Dear Anne – I have admitted to an affair. Part of my plan to gain trust is to contact the girl I had an affair with (who is absolutely no longer in my life). My wife wants me to convince this woman to send her any emails she may have kept that we sent to each other. Naturally I deleted all of my e-mails.
My wife seems to think it will help her to read these e-mails…if they exist. It is tearing us apart and is the major roadblock to moving forward. I emailed her and spoke to her once so she would send me a picture of her so my wife could see what she looked liked and now she wants these e-mails and if I don’t get them it is over. I am afraid if this woman does have something saved it will do the opposite of helping my wife because we really spiral out of control and go to a dark place when we discuss this.
I really don’t think this woman will send any e-mails and I can’t get my wife to try and understand why she would not want to.
I am lost, I want to try and win her back but I think this is a lose lose situation. What should I/we do?
In this situation, I recommend that you and your wife get some outside guidance from someone who specializes in affair recovery. Deep down, most likely your wife loves you and wants to heal your marriage, but she is struggling with trust and rightly so.
It’s really not for you, as the one who had the affair, to decide what will or will not be good for your wife, and what will or will not help her heal. It is a fallacy to think that reading such emails from an affair will ALWAYS be bad for the betrayed spouse. Some betrayed spouses (like me) need to know all the details in order to heal.
The most important thing though in order to build trust, is not to have your unfaithful spouse tell you what they think you do or don’t need. This is demoralizing from a source that has already broken your heart. Also if these emails from an affair are never read, your wife may always feel that you still have “secrets” with another woman.
I’m going to share with you a profound principle to affair recovery as described by Shirley Glass in her book “Not Just Friends.”
When an affair takes place inevitably the marriage or unknowing spouse is discussed in the affair. The 3rd party, in other words, gets a window into the marriage, while the innocent spouse is given a wall into the affair. (In other words, they don’t get to know a thing about the affair. It’s all kept completely secret from them.) In order to heal a marriage, this window and wall must be reversed. The innocent spouse must be given a window into the affair, and the affair partner must be given a wall into the marriage.
The most important thing is sometimes not that all the gory details of the affair are shared with the innocent spouse, but that the innocent spouse is told that if they want to know, they can know, that there will be no more hiding from them, no more secrets, instead a full disclosure.
To rebuild trust tell your wife, “Ask me anything you want and I will tell you. Nothing will ever be hidden from you again.”
The responsibility for what they do or don’t want to know, and how fast they want to know it, then lies with the betrayed spouse who is trying to heal. They need to think this through and ask themselves,
– How much do I need to know?
– What do I need to know?
– When do I want to know?
– Am I ready to hear it yet?
– Will I be able to handle this information, or will it forever haunt me?
– What is my true and honest motive for wanting to know this?
– What is the good that’s going to come out of me knowing?
Unless they can answer positively to these questions, they shouldn’t ask, at least not yet.
If they do decide to know, they need to make a commitment to themselves that they will never use the emails from an affair as ammunition against their unfaithful spouse in the future.
I recommend that the betrayed spouse picture the worst case scenario and sincerely ask themselves, “If this is the case, will I be able/ready to handle it?” Until you can say, “Yes” to this question, don’t ask yet.
For example, if you want to know, “Did you ever tell the other woman/man that you loved him/her?” Don’t ask unless you are prepared to hear the answer “Yes, I did.”
Healing a marriage and rebuilding trust is all about OPENNESS – that means no hiding, no secrets, my life (including the past) is an open book to you. I am not hiding anything.
Secondly, healing a marriage and rebuilding trust is about HONESTY. It is human nature/instinct to do more of any behaviors that bring us pleasure and to avoid behaviors that bring us pain.
So to the betrayed spouse I say, if you want your spouse who has had an affair to learn how to be fully truthful with you at all times (which is your path to monogamy and happiness together), you must be careful not to make telling the truth a painful experience for your spouse. Instead there should be a pleasure (or reward) in it for them in telling the truth.
This article explains that principle fully.
Before you as a couple forge ahead with all of this, I recommend that you get some help with your communication skills.
In healing from affairs, in order to heal your marriage, it’s going to take lots of talking and sharing between husband and wife. It’s very difficult for the betrayed spouse to understand, “If you loved me, how could you do this to me?”
We teach couples how to have these difficult conversations in a way that will actually build intimacy and closeness instead of doing damage. Consider attending our Healing From Affairs Weekend for couples because you will leave the weekend knowing how to do this. As well you will be able to discuss all the angles of your unique situation, so you can make the best decisions to move forward as a couple.
I found it very helpful to know all the details of my husband’s affair, because …
1. No truth could be as horrible as my imagination. My mind was not able to think of a blank, so as long as I was denied the truth, I obsessed with the imagined truth I created in my mind in place of the actual truth I was denied. Knowing the details stopped my obsessions. At last I had answers, and could put all the obsessing to rest.
2. The fact that my husband was fully open and honest with me, no longer hiding anything, enabled me to begin to trust him again. We also both felt closer to each other. After all, his affair was a part of his life, and he was now sharing his life with me instead of hiding it.
3. I felt empowered knowing that I didn’t have to worry about running into the other woman in a shopping mall and having her tell me something about my husband that I didn’t already know.
4. I learned things about my husband through his full disclosure of his affair. Although the affair was of course bad, there were some good things he experienced there. By truly listening to him, I learned a few things I could do to better meet his needs. This gave me greater confidence as his wife, and was very helpful in moving our healing forward.
Of course for your wife, reading emails like this is most likely going to be full of elicit sexual details, flirtations, statements of love, perhaps promises of a future together, and possibly even criticisms of and/or joking about the innocent spouse. She needs to be ready for that, and decide if she really needs to know it in that way, or if hearing things directly from you would be better.
Affairs are a fantasy wrought with ugliness, and when the person who has had the affair, has distanced themselves sufficiently from it, and looks back at some of the things they’ve done, it generally makes them sick to face what they’ve done and said. Affairs cause people to act in an intoxicated state, not thinking or acting clearly. Little of what happens in affairs is based in truth. Betrayed spouses need to understand this.
A concern I do have for your situation is you need to get the wall up for your affair partner, so the affair partner has no idea what is going on in your marriage, and all contact with this person must be severed once and for all.
So if these emails are requested, it must be seen as a last and final contact with this 3rd party. We want her out of your marriage. It must also be understood that the 3rd party is an enemy of your marriage. She cannot be trusted. If she forwards the emails, emails can be altered in forwarding. Sometimes the 3rd party (who is often left out in the cold with no love) can have a desire to cause more hurt, because after all, this person is almost always deeply hurt also. For guidance for your wife to be sure she is ready and that reading these emails is right for her healing and to help you both with your communication skills, I recommend outside coaching from an affair recovery specialist.
In the end, alone or together, you must heal. Both roads are difficult, and it really helps to have some guidance on the journey, because it is one of the most difficult journey’s you will ever make.
©Copyright 2005 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.