If you are reading this article, we want to encourage you to take the first steps to healing your relationship. Right now you may be struggling to have any sort of hope, or to believe there is anything you can do to help your spouse or your marriage. Let us speak encouragement into your situation by saying you can absolutely make an enormous positive impact.
While it is true you can’t go back into the past and undo your infidelity, you are completing one of the the first healing steps in the recovery process: Prepping for Full Disclosure.
In This Article
About the Author
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.
How to Do Disclosure Well
Doing disclosure well sends a powerful message to your spouse that not only do you regret your actions, but you are willing to do the hard work necessary to heal. Where the infidelity was selfish, full disclosure is selfless, as you put the needs of your spouse and your marriage ahead of your own immediate comfort. As such, it is critically important you do this step well.
Here are some recommendations for doing disclosure well:
Write it Down:
Sitting across from the spouse you have betrayed and telling them the truth about the things you have done, which you are now feeling significant shame for, is extremely difficult. Both of you will be swimming in strong emotions. Writing out your disclosure helps in a few ways.
- Writing it out gives you time to really go through your memory to be sure all the necessary details of the infidelity are included. Intentionally or accidentally leaving out information only causes more pain later on.
- It gives your betrayed spouse a clear picture of what has happened, which they can refer back to in the future, as needed. Often times, they can’t fully absorb all the details the first time they hear them, so having things written down for them helps greatly.
- Being able to read through your letter will ensure you stay on track during your full disclosure session. It is very easy to get caught up in your own shame, the pain of your spouse, or to go down rabbit trails.
Four Key Areas of Disclosure
Disclosure should focus on a few critical areas of the infidelity.
- Disclosure will focus on your behavior or actions. Put simply, what you did as a part of the infidelity. Think about what happened, where, when, and with whom.
- You will share your thoughts and motivations. This may, in some cases, be more difficult than sharing your actions, as letting your spouse know what was going on inside your head and heart is vulnerable. However, it is important you are honest with yourself and them. Please understand, thoughts and motivations may include your own justifications and excuses. Be sure, when explaining these, you label them as such, “I justified what I was doing by telling myself. . . but that was a lie and an excuse.”
- Share your emotions around what you have done. It may come as a surprise, but your spouse is interested in what you are feeling. Often times, betraying spouses mistakenly believe their spouse does not want to hear what they feel. Instead, the betraying spouse believes the best thing they can do is to simply listen to their spouse. This is not true. When you share what you are feeling, you are being honest and vulnerable, which your spouse desperately needs. Betrayed spouses often note they do not want to be the only person in the relationship risking vulnerability by sharing emotions.
- Write out how your infidelity has impacted your life and the lives of others. It may come as a shock to your spouse, but it is very likely you have not taken the necessary time to explore the impact of your actions. There is a simple reason for this; When you are in the midst of infidelity, allowing yourself to think about reality ruins the fantasy. In other words, if you allowed yourself to think about what you were really doing it would have taken you away from the enjoyment and into the pain you were creating.
Helpful Level of Detail
It is helpful to share details which allow your spouse to know clearly what has happened as a part of your infidelity. Think of full disclosure as a road with two ditches, one on either side.
The road is a disclosure which includes a clear map of what has occurred. This takes courage and integrity on your part to present. It also allows your spouse to clarify what did not happen. This helps to prevent their imagination getting carried away by fear and hurt. This kind of disclosure sounds like:
“Around Christmas time, the first week of December, I met up with my affair partner for the first time at a local hotel during the work day. We had both agreed over the phone to do this. I told my boss I had a client meeting and left work around lunch time. My affair partner reserved a room at the Holiday Inn by my office. She paid for the room. She text me the room number and I drove to the hotel. We had unprotected sex and I returned to work later that afternoon, around 3:00 pm.”
The Danger of Being Too Vague with Disclosure
However, there are the two ditches, or most common ways to create greater damage in a poorly done disclosure. The first is to be far too vague or ambiguous about what has happened, providing the absolute minimum amount of information to your spouse. This sounds like:
“We started meeting for sex in the winter, I guess. It was cold so it would have been winter. We met up on multiple occasions. It’s hard to remember all the details. I mean, it’s hard for me to remember what I had for breakfast this morning, so there is just no way I can remember all the details of what I did on such and such day. I am being honest here so I hope that helps.”
There are a few justifications a betraying spouse may offer, as to why they are being so vague, but these are really just excuses and not in the best interest of the betrayed spouse. The first excuse is that they are presenting the heart of the matter, which is being unfaithful, and not getting lost in the details. However, the reality is that the details are absolutely critical. Maintaining distance from the specifics leaves your spouse abandoned in their pain. You aren’t feeling and they aren’t healing.
The second justification is “The details would hurt my spouse too much.” The truth is not what has hurt your spouse, your actions are what has already hurt your spouse. The truth is what is going to enable them to heal.
A third excuse is “I just can’t remember a lot.” The answer is, “try hard.” You cannot take back what you did, but you can put forth the effort in the present to remember what both you and your betrayed spouse need to know in order to heal. This will take time and energy, but is a worthwhile investment.
The Danger of Sharing Too Many Details in Disclosure
The second ditch is sharing too much. How is sharing too much possible? Well, this typically happens when one or both spouses are prone to anxiety. The stress of the infidelity being discovered can lead to both spouses reaching to have or share as much detail as possible as a means of relieving the stress.
While information is useful, it is not helpful to share an explicit level of detail. Such sharing leads to the creation of graphic mental images for your spouse, which are traumatic. Using our example, here is what this harmful level of detail might sound like:
“Around Christmas time, early December, I met up with my affair partner for the first time at a local hotel. I shared with her I had a sexual fantasy of meeting up with a woman randomly in a hotel for sex. My affair partner said this sounded exciting and she wanted to do this with me. We planned it together and I told her the kinds of lingerie I liked, the kinds of lingerie I could never get you to where. I told my boss I was going to a client meeting, but instead met my affair partner at the hotel. She came to the door wearing the lingerie. I went in the room and we had sex in the following positions. . .”
In this example, truthful details of the events are being shared, however, they are being shared in a way which will do more damage by creating harmful mental images.
Example Disclosure Guides
Affair Disclosure – an infidelity involving a relationship with a person outside of the marriage.
Porn Disclosure – an infidelity involving pornography or use of sexually explicit materials.
Sexual Addiction Disclosure – an infidelity involving compulsive sexual behaviors outside of the marriage.
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