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Beth had been partnered with Steve for 12 years. She thought they were doing just fine. There were a few scuffles and every now and then she felt some distance but overall she figured it was just what people go through in a relationship. Then she stumbled into a pit of horror one afternoon looking for a phone number for Steve’s brother. She noticed a list of numbers that were foreign to her. She called one and found out it was an escort service. She had no idea. She was numb with shock and even though the evidence of infidelity was clear as a bell she was hoping that there would be a legitimate answer to this horrible reality. 

There wasn’t. At first, Steve lied about the inquiry. Then he finally came clean. It was piecemeal. If Beth asked the right question he gave her an honest response. This went on for a few days until such a point that Beth was unsure she would ever get the truth to the full extent. Now she had a dilemma. Do I leave the relationship? When can I know the last shoe of disclosure has dropped? Do I ask for a polygraph? How do I live with him knowing that he has so prolifically, profoundly lied to me? Who in the hell can possibly understand this crazy-making experience that I feel from being gaslit? There were a ton of other questions that raged within. 

Couples like Beth and Steve who experience infidelity will only heal through truth-telling. While the steps toward healing are not cookie cut, truth-telling must be embraced, particularly when there is compulsive infidelity.  Every stone must be turned over so that there are no secrets. A polygraph can be helpful to establish that a full disclosure has been made. 

When truth is agonizingly piece-mealed it is torture to the offended partner. “I wanna believe, but how can I when details dribble out that break my heart” is a common response.

Truth-telling about secret behaviors is essential but not sufficient. The partner in shock wants to know “Where did this behavior come from”. “This is not who I thought I was partnering with or what I thought I would get!” It is significant for the philandering partner to understand the cycle of offending behavior and disclose what was going on within that led to the hurtful behavior. The behavior did not happen out of the blue. If so, you would have been even yet more unpredictable. Digging in and understanding the mistaken beliefs, build-up behaviors and triggers that precipitated betrayal is a necessary truth-telling step for both the betrayer and the one betrayed. At least the betrayed can begin to grapple with what’s been going on inside their partner who betrayed. 

Truth-telling establishes a ground zero in a relationship pockmarked with infidelity that helps to determine the potential future of the relationship. It does not guarantee that the relationship can be salvaged, but without it, healing doesn’t happen.

Once these two momentous steps in truth-telling have been taken, there will be questions that nag the betrayed. How could my partner pull off this behavior under my very eyes? Why would they do this? What is wrong with me that I ended up screwed over like this? 

A process of clarification is a necessary next step of truth-telling. It is important to understand that when you choose to violate the values of another it is a victimizing behavior. There is an offender in every one of us which expresses itself through a mentality that “wants what I want when I want it”. It is this part that is the core of offending behavior. The offending behavior must be exposed for what it is—the epitome of narcissism. 

What must be cultivated in the heart of the offending person is the capacity to tell on themselves to the offended party. It is one thing for your victim to recognize by his or her own insight that you, as an offender, have victimized. It is a more powerful healing experience to the relationship when the offending party demonstrates awareness of ways in which they have victimized. Clarification is a way to “unbrainwash” your victimized partner so they understand that you “get it” and that they were not responsible for your abusive behavior in any way. 

There are 12 steps:

1. The obvious. Identify the way you offended your partner.

2. Identify 5 memories of special promises that are now spoiled because of your betrayal.

3. Make a list of 3 overt and covert ways your partner would have resisted your behavior had they known.

4. Identify 3 ways you groomed yourself and your partner around your betrayal behavior.

5. Identify 3 lies you told yourself, excuses you made to justify your behavior, and rationales that gave you a sense of entitlement to betray.

6. Describe the “smoke screens” you used to keep your partner off track (moodiness/busyness, etc).

7. Share how dishonesty around relationships occurred before you ever knew your partner in attitude, fantasy, and action.

8. Validate the confusing mixed messages you gave your partner through examples that you own. (secrets you kept)

9. Identify 3 others who would not do what you did, and areas it would not be wise to be trusted without accountability.

10. Give examples of ways you tried to hide your behavior from certain others.

11. Validate your partner’s boundaries and ways they distanced themselves from you after learning of your betrayal.

12. Validate that whatever weaknesses your partner may have, they are inconsequential to your choice of destructive behavior. Also, identify 3 hardships that your behavior has caused for your partner. 

When you complete these steps, weave your responses into a letter. Share them with your partner. Ask her to have a supportive person (therapist, coach, and/or others) to be with her as she listens. You will be wise to have the same support. 

There is an offender in us all. It would be wise for the partner who has been offended to consider ways in which they have offended their partner. Likely, betrayal is not your concerned behavior. Of course, you have done nothing to make your partner act out and betray you. Yet, you have contributed to intimacy distance in some way. It will be helpful for you to compose a clarification process for your betrayal partner. You will find healing through common awareness of shortcomings whatever they may be. 

The steps of truth-telling around betrayal require guidance. Usually, a trained professional is necessary but not always. For sure, truth-telling requires courage and being anchored to your adult self. Yet, those who engage in this courage know the freedom of healing that truth-telling achieves.