By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References “NOT ‘Just Friends’” by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock Staeheli
Although trying to catch the culprit in a lie may make for good television, it is a bad way to go about asking your spouse about their affair. Discussing infidelity is painful, but the better you resist letting your emotions take hold, the more edifying your conversations will be. In her book “NOT Just Friends” Shirley P. Glass, PhD, outlines three stages for talking about an affair that help spouses heal by sharing the truth.
Stage 1: Interrogation
This stage looks like the final 15 minutes of a crime show after the detective has fit all the pieces together, and tries to trick the suspect into revealing the truth. Glass says this is a counterproductive way to find the truth. The involved spouse feels like you are attacking them, so they defensively evade your questions and try to mislead you away from the truth.
It is only natural the betrayed spouse would take this approach to force their spouse to be honest with them. All their questions have been met with lies or barely-plausible explanations. It seems the only way they will be able to get their partner to tell the truth is if they force them to. The problem with this method is it creates an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust. They unfaithful partner feels attacked, so they become even more unwilling to be honest. It is not healthy for the betrayed partner either because it reinforces their belief that they cannot trust their spouse. (202)
Controlling your anger takes inhuman strength in the early days of discovering an affair. You are hurt and tired of being deceived. You want answers. But the Lord urges self-control, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” (Prov. 14:29 NIV) This verse reminds us that anger breeds anger. Keeping your cool helps your spouse keep theirs, which leads to better conversations.
Stage 2: What really happened
Although it may seem as if discussing all the details of the affair just makes everything more painful for everyone, it is much healthier for the relationship refusing to acknowledge and deal with what happened. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (Prov. 20:5 NIV) Wise couples discuss how and why a spouse was unfaithful. Knowing what “really happened” helps the betrayed spouse stop imagining the worst. That enables them to begin healing.
Glass suggests taking an interview approach. Prepare a list of questions, sit down with your partner, and go through them. Don’t rush them or jump in with contradictions or angry accusations. I am sure you have seen an interview– the reporter asks their question, and then quietly pays attention while their subject answers.
Hearing your partner’s answers can be difficult, what they say now may not match what they said in the past. Rather than point out their lies, appreciate that they are finally being honest with you. “You might feel better if you accept that the lies and cover-ups were a frantic attempt to keep you from discovering the truth and leaving the relationship.” (203)
The involved partner needs to do their best to overcome their discomfort about discussing certain subjects. You may avoid sharing some things because you are ashamed. You may avoid others because you cherish those memories. Sharing shameful details helps your partner replace painful imaginings with the truth. Sharing precious details helps you distance yourself from the extramarital relationship. Your partner’s reactions can be strong. In the days following an emotional reaction, watch to see if their behavior seems to be characterized less by obsession and more by healing.
The fishbowl technique:
Glass developed a less confrontational method of helping couples discuss infidelity. The betrayed partner puts their questions on individual slips of paper, and then puts them all in a fishbowl. The involved partner can go to the fishbowl when they feel ready to answer a question, choose one they are comfortable answering, and share with their partner. One couple in Glass’ book used this method until they felt ready to go to a hotel for a weekend and spend the entire time answering the wife’s seven pages of questions.
Stage 3: Finding meaning
The betrayed partner is often eager to understand why the affair happened and what this means for the marriage. Glass says “why” questions are best saved until after you settle the concrete details. “Conversations become introspective, respectful, sensitive, and free-flowing with information.” (204) Instead of withholding information, or trying to trap the other in a lie, you empathize. The betrayed partner may sympathize with the pain their spouse feels over severing the relationship with their affair partner. The involved spouse may acknowledge how difficult it will be for their mate to trust them in the future.
Christian counseling for talking about an affair
Healing your relationship after infidelity is one of the greatest challenges in marriage. It is difficult to progress through these stages alone. A professional Christian marriage counselor offers professional insight alongside the biblical principles needed to heal your marriage. Sometimes partners struggle to agree about the truth, and that sets them back a stage. A professional Christian marriage counselor can get you back on track.
How-to-talk-about-an-affair Freedigitalphotos.net user photostock
Why-did-my-spouse-cheat Freedigitalphotos.net user David Castillo Dominici