After Full Disclosure: What to Expect

Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC

Full Disclosure is necessary, but that does not mean it is easy.  You may be reading this because you want to know what to expect after full disclosure or you may have just completed it and are trying to make sense of your new reality.  That’s what its like, stepping into a totally new reality.  You can feel totally disoriented and out of control.

We want to provide clarity and direction for what you are experiencing to help ease the pain.  This guidance will address what to expect if you are the betrayed spouse, what to expect as the betraying spouse, and what may happen in the relationship.

In This Article

  1. The Betrayed
  2. The Betraying
  3. Us
  4. Conclusion

About the Authors

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 10,000 hours of clinical experience. Shaun specializes in marriage counseling, affair recovery, sex and porn addiction treatment. You can schedule an appointment with Shaun for online counseling or in-person at our Springfield, Missouri counseling center.

Watch this video on YouTube.

After Full Disclosure: What to Expect

Full Disclosure is the planned sharing of the whole truth between couples around the betrayal of infidelity.  The betraying spouse openly shares with the betrayed spouse what they have done in stepping outside of the marriage.  Infidelity is about hiding and deceit, so full disclosure is absolutely essential for healing.  Any secret the betraying spouse keeps from their partner continues to adulterate the marriage.

Full Disclosure is necessary, but that does not mean it is easy.  You may be reading this because you want to know what to expect after full disclosure or you may have just completed it and are trying to make sense of your new reality.  That’s what its like, stepping into a totally new reality.  You can feel totally disoriented and out of control.

We want to provide clarity and direction for what you are experiencing to help ease the pain.  This guidance will address what to expect if you are the betrayed spouse, what to expect as the betraying spouse, and what may happen in the relationship.  This is not a comprehensive discussion, but a starting point for gaining perspective and getting your bearings.  Having your bearings is very helpful when you are in a place you never expected to be.

Betrayed:

If you are the betrayed spouse, you can expect your emotions to be very confusing and to flood you at times.  These powerful emotions may even “ambush” you out of nowhere, leaving you wondering “what just happened?”  You have been through a serious relationship betrayal, and relationship betrayal is an emotional trauma.  You are trying to process an enormous amount of emotional pain all at once and it get’s messy.  Here are some things you may experience.

You are allowed to need to ask about or talk about details of the infidelity even after Full Disclosure.  It is normal to ask questions, even the same ones repeatedly.  You may also find you want to talk about a particular event of the infidelity over and over again.  This is also normal.  You are not punishing your spouse or being unforgiving.  Instead, you are trying to process this new reality you are finding yourself in.

Also, there may be times you want to be around your betraying spouse and other times you don’t even want to look at them.  You might even get angry with yourself for wanting to be close to them.

This does not mean you are going crazy.  Understand that infidelity ruptures your attachment to the most important person in your life.  Having that connection with your spouse harmed is very anxiety producing, not to mention, that just because your spouse betrayed you does not mean you no longer love them.  Be compassionate with yourself.  Instead of judging the back and forth desires you are experiencing, care for the you behind the response.  Remember, you are hurting.  If it helps, think about responding to yourself the way you would to a friend who was hurt very deeply.  You wouldn’t be critical of their experience, instead, you would want them to feel supported and cared for.  In short, its okay to sometimes what to be near your spouse and other times needing space, even if both happen in the same day.

Your betraying spouse can be an important support in your recovery, but they can’t supply you with everything you need.  Sometimes, you may look at your betraying spouse and feel the anger and the injustice of what they have done to you.  You are not sure how to make things better, and quite frankly, you get angry if your betraying spouse asks you what to do.  An attitude of “You broke this, now you’ve got to figure out how to fix this” might begin to develop.  The truth is you are hurt and angry, but no matter how much you wish your spouse could take this from you, they cannot.

Your betraying spouse can make themselves emotionally available to you, provided you are approaching them safely.  They can sit with both your pain and their own.  They can answer questions patiently, talk through details, and revisit the past.  They can give you time away from the kids or space for self-care.  However, they cannot be an endless supply of these and the other things you need.  If they are really engaged in recovery, this has nothing to do with their level of commitment or love for you.  Instead, it is the reality of them being finite, having real limitations. It is critical to have same-sex others who can be strong supports, helping to provide for your needs, not simply your spouse.

“Why did this happen?”  Sometimes after Full Disclosure a betrayed spouse can get lost in figuring out the “why” of the infidelity.  You may pour over not only all the details of the disclosure, but the whole history of the marriage.  You might even start looking at your betraying spouse’s childhood or parents.  No matter how much searching and thinking is done, at the end of the day, there is no adequate “why.”

Furthermore, knowing “why” is not as powerful in healing as you might believe.  It’s important to understand what is actually happening.  Intense, traumatic emotions are difficult to feel and manage.  In order to gain some sense of control and to try to sooth ourselves, we can try to step away from our feelings and move into reasoning.  In essence, we try to think our way out of an emotional injury.  This simply does not work.  What does work is to connect with the pain and emotion underneath the questions and “why.”  When we connect with the pain, it is able to be transformed.  This may be hard to believe at first, but it is true.  The more we are able to process and accept our pain, the more healing we will experience.  It is also very important to have someone else, other than your betraying spouse, help you process this pain.  This is where an experienced infidelity counselor can be of assistance.

Betraying:

For the betraying spouse, you may feel a mix of relief and strong emotional pain.  First, there is relief because living in deceit is an exhausting burden.  By telling the truth, you have set down this weight and are now known by your spouse.  This relief is not going to be shared by your spouse, instead, while you felt the burden lifted, they will feel crushed.  Second, you are going to become more and more aware of your own painful emotions from the destruction of the infidelity.

First, let’s address the relief you may be feeling.  The relief often shows up as you feeling lighter and freer than you remember feeling in a long time.  You may feel closer to your spouse and a desire to connect with them both emotionally and physically.  The relief can be so powerful, you may find it hard to imagine ever having decided to be unfaithful.  After all, why would you ever choose to live in the prison you just came out of and leave your spouse behind?

Know that your relief is going to be confusing and possibly upsetting to your spouse.  While they are glad you are being honest, to them it may seem very unfair that you are feeling better and they are feeling worse.  This may lead them to feeling like a double victim, meaning they were the victim of your infidelity and now they are the victim of the unfairness of having to feel pain while the one who hurt them is feeling better.  Know on your end this is normal.  What your spouse needs right now is for you to be validating their pain and making space for it, again and again and again.  This looks like you patiently being willing to sit with them in their pain, both hearing their hurt and acknowledging your part in it. 

  • “I really hurt you so badly and you did not deserve it.”
  • “It’s okay for you to share your pain with me, I am staying right here with you.”
  • “You don’t need to apologize for hurting again today.”

Part of your betrayed spouse processing their pain will involve them wanting to talk or ask questions about information shared in the full disclosure.  This is normal and an opportunity for you to make a significant difference.  Patiently being willing to answer the same questions or go over the same details repeatedly will go a long way to helping your spouse heal.  Your betrayed spouse, even when they are hurting and angry, is taking in how you are showing up.  Consistently showing up well makes a difference. These difficult conversations will not last forever and each time you show up well you are doing a little bit of healing, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

This leads us into the second piece, which is you becoming more aware of your own emotions.  As you see your spouse hurting, you will notice responses inside yourself.  Two of the most common responses are wanting to fix the pain in your spouse and feeling helpless to do so, or you may feel anger and impatience with your spouse’s pain.  Anger can show up as lashing out at your hurting spouse, saying they are unforgiving or making things difficult, but often most often is expressed through withdrawing from them, making yourself emotionally unavailable.  Both of these responses are often covering up the true emotions you are feeling deep down.

Both a desire to fix and anger, whether through lashing out or withdrawal, are attempts to avoid feeling what is going on inside of you.  Your spouse’s pain will remind you of your actions and bring up intense, difficult emotions.  These emotions include:

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Disgust

When you respond to your betrayed spouse by trying to fix their pain or in anger, what you are actually doing is trying to avoid your own emotions by controlling theirs.  If you can make them “okay” or get them to “forgive and move forward” then they will not feel badly, and if they do not feel badly you won’t feel your own painful emotions.

The truth is you both need to feel right now.  Feeling is a key part of recovery and no healing can take place without it.  It is important for you to be with them in their feelings and for you to bring your own.  You might be thinking “They don’t care what I am feeling after what I did” or “I don’t deserve to feel, I just need to care about them” but neither of these is true.  What is true, is a betrayed spouse needs the emotional vulnerability from their betraying spouse to heal.  Your spouse needs to know that you are feeling and what you are feeling.  If you are not connecting with and sharing your feelings, you are asking them to be vulnerable on their own.

Us

Now, let’s talk about the “us” in all of this.  After Full Disclosure, couples are, for the first time in a while, both living in the same reality together.  Instead of the betrayed spouse being unaware and the betraying spouse living in a world of denial, both of you are now in a painful, but honest shared reality.  Understand this is very disorienting, as neither of you has lived in this space before.  As such, simple life responsibilities and interactions can seem very confusing all of a sudden.  How do we interact and do any number of the things we used to do together?

What you might ask for, at this point, is a plan or outline of a plan of how the two of you should navigate all the different aspects of life.  “If we have a plan and directions, I won’t feel so overwhelmed.”  Many of us try to find ways of feeling control again as a means of comforting our own pain.  While plans are important, and we don’t want to dissuade you from having them, there is a critical step that must occur along side planning.  Without this step, even the very best planning is doomed from the start.

This step is processing our pain.  Each of you is feeling a tremendous amount of emotion right now and it is essential we begin processing the pain in a helpful way.  An experienced counselor who specializes in working with couples and infidelity is essential.  Your counselor is going to do two really important things for both of you right now.  First, they are going to teach you how to connect with and process your emotions well.  Infidelity is incredibly emotionally damaging, so even if you normally process emotions well on your own, this kind of trauma stretches even healthy people beyond their limits.

The second thing a good counselor will do, is help to hold and care for you emotionally.  When I am with couples, I know they do not simply need good instruction.  The image in my head is of me sitting with two people who have just been in a horrible car accident.  One of them was driving and responsible for the wreck, the other was a passenger, but regardless of who is responsible, they are both now seriously injured.  They currently cannot do what they used to be able to do for themselves and are very limited in what they can do for their spouse.  They both need me to help to carry them and do the things for them emotionally they are not currently able to do.  Over time, with good recovery work, they will become strong and whole, but right now they need others to be strong for them.

Conclusion:

The time after Full Disclosure is some of the most raw and difficult in the recovery timeline but it doesn’t last forever.  You will get through this if you engage the process.  Knowing what to expect as a betrayed spouse, as the betraying spouse, and as a couple will put you ahead of other couples hoping time will heal all wounds.  I want to encourage you that relief will come sooner and much stronger than you think if you make the decision to become active in your recovery.   

If you need help, please contact our offices.  We would be happy to walk with you.

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