The Dreaded Details

Knowing the Details of an Affair

Knowing the details of an affairIt’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.

Willing Disclosure

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

Risk Management

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.

Infidelity: Can Couples Move Past It?

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?

questionThat 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.

You may also like:

  • Disclosing an Affair: To Tell or Not To Tell?

  • The Protection Defense
  • aka Continued Lying

  • Minimization as Manipulation


“I'm not a teacher, only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead - ahead of myself as well as you.” ~ George Bernard Shaw


  1. My reason for asking questions is to know that he is not hiding anything. Any hesitation at answering makes me upset. Any avoiding answering makes me upset.

    It is not the content that will upset me because NOTHING can be worse than my imagination – it is the lack of willingness. I may get upset with new disclosures but I get more upset with the lack of willingness to disclose.

    For me it is about him reestablishing trust with me. I need to trust him but I won’t ever be able to do that if I feel he isn’t willing to tell me the truth.

    • Hi Mere

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I agree that their willingness to answer is something to take into consideration. Cheating is a series of power plays: control, manipulation, exercising one’s own agency. As such, cheaters really like to control the flow of information and the narrative – most try to cling to that even in reconciliation, and it’s a massive red flag.

      A cheater willing to disclose all the details, no matter how much it makes them squirm, is a positive step though the faithful spouse shouldn’t read too much into that – it’s just one tiny step in a whole marathon of steps.

      It’s a very good point though, Mere, thank you.

      I wish you well.

  2. The details you give to your spouse regarding your affair should depend entirely on what they want to know.
    Its unbelievable to me that a person thinks they can choose what another is or is not capable of hearing!! They are the ones who get to make those choices for themselves. The only reason to continue hiding things about the affair is to try and steer what direction your oartner takes next. You minimise the hurtful information to minimise the consequences for yourself not your spouse. When answers are not given despite you having them to give on the basis that ‘it will only hurt them more’ or ‘it will only make things worse’ you are admitting you know the information is bad enough to make a diffetence and therefore is important enough to disclose. People DO get over being hurt people even recover after the deaths if lived ones so withholding information about your agfair on the grounds its hurtful is no reason to withhold it unkess you want to control the damage of your affair. Well, the damage was done when you engaged in the behaviour and it is your spouses rigjt to know and feel the extent of tjat damage for them and their relationship if they are to make a choice to move foward with all the facts they feel they need in order to do so. Yes it may be the end of the marriage but that is not because of your disclisure, it is because of your affair. Whatever you have done, it was still done whether or not you say so, if a thing is wrong/immoral it is still so no matter who kniws about it. The more you refuse to answer the worse your partner will imagine tje answer is anyway, whats more it will go round and round a persons mind and that means worse suffering for the unwitting victim of your lies. Its lying,l and hiding things that got you to the point you are at. A willingness to disclose information to your partner when that behaviour is somethimg you regret, claim to be sorry for and want to be forgiven fo, is not achieved by demonstrating the exact same behaviour while making those claims.
    How can you possibly expect a person to believe you wont repeat your behaviour in a situation whereby you do something hurtful again. No person can foretell the situations they may face in the future or guarentee they will never feel the need to act badly or make a mistake, they can be honest about it though but only if they can show they are capable of it. I for one would not immediately react to a truth i have asked for simply because it discourages continuimg honesty aI would not punish a person for telling it either what I choowe to do regarding the pain i have been caused and the 3xtent of the affair will be because it is the right choice for me in moving foward and healing, not because I want to see the oerson who hurt me suffer. If it is that painful I may leave amd they may suffer but tjat is a consequence of the acts they committed and was something they knew they wete risking when they committed those actions, this is what teaches people about what is and is not acceptabke in a relationship and what can happen when you make bad choices. It is what is rigjt and should be faced. Consequenses cannot be minimised as the result of more lying and dishonesty because they are learning that doing so is somethimg that has benifits and is something worth repeating? ! That is not fair ti a person who ypu claim you would not lie to again if you are given another chance!! eventually go on the ‘plus’ list when thinking about the future and if I could see one with this person.
    Basically not disclosing/lying about/hiding details/information about ur affair after you are caught (that do exist and which you and maybe others actually have) in order to save the person they would hurt the most, from the pain of knowing them. Is the same as not disclosing/lying about hiding details/information about the affair at the time you chose to engage in it, for the same reasons. The point at which you could have chosen never to hurt someone like that has already passed and was the point at which you could have chosen not to act in knowingly hurtful ways. The reason for hiding ur actions and not wanting to get caught are to avoid the consequences you now face. Avoiding them further is more of an insult when you are held accountable by the person you wronged. Its just more avoidence. It causes far more and longer lasting pain to the person who has to imagine it all anyway and without answers will continue to imagine them and find them till she finally doesnt care (which could be a very very long time) or gets them elsewhere anyway. Both of which will not serve to strengthen the relationship or trust and maybwell end it more painfully than telling all when asked so recovery can begin from there and your honesty could be sseen as a positive when decisions are made regarding the relatiomship.
    Its wrong to assume a person cannot handle information you have that they want also. They will handle it however painful it may be. I think its more a case of how a persons reaction impacts you that people really protect when they wont disclose these things. How dare a person decide what the other person can handle. Do you seriously imagine sex 50 times 10 times or 4 times has much difference in terms of pain
    Whatever the number it is too high and noone is going to feel blessed tjere were not more occasions such this. If an affair has gone on a very long time or a short time its again still happened and I would like yo know due to it helping me make my choices. I want to know how far reaching and what kengths and for how long I was lied to and not given tje choice to leave a partner who I was ‘sharing’ without my consent or acceptance or denied the chance to fix what was onviously broken. I would rather my actions were the result of the whoke truth rather than bits of it selected for me by the person who created and now controls the extent of what I know of it!!

    • Hi Natasha

      This is an issue that is distressingly common – we deal with it daily with many faithful partners who are experiencing this very thing.

      Readers might find these articles interesting, as they all relate to the issue of disclosure and manipulating the reality of the faithful partner to the benefit of the cheater:
      The Trickle-Truth
      The Protection Defense
      Disclosing an Affair: To Tell or Not to Tell

      Appealing to a cheater for honesty and full disclosure when they are in damage control and loss avoidance mode, is often a fool’s errand. What is most concerning, however, is how faithful partners are encouraged (by the marital recovery industry and reconciliation apologists alike) to tolerate as normal a cheater’s continued lies and withholding of salient information. It isn’t normal – it is the harmful and egregious continuation of manipulative tactics, employed by a cheater trying to dodge and/or control the consequences of their conduct and choices.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on this subject, Natasha. It’s an important one.

      Best wishes.

  3. I don’t want to know all the details of my husbands affair. I just want the truth and I want him to stop saying he is protecting me. He is protecting himself, He keeps saying they were Waiting until we split up before he had sex with her and I caught him before that happened, but I don’t believe him. He was falling in love with her, this doesn’t just come from an emotional affair I believe he has had sex with her and he is too scared to admit it because then he has to admit what he has done to me. I believe I should have the truth so I can make an informed decision on what I am willing to forgive.

    • Hi Katrina

      I agree that any reconciliation has to be contingent on certain factors, and the cheater’s honest and full disclosure of relevant details is one of those factors.

      I would highly advise you to view continued lying or a reluctance to disclose the details of his affair as a serious red flag. A cheater withholding pertinent information in an attempt to circumvent a negative/undesirable response in their faithful spouse is a deliberate and conscious manipulation. Considering that manipulation and deceit are mainstay behaviors during an affair, seeing a continuation of the same behavior post-discovery is a considerable issue.

      You might find these posts useful:
      The Protection Defense
      The Trickle Truth
      Minimization as Manipulation

      It’s reasonable and appropriate to hold full disclosure as the very minimum expectation before reconciliation is considered. If a cheater doesn’t relinquish their control of the narrative one must seriously question whether they have the necessary attitude and motivation for successful reconciliation.

      Don’t ignore your own misgivings and observations – if you’re still being manipulated, that’s a problem.

      Best wishes.

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