Over the past several blog posts, we talked about the discovery dilemma that betrayed partners often find themselves in, where their need for the truth about what has happened meets their cheating partner’s continued commitment to secrets and lies.
Most recently, we looked at the pain caused by the vortex of staggered discovery— where the story of infidelity comes out piecemeal in a pattern of repeated betrayals. This week, I want to talk about the benefits of waiting for full disclosure.
Because the need for full disclosure is so urgent and is connected to the need for emotional and physical safety in the relationship, most betrayed partners find they must do some experiential learning around staggered discovery. The idea that they should wait for their cheating partner to get to the place where he’s willing to tell them the entire truth is such an abomination to their sense of justice that it is almost impossible to accept.
After they have gone through several rounds of staggered discovery, however, each time feeling more beat up, traumatized, suspicious, mistrustful, and angry, the idea of waiting to hear the full truth in one sitting starts to make sense.
With staggered discovery, each new piece of information is a fresh betrayal, shocking your system all over again and deepening the original traumatic impact. As stated in previous posts, I sometimes refer to this as death by paper-cut. Round after round of this painful process drains you, stripping you down to a place of raw, broken wounding. It exhausts your resources, uses energy needed for self-care and wise decision-making, and keeps you in a constant state of stress and anxiety.
Eventually, a choice must be made. Either you stop the madness (and only you can stop it) and decide to trust what your therapist, 12-step recovery sponsor, friends, and other people are telling you about how the disclosure process works. Or you continue in the toxic dance of staggered discovery until your trauma symptoms are so acute that they become chronic, and your relationship devolves into a constant source of pain and anger.
Coming into acceptance that you cannot make your cheating partner tell you the truth is a very hard thing to do. Coming into acceptance that even if your cheating partner is willing to disclose the entire truth, you are going to have to wait to hear it while he gets support and sorts through his distortions, self-manipulation, fear, reluctance, and denial? Well, it may take some time and some experimentation with staggered discovery before you can accept that.
Interestingly, when you do accept the need to wait, your stress and anxiety levels are likely to decrease. No, your desire to know everything right this instant will not go away, nor will your stress and anxiety completely disappear. But knowing that you’re eventually going to hear it all, and all at once, frees you from the ongoing, cumulative paper-cut pain of staggered discovery and repeated betrayals.
I had a conversation with one of my very good and wise friends the other day. She told me she believes most suffering comes from a refusal to accept reality. That when we balk and fight against what is true and what is happening in our reality, that is what creates mental anguish and suffering.
I think this Zen-like truth applies here. If you, as a betrayed partner, can wrap your mind and heart around the idea that you need and have a right to the whole truth, but to protect your heart from further trauma you must wait for your significant other to sort himself out to the point where he’s willing and able to give you that truth. If you can do that, you have a chance to avoid further pain and suffering. If you can accept this reality as it is, holding all these principles together at once, you give yourself a huge gift. You preserve your dignity, you protect your fragile and precious heart, and you create a possibility and pathway for your healing and perhaps the healing of your relationship.