Why Knowing the Details of the Affair is Harmful
Beyond Breath TV: Why Knowing Affair Details is HARMFUL: Finding the Peace You Seek
Perhaps you have felt for years that something is off in your marriage. You have an icky feeling and a sense of disconnect that you just can’t shake. Maybe you've searched through your husband's cell and phone records or tracked his car. Maybe you found some information that you were looking for, but even with it, nothing makes sense and you aren't sure what to do. Perhaps you told your husband what you had found and begged him to tell you what was going on. Finally, almost like an answer to your prayers, you find out the truth. He confesses or the other woman reaches out. That feeling that things just weren’t right has been validated. However, as much as you hoped that knowing the full story would be the end of your suffering and the beginning of renewal, you realize that this is only the beginning of a long road of suffering. Each new detail of the affair is rife with pain. Does this story ring somewhat true for you?
If you thought your investigation tactics were good before you had full knowledge of your husband’s infidelity, they now seem to have multiplied by ten million. You become almost a mad woman as you search through anything you can get your hands on: the receipts in his wallet, the interiors of his pockets, credit card statements, nanny camera footage, and any email that could be suspicious. You also, of course, track his social media, monitoring who he's followed and any correspondence that has taken place.
You ask him over and over what happened, how it happened, and why did it happen. You are seeking the missing pieces to the puzzle so that you can see the picture clearly in your head. You feel compelled to watch this horror movie from start to finish.
What’s magical is that if you don't know the details, your mind fills in the blanks for you itself. Still, nothing seems to make sense. You still feel like there's a missing piece and it's starting to make you go crazy. You feel or come across as more distant from your husband. Still, you dig for more information. You are at a standstill.
I hear you. I see you. I know and completely understand the chaos of this. Please allow me to explain why knowing the details of your husband's infidelity as you strive to save your marriage will only leave you feeling empty.
The Mind After Trauma
Trauma caused by betrayal will hijack your brain. According to a 2006 study by the National Institute of Health, trauma mainly affects three important parts of your brain: the amygdala (which is the emotional and instinctual center), the hippocampus (which controls memory), and the prefrontal cortex (which is responsible for regulating your emotions and impulses).
All three parts work together to manage stress.
Every time you find new evidence or receive more answers about the affair, you are reminded of the traumatic experience. Your amygdala, your emotional and survival center, goes into overdrive, acting just as it did on the day you discovered the infidelity. Instead of experiencing the peace you think you’ll achieve by seeking more answers, you only unravel the hurt once again. When this is happening within your amygdala, your prefrontal cortex also becomes suppressed. This means that you are then less capable of controlling your fear, and you enter a purely reactive state.
One of the reasons you desire to control your husband after his infidelity is that you don't have control over yourself. As soon as your mind becomes bombarded with the visuals of your nightmare story, sadness, rage, and fear take over. While your husband is at work, you work up enough emotional fuel to build a bonfire and are unable to control your behavior. When he comes home, he's greeted with the silent treatment, a bed on the couch, and drawn-up divorce papers, but you don't mean any of it.
This reactive state keeps you cycling in your marriage and sometimes ends up doing more harm than infidelity itself. Meanwhile, by rehashing images of the trauma in your mind and continuing to obsess about missing pieces, activity in the hippocampus diminishes. One of the hippocampus’ functions is to distinguish between past and present. Now, your brain can hardly tell the difference between the actual traumatic event and the memory of it. Anytime anything reminds you of his infidelity, you get triggered and feel as though you are in immediate danger.
Listen, I know that knowing every detail of your husband's affair sounds like a good idea. It sounds like it will give you a solid foundation from which to start repairing your marriage, but it won’t. All of this work that you are putting into learning the full story, the rehashing, searching, digging, conversing, and policing, can cause your brain to remain in a state of hypervigilance, suppress your memory and impulse control, and trap you in a state of strong emotional reactivity.
The So-Called Therapeutic Full Disclosure
For almost a decade, I worked at a therapeutic center run by one of the world's foremost experts in sexual addiction and betrayal trauma. One of the main things the therapists helped the couples work towards is what we call a ‘therapeutic full disclosure’. A therapeutic disclosure is a planned disclosure in a therapist's office where an addict provides information to his partner regarding all of his sexual behaviors from the time he has known his partner until the present time.
Week after week, I watched as already traumatized women fretted, worried, and prepared for the bombshell of information their husbands were preparing to drop on them. They felt as if their healing couldn't begin until they knew everything. They feared that the information their husbands would provide them was going to be a partial version of the truth. Many planned for themselves a self-care weekend for immediately after the disclosure to help them escape from the information they were going to be given. These women felt unable to move forward and connect with their husbands, and thought that it couldn't happen until they had this information.
Because of my position within the center, I, unfortunately, saw the aftermath of these disclosures. Women who were traumatized before would become bedridden. They had no real tools to process the information shoved upon them. They had no real skills to build their marriage up from where it had been leveled. Overwhelmed, their inability to function in their daily lives brought on shame and embarrassment as their children were now affected by what had happened. If this were not enough, more often than not they would find out that not every piece of information was given during the disclosure process, which would unravel any progress and put the couple further back than where they started.
A Path Back To Yourself and Your Marriage
Your belief that you need to know everything that your husband did before you can heal is false. Learning more information is not only damaging your marriage, but it's also keeping your psychobiology operating from a place of trauma, which ends up affecting your health on all different levels.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Sariah, without this information, I can't make informed decisions.” Let me ease your mind for a moment. There is a time and place within your marriage's recovery to begin moving through and processing all the information you seek. However, for this to effectively help your marriage, you first have to clear your emotional trauma. By clearing your emotional trauma, you heal and restore those three vital parts of your brain and no longer desire to ceaselessly police your husband.
That's just the beginning. After clearing your emotional trauma, you have to find stabilization within yourself so that you are no longer pulled by the desire to react to uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. Believe me, if you are given full disclosure, you will experience that desire. Nonreactivity and self-trust are some of the sustainable skills you will create that will allow you to have a solidness within yourself that can bear such information. You will be able to process the information, hold it with understanding, and know what to do with all the feelings and emotions that follow. Then, and only then, can you begin to connect with your husband in a way that will take your marriage to the next level. It will be possible to hear what your husband has to say and have it help bring you closer together. Your marriage can heal. You can get to a place where you can hold all the information your husband gives you with love and compassion, but only after you clear, create and connect.
Now, I'd love to hear from you. I have two questions for you.
1. Have you been caught in the cycle of wanting to know more? Are you digging and trying to find the missing pieces to the puzzle? Were you able to find them?
2. Have you experienced a therapeutic full disclosure? If so, what was your experience afterward?
I can't wait to read your answers, so please tell me in the comments below.
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You don’t need to know everything about what happened to begin to heal. Accept that you won’t know it all. But please know this: I hear you, I see you, and I have been where you’re at. I am here for you. There is a lot of hope on the other side of what you’re going through. Don’t quit right before the sun starts peeking in.