Estimated reading time: 19 minutes
“All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. ” Words of Jesus – John 3:20-21 NLT
Infidelity is, at its core, deceit. It is the hiding of the truth at great expense. Living in the light of truth does not just happen, it must be fought for. The darkness in life must be actively rooted out on an ongoing basis. A Transparency Plan is a strategic guide for a couple to rid their marriage of deceit and to protect it moving forward. It is the proactive creation of a lifestyle of honesty. In it, the betraying spouse clearly defines the areas of life they operate in, from work, to the internet, to hobbies, and more. Then, they actively provide a window into these areas for their spouse to look through at any time.
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Table of contents
- When should a couple create a Transparency Plan?
- How to Create a Transparency Plan
- Improving & Adjusting the Plan Over Time
- Honest Mistakes vs. Intentional Deception
When should a couple create a Transparency Plan?
Well, for couples in the recovery process, we typically recommend the creation and implementation of the plan following Full Disclosure. Couples must first get the truth out about the infidelity itself. This is a kind of ground zero for recovery. It ensures the most significant injury to the marriage is seen and known. If you are reading this and have not yet completed full disclosure, please be sure to do so.
How to Create a Transparency Plan
The following is a step-by-step guide to creating a Transparency Plan. Let it be a resource to you and your spouse in your healing journey.
- Make the Decision to Create a Plan
The betraying spouse should be the one to make the decision to create a Transparency Plan and to take the initiative in creating it. The betrayed spouse desperately needs to experience the betraying spouse being open and honest of their own volition. Relationship trauma, like infidelity, creates a deep insecurity in the betrayed spouse. They come to believe the only way to have the truth is to constantly push for it. However, when the betraying spouse leads the way into honesty, the hurt spouse can further heal.
The betraying spouse should take the action step of telling their partner they want to work on creating a Transparency Plan as a way of protecting the marriage. The betraying spouse should set a date, time, and location to review the plan with them, preferably within a week of announcing the intention to create the plan. This scheduled time can by a couples counseling session with your therapist if that would feel more comfortable. The betraying spouse should then explain to their partner, between now and that meeting, they will be working on the plan. If it is needed, you can make plans to discuss the transparency plan at your next counseling session.
I want to speak directly to the betraying spouse for a moment. Let’s do a motivation check. Your motive for why you are opening up and living transparently is absolutely crucial here. If you are living transparently to settle your spouse down or to simply heal the marriage, that will not work as a motivation. While it is right to want to help your spouse heal, when we live primarily to heal and to please our spouse we will end up becoming frustrated with them.
I want to suggest a different motivation for living transparently. Our motivation should come from our desire to heal. Infidelity exposes the broken places in us, allowing for deep healing that may not otherwise have happened. In this way, embracing the brokenness and leaning into the discomfort of the exposure is what brings about blessing.
If you are a Christian struggling with infidelity, being willing to go near our own brokenness allows the Lord to care for these places in us. During the struggle with infidelity, we would not take in God’s care for us. Our brokenness allows us to embrace the healing, peace, and sustaining provision He was always offering.
- Writing Out a Plan
As the betraying spouse you should begin by identifying all the areas of life you operate in. The following are examples of life areas for most people:
Social Interactions Activities
All Financial Accounts
Use the list above and write out all the ways you interact in all of these different areas of life. The above list is not an exhaustive list so if you notice things in your life that are not on this list go ahead and add them. Be careful to highlight the areas of your life where the infidelity was hidden. These areas are often especially painful to your betrayed spouse and their sense of well-being. Here is an example below:
– Work Life: My work requires me to be in office/on location on these days and times (list days and times). Work also requires me to travel regularly to the following locations (list locations). Affair partner was a contact at another company with whom I interacted on business projects.
– Social Interactions & Activities: I go to the gym regularly before my work day.
– Church: We attend church weekly as a couple and are part of a small group.
– Idle Time: I regularly sit on my phone during the evening, playing games and using social media.
– Hobbies: I play golf regularly with a group of friends from work on the weekends.
– Family Time: Since my affair, we have committed to having a family night on Fridays.
– Online/Electronic Areas
– Social Media– I have a Facebook and Instagram account.
– Email Accounts – I have both a personal and work email. I did have a secret email account I utilized with my affair partner but have closed this account.
– All Financial Accounts– I have two credit cards, a Visa and an American Express. I utilized the American express for affair activities.
– Electronic Devices – I have a work laptop, smartphone, and and Ipad. I used all of these in my affair.
– Cell Phone Account – I have a cell phone account linked to my smartphone and Ipad which were used in my affair.
We now have a list which defines not only the areas of your life, but also clearly defines what specific areas the affair existed within.
- Defining What Transparency Looks Like in Each Area
Now that you have defined all the areas of operation in life, it is time to define what living transparently in each of those areas would mean. It isn’t enough to know we need to be transparent and then try and do our best to live it out. Instead, we should endeavor to clearly plan out what that will look like on a daily basis. Here is an example below:
Overall: I plan to communicate my schedule/plans with spouse on a daily basis. I will do my best to keep the plan and if things change, I will promptly reach out to communicate these changes with my spouse. I will immediately reach out to my spouse in the event my affair partner attempts to contact me in any way. I will also let my spouse know immediately if I see my affair partner, even in passing, such as driving down the road.
Work Life: I will clearly share my office and travel schedule with my spouse. Meetings of any sort will never take place with myself and another person of the opposite gender alone, they will always be done in at least groups of three. When I travel, I will share my travel itinerary with my spouse, work schedule, and communicate any changes as they happen.
Social Interactions & Activities: I will include my spouse in any interactions with people of the opposite sex. I will also make it a point to develop friendships with other men who are committed to their marriages. These can be men who who have successful marriages or have successfully completed their own infidelity recovery process.
Church: My wife and I will continue to attend church and small groups together.
Alone Time: I am going to cease spending time alone on my phone or electronic devices in the evenings. Instead, I will engage in other activities, such as taking with with my wife or children, or reading.
Hobbies: I am going to cease my golfing with this friend group, as a number of them are living a lifestyle that is in contradiction to how I want to live in integrity.
Family Time: Family time is important, and I commit to making time each day for it. Additionally, we will be committed to a weekly family night of enjoying one another.
–Social Media: I will either shut-down or give full access of all my social media accounts to you. I will have you present as I block any person or content who I should not have contact with, including my affair partner. I will not make any adustments to any of what I have just done without talking with you first. I will let you know immediately of any attempts my affair partner makes to contact me via social media and we will handle this together.
–Email Accounts: I will let you be present as I close out any email accounts I used as part of my infidelity. I will not delete email accounts or emails without you. The email accounts I still need and use will be accesible to you.
–All Financial Accounts: You will have complete access to all credit cards, bank accounts, and any other financial account. I will also not withdrawal and use cash from our accounts without producing a receipt documenting what it was used for.
–Electronic Devices: You will have full access to my phone, tablets, laptops, or any other electronic device. If my issue has been pornography or other sexual acting out online, I will put accountability software on all my devices.
- Preparing to Talk with Your Spouse
The fourth step is preparing to go over the plan with your spouse. Before you sit down with them, it is important you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Why? You are now inviting them into a highly sensitive area of your life which you have previously kept heavily defended. It is important for you to prepare for how difficult this may be for you, otherwise, you will likely become defensive. Take some time to slow down and notice what you feel as you think about talking with them about the transparency plan. Once you notice the emotions, write them down. You may also want to notice how your body reacts. Do you notice any tension or sensations? Where do you notice these in your body? Write these down as well. Take what you have written and share it with a trusted friend or bring what you have written to your next individual counseling appointment.
- Talking with Your Spouse
Sit down on the agreed upon time and date with your spouse to share the Transparency Plan. Again, if it feels more comfortable, arrange to discuss the transparency plan with your therapist in a couples counseling session. Ask them if you can share it fully prior to them asking any questions or making any comments. They might want to have a notebook and a pen, so they can take notes or write anything they want to talk about after you are done. Read through what you have put together.
Ask them what they think and how they feel about it. Ask them if there is anything you missed or they want to address. Ask those questions and really, really listen. Remember it is not just your intentions that matter here, it is the needs of your spouse. You may think some particular action would be helpful and they may want to change it. It is important you are able to hear this with compassion and humility.
Rework the plan together. Take into account their thoughts and concerns.
Take their suggestions and correct the transparency plan there with them. Let them know you are making a commitment to honor what you have just put down in front of them. A way to say this might be:
I want you to know I am committing to what we have written down here as a part of our recovery process. I am not going to change or modify any part of this without us being in agreement.”
Improving & Adjusting the Plan Over Time
A healthy Transparency Plan is one that both improves and adjusts over time. It is normal for a couple to put together a plan and implement it, only to find there are some changes that need to be made. You must work together to figure out how the plan works in real life. Needing to revisit aspects of the plan and make adjustments is not a sign of failure, it is an important piece of healing together. Schedule time to sit down with the plan on a regular basis at first, every 30 days perhaps, and talk about what is working and where the plan could be improved. In this way, you and your spouse are forming an recovery alliance against the infidelity.
Honest Mistakes vs. Intentional Deception
When a couple has experienced betrayal trauma, the nervous system of the betrayed spouse responds by going on high alert, looking for any potential danger. Often times, our body will default by responding as if something is dangerous, only later to find out it was not a threat. As a result, we need to be able to tell the difference between an honest mistake and intentional deceit. Either the betrayed spouse or the betraying spouse can initiate these discussions. In fact, if a betraying spouse initiates a discussion where they have fallen short, this can go a long way to aid healing. Please consider using the following steps to help:
- Slow down. When the nervous system is on high alert, things speed up. You cannot determine what is going on and respond while going fast. Take at least 40 minutes to breath and slow yourself down. If you need another support person to help you slow down, reach out to them.
- Process your emotions around the event. You cannot resolve a matter if you are emotionally raw. Take time with your supports to talk about what you are feeling. You will know you are processing your emotions when you are able to understand clearly and are not simply reactive or thinking in circles.
- Plan a time together to sit down. Tell your spouse ahead of time what it is about and that you want to discuss the matter. It is wise for them to complete steps 1 & 2 ahead of the discussion, as well.
- Sit down and present the lapse clearly. Leave room to share what you are both feeling. Be sure it is what you are actually feeling, not a statement about your spouse. For example, “I am really afraid” or “I am angry you did not tell me your plans changed” are statements of your emotions, while “I feel like you just don’t care” or “Our marriage doesn’t matter to you” are statements about your spouse.
- Determine if the lapse was an honest mistake or part of an intentional deception. Honest mistakes are usually one-time events and the person is open to making corrections. Intentional deception usually exists as part of a pattern and the individual is highly defended or resistant to change. Defenses and resistance do not automatically mean there was intentional deception, but they are a red flag to consider. Some additional points to consider are:
- Was what happened a return to old patterns of behavior from the time the infidelity was going on? If so, this is a high concern.
- Consider if the issue is happening in a high-risk area of life or a low risk area. For example, if the issue involves the work environment and this is where the infidelity occurred, this would make it higher risk. However, if the issue occurred around going to the gym and the infidelity had no connection to the gym, this would be lower risk.
- One more thing, do the facts add up? When the facts are laid out, does the story seem reasonable, even if we don’t like what happened?
- Determine if changes or adjustments to the Transparency Plan need to be made and implement these. If the issue is an honest mistake, sometimes the only change that needs to be made is revisiting our commitment to honoring the plan already in place. If actual changes need to be made, take time to see if the changes help. At the next planned discussion time revisit how the recommitment or changes are going. If there is an impasse or the matter involves intentional deception, bring this matter to your next marital counseling session.
Important Notes for Betraying Spouse
You need to be consistent in your implementation of what is agreed upon. The reason for this is your spouse’s nervous system is designed to help protect them from danger. Your infidelity created a relationship trauma for your spouse. As such, their nervous system is on the lookout for anything that might be dangerous. This is not a conscious decision on their part. It is a biological reality of how the nervous system operates. When you are not consistent, your spouse’s nervous system will respond as if they are under threat. Even if the change was benign, your spouse will often experience it as quite painful. So, it is important to be consistent and to communicate potential changes ahead of time.
Do not shame your partner for needing access to transparency and verification of what you are doing. It is not easy to live in a heightened state of transparency. Frustration with this can boil over if you are not actively processing your grief. Yes, grief. More about that in a moment. First, though, this frustration can come out as annoyance with your betrayed spouse for their needing transparency from you. It can be passive irritation, such as the look on your face or the tone of your voice as you answer their questions. It can be direct as well, like commenting to them “I just hope some day you will be able to trust me again” or “I really wish you could forgive me.” These responses are not compassionate to your spouse and further delay the recovery process. The answer is not for you to simply pretend like everything is okay and be “nice.”
The reality is you are grieving. Your infidelity has done a lot of damage in your life. Grief will show up as anger, feeling detached (like you don’t care about your spouse or your situation), sadness/hopelessness, and a desire to escape your reality. You need to process your grief.
Actively processing your grief through individual counseling, marriage counseling, safe friends/supports, and recovery groups is critical to healing. Processing your grief will allow you to show up authentically caring in these moments with your spouse, no pretending or being nice required.
You need to grow in patience, humility, and compassion. Please understand I am not saying you do not possess any amount of these qualities, I am saying whatever amount your possess you will need to grow. For most of us, our initial response to another person pointing to a lack of patience, humility, or compassion in us is to remind them that we do in fact have adequate amounts of these traits. We explain, both to ourselves and to them that we really are a patient, humble, and caring person, and the circumstance is really to blame. Worse, we might even blame our spouse by pointing out how they need to change how they approach us. After all, we are under so much stress, and the way our spouse approaches us sometimes is just totally unreasonable. We convince ourselves we are really the “good guy” and hope that one day this will be recognized by our spouse.
Can I just tell you this is a really dangerous place to be. In this mindset, a couple of really toxic things are starting to happen. The first toxic turn here is to shut-out other’s experience of us. We are not willing to consider if they experience us as patient, humble, or compassionate with them. Instead, we are hardening our defenses, not allowing anyone in. Second, we are making ourselves into a martyr. Yes, I know that stings to read, but please hang in there with me. When we entrench in our defenses and begin telling ourselves how misunderstood we are, we become the victim. We see ourselves as enduring being mistreated, with the idea that our spouse and the world around us will eventually know they are the ones who are wrong about us. Both of these are dead ends. Instead, we need to grieve, to take time to allow ourselves and trusted others to connect with our pain and brokenness.
Important Notes for Betrayed Spouse
You have every right to desire your spouse to be completely honest with you. Them choosing to be dishonest has harmed you and cannot continue. It is important you are firm in this conviction. Sometimes, we can confuse our need for honesty with having an unforgiving heart. This is not helped if your betraying spouse is not processing their own grief. This leads to them trying to get you not say or do anything that brings them close to the pain of their infidelity, including asking for ongoing honesty. You are not victimizing your spouse by asking for transparency. Settle this in your heart. You are being loving both to them and yourself by refusing to allow any deceit to remain.
Don’t use control as a source of comfort. The opposite of the betrayed spouse who struggles with maintaining the expectation of honesty, is the spouse who uses anger and anxious information seeking to try to comfort their pain. Again, I want to validate the pain a betrayed spouse is in, as well as any anger they feel. However, when we begin to rely on anger and obsessive anxiety to protect us, we are headed down a painful, dead-end road. Betrayed spouses who rely on anger and anxiety tend to demand honesty, but do not make efforts to be emotionally safe when their spouse is honest with them. In their mind, they come to think, “You hurt me so you need to take my outbursts and continue to be honest with me anyway.” While their desire for honesty is right, not taking ownership of being emotionally safe sabotages recovery by sending the message, “I am not safe to be honest with.”
If you want the kind of marriage where honesty is not an unhelpful obligation, but an act of love, you must take another path. If you find you are spiraling into anger and anxiety on a regular basis, this is indicative of your need to engage in your own, individual healing work. In other words, you need to work with your counselor, support group, and safe friends on processing your own grief. Grief needs to be processed with others and cannot be successfully resolved on our own. Our angry and anxious response with our spouse is an attempt to heal our grief by controlling our spouse and our environment. This never leads to healing, only more anger, and anxiety. Instead, when we begin to process our own grief, with the help of others, we begin to heal the deep hurt. Only then, are we able to become a safe person to be honest with.
Finally, know the kind of transparency you need today will not be what you always need. It can be very upsetting to think you will always be in a place where you need such thorough transparency. You can end up believing you will never be able to rest or “be normal” again. Let me calm that fear.
When couples work recovery, healing both themselves and the marriage, trust actually does return. As hard as it may be to believe right now, you will not always feel the way you do today or need all the elements of the structured transparency plan. Instead, you and your spouse will have healed and will be able to maintain honesty and safety without such a stringent guide.
We hope this article is a help to you in your time of need. If you find yourself struggling in any of these areas, explore them with your counselor. It is so important to heal any underlying issues which are getting in the way of your healing.
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