Is it better to have the affair discovered or to get away with it and go back to your marriage?

caughtInteresting question. Is it better to have ended the affair and return to your marriage, determined that you will make things better and that this will never happen again, or to have your affair uncovered and the bare truth laid out to your spouse?

This came up as a comment on a message board.  Here was my take, and for once this is a short post! 🙂

Actually, I’m not sure which is worse — full disclosure and the hell that people like us often go through when it’s disclosed — or ending an affair that is not discovered and “skulking” back to your marriage and somehow hoping that things can be better or made better without the “truth” really out on the table, allowing the unknowing, but betrayed, spouse to fully understand what’s going on and the threat to their marriage. Both certainly have their drawbacks. But actually I do have an opinion here.

But to be honest, I think if I had “gotten away with it”, I would either be divorced, wildly unhappy, a complete alcoholic, maybe be on my next affair by now (or all of the above) because what was going on in my marriage would likely still be exactly the same as it was during my affair. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Without affair disclosure, the cheater really has little incentive to change. You get scared by the experience of the affair and it ending. You feel grateful that it appears you got away with it, so you feel fortunate and you swear you will never EVER do it again. You will set your life on the right course, despite your spouse being in the dark about your activities. You run back to the safety of the marriage, but after a while, this initial burst of relief and comfort, and of determination to improve your marriage, wears off, and you tend to be right back where you started, only more damaged. And few have the tools or the strength to fundamentally change their marriage into something better all by themselves.

At best, the cheater after the affair is like a degenerate gambler or an alcoholic who SWEARS they don’t have a problem and can stop anytime they wish, but choose not to. It’s a big lie we tell ourselves, but we are addicts nevertheless. We miss the rush. The highs. The way we felt. The way our AP made us feel about us! The fun. The passion and drama of it all. So to do the skulk-back thing and think you can will a better marriage is probably folly almost every time. At best, the marriage provides you the stability you need to embark on the next one affair or merely leave. The itch will remain if left unattended.

I truly believe that the truth is necessary to really fundamentally change a marriage. To come completely clean on things and let the chips fall where they may. You can’t do that by hiding your affair. It will merely eat away at you.

Disclosure of the truth almost always results in a private hell for the cheater and can certainly fuck up your life. I get the fear, believe me. People get divorced because their spouse simply cannot get past an affair ever. I see it on the blogs all the time. Marital reconciliation is not a guarantee by any stretch. Disclosure can have huge financial, societal, familial, social and mental consequences. But, getting away with it has a huge cost too, I think.  More than some realize.



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12 thoughts on “Is it better to have the affair discovered or to get away with it and go back to your marriage?

  1. “Without real disclosure, the cheater really has no true incentive to change.”

  2. I agree with you. Before I discovered the affair my husband had planned to never tell me and end things and move on. He never considered the damage of keeping it a secret would probably be much greater than the truth. His choices broke him and he had no idea what was really going on even while in the affair. An affair means that something is broken. Something is not working in the marriage the way it should be. It’s a wake-up call to both spouses. My advice to anyone out there trying to decide if they should tel their spouse–come clean. Deal with the consequences of your actions.

    • I totally agree. Of course, telling is hard if you aren’t compelled too. I’m sure you understand the point of view of ANYONE who did a terrible thing and to admit it will devastate someone and have unknown consequences.

      It takes a lot of courage. Few have it.

      • Yes, it’s got to be hard to come clean as a wayward. It seems like most Waywards never intended to have an affair and don’t know how they allowed themselves to get caught up in it either. So coming clean to the person you love most and never meant to hurt has got to be one of the most difficult things a wayward will ever have to do. I know for my husband, as much as he feared telling me and admitting what he had done–it was also a release. He was able to let it go and not let her or the affair have any power over him once the truth was out. Yes, that’s when the real pain began…. but there is more to gain from the truth than living a lie.

      • More difficult and frightening then one could ever imagine.

        The way some people on the blogs who have been betrayed report acting towards their spouse after this information is disclosed tends to confirm in the minds of former cheaters that if you can get away with it, move on and live a better life without your spouse knowing the truth, so much the better. It might not be the best choice, but there is ample evidence to suggest to many that the real truth needs to be avoided if they are to avoid divorce — and if not divorce, then years of off-and-on torture.

  3. i read somewhere that having an affair is like having dead bodies under your house… id like to say i couldnt do it, but who really knows what any of us are capable of.

    its funny because in some ways we admire people who can keep secrets. it makes them seem trustworthy… but theres a difference between keeping my secrets and keeping secrets from me…

    as the BS. if i had the choice, i wouldnt choose not to know.

  4. This one is tough for me because I wish I had never found out. I don’t think knowing has made our relationship more open or him more accountable — but I’m in a different boat than most BS because my husband was actually mentally ill, and acting out in sexually inappropriate ways is common with his brain damage.
    He had started getting help via therapy, so he was trying to get out on his own, though unsuccessfully for all the reasons you mentioned.

    BUT I think it makes a huge difference in how the affair is discovered. If the WS is going to come clean and take ownership, then YES, I think telling is the right thing because it shows the WS realizes their mistakes and shows a level of wanting to fix things. I have a lot of respect for people who go this route.

    If the WS is going to be a weasel and leave “evidence” around so they can be caught (like my DH), then I think that’s more harmful than keeping the secret. That’s not taking responsibility, IMO, it’s dumping an affair into the lap of someone else and asking that they clean it up for you.

    • I agree. The better thing to do would be to come clean. I think that’s the hardest thing to do. From a Wayward perspective, you’re already in a bad place in the affair. In turmoil. Guilt. Shame. Uncertainty. Confusion. You hope that somehow magically you will wake up one day and you will know exactly what you must do and that you can avoid anyone getting hurt by all of this, including yourself.

      And of course you have no idea what will happen if the affair is disclosed, by you or in some other way. As I said, just look at these blogs! You have Betrayeds who torture their Waywards for YEARS about their affair, whether they disclose it or not. Or ugly divorces occur

      Fear. It’s quite simple. Fear of the unknown, whether you disclose it or not. It can be absolutely PARALYZING.

      • I’m debating whether to voluntarily reveal mainly in order to give my spouse the power to decide what to do. Because I don’t know what to do – my heart is with my AP – although the AP may or may not be available in the “real world.” So I know I would be deciding to be with my spouse or be alone. But my head tells me my spouse is a terrific person and I should try to work it out. I just feel like so much damage has already been done (pre-affair also) that revealing would just “pile on” the pain. But I’m still stuck.

  5. “Without real disclosure, the cheater really has no true incentive to change.”. I think this is true, but also that sometimes it takes something that serious to shake people up enough to realize that their marriage needs to change.
    It’s sad to say it, but if it had been asked of me prior to D-day, I’d have said I didn’t need something as serious as catching him in an affair to wake me up to the fact that my marriage was in real trouble. But the fact remains that I should have known it – it’s not like I was any happier than he was – and I should have taken it more seriously, but probably wouldn’t have taken it as seriously as I now do.

    But not everyone has that capacity for forgiveness. You have to be willing to empathize with someone who has emotionally devastated you, and accept them with their flaws. This requires them being contrite, and being willing to suffer through some of the less appealing parts of marital reconciliation. But there can be great rewards for that. To a cheater who wants to save their marriage, but doesn’t want to face the consequences of admitting to cheating, I would say that your marriage is still in trouble. Now you just have secrets to hide. For the rest of your life – if you intend to stay married that long. There are no guarantees that the truth won’t come out even 10-20 years after the fact, and then, what would you do? What if you’ve resolved all of the underlying issues, and 5 years later, are living happily, and your spouse discovers the affair? Keep in mind they’ll feel all the pain of it happening just yesterday, and won’t have the fresh memories of a troubled marriage to mitigate some of the anger & feelings of betrayal. Are you prepared to answer questions you may no longer know the answers to?

    I personally believe that people have a basic human right to know what they’re getting when they commit to life with another person. Even if it’s something that will make them divorce you. Certainly marriages without honesty and intimacy aren’t filling the unmet needs that led to the affair, and there’s no hope that they ever will as long as things remain the way they are. Truth can either establish & strengthen the marital bond, or it can help the betrayed party to realize it doesn’t exist and they want out. Either way is still better than keeping skeletons in the closet, and living the rest of your life wondering when they will be discovered.

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