I received an email question on an interesting question which seems to break strongly into a couple of camps. The question, when the spouse of the person your spouse cheated with doesn’t know about the affair, should you tell this person what had been going on?
This blog entry is NOT for people who are in, or were in, an affair and purposely tell their Affair Partner’s spouse about the affair – whether it’s dead or not. That’s mean. Vicious. And a horrible betrayal of your Affair Partner, no matter what happens. I know because this happened to me. She thought by telling my wife that my wife would throw me out (and into her arms). It backfired. Drastically. Instead, I terminated things with her immediately and I will never forgive her for this and other vicious things she did and lies she told me. If you are the Other Man or Other Woman, you have no right to do that and it’s a stain on your character or maturity if you do it or contemplating it. Revenge is a bad idea. Don’t do it.
No, this blog entry is for the Betrayed Spouse who is contemplating telling the spouse of their spouse’s Affair Partner. I know the embittered, mean-spirited, will-always-be-the-victim Betrayed Spouse community is going to jump up and yell, “HELL, YES!! TELL THEM! THEY DESERVE THE TRUTH!”, no matter what the circumstances. Heck, I even saw some advice on one of those message boards where a newbie innocently asked if she should “expose” the affair to the spouse, and everyone else, MONTHS after her husband left her for his affair partner. The “expert’s” response on this nasty “marital recovery” message board? “Yes, do it immediately. Without warning and inflict as much damage as possible.” Does this sound like good advice to you?
But do they really deserve to be told? Need to be told? SHOULD be told? What is the true motivation of the Betrayed Spouse in telling someone else’s spouse about an affair? In this case, wasn’t it purely for purposes of revenge? To get back at the person who was your spouse’s Affair Partner. Isn’t that really the reason most of the time?
I see people all the time here in blog-land who are so consumed with anger, rage, and a need for revenge, even years after the affair has ended and in the face of a remorseful spouse, that they will do anything they can to hurt the Affair Partner, even at their own expense. They have no interest in real forgiveness, understanding or compassion. They don’t have the courage, maturity or self-insight to take these steps. They talk about “saving” their marriage, but everything they write about is about anger, revenge, justice, control and humiliation of their Wayward Spouses. Their blogs are too toxic to even touch. They will ultimately drive their Wayward Spouse out the door anyway, so why bother pretending you’re fixing things? They will be divorced and are pretending to try and “forgive” as a cover for power and revenge. Reconciliation to them is a big sham (although don’t dare point that out — you will get savaged on their sites.). This blog entry will do no good for these people. This is for those who are more balanced, mature and self-aware and truly want to avoid doing things that inflame a situation and make marital reconciliation more likely, not less.
Let’s assume a couple things in this scenario:
1) the Betrayed Spouse in this case is not a close friend of the spouse of the person their spouse cheated with and is someone who doesn’t know about what’s happened). Because if you are a friend, then it’s impossible not to disclose the information. After all, you have to be around them from time to time and to hold this secret in will erode the friendship and yes you do owe it to a friend to tell them that their marriage is serious danger. And if they are a friend, and it comes out anyway, they will be incensed that you didn’t tell them yourself. Ok. Fair enough.
2) Also assume that the affair is already over — because “exposure” of an affair currently happening is the best way to kill it off and yes then you might tell the other spouse in an effort to save your own marriage. But this affair is already over. For months maybe. Or even years. You are certain it’s over and your Wayward Spouse is clearly no longer in contact with their affair partner.
Also, let’s put one more scenario out there. After an affair, if it was physical, it’s appropriate to ask your former cheating spouse to get tested for STD’s. If they come back positive, then it’s likely their Affair Partner has it too. And then it would be appropriate to contact the Other Spouse. But not unless you have a positive test on your spouse. That’s legitimate.
So should you tell? It’s perfectly normal to want the person who had an affair with your spouse to pay for their actions. Obviously, there are a few tempting pros of telling her husband or his wife that can’t be overlooked. If you spill the beans, he or she is no longer getting away with something. He or she may also be forced to turn her attention to her own marriage and leave yours (and your spouse alone). And sure, you want to “get them back” — pure revenge. Suffer as you have suffered. Tempting, I’m sure. I definitely have revenge impulses inside me too, so I understand this motivation well.
However, there are also some serious downsides to spilling the beans and real dangers.
1. Telling the Other Spouse may make you feel better, but you don’t have the right to do it. As Katie Lercsh wrote (someone who is very knowledgeable on the subject and has written extensively),
Think for a second about how dreadful and betrayed that you feel right now. Do you want to take the responsibility for bestowing this on someone else? Doesn’t it make more sense to concentrate on the fall out of your own marriage rather than taking on someone else’s issues. And, if you can think logically about it, what good outcome can come of this? It’s highly likely that her husband is not going to great you with a warm reaction. And, it’s also highly unlikely that inserting yourself into someone else’s life is going to help your situation. At this point, your number one priority should be yourself. How is inserting yourself into someone else’s life going to help you? Because what is going to help you the most, and what you really need right now, is reassurance, time, remorse and accountability from your husband, and for both of you to work together to pick up the pieces and fix what was broken. The other woman (and her husband) do not fit into this equation. In fact, it’s entirely best if you cease any contact with them immediately and definitively.
What she’s saying is not only is it a bad idea to focus your attention in this way if you are truly wanting to reconcile your marriage, but also that you have no right, and it’s unethical, to interfere in someone else’s marriage, even if this person interfered in yours. Your hurt is not license to purposely hurt someone else. Ethically, you need to stay out of their lives. Two wrongs don’t make a right. You aren’t God. You don’t know all the particulars of their lives and how disclosure might affect the other spouse, their children. Anyone. What if domestic violence results from disclosure? What if the spouse commits suicide after ingesting this news? Are you really prepared to accept that responsibility? An ethical person would not. Telling may horribly backfire in some cases.
2. It’s a displacement of anger and blame. Doing this is essentially an inappropriate displacement of anger and blame from YOUR Wayward Spouse to the Affair Partner. By going after the Other Man or Other Woman (even indirectly) by spilling the beans to their spouse, the Betrayed Spouse is doing something that is classic Betrayed Spouse behavior – displacing blame. The Betrayed Spouse sometimes focuses on the Other Man or Other Woman because it’s easier than looking in the mirror and being honest about their own behavior that made an affair an attractive option to their Wayward Spouse. It’s always easier to lash out at someone else than it is to be honest with yourself and your own shortcomings.
Also, by focusing on the OW or OM, the Betrayed Spouse can put less blame on the Wayward Spouse for the affair, when in fact, Cheater’s actions and decisions are 100% their responsibility, not the OM’s/OW’s. If you the Betrayed Spouse are blaming the OM or OW for the affair, you must think your Wayward Spouse is a weak-willed, nitwit. And this is who you are married to? If so, you have other issues and that’s for certain.
Believe me, some Wayward Spouses LIKE this confronting/exposing behavior by their Betrayed Spouse — as long as you the Betrayed are going after the OM/OW, even indirectly, it takes the focus off them, even if for a little while. They get less anger, recriminations and yelling if you are blaming the OW or OM. They get to escape some responsibility and in fact might secretly revel that you are “taking them back” — forcefully — and marking your territory in this way. It’s very Alpha-male/female behavior. But don’t fall into this trap. The OM or OW didn’t make your spouse do anything. Focus on what you need to focus on — the cheater and your marriage.
3. You don’t know what the OM or OW will do in reaction to having their spouse informed of the affair: Are you certain that informing the other spouse of the affair will have no consequences for you personally, let alone your marital reconciliation? When you go after someone, you don’t know what will happen in return. Perhaps the OM or OW will seek revenge against you or even your spouse, whom they trusted to protect them in this.
If you tattle, they may find ways to retaliate against you. Your Wayward Spouse may have told their Affair Partner very personal, secrets and potentially-damaging information about you, your marriage, your personal business, or profession. Things they could use against YOU. They probably already pity and don’t respect you based on what their Affair Partner told them about you, so they may have no problem in coming after you in retaliation. Maybe violently. Maybe to destroy your life as you have destroyed theirs. You don’t know what someone will do in this circumstance. Are you considering that?
I assure you that if I was the Other Man in this sort of circumstance (and I wasn’t — my ex-OW was single), I would not calmly accept someone informing my wife or coming after me physically or threatening my job.
I wasn’t in this situation. My AP was single. But if I was the OM in the scenario and my unknowing wife was informed of my affair, at that point, I would have little to lose, and I would definitely find a way to retaliate. Physically, or through legal means (I might sue you). Or damage you professionally and personally in more indirect and anonymous ways. Or all of the above. I would not meekly accept this type of disclosure. I would probably use any information I had against you. In fact, I would assume that my ex-Affair Partner, despite her many promises to protect me and never betrayed me, probably gave UP damaging information to you about me to save her ass. I would assume that she betrayed me too. And then I might go after your spouse as well as you. I assure you, the outed Married Man or Woman in this scenario almost always has damaging information on his Affair Partner. Compromising stuff. Maybe compromising photos too. If the outed person feels betrayed by their Affair Partner, they may go after them too, if they have nothing to lose. Totally throw THEM under the bus for being thrown under the bus. And thereby really complicate your life. Maybe undo your marital reconciliation under the strain. Consider that too. Will your disclosure have been worth it at this point?
Consider that holding on to this information instead of releasing it provides you power over the OM/OW — they know you have it and it may restrain them from interfering in our life ever again. If you give up this info, they won’t have much to lose and then all bets are off!
Remember, the OM or OW (in most cases) didn’t have an affair specifically to hurt YOU. They did it to have their needs met, with your spouse as a WILLING PARTNER AND FULL PARTICIPANT, and, in general, they sincerely hoped that NOBODY would get hurt by this (including you), even if this was naive.
However, when you go to THEIR spouse with this information, you’re doing it for one reason and one reason only in most cases — revenge. And only a weak person would like someone do that without a response. And you the Betrayed Spouse may not have a clue as to how they can get revenge on you for this disclosure.
Disclosure to the other spouse can HORRIBLY backfire in ways you haven’t considered. Provocation may result in you living in fear of retaliation. Do you want that?
The bottom line is this. Don’t pretend you’re doing this because you care about the other spouse. It’s likely you don’t even know them. You don’t ‘care’ about them at all. You have no ‘duty’ to protect them. This is not rescuing a baby from a fire. They are adults and not helpless innocents. Be honest with yourself — you are doing this for revenge, which makes you look mean, sneaky and not classy. Is that who you are? Taking yourself down to the same level as your spouse’s Affair Partner?
But if you’re going to do it, do it for the RIGHT reasons, not for revenge and out of self-righteousness. If you do, and I don’t recommend you do, it is ESSENTIAL that the information about the affair be shared CAREFULLY and with full recognition about the possible risks. But in the end, “no contact” with the OM/OW and anyone around them is a two-way street. It applies to you too, not just your Wayward Spouse. Put the focus where it needs to be — on your Wayward Spouse, on yourself, and how to fix your marriage and make it better and more resilient.
As someone else wrote,
But this does point up yet one more way in which your telling her might cause more harm than good — it would deprive (your spouse’s affair partner) of the opportunity to do the right thing on (their) own, and thus would deprive the parties of the chance to work it out between them, to learn something from it, to grow and understand — as you, incidentally, were hoping to do in your own marriage. …Revelation of this affair is up to the parties involved. However painful this must be, (whether you are fixing things or getting divorced) you may as well try to start letting go. Letting go of the matter will free you to deal with more pressing matters of immediate concern in your own life — your marriage, your future, your own damaged trust, and the all-important job of raising your children.
Revenge may make you feel better, but it may not be worth the price you pay.
As Confucious wrote,
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Because one of them is for you.