After an affair, couples come into counseling believing that the offending spouse will tell the truth in the office. That is rarely the case. I tell them that my “TruthMachine” is out for repairs and they remain stuck in the confusion of a partial confession. It can be recognized by it’s typical presentation.
Firstly a partial confession is limited to what has been uncovered. Information only comes out a little at a time as additional secrets or lies are discovered. Spouses who grudgingly confess to each new bit of new evidence are only conceding to what they have to admit. True confessions will almost always include more information than you already know.
Discussions of what happened leads only to confusion, not clarity. When it is hard to make sense of your spouse’s story, they are likely being deceptive. A typical deception is where the spouse insists that no sex happened even though it confounds common sense. ( ie. spending a night in a hotel room but nothing happened.) Full honesty results in a clear perspective, even though it often reveals an ugly picture. Deception, on the other hand is full of awkward twists and turns and unexpected dead-ends. When you are listening to lies, you will likely end the conversation being just as confused (or even more confused) as you were when it started.
Also there are quick shifts to defensiveness and blaming when questions are asked about the affair. Once a person has decided to tell the truth, it is a relatively easy thing to do. Easier, at least, than managing all the lies. If your spouse is still lying, they will want to shift the focus away from themselves by becoming defensive, shutting down, or blaming you.
Typically responsibility for the affair is subtly shifted to the spouse (ie. you never wanted sex, or your constant nagging drove me to it) and then there is an expectation that you do the major work to get things on track rather than accepting the responsibility themselves. If your spouse claims to have made a full confession and then leaves you to do the major work in fixing your marriage, something isn’t right. Here are a couple examples:
(a) Instead of taking the initiative to create a trustworthy environment, your spouse expects you to give her/him a checklist for what you need and it is grudgingly followed, usually with complaints about paranoia.
(b) Your spouse leaves it up to you to fight for boundaries that help you feel safe rather than voluntarily establishing new rules for outside relationships. Genuine confessors realize the need to accept responsibility for change.
It is common sense to expect that someone who broke trust should take responsibility for fixing it yet I regularly encounter unfaithful partners who seem annoyed with this expectation. Their reluctance or resistance indicates a heart that remains self-focused. Unless that changes, there can be no real return to trust.
Next post will be on how to recognize a true confession and a partner who genuinely wants the marriage.