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When Should An Affair Be Exposed?
By Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr.
10.28.09

This week, again Ill be taking a question from the Forum to help clear up a conflict regarding one of my common recommendations about when to expose an affair. The issue of exposure comes up when a betrayed spouse has first learned about the affair. Should it be exposed to others, or kept secret? I generally recommend exposure. When should it be exposed? I usually recommend that it be exposed immediately. To whom should it be exposed? I recommend that family, friends, children, clergy, and especially, the lovers spouse be informed. Exposure in the workplace depends on several factors.

There are many reasons for this recommendation, but the primary reason is based on my belief that the more people know about what I do in my most private moments, the safer I am to others. Infidelity is one of the most painful experiences one spouse can inflict on the other, and its far less likely to take place, or continue to take place, when everyone knows about it.

Imagine how little crime would be committed if everyones activities were videotaped. Several weeks ago, a street fight in Minneapolis resulted in the death of a teenager. A gang of over 20 men were involved in his death. But it all happened in front of a host of surveillance cameras. The men involved in this murder will be arrested, tried, and sentenced. Minneapolis used to be called Murderapolis because of its extremely high murder rate. No more. The murder rate is now one of the lowest for a big city because people have traded in their privacy for security. People are now safer because theyre willing to have their activities recorded.

Another, almost equally important reason for exposure is that it usually provides support for the betrayed spouse at a time that their whole world is falling apart. When family, friends, clergy, and even children know whats happening to the betrayed spouse they can provide considerable emotional support when its needed most.

But there are exceptions to exposure. Once in a while I dont recommend it. A defense of exposure in general, and an explanation of the few exceptions are the topics of todays column.

Abbreviations:
EA-Emotional Affair; D-Day-Discovery Day; MB-Marriage Builders; NC-No Contact; OM-Other Man; OMW-Other Mans Wife; WW-Wayward Wife


Forum Members Question:

I know from my own counseling with Dr. Jennifer Harley Chalmers around D-day that she was very careful, almost reticent, about exposure. I KNOW that she was NOT for exposing to the world, and I believe all the Harleys were in some stage of reconsidering it. I think someone on the Forum quoted Steve Harley as saying he was more conservative than his dad about this issue, and even his dad was reconsidering it.

This past summer, when I was counseling with Steve Harley, he was similarly reticent every time I asked him about the advice I was getting here to broadly expose my WWs EA. In fact, I was a little frustrated that I couldn't seem to get a straight answer out of him.

Essentially, Steve had me in a very "carrot-y" Plan A, and never even brought up the subject of exposure himself. He gave me the impression that he didn't think OM was much of a threat because there wasn't any clear evidence that he was actively pursuing my WW, although she was certainly reading his intentions as serious. (I was actively snooping at the time; the evidence wasn't there.)

So when I asked him about exposure, Steve initially told me to expose only to people who could offer me support and encouragement, which I'd essentially already done with family and close friends. WW was still furious about that, and also about my posting here, which is one reason my earlier thread no longer exists.

In a later session, after I'd seen that WW had broken NC to tell the OM that she was divorcing me and that she wanted to talk, I asked whether I should expose to OMW. Steve essentially waved me off, telling me that it would be very tempting but that I should focus on Plan A (although he didn't use the term).

Interesting twist here is that I ended up calling OMW anyway a week or so later, and after an hour-long conversation, talked to OM himself for another hour. Turns out OMW knew pretty much everything I did, but thought the only thing going on was in my WW's head. OM, of course, also denied any romantic intent (and was a miserably bad liar, too). Still, a few days later OM sent his own NC letter threatening legal action if either of us contacted them again, and my WW came out of her fog four days after that.?

So it's a bit of a bear to make sense of in the after-action report. Exposure seems to have worked its magic, although it's only correlation and not necessarily causation -- plus, of course, my WW came up with an entirely separate explanation for her change of heart. But exposure only worked after I basically ignored Steve's advice, which is sort of unsettling.

The whole experience has shaped my own attitude toward exposure. I still think it's not necessarily a one-size-fits-all antidote for infidelity, but I'm impressed with its power and the results it can produceeven a hesitant and graduated exposure like mine. Which is why, somewhat to my surprise, I've found myself enthusiastically recommending exposure to some of our newcomers here, even when it could bust up careers and have other serious consequences.

But I still find it curious that the Harleys don't address the concept of exposureor of snooping, for that matterin their public writing. I've subscribed to the MB newsletter for years and can't recall ever seeing exposure mentioned there. Why are the Harleys essentially quiet about it if exposure is truly a key weapon for fighting an affair?


Dr. Harleys answer to Forum members questions:

Its true that I have only addressed the issue of exposure on Marriage Builders Radio and on the private Forum that is only available to those who attend the Marriage Builders Weekend. So here goes my definitive answer that will help explain what may seem as contradictions from both Steve Harley and Jennifer Harley Chalmers.

Whenever a betrayed spouse tells me that theyve just discovered their spouses affair, my advice is almost always the same: Let others know about it. Tell your children, family, friends, clergy, and especially the lovers spouse, if they have one. And this is even to be done during what I call plan A (making an effort to make as many Love Bank deposits, and as few withdrawals as possible). The problem some people have with that strategy is that it conflicts with the goal of plan A because its likely to cause massive Love Bank withdrawals. An unfaithful spouse almost always considers such exposure to be a worse act of betrayal than their affair itself. But the alternative, helping the unfaithful spouse to keep the affair a secret, is enabling the addiction, prolonging the agony. In the long run, making the affair public knowledge without any forewarnings, threats, or bartering (which by themselves can create massive withdrawals) actually reduces the number of Love Bank withdrawals made by the betrayed spouse. Its my opinion that the advantages of immediate exposure usually far outweigh the disadvantages.

But are there exceptions to my recommendation of the immediate exposure of an affair? Absolutely! Let me give you a few examples of situations where I would not suggest immediately exposing an affair.

A physically violent unfaithful spouse

In every instance of physical violence in marriage, I have recommend separation along with a restraining order to prevent any contact between spouses. No one who has followed my advice under my direct supervision has ever experienced injury in the 35 years of my counseling tens of thousands of couples. And I have counseled some of the most violent spouses.

If a wife tells me that her husband has a history of physical violence toward her, and shes discovered his affair, I suggest that she make immediate plans for a complete separation. Generally, I refer her to a shelter for abused women. After the separation is complete, and she is safe, I recommend exposure of the affair. Plan A is ruled out, and plan B is followed (no contact between spouses). Contact is restored only after the violent husband in enrolled in an anger management program, has no contact with the lover, and is willing to begin a program of marital reconciliation.

Uncertainty regarding the affair

Many of the cases Ive witnessed involve suspected affairs with no firm proof. In those situations, I do not recommend exposure. The forum member that raised this issue falls into this category. Thats one of the reasons why both Steve and Jennifer were hesitant to recommend exposure of the suspected affair. Instead of immediate exposure, I suggest gathering evidence that would convince a jury that an affair has taken place. In some cases I suggest hiring an investigator to gather that evidence. Once there is certainty regarding the affair, I then recommend immediate exposure.

Affairs are not usually difficult to prove. Thats because the affair is an addiction, and addicts are notoriously sloppy in covering their tracks. They also become progressively sloppy as the affair develops. They try to hide it, and are reasonably successful early in a relationship. But eventually they leave text messages, email, and telephone records in plain sight for anyone to observe. If a suspecting spouse is patient, it doesnt take too long or require too much effort, to prove that an affair is taking place. On the other hand, a diligent hunt for evidence may prove that the spouse hasnt been unfaithful after all.

Those who guard their privacy in marriage, claiming that a spouse has no right to passwords, internet viewing history, email records, cell phone records, credit card accounts, and other sources of evidence, are more likely to have affairs. Privacy between spouses should never be tolerated for a host of reasons. But one of the most important reasons is that privacy, and the secret second life that it helps create, breeds infidelity. Transparency, on the other hand, where almost everything spouses do are known to each other, is one of the most important safeguards.

The forum member who wrote this weeks question went against the advice of his Marriage Builders coach to first gather more evidence. Instead, he contacted the suspected lovers wife and told her about his suspicions. As he stated, the evidence wasnt there, but he exposed his suspicions anyway. If he had been wrong, and the affair had not taken place, it would have unnecessarily added to his Love Bank withdrawals which were apparently already considerable. But the result was that the lover and his wife wrote the forum members wife, warning her to avoid all further contact, and that ended the affair.

Economic considerations

A divorce, and even separation, can have dire economic consequences for a betrayed spouse. Many wives of cheating husbands that Ive counseled are economically dependent on him. If she exposes the affair, she fears that he will leave her, creating financial hardship. So in those cases, before exposing the affair, I generally encourage her to plan for that possibility. Womens shelters usually offer both legal and financial advice for women who find themselves dependent on irresponsible men. Temporary aid from government, religious, and other charitable agencies can provide a safety net for those women. While exposure usually causes the affair to end, these betrayed women can expose his affair with less fear when they know that separation will not leave them destitute.

When there is an affair in the workplace, my general advice is that the unfaithful spouse must quit the job and find another to avoid ever seeing or talking to the lover again. But while the affair is taking place and the unfaithful spouse is unwilling to resign, should a betrayed spouse expose the affair to the employer? While I unhesitatingly recommend exposing the affair to friends, family, clergy, children, and the lovers spouse, Im not so quick to suggest exposing it to an employer. Thats because such an exposure could have unintended legal and economic consequences. For example, the affair might constitute grounds for a sexual harassment claim. Or, it might trigger an outright firing of the spouse, making it far more difficult to find another job. So my advice whether or not to expose to an employer is usually made on a case-by-case basis.

Other issues

Many betrayed spouses are afraid that exposure will drive the unfaithful spouse further away. While its true that unfaithful spouses usually feel betrayed and angry when their affair is exposed, I regard that reaction as being part of the fog that most addicts experience. When the fog has finally lifted, and the source of addiction no longer has control, the value of exposure is usually conceded by the addict himself.

Some feel that an affair should not be exposed to children. Granted, I would not tell a 3-year old about an affair, simply because a child that young cannot possibly understand what it means. But I would not hesitate to reveal an affair to a child 7 years or older. Exposure to those between those ages should be a matter of discretion.

What about exposure of an affair that took place years earlier and is now ended but recently revealed? I feel that the children, close relatives, close friends, and the lovers spouse should be informed. Granted, its embarrassing to admit an affair, but publicly admitting failure is usually the first step toward redemption.

As you already know, Im a strong advocate of honesty and openness in marriage. I call it transparencyletting your spouse know everything about you, especially your faults. But should that level of openness carry into the public arena? I believe that it should in cases of extreme irresponsibility, and that certainly includes infidelity. When you have done something very hurtful to someone else, others -- especially those who care for you the most -- should know about it. Such exposure helps prevent a recurrence of the offense. Your closest friends and relatives will be keeping an eye on youholding you accountable.

If exposure of an affair threatens the marriage, should the risk be taken?

I regard infidelity as a violation of the most basic condition of marriage. In most wedding vows, forsaking all others, is the only real promise thats made. When you marry, the overriding condition that is mutually accepted is that you wont have an affair. When that condition is broken, the marriage is threatened at its very core. Thats why I believe that spouses who have recovered after an affair should make new vows to each other, in effect reestablishing their marriage.

So when a betrayed spouse asks for my advice, I usually take the position that infidelity is the greatest betrayal of all. After an affair, trust -- an essential ingredient in marriage -- is dashed. If the unfaithful spouse is offended by being exposed, so be it. Exposure is very likely to end the affair, lifting the fog that has overcome the unfaithful spouse, helping him or her become truly repentant and willing to put energy and effort into a full marital recovery. In my experience with thousands of couples who struggle with the fallout of infidelity, exposure has been the single most important first step toward recovery. It not only helps end the affair, but it also provides support to the betrayed spouse, giving him or her stamina to hold out for ultimate recovery.


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THANK YOU

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DITTO


"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.." Theodore Roosevelt

Exposure 101


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This caller's wife has been in a 2 year affair and the man never exposed. He has kept it a secret the whole time.

it starts about halfway through here - callers name is Ron: here

Part 11: here This caller did not expose and Dr Harley called him an "enabler."

"It's very difficult to overcome an affair when you become an enabler."

Dr Harley: "In my judgement exposure would have ended your wife's affair."


"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.." Theodore Roosevelt

Exposure 101


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another BTInTrouble It is about halfway into this hour.


"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.." Theodore Roosevelt

Exposure 101


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Originally Posted By: MelodyLane
another BTInTrouble

404, I'm afraid...

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Quote:
This week, again Ill be taking a question from the Forum to help clear up a conflict regarding one of my common recommendations about when to expose an affair. The issue of exposure comes up when a betrayed spouse has first learned about the affair. Should it be exposed to others, or kept secret? I generally recommend exposure. When should it be exposed? I usually recommend that it be exposed immediately. To whom should it be exposed? I recommend that family, friends, children, clergy, and especially, the lovers spouse be informed. Exposure in the workplace depends on several factors.


Opinion:

I would like to say, after many years posting on the Infidelity forum, I have come to the conclusion that a GPS device ought to be in place on the infidel's vehicle BEFORE exposure.

BEFORE the wayward knows that you know.

Exposure often sends the infidels into a flurry of "CYA" activity. (cover your butt)
The faithful spouse needs to know where the wayward spouse goes (drives to) immediately after exposure.

Often, a GPS on the unfaithful spouse vehicle will lead right to their "meeting spot".

Priceless information.

NEVER tell the the unfaithful spouse right away that you know where they meet.
You may need this information later, and you may want photos of them together.


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Originally Posted By: Pepperband
Quote:
This week, again Ill be taking a question from the Forum to help clear up a conflict regarding one of my common recommendations about when to expose an affair. The issue of exposure comes up when a betrayed spouse has first learned about the affair. Should it be exposed to others, or kept secret? I generally recommend exposure. When should it be exposed? I usually recommend that it be exposed immediately. To whom should it be exposed? I recommend that family, friends, children, clergy, and especially, the lovers spouse be informed. Exposure in the workplace depends on several factors.


Opinion:

I would like to say, after many years posting on the Infidelity forum, I have come to the conclusion that a GPS device ought to be in place on the infidel's vehicle BEFORE exposure.

BEFORE the wayward knows that you know.

Exposure often sends the infidels into a flurry of "CYA" activity. (cover your butt)
The faithful spouse needs to know where the wayward spouse goes (drives to) immediately after exposure.

Often, a GPS on the unfaithful spouse vehicle will lead right to their "meeting spot".

Priceless information.

NEVER tell the the unfaithful spouse right away that you know where they meet.
You may need this information later, and you may want photos of them together.



^^^^^^^
Yup! clap


Widowed 11/10/12 after 35 years of marriage
*********************
In a sense now, I am homeless. For the home, the place of refuge, solitude, love-where my husband lived-no longer exists. Joyce Carolyn Oates, A Widow's Story

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