Ten Tips for Revealing and Discussing Infidelity
If you are considering revealing infidelity or infidelity has been discovered, these tips may help you to minimize damage and to set the foundation for repair, if that is what you desire. If the goal is recovery as a couple, it's important to be intentional from the beginning. If you get mired in holding back information, denial, blurring facts, minimizing, and blaming, it will be more challenging to repair and rebuild trust. These are general guidelines. If you have special circumstances, such a partner with a history of depression, for example, do consider speaking with a counselor or therapist for more appropriate guidance tailored to your particular relationship.
Ten Tips for Revealing and Discussing Infidelity
1. Choose a time and place. There's no perfect time, but aim to choose a time when your partner will be well rested and when you will have time to process this together. Choose a location that is private and quiet. And if you have children arrange care for them in a location separate from where you'll be talking.
2. Be the one to bring it up and be gentle and direct. Tell your partner you need to discuss something that will be difficult. Tell him or her that you are willing to be honest and transparent and answer questions. Tell him or her what you desire, including whether or not you wish to rebuild the relationship, to repair trust, to heal together after this. If you are remorseful, say it and show it. Apologize sincerely. Don't make your partner drag information from you. Be willing to provide very basic information such as whether or not the intimacy was emotional, physical, or both; whether or not it was meaningful to you; what the state and extent of the relationship or interaction is now; when it began and ended; whether it was online or in person or both; and a very basic timeline. And be the one to bring it up again. Avoiding it may feel better in the moment, and bringing it up will likely make your partner feel more visible, more important, and more met in his or her pain. The betrayed partner carries the reality of the infidelity and its pain. Avoiding it can feel like avoiding them and avoiding the reality before you both.
3. Be prepared to be honest and transparent from the start. When information about infidelity trickles out over time, partners are re-traumatized over and over. Couples who are well on their way to recovering can be derailed when something new comes to light months or years later. Get all of the basic information out in the open from the start. Tell your partner you respect him or her enough now to tell the truth. Be ready to answer questions with honesty. Ask your partner to consider whether or not he or she actually wants the information before you answer. If he or she does, willingness to share openly will be a bridge to repairing trust in the relationship. If you actually do not remember details that are asked for, be clear that this is the case. And be transparent and clear when you do remember. Be clear about timelines and information. Work to understand yourself through the process and share what you discover voluntarily.
4. Don't blame or minimize and don't be defensive. While there may have been issues or challenges in your relationship, this is not the time to address them or to mention them. If you work to repair the relationship together, it will be best to first repair trust. Then you can transition to addressing long-standing issues in the relationship and to build a new foundation together. Infidelity is painful. Don't minimize your partner's experience or justify the choices you've made that have caused pain. Taking responsibility for going outside the relationship will help to re-establish fundamental connection and trust.
5. Be prepared to be accountable. Take responsibility for your actions and choices. Infidelity happens as a series of choices and not as a single action. If your boundaries have been too open, own this and be willing to make plans to notice and honor boundaries that you set together in the future. Your partner may need very strong boundaries and accountability for a period of time. You can revisit these in time as healing occurs. Be prepared to agree to measures that will increase your partner's sense of trust and safety in the relationship. Ask your partner what might help to begin to reestablish trust. Is phone or technology or social media use a trigger? Is checking in helpful? Are there specific reassurances that could help to mend the relationship? Being willing to be more accountable than you might have been in the past will likely go a long way towards creating a new foundation in the relationship.
6. Seize opportunities for healing. While it's natural to want all of this to disappear and to avoid discussion and conflict, it will likely feel better for you both if you can frame that when the infidelity is raised or your partner is triggered you have an opportunity to rebuild trust, to heal, and to connect. Every time you can pause to notice something, to ask how your partner is doing when reminders of infidelity in your daily lives arise, or to ask how he or she is coping, the quicker you will likely rebuild.
7. Be prepared for anger and triggering. People who have been betrayed often experience moments or periods of extreme pain and anger. Be prepared to tolerate this. While you don't deserve to be attacked or abused, and may set boundaries if this is happening, when your partner is overwhelmed he or she will likely lash out from time to time. Ask your partner what he or she needs in the moment. Be prepared to give space and to honor requests.
8. If you are currently seeing a therapist or counselor as a couple, don't reveal your infidelity to your therapist first. When this happens partners often feel betrayed in another relationship. Be honest one on one first and then return to your therapist or counselor as a resource. If you have special circumstances, such a partner with a history of depression, for example, do consider speaking with a counselor or therapist for more appropriate guidance tailored to your particular relationship.
9. Be prepared with resources. If you are not working with a therapist or counselor, find someone who specializes in working with couples and infidelity and be prepared to begin working together if your partner wishes. Working with someone can help you both to navigate this process and to rebuild. In the shock that often follows learning of infidelity, it will likely be helpful to have resources ready. You might consider offering to set up a free consultation to meet with someone to see if he or she feels like a good fit for both of you.
10. Practice self care. This is a stressful time for you both. Your own self care will help you to be more available to your partner and to others who depend on you. Pay attention to your sleep hygiene, to eating well and regularly, to getting some sunlight and fresh air, to setting aside time for something that restores your energy, to social support, and to getting some movement. And encourage your partner to attend to his or her self care.
11. Hold hope. Having worked with couples through the process of repairing after infidelity is revealed or discovered, I can tell you that these couples often build stronger, more connected, deeper, and more intentional relationships than they would have had they not walked through the pain of infidelity. With time and intentional work through each stage of the process, true healing is possible for both of you.
- Choose a time and place that will create space to discuss this in private.
- Be gentle and direct.
- Be honest and transparent from the start. Don't let more information trickle out over time
- Don't be defensive, don't minimize, and don't blame.
- Be accountable and be open to measures to increase your partner's sense of safety and trust, especially short-term.
- Lean into opportunities for healing by welcoming discussion and questions.
- Be prepared for anger and triggering.
- Tell your partner first. (*Seek counsel if you have special circumstances.)
- Find resources that may help.
- Take care of yourself.
- Hold hope.
Additional resources that may be helpful:
After the Affair by Janis Spring
How To Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair by Linda MacDonald (a slim paperback with practical advice)
Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass
*Laura Lindekugel, M.S., M.S., LAMFT, SEP is a partner in Rekindle Counseling and specializes in infidelity and midlife crisis. You may contact her directly at email@example.com or call 952.806.0014 for more information or to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.