Knowing the Details of an Affair
It’s a question that gets asked frequently on infidelity discussion boards: “Should I ask for the details?”
It’s understandable that jealousy, fear, and upset can lead the faithful spouse to obsessing about the other person and how their cheater conducted the affair relationship.
Many faithful partners want evidence of the contrasting ways in which they and the affair partner were treated by the cheater. They want to understand what venues are ‘tainted’, who colluded in the affair, who might have seen the affair couple together, memorable dates that have been created or sullied, and what made the affair partner so worth the risk and the hurt.
Most importantly, they want to be prioritized by the cheater in the aftermath of the affair, with willing, remorseful, and honest concern.
A cheater might, understandably, feel uncomfortable with sharing intimate details of their affair relationship. We’re normally not encouraged or expected to kiss and tell, and many cheaters feel that this demand for specific details crosses the line. Of course, the faithful partner holds the high ground in the face of any assertion that disclosing intimate details ‘crosses a line’. Does, “That is nothing compared to you crossing the line by having an affair to begin with” resonate?
Beyond a cheater’s reasonable and understandable discomfort, they also have concerns that the details will:
- hurt their spouse even more
- affect their physical relationship with their spouse moving forward
- result in the faithful spouse taking reconciliation off the table
- give the faithful spouse more ammunition against and power over them in the long term
The power and control dynamics in an affair are complex. For the cheater, their affair was them exercising their individual power and agency in their life decisions. The secrecy they employed to hide the affair was part of their control over how/if it affected the other parts of their lives.
During an affair, a cheater controls the flow of information to their spouse, keeping their home life bumping along and their spouse firmly in place while getting their jollies elsewhere. Disclosing the details removes a layer of control from the cheater, causing conflict and anxiety in them because they -rightly- perceive an uncontrollable risk in the response of the faithful spouse.
However, in reconciliation, anxiety and risk aversion are not legitimate or acceptable reasons to continue to nurture the secrecy of an affair. A cheater who is unwilling to disclose the details telegraphs a very clear message: “I am prepared to continue to manipulate this situation to my liking and benefit, by careful selection and management of the information I disclose to my spouse.”
This is full-on cheater mode, and often results in the faithful spouse getting a rather nasty dose of the trickle truth. It signals the intent to continue to deceive, disrespect, and of course, manipulate.
Transparency by the cheating party can help marriages recover, according to a study by extramarital affairs expert Peggy Vaughan that’s referenced in What Makes Love Last. Her survey of 1,083 people whose spouses were unfaithful found that when the betrayer answered questions about the affair, the relationship survived 86 percent of the time. If the betrayer refused to respond to questions, the survival rate dropped to 59 percent.
The Gory Details
Most faithful spouses are plagued with their own mind movies about the affair. If they refrain from asking for the intimate details, they are only being haunted by the unpleasant conjurings of their own minds and can dismiss them as such.
If they do ask for the details, they’re then stuck with them as reality (assuming the cheater is being truthful). Having the details prevents the faithful partner from discounting them as lurid imaginings of their own making. They are left with the unpleasant, indelible, and factual nitty gritty about one of the most painful aspects of their lives.
And yet, when you’ve been fed a rancid diet of putrescent deceit, many cannot swallow even one more falsehood - even one of their own imagination.
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
~ C. S. Lewis
Many faithful spouses find that knowing whether the affair was physical and/or emotional sufficiently satisfies their need for information. Many take the view that they don’t need to know how many times, the number of oooh babies, or the mechanics of a sex swing to adequately understand the true nature of their cheater’s affair.
It’s worth asking if knowing the details of an affair materially changes the larger context of how the affair affected you, or what it says about your cheater.
To Know or Not to Know?
That is indeed the question - and it’s one about your own disposition and resilience and manner of dealing with things.
Before requesting the details, ask yourself if you are prepared for the possibility that the details are worse than your imaginings. You might think that knowing the details will confirm that it wasn’t as bad as you thought - but it’s commonly worse.
It might also be useful to consider:
- What is your primary goal in knowing the details?
- Is it to move past the affair and focus on the future, leaving the past as much behind as you can?
- Do you need to analyze, rationalize and understand the details in order to confront every nuance of it?
- Will the sexual details help you move forward, or will they keep you stuck in the past?
- Are you concerned to measure your own sexual performance against the affair partner’s?
- Are you concerned to uncover sexual preferences in your cheater?
- (It’s worth noting that often the faithful spouse believes that the affair sex was fabulous – in our experience, it is more commonly ‘average’.)
- Do you feel the same need for all the emotional details too?
- Did you feel the need to ask for the sexual details of any previous partners the cheater had before you met?
- Do you believe that your spouse has a reasonable right to privacy in other sexual relationships?
- Why is your desire for the details of their affair different to your desire for details in their previous relationships?
- Why is their right to privacy different in the affair?
- Are you seeking the information to gather further ammunition against the cheater?
- Are you trying to compare yourself to the affair partner? Or thinking that the cheater is?
Everyone is different, and the desire to know the details of an affair is an entirely personal one. The issue is really whether you prefer to fill in the blanks yourself with your imaginings, or to fill them in with reality.
As in all decisions post-affair, it’s worth considering what choices will move you further towards your own goals. Assess if knowing the details will move you further towards or away from your core goals and act accordingly. Consider what your cheater’s potential refusal to disclose the details will mean for you.
There’s no simple answer to the question, and every answer comes with some form of consequence.