Yes, I did. I just turned Sherlock into a verb. Someone slap a trademark on that for me, please.
As you’ve probably already guessed, what I want to talk about this week is what the sleuthing, spying, surveilling, snooping, scouting, reconnoitering, and scrutinizing that pretty much every betrayed partner engages in is really about. It seems pretty obvious that it’s about trying to uncover more information about the betrayal, but you might be surprised by what else is going on. Let’s discuss.
Accessing the Truth
At the beginning, after first discovering your partner’s cheating, Sherlocking is usually about finding the truth. You have discovered that your partner has been cheating on you and on top of that lying to you, so you can’t and don’t trust them right now. However, you need to know what has happened and to what degree you have been cheated on and lied to. So, you Sherlock. You go looking for the information that will tell you what has truly been happening in your relationship.
After discovery, your cheating partner may tell you the whole story about his betrayal, and you may feel relatively sure that you have gotten the entire truth. However, if you’re like most partners, because you’ve been lied to so many times you may want to validate that there is nothing more to learn. You also might want to validate that what you have been told is true. At this point, your Sherlocking behaviors move from trying to find out what happened to trying to validate that there is no more betrayal waiting to be discovered.
One of the biggest tasks anyone who has experienced a trauma faces is integrating that traumatic experience into the larger narrative of his or her life. Integration is vital because it is what helps you feel like your world once again makes sense and is knowable and understandable. In this respect, betrayal trauma is no different than any other trauma. Betrayal changes your history, challenging your understanding of the life and relationship you thought you had. And it changes your future, dismantling your plans and dreams and erecting a big question mark instead. In this instance, Sherlocking, particularly the type that reviews information you already have (by holding the same conversation with your partner repeatedly, or re-reading documentation you have gathered, or even just sharing the same details over and over with your friends and support system) is about making sure you have the full and accurate information you need to integrate the experience of betrayal into your understanding of your life.
These three categories of sleuthing (accessing the truth, validating, and integrating) are about trying to find the edges of the betrayal. When you first discover that you have been cheated on, you generally find out only a piece of the story. Then, over the ensuing days and weeks, the rest of the story dribbles out or is discovered. During this time, the cheater is often lying about the details, covering up parts of the story and working hard to try to keep the whole truth from coming out. This stokes your fears and makes you feel like the only way to get the information you need is to find it for yourself.
Until the whole picture of betrayal is pieced together, the betrayal feels uncontained. Fear causes you to imagine a panoply of possible horrors to be discovered, each one worse than the last. Sherlocking is a way of searching for and defining the edges of the betrayal and trying to contain your experience. Sherlocking is a way to find out exactly what happened so you know where the betrayal begins and ends.
This need to understand, integrate, and contain the betrayal is about safety. When you don’t know what your reality is, you cannot feel safe. Imagine being blindfolded in the dark on a platform 100 feet off the ground. You don’t know where the edges are or how close to the edge you may be. Any movement could bring you closer to safety or closer to danger, but you have no way of knowing which. Freezing in place seems like the safest thing to do, but you can’t stay still forever. At some point, you are going to have to move in one direction or the other.
This is what discovering betrayal feels like. The search for information is about unfreezing from the initial shock and beginning to search for the edges of the platform so you can stay safe. Until you know where the edges are, where the danger in the relationship lies, you cannot know how to protect yourself from further harm and how to move toward safety.
Getting containment around the betrayal by knowing the scope and depth of the behavior is one of the most important steps in your healing process. The shadowy threat of undiscovered details must be eliminated before you can re-establish safety for yourself and within your relationship.
Next week we will talk about what happens when you have been given the full picture of the betrayal, when you and your partner have gotten through the death-by-paper-cut dripping out of truth and you have finally received full disclosure about the cheating and lying, yet you keep on Sherlocking.