Rebuilding Trust after an Affair: A guide for the Wayward Spouse

Trust is nothing more than ‘proven behavior over time’.  When an affair devastates a marriage, trust is completely broken.  How do you go about restoring trust in the aftermath of one of the greatest devastations a person can inflict?

First and foremost, if you are going to confess an affair to your spouse, you might as well tell him/her the ENTIRE truth.  I told my husband in the wake of the discovery of his affair that I wanted all of the information on the table.  I wanted to know who, when, where, how often, what, and most of all, WHY.  That last one was the one that took the longest time to unravel, and truth be told, it isn’t often one that the wayward spouse even knows the answer to….until they do the work involved in uncovering what made them seek a relationship outside of their marriage, and that takes time, introspection, and therapy.

The most important thing for me, in the initial days, was the reassurance that I wasn’t going to be knocked off of my feet again.  I lost all footing when he confessed his affair.  I hated the feeling of helplessness that brought, and I reasoned that I would rather know the truth, no matter how devastating, in one fell swoop than receive the truth in small doses, each time being knocked to the floor.  I reasoned I was already on the floor, you might as well throw it all at me, because once I get up, I don’t want to be knocked over again.  So, you may as well give your spouse what they need to know, if you are even going to admit to your wrongdoings.  There is no point in half-way.   Either you tell them, or you don’t.  Obviously, it is better if you do, but my point is simply that trickle-truth (truth that trickles in slowly, one drip at a time) only results in a reduction of trust when you slowly confess to things you earlier denied.  Laying your cards on the table face up, and doing so early will win you major points.

A betrayed spouse is going to have tons of questions.  How many questions s/he has depends on the person.  Some people crave to know every last detail, while others are satisfied with less.  I, for one, wanted ALL of the details.  I didn’t like knowing that my husband had a little window of life that I didn’t have access to, or know about, and I wanted as much information and knowledge of his affair as he had….as she had.  Whether you ask for the gory details earlier in the process or later, remember that you are responsible for the information that you receive.  Do not ask a question that you are not prepared to hear an answer for.  If you can imagine hearing the worst case scenario and you feel incapable of handling that truth, perhaps it is best to wait on that particular question, but table it for another time.  Answering all of the questions that a betrayed spouse has shows honesty and a commitment to the process of healing. Showing patience for his/her constant re-hashing of details, and perhaps even asking the same question again and again is necessary.  We repeat the questions because our brains are trying to synthesize all of the information.  Repetition allows the information to penetrate to an area where we can then understand and deal with its content.  Just like children, it helps us learn to repeat.  It also helps us to test answers against prior responses to gauge truthfulness, but it isn’t USUALLY done on purpose as a test…that is just a side bonus 🙂

Owning your mistake, amidst such shame is not an easy task.  I don’t think I would have the ability to do it.  I am not strong enough of character to manage that, I don’t think.  Having your mistake brought up again and again is hurtful to the one who has betrayed.  Not only because the wayward spouse needs to re-examine his/her flaws under a microscope again and again, but because s/he needs to see his/her spouse struggling with the information, hurting, and trying to piece themselves back together again.  You cannot rush a healing process. It is a process…and it isn’t a straight line.  In fact, some days you won’t remember the last time you took a step forward as it seems each time you do, you take three backwards.  It is frustrating, but stick with it.  Invite the betrayed spouse to ask questions, and be patient with him/her.  For me, asking a lot of questions made me feel needy and burdensome.  I worried that if I asked too many questions, my husband would find me unappealing, and leave me.  Of course, that was when I still believed that the reason he’d had the affair was because I was unappealing in some way and that it had something to do with me. It wasn’t until much later that I learned (through repetition and re-exposure to the idea) that it had NOTHING to do with me.  Be patient.

Actions speak louder than words.  Show your spouse that you are committed to their healing.  Attend marital counselling and DO THE HOMEWORK.  Attend individual counselling also.  Give your spouse password access to your phone, your emails, your text messages and your voicemails.  Give your spouse complete access to check these as they need.  You need to be an open book now, at least for a while.  Don’t be surprised or angry when you feel s/he has looked through your personal communications.  After all, it was your actions that landed you here in the first place, and you haven’t been a stellar example of honesty.  Regain trust by removing all doubts by providing complete and unrestricted access.  Tell your spouse when you will be late, and provide your whereabouts.  Take pictures to prove your plans, if needed.  Your spouse is going to be on hyper alert for a while.  Offer these things before they are requested, it goes a long way towards showing you can be trustworthy.

What you say and what you do are two different things. They should both be the same, but one weighs more than the other.  Words are simply words.  Actions speak. In fact showing us through behaviour will carry more weight than telling us the same thing ten times.  Maybe more.

That brings me to the reason I made this post in the first place.  While standing in the Chinese Theatre in Epcot Centre at Walt Disney World a while back, I came upon this plaque on the wall:







  1. I call it a “trust fund.” My ex-husband made thousands of deposits in the fund over our 16 years together. His deceptions (not just infidelity) emptied it in one dramatic robbery. His account balance was zero, but the capacity for me to trust was still there and just needed new deposits.

  2. I love this post, now only if cheating spouses would read something like this before dropping their bombs. My husband was so concerned with self preservation when he told me about his affair he did everything wrong. He just told me yesterday, the only think I was concerned about was not losing you, I did not give one thought as to how badly this would hurt you, only that I could not live without out. Affairs are selfish acts to begin with, I imagine it’s hard for the betrayer to transition into a place of not being selfish. I’m going to e-mail a link to your post to my husband to read, not that he needs it now but sometimes I like to rub in his face what he did wrong, as if the affair it self wasn’t bad enough.

  3. tentativelyhopeful says:

    So true – I need to print this out for my husband to read and reread. This past weekend, I brought up the affair and told him that we hadn’t talked about it much the past few weeks. I wanted to know where he thinks we stand right now and also why he doesn’t bring it up. Of course, I know the answer to that – why would he want to bring it up. He waits for me to talk about it when I have questions which of course makes me feel needy. Sigh…he is being patient and in the beginning I did re-ask certain questions to trip him up. It worked because he was trickling info to me.

  4. The trickle truths are horrible. I wish our whole discovery process had been different and maybe the recovery period might have gone smoother (is that possible?). I still am not 100% sure that I know everything, but at some point trust has to be established. Small steps ….

  5. I think my wife didn’t trust me before this and I’m certain she’ll never trust me again. I try to protect her (maybe myself) from the whole truth. It would kill her.

    Without 100% honesty, will we ever move past this. We are miserable together.

    • Bob, in the aftermath of the affair discovery, truth is crucial. It may, as you say, kill her, but it’s her decision to want it or not. By holding it back, you deny her the truth she deserves. You’ve done something against her, and she needs to live her life with truth. She can’t go forward in a lie. Trickle-truths hurt. Each time she hears a new truth and realizes you held it in and didnt share, it’s another hurt, and another reason she will feel she wasn’t right to trust you when you said that was everything. Talk together. Tell her you are afraid of telling her the truth. Are you protecting her by holding it in, or are you protecting yourself and trying to hold onto something you know you will lose otherwise? That decision is out of your hands. You can’t hold her captive with lies. If you are protecting her, then it shows that you love her. Tell her that. Let her know your fears of spilling It all and let her make the choice about how fast she wants to get it. Some people want more details than others. I wanted all of it. Looking back, some of the details now I wish I didn’t get because those played back like a bad movie over and over. The important thing though was that he gave it to me. He never held back. He wanted me to know what I was ready to know. It made all the difference.

  6. Allan Davies says:

    Al says……
    Its been six days since my wife found out of my affair, six days of hell!!!! I’ve gone through the whole vocabulary to describe myself from just ‘stupid’ to ‘Bastard’ and she has said everything else, and I cannot disagree.

    Tmrow, on her suggestion, we are both seeing a experienced councillor separately first, then hopefully together. I have read this blog on the advice of my wife, three times now and reading just about every reply and comment, know I’ve said or done some of the wrong things mentioned…. but, I’m still struggling to understand why I did it myself! Never mind trying to explain to her why.

    In thirty five years of marriage, I’ve been tempted, asked, and approached, and truthfully, in all that time, NEVER taken a further step to instigate any further intimate relations outside of flirting….. but, this time, even when I first met this woman some months before it started, I had no idea or feeling that anything would go further, and one night last year it did!

    I have put it down initially to Vanity, Ego, a cheap thrill…. and at 57 years old, perhaps needed that boost to retract back from my true age….. crazy! The woman involved never knew I was married, even though she was attached…. and I’ve told her of my situation and also received as would be expected a big ‘piss off and die’ pill!

    So, now I will take all these comments, suggestions and advice and see the councillor and lay it out exactly from my mind and perspective and hope this person can at least put me, along with blogs like this, on a track where I do something right, and even though my wife has said the chances of taking me back again are slim, until she finally tells me to stop, I will try to do what it takes, cheap words I know, but very expensive meaning…..

    My biggest early challenge at this stage is…… believing that, after all I have and she has said, there may not be a chance….. but…… am I being selfish in believing there is and that no matter how long it takes, I should just keep trying? I just cannot accept at this moment in time that we are finished forever.

    No matter what the outcome, I will try, and after all of this, leave or stay, I shall still know what I’ve done has caused the worst pain as you said outside of death …..

    Thank you for your blog……

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