Understanding the "Need to Know"

by Katie Coston

To download  "Infidelity Crisis: How to Gain Forgiveness 
and Respect After Your Affair"
by Katie Coston
 in an instant pdf format click here.


"Who made the first move?" "Where did you two meet for privacy?" "Who else knew about it?"

"Did you ever think about me?" "Did you "love" him or her?" "Did you talk about me to him or her?"


If you’ve had an affair, your spouse knows about it, and you're trying to repair and rebuild your marriage – it is likely that you hear these and much more detailed questions on a regular basis.  Sometimes you even hear the same questions phrased in a different manner, over and over again.  This is commonly referred to as "the need to know."

The "need to know" - and questions which stem from this need - does not mean that your spouse isn’t trying to forgive you or that your relationship isn't headed down a path towards healing.  The "need to know"  only means that your husband or wife is trying to make sense of something that just isn’t going to make sense to them - they're really not trying to throw your deeds back in your face at every turn, even if it feels like it.  This "need to know" stems from hurt and betrayal, and it will take time for this need to subside.

It is my opinion that there are three basic emotional reactions that feed the betrayed’s "need to know":

  1. Denial: The injured party either wants to believe that the affair didn’t really happen – or that there must be a logical explanation for how the affair happened in the first place.

  2. Blame: The injured party wants to pinpoint the exact point of no return – they want to know if there is something they could have done to prevent it – they want to know how you rationalized such behavior to yourself - and they want to know what part the third person played in pursuing the affair.

  3. Fear: The injured party fears that it will happen again – and they want reassurance that it won’t happen.  They fear that they’ll find out additional information which will devastate them once again – a shell shock reaction which begs the question, "What am I going to find out next?"  And they fear that your relationship with your lover was more intimate than with them – because you and your lover had secrets. (This is both a natural and normal reaction – you aren’t supposed to keep secrets from your spouse, especially not secrets between you and a member of the opposite sex – because secrecy is a form of intimacy – and intimacy is supposed to be reserved for your spouse alone.)

There are many schools of thought on what you should tell your spouse about your affair and what you should leave out.  I think a good rule of thumb is that you should tell your spouse about anything significant from the past that is likely to come as a blow to them if they find out about it on their own - and - you should always be 100% honest with your spouse in the future - especially about your future intentions in regards to your marriage. 

It will take 100% honesty to rebuild your marriage – so if you want your marriage to heal – commit to radical honesty from this day forward.  If your affair was a fluke of character – and you're amazed yourself at your own lack of judgment - radical honesty should be easier for you than if you’re a serial adulterer who is just waiting for the attention to die down so that you’re free to scope out your next conquest. 

If you are 100% honest about your future intentions in regards to your marriage – and if your intentions are to heal your marriage – then your spouse’s need to know may put you in a dilemma. You might feel like to you want to move forward and you’re ready to put your mistakes behind you – but your spouse’s need to know still remains.  So how can you do damage control while still being honest?

I think the best way to deal with this dilemma is to address the emotional reactions behind the questions whenever you can – instead of addressing the questions themselves.

I am not advocating dishonesty – in fact, I am advocating total and radical honesty – but I understand that once you reveal past information to your spouse, this information can continue to hurt them in the future, work to impede your marital healing time, and cause additional emotional triggers.

For example, if your wife says to you, "Who kissed whom first?" and you answer, in honesty, that you are the one who made the first physical move - your wife will never forget it.  In fact, she will probably replay the scene over and over again in her mind – because it is a painful realization and a trigger memory. So – how can you be honest in answering this question without causing your spouse additional pain? You can empathize with the emotional reactions behind your spouse’s question and address the emotional reactions rather than the specific question.

You can first ease them past the denial (1) by telling them that an affair did happen and that what happened doesn’t make sense.  Then you address the blame (2) by taking responsibility for your own behavior – i.e., it isn’t your fault this happened, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.  Then you address the fear (3) by honestly telling them your future intentions – I will not do this again, I have been honest with you - you aren’t going to suffer this shock because of my behavior again, and I want us to build back our intimacy because I have let the other relationship go.  Then you can always add, "Please, let’s talk about us and our future because that is what’s important to me now."

Assuming that you answered in the above manner because these are honest answers (affairs do not make sense - nobody is responsible for your behavior but you – you do not intend to have another affair, you’ve owned up to everything, and you've broken up with your lover, etc.),  it may take some time for your spouse to accept such answers – but eventually they will, because your answers address the emotional reactions (denial, blame, and fear) which fuel their "need to know".

It's important that you also be an "open book" in your honesty – do not encourage or force your spouse to become an "investigator."  If you are hiding significant information from your spouse (something that will upset them when they find out about it on their own) – come clean with the information to salvage your integrity. If you want to be deemed, in their mind, as honest and trustworthy, then play the part. Here are some tips on what not to do during your healing phase – because these behaviors will continue to cause suspicion in your spouse:

Do not change your passwords on your phone or computer.

If your mate wants to check your phone or computer – then let them.  If you have come clean, then you should have nothing to hide – it all comes back to integrity. It is also a good idea to make your calls and emails in the presence of your spouse - now is not the time to retreat into the den and shut the door to make a call or send a message.

Do not erase your call logs or clear your history.

If your ex-lover calls your cell phone – tell them you do not wish to talk to them and get off of the phone – then let your spouse know that they attempted to call you, but do not erase any numbers from your caller ID. The same goes with your computer – do not buy a history sweep program and start erasing the slack on your hard drive.  If you've come clean to your spouse – you’ll have nothing to hide - but if you go around acting suspicious, you will create suspicion – again, it all comes back to integrity.

Be where you say you’re going to be and with whom you say:

Allow your spouse to check up on you if they feel the need.  Always be where you say you’ll be, and if your plans change for any reason – call your spouse first to let them know. Do not become offended if your spouse checks up on you – they are checking up on you because they don’t trust you. Why do they not trust you? Because you lied to them. Until a pattern of honesty is evident, they may feel the need to monitor your behavior – so let them. It isn’t that big of a deal – and if you’ve been 100% honest, you’ll have nothing to hide.

Do not tell your spouse another lie – ever.

This means that if the dress or car part was expensive – don’t say it was cheap. If there are disagreements between you and your spouse about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t – then you need to work out those marital issues now instead of lying about them. To restore respect and regain trust – 100% honesty needs to be your policy from this day forward. This requires owning up to your own behavior and your own values.  Figure out what your values are, embrace them, and own up to them - this is what it means to have integrity.


Your spouse will learn to trust you and a new marital state will be established based on your current and future behaviors – but it takes time.  Be sensitive to your spouse’s need to know and the emotions which fuel this need – because if the shoe were on the other foot, it’s likely that you would react in the exact same manner.


To download  "Infidelity Crisis: How to Gain Forgiveness 
and Respect After Your Affair"
by Katie Coston
 in an instant pdf format click here.