Self Portrait With Magnifying Glass © by Jen and a Camera

If you have just discovered that your spouse has been unfaithful, whether through pornography, sexting, or physical encounters, you probably feel that it will be very difficult to trust your partner in the future.  However, trust is crucial to the success of any relationship.  If you want to repair your relationship and move forward together, rebuilding trust is one the greatest and most important challenges you now face as a couple.

Transparency will be very important as you proceed.  Experience indicates that in the process of recovering from infidelity, it is best for the partner who was unfaithful to allow his or her spouse access to all email accounts, social networking profiles, computer histories, text message and phone call logs.  This demonstrates good intentions, provides peace of mind, and can help prevent a recurrence of the behavior.  (It is usually helpful in this situation for both partners to exchange passwords and access, so that neither person feels singled out or punished, and so that an uneven balance of control is not created in the relationship; this is probably advisable even in the absence of infidelity.  No marriage should contain secrets.)

This is especially true when the partner who engaged in extramarital sexual activity is also a recovering sex addict.  If your spouse suffers from a sexual addiction, you hopefully understand the basics of how addictions work; this understanding may actually make it more difficult to trust your partner, knowing that he or she has limited control over his or her actions at times.  Your spouse is actively working to regain or increase that control, but in the meantime, trying to trust him or her to stay “clean” can be a little scary.  Transparency can give you the extra reassurance you need that progress is being made and your trust is not blind.

Transparency also helps emphasize accountability, which will be very important in your partner’s recovery.  The knowledge that you can see anything that happens online may help resist the urge to give in to the addiction and engage in unhealthy behaviors.  When a relapse does occur, being able to recognize it will enable you to constructively discuss it with your spouse and help hold him or her accountable for those actions.  Ideally, exchanging passwords and allowing access to phone and computer histories should be a means of helping your partner as much as it is a means of giving yourself peace of mind.

However, it is very important to remember to treat your partner, your partner’s belongings, and your partner’s space with respect.  Remember why you are asking for his or her passwords, access to his or her computer history and text logs, and other items.  Your goals are to give yourself peace of mind, to help your partner with accountability, to allow your partner to demonstrate sincere good intentions, and to rebuild trust.  Your goals are not, and must not be, to punish your spouse for hurting you, to humiliate your spouse, or to give yourself control over your spouse.  For your sake and your partner’s, be sure that you approach these things in a way that shows your spouse that he or she is not being punished and that you are not making these requests out of anger or vindictiveness.  Making your partner feel punished or mistreated will only push him or her away and lessen his or her motivation to work toward repairing the relationship.

If you and your spouse have established that it is necessary for you to be able to read your partner’s text message logs, for instance, ask calmly and politely to see them; do not accuse or use a suspicious tone.  You may want to gently mention your agreement.  Approach your partner with respect, as you would want to be approached.  If he or she declines, politely ask why; this may be a red flag, but you should both attempt to discuss it calmly.  No marriage should contain secrets even in the absence of infidelity or addiction, but every marriage should contain respect and courtesy.