the sooner the better. Involved partners may do themselves and their partner more harm as they release truths in small doses. Many hurt partners increase their investigation efforts when they sense information is being withheld. The truth is necessary to heal, or at least most of it. I caution involved partners to be mindful about vivid details of sexual experiences, as those can do more damage if the hurt partner hasn’t asked for them.

Avoid being defensive.

If a hurt partner wants to stay in the relationship, they want to rebuild trust. Many involved partners find this difficult to believe when the hurt partner acts out of anger or other emotions. The hurt partner does not want to be hurt. They want to believe in love, their relationship, and their partner. When they experience lapses of emotional control, it is important to remember they want to heal even when it seems otherwise. An angry or defensive response to a hurt partner may make recovery more difficult. This does not mean an involved partner should accept abuse; no one deserves to be abused. An involved partner who is able to see through the surface anger to the real hurt underneath can express the empathy needed to recover.

Defensiveness, counterattack, avoidance, or blame send a message to hurt partners that the relationship is still in danger. It tells them the involved partner isn’t committed to working toward resolution. These messages damage the chances of recovery. A hurt partner may behave in ways even they cannot believe. Allowing them grace as they work through this trauma assists in laying the groundwork for a successful recovery.

Honesty is paramount for healing in the wake of an affair. The simplicity of honesty does not make being honest any easier, however. Being honest may seem counterintuitive; why would you want to add fuel to a raging fire of hurt? The answer: to show the goal is to restore trust and heal. Yes, revealing the truth can be painful. It may seem sadistic to reveal things you worked so hard to protect your partner from. But your relationship may depend on it.

For help with affair recovery, contact a licensed therapist.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deidre A. Prewitt, MSMFC, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Rachel

    June 27th, 2018 at 8:54 AM

    You have to be careful about saying more than the hurt partner wants to hear, but if they want the truth, you better give it and not hold back. There is nothing worse than not knowing and filling in the blanks!!

  • Adedolapo

    October 22nd, 2020 at 5:53 PM

    This is very true. Thanks for this.

  • Ivincheethed

    August 12th, 2021 at 10:36 AM

    All we want is the truth, if what does cheaters really feels towards theirs spouse and do things like this, lime me , i never had an affair since wi live together and went away to work for aou future , but my spouse had a love affair proven twice and third this time caught and leave me for the guy who is much wealthier and stable, we have 4 kids. I want to know if she really loved me or she just got no choice for she got pregmnant at first start of our relationship then followed by 3 more, did my spouse really loved me and fall out of love because i cant make aor family rich enough like my spouse wanted in life? Pls help me bring her love back i really love her very much. If ever we or i can go to vounselling which fits for us or me or her. Thank you, and have a great day.

  • Hailey

    December 20th, 2021 at 11:44 PM

    Ok so I can’t find out is it like being scared that someone is going to do it but doesn’t, not trust them? Because I kinda feel like that in my relationship right now because it is winter break and I can’t see her is 2 weeks!

  • Wendy

    February 4th, 2022 at 6:19 PM

    What if they flat out deny the Emotional affair happened? But you know it did. They continue to say they were just friends. I am at a loss.

  • Ron

    February 27th, 2022 at 5:11 PM

    Sorry the hurt sorryufir the pain. J I’m caused. It just spiralled to where we are now and how do you stop

  • Steve's

    April 22nd, 2023 at 12:33 AM

    What if spouse cheated 23 yrs and never had my back but not with one person with many some I thought was friends but now wants to be with me she says now she loves me supposely should I leave it’s been three years since I found out I haven’t worked I prison myself to my property my life is not life at all

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