Have you caught yourself, even months after the discovery of betrayal, snooping and spying and checking on your cheating partner? It’s likely that you have, and this behavior may be warranted if you have evidence that your significant other is still lying and cheating. We will talk about that situation another time. What I want to talk about today is an alternate scenario where your cheating partner has come clean and is working a program of recovery, and even though you don’t have any evidence that there is more cheating going on you still find yourself in Sherlock mode, chronically monitoring and checking on them.
Here are some common behaviors that you might engage in:
- Monitoring computer/phone use through hidden software/apps, keystroke trackers, browser histories, etc.
- Checking wallets, briefcases, pockets, car trunks, gym lockers, etc.
- Obsessively calling or texting your significant other throughout the day to check on where he is and what he is doing.
- Monitoring your partner’s location through phone trackers, car trackers, etc.
- Eavesdropping on your partner’s phone conversations.
- Monitoring recovery activities such as 12-step meetings, calls to a sponsor, group therapy, individual therapy, completion of homework assignments, etc.
- Searching for and reading your partner’s therapy/recovery homework.
For a period of time after discovery, most partners feel the need for a high level of transparency from the cheating partner regarding their phone/internet use, general whereabouts, and commitment to recovery. Agreements to be fully accountable about these things can help to move a couple out of acute crisis, and to begin the process of rebuilding trust in the relationship.
In this time period, it can feel like your hypervigilance and the knowledge that you are constantly checking on things is what keeps your cheating partner on the straight and narrow. And there may be some truth to this. At the very least, it lets your cheating partner know that you are serious about things changing for the better in lasting ways if you are to remain in the relationship (as opposed to just changing for a while and then going back).
At some point, however, you must allow what I call ‘the moment of truth’ to happen in your relationship. The moment of truth is when you step out of immediate crisis management mode and look at the big picture of what you want and need in your relationship.
Immediately after discovery, you need the emotional hemorrhaging to stop. You need to know that no more cheating is occurring and the lying has ceased. But long-term you need much more than this. You need to know that your cheating partner is doing whatever it takes to ensure that he will never again betray you or lie to you as he has done in the past. You also need to know that your trust is based on the vigilance of your significant other, who is consistently practicing new thinking, attitudes, and behaviors that will ensure that he is sober sexually and emotionally, and not on your constant monitoring and hyper-awareness.
What you long for is to know that your cheating partner has truly changed and is not going to betray or hurt you again. You want to be able to relax in the relationship, to let down your guard and feel safe about trusting your partner. You want to know that whether your cheating partner is home alone for a weekend, on a business trip to the Philippines, or in the basement paying bills at ten o’clock at night, he has the tools, ability, and commitment to stay sober and faithful to you and your relationship agreements.
The problem with staying in Sherlock mode is that you prevent yourself from ever finding out if this is possible in your relationship. As long as you continue to be the most significant form of energy pushing for fidelity and recovery, you block your partner’s and your own ability to find out if he is ever going to become truly trustworthy again. To avoid this stagnation, you must allow the moment of truth to occur.
The moment of truth is when you shift your energy away from monitoring and checking on your cheating partner. When you stop monitoring and checking their activities, it creates an opportunity for you to see if he is truly committed to recovery and repairing the relationship. It creates space for you to find out if, when you are no longer the energy behind recovery, your partner stays the course.
This is a big risk. What if, when you let down your guard, your significant other stops pursuing recovery or starts cheating again? What if the moment of truth reveals a reality that you don’t think you can handle or want to face? Sadly, this is a possible outcome.
However, the opposite can also happen. You can find out that when you shift your energy away from mistrust, your significant other maintains their focus and energy toward recovery and healing the relationship. You can find out that trust is being rebuilt—trust that does not require hypervigilance on your part but instead creates a path toward true connection and safety in the relationship.
Risking the moment of truth is scary. There can be enormous rewards. There can be heartbreaking disappointments. Either way, avoiding the moment of truth leaves you stuck in a never-ending cycle of active trauma symptoms and prevents your long-term healing. That is what we are going to focus on next week.