The important question: How much do you want to know, and why? If your partner has had an affair—if there’s been infidelity in your relationship—how much do you want to know? Obviously, infidelity violates the bond of trust that healthy relationships require. And, when one partner has an affair, the marriage or relationship is severely fractured. If you and your partner want to repair your tie, there’s much work to be done. A central question for couples struggling with infidelity is how much of the affair’s details should be discussed?
WHY ARE THE DETAILS IMPORTANT? Learning about the details of the affair is messy business. The wish to know serves all sorts of impulses—some of them helpful, some of them not necessarily helpful or healthy. Here are a few:
TO UNLEASH ANGER: Learning the details of your partner’s affair can serve to unleash pent up anger and can help release difficult-to-articulate feelings. Learning the details is one way to promote the expression of anger and hurt. It’s a convenient way to “get triggered.” But, using the messy details of your spouse’s affair as a springboard for anger is not productive. While the details may be disturbing and create justifiable anger, the better path to reconciliation and healing is through dialogue and mutually respectful communication.
TO GATHER EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING: Learning the details of your partner’s affair can gather together plenty of “evidence” that you’ve been wronged. It brings into clear relief the nitty-gritty aspects of the betrayal, and drives home the reality that you’ve been hurt. The details may play into your inclination to emphasize your sense of being victimized, making it easier to say “You’re all bad and I’m an innocent bystander.” But, here again, this is not a healthy choice. While you may be feeling hurt and angry, collecting evidence for use against your spouse so you can inflict pain won’t really heal your own. In the long run, careful and respectful dialogue will help the two of you heal the wound to your relationship.
TO SATISFY A VOYEURISTIC IMPULSE: Learning the details of your partner’s affair can satisfy a deeper, unconscious wish that your partner engage in extra-marital activities. His or her transgression may also serve a voyeuristic need on your part that can possibly be linked to your own sexual fantasies or fears. This is difficult to know about yourself, and even more difficult to admit to! Your own fantasies may be triggered in the transgressions of your spouse! It takes courage to look at yourself and to ask these questions. Sometimes, there are powerful impulses beneath the surface.
TO COMPARE AND CONTRAST WITH YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP: Learning the details of your partner’s affair can help teach you about your own relationship or marriage. It can highlight similarities or differences, and most importantly, can sometimes help to illustrate what your partner and you feel is missing in your relationship together. Learning the details of your partner’s affair can be painful but can serve as a tool for healing and reconciliation if done carefully.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE: When there’s been an affair or infidelity in a marriage or relationship, trust is the biggest victim. Rebuilding trust is key to healing and reconciliation. But building trust is a complex process involving communication, careful listening, and engagement. These are some of the important skills and challenges that a good marriage counselor can help with.
MARRIAGE COUNSELING AND INFIDELITY: Long Island Counseling, like many other centers for marriage and couples counseling, takes a careful, respectful approach to the complex injuries that an affair inflicts on both partners in a relationship. That’s because in many cases, both partners have likely helped to bring the relationship to the point of the affair. In almost all cases, both partners have likely participated in creating the conditions ripe for the affair. And, both partners have likely participated in “deciding” who would actually have the affair, and who would not.
COMPLEXITY AND RESPECT: In your search for healing, look for marriage counseling that can help you and your partner look carefully and respectfully at the relationship. Look for marriage counseling that can help you and your partner understand the nuances, complexities, and subtleties of what you both need.
Without a deep respect for the complexity of human relationships, marriage counseling can become a slug fest, a venting session, or a glorified opportunity for one person to tell you what to do.