In my previous two posts, I talked about the difficult and challenging dynamic created when your right to full and complete information about your cheating partner’s behavior clashes with his desire to continue lying and keeping secrets.
In this dynamic, your cheating partner is often working hard to minimize the damage caused by the discovery of his behavior. Mistakenly, he believes that the way to minimize damage and prevent the loss of his relationship is to continue lying and withholding information. Usually, he does this because he is terrified of losing the relationship. He sees the amount of pain and damage he has caused you, and he has great fear about increasing your level of anguish by revealing more information. As a result, he hides or lies, hoping the whole story will never be discovered.
Moreover, because of the months, years, or decades spent lying to and manipulating not only you but himself, the instinct to lie, hide, distract, rationalize, minimize, and justify is so strong that he will often do it unconsciously in a kneejerk, habitual fashion. His long-standing pattern of deception has convinced him that telling the truth is the most dangerous and damaging thing he could possibly do, and that lying and hiding is the safest path.
This is the exact opposite of what is actually true. Over and over at CRR, my team and I work with sex addicts and other unfaithful individuals who are convinced that telling the truth will end their relationship. We spend a great deal of time helping them see that it is not the truth but their behaviors that will end the relationship, including their continued dishonesty. Telling the truth is not what ends relationships; it is the lying and the keeping of secrets that makes a relationship unsustainable for betrayed partners.
Almost every relationship that I have watched end has terminated not because of the sexual behaviors, but because of ongoing secrets, manipulation, and deception. Betrayed partners cannot find any kind of safe emotional ground within the relationship if they are still being lied to, so eventually they give up and end the relationship.
Thus, we are back to the sticky, tricky issue discussed in the previous two posts: betrayed partners want and need full disclosure about the betrayal, but cheating partners are afraid and unwilling to tell the whole truth. And here is the cold, hard, very unwelcome fact that betrayed partners must face: you cannot make your significant other tell you the truth.
Despite your right as a betrayed partner to know the full truth about what has happened in your relationship, despite your emotional and psychological need to receive full disclosure about the betrayal, despite the reality that honesty, truthfulness, and restored integrity are the only possible way forward in the relationship, you cannot make your cheating partner tell you the truth if he is unwilling to do so.
This leaves many betrayed partners in a terrible bind. Do you accept the half-truths your significant other is willing to disclose and try to convince yourself that this is the whole truth when your instincts scream this is not the case? Do you demand, nag, beg, argue, and try to force your significant other tell you the entire truth? Do you borrow a page from Sherlock and become a master sleuth, trying to figure out reality on your own? Do you exit the relationship, never knowing the whole truth but extricating yourself from the pain of continued confusion and chaos?
Most betrayed partners stuck in this stage of the process have tried all of the above and more. Often, as a result, they experience what we refer to in the sexual addiction and infidelity treatment field as staggered discovery. I like to call this “death by paper-cut,” as it is a torturous and damaging process.
In next week’s blog, we will explore staggered discovery in detail, along with ways to avoid its toxic effects.