To Confess or Not Confess Your Affair

CheatingWifeRevenge“Should I confess my affair to my spouse/partner??” This is a vexing question for many.  Of course, I will have the chorus of the usual crowd of Betrayed Spouses that visit (and sometimes attempt to bomb) my blog say, “YES OF COURSE! YOU MUST TELL! ALWAYS! NO MATTER HOW MUCH TIME HAS GONE BY!”  And they may have a point. It’s better to be honest.  Living a lie is bad.  Basing a marriage on a big lie (or a series of them) isn’t just bad, it’s abusive.

But this blog entry is not for them, although I’m sure to hear from them (in this case, I ask you to refrain from commenting however).

This blog is solely for the cheater who is currently or is no longer cheating. Who had a one-night stand, or just got out of their 10th affair, and everyone in between.  This does not address where your spouse knows that you had an affair and you wish to relieve yourselves of the guilt by telling all. This is where you had an affair (or the affair is still going on) and your spouse was unaware of it. This is the question that I often get by email — Should I confess what I did even though I didn’t get caught?

The answer:  I can’t tell you the answer. It’s too personal. There are too many factors.  However, in my research, I ran across one article that I thought brought up interesting points to consider when one is wrestling with this very question. It’s worth a read.  It however did not list an author.  Just “Admin” so I can’t verify it’s source.

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Should I Or Should I Not?- 8 Things To Consider Before Confessing an Affair

Bob sat in my office, he was agonizing about whether to tell his wife that he had cheated.  It’s a common situation and a common question – should you tell?  Whether you are in a new relationship, dating or have a committed relationship…it’s a tough call.  I am a marriage and family therapist with over 20 years of experience.  I have been seen on OWN, in the Wall Street Journal and on many major media outlets.  I have seen couples and individuals on both sides of infidelity and I have seen the outcome of telling and not telling.  So, should you tell?  It depends.

I had a different couple come into my office, because the man knew his wife had dated others while they were broken up.  At the time he confronted her and he there was more to the scenario.  When he got the whole truth, he still wasn’t satisfied that he knew everything.  That was 20 years ago and he is still asking for the truth and he’s still angry.  If she had been 100% upfront at the beginning, perhaps they wouldn’t be carrying this baggage with them today.

On the other hand, I had a client who had hooked up with a woman at an out of town conference and, two years later, he confessed.  He felt better, but his wife didn’t.  She was mad.  In her opinion, it was selfish of him to tell her if it was something that never happened before and would never happen again.  She felt angst when he confessed , while he felt a surge of relief.  Now she feels anxiety whenever he is out of town.  “Sure, he told me two years later, but what is he going to tell me two years from now?  I wish I’d never known.”

In other situations, the affair occurs, the couple works through it in therapy and they moved on.  How these situations differ are immense and yet it tells you something about how the decision making process..

Here are some questions to help you determine your right path:

1. Why do you want to tell? 

This is a critical question – if you want to confess because the guilt is weighing heavily on you and you want to be relieved of the burden, you run the risk of being self serving.  Why is this selfish?  Because you are transferring your burden onto the other person.  Now they carry the weight of the problem and have to go through the phases of grieving and rebuilding, sleepless nights and self doubt.  Unless you have a better reason than relieving your own guilt, be aware, you could be perceived as selfish.

2. Was it a onetime hookup, an ongoing affair or a pattern of behavior? 

If you were in a onetime situation in which you made a mistake, a mistake you’ve never made before and you hope to never make again, you may need to go back to question  number one – are you confessing for you or for your partner?  I have heard from countless victims of infidelity who wish they’d never been told.  It was an anomaly that wouldn’t be repeated and that they lost faith in their partner when they confessed.  It was selfish.  If this is your situation, consider working out a plan that will prevent this from ever happening again.

If this is a pattern of behavior, then you might need to come clean to your partner.  When it is a pattern of behavior, whether with one person or many, than there is something deeper going on – either a marital problem or a personal problem that  needs to be studied further and preferably in the office of a therapist.

3. What is your goal for the confession? 

Is the goal of your confession to reconnect with your partner?  Is it to start the conversation about separating?  Is it just to relieve your feelings of guilt?  The ideal reason to confess is if you want to strengthen your relationship with your partner and it is symbolic of a bigger problem in the relationship.

4. Think about the timing.

If you are newly dating and it was while you were first getting to know each other – let it go or confess immediately, but don’t bring it up months or years later.   If you are married and you’ve been having an affair for a while, and you want to work on the marriage, you need to come clean.  In between is where it gets difficult.

5. Play the tape all the way through.    

You may be thinking about the big confession, the anger from the partner and then moving on – it doesn’t usually happen that way.  Typically there is a lot of fall out in the aftermath and trust needs to be rebuilt.  Don’t imagine yourself free from guilt and moving on after the initial explosive conversation, there will be mini explosions in the future.

6. What happens if you don’t tell?   

If your partner find out from another source, you can be pretty sure that the relationship will have a much harder time climbing out of the setback.  How would they find out?  They could be diagnosed with an STD, even with the use of condoms.  You might run into this person in the future.  This other person might tell someone.   It might end up on facebook.  The ways it could come out are endless.

Another problem would be the wall this secret places between you and your partner.  Any secret, especially a big one, creates part of you that is unavailable emotionally to your partner.  Enough of these and  he or she might sense a change or shallowness to the relationship.  To maintain a sense of connection, you should know each other intimately.

7. What are the possible outcomes if you do tell? 

You could lose the relationship.  You could tell half the truth and end up living with a detective.  Your partner might stay, but never forgive.  You might be considered untrustworthy.  You might stay together, but know that the partner feels underlying anger towards you.  You might live under intense scrutiny for a period of time until the trust rebuilds.

8. What’s the best way to tell? 

a. The best way to tell is as soon as it happens and in the presence of a therapist.  The therapist can help you recover as a couple, through mediation, education and relationship enhancements.  If you “wing it” on your own you may start well, but end up blaming your partner, defending your actions or minimizing – which is all bad.

b. Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Don’t tell half truths and expect your partner to buy it.  Don’t go into the nitty-gritty details of the sex itself, but be honest about how it happened, when it happened and how many times.  Talk about the details of the meetings and how you met.  Anything less will lead to endless distrust.

c. If it is early in a relationship, you may not need a therapist.  When discussing it be matter of fact.  “FYI, while we were broken up I dated someone else and we had sex.” Or “When we were first dating, I slept with an old girlfriend, but it will never happen again” – and ask for forgiveness.

d. Don’t qualify your apology with a “but.”  “I’m sorry, but… you weren’t very sensual.”  “I’m sorry, but you were away that weekend.”  “I’m sorry, but you’d put on a lot of weight.”  The “but” will ruin the apology.

e. Be willing to be transparent for a while.  Let your partner see your phone, texts and emails.  Make sure you have your partner on all of your social media sites.  Don’t have secret sites, secret email addresses or two cell phones, unless your partner is aware.  Don’t act in a way with the opposite sex that you wouldn’t in front of your partner.  Don’t flirt, paw others or ignore your partner while in social settings.  Don’t “be good” for a few weeks and say it’s time to move on.

f. Don’t defend and do try to understand your partner’s point of view and verbalize that understanding to them.  “It sounds like you have anger and sadness and no wonder…I’d feel the same way.”

You can recover from cheating, but whether you confess is more complicated than yes or no.
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MY VIEW

I would add one more factor.  How much time has gone by?  Did the affair happen in the recent past or 30 years ago?  I think if its ancient news (many many years have gone by), and much has changed in your lives since then, and your marriage has been both mutually satisfying and infidelity-free since then, it’s best you let a sleeping dog lie.

But I also think this, in general, no one can tell you whether or not you should confess an affair to your spouse or not. In the interest of regaining trust (especially if your spouse has had his or her suspicions of your infidelity) and regaining honest communication, then it usually is best to confess an affair.

I think my main point would be this: Why are you confessing it? To make things better in your marriage, or are you using it as a weapon against your spouse as a sort of tit-for-tat in response to their wrongdoings? If it’s the latter, then it’s an absolute no-no. Motivation to me is everything.

Also, I think that while confession is good for the soul, it’s not always best for the marriage. While some marriages will grow stronger after an affair is confessed to, others will falter and completely disappear. This is the chance one takes when confessing an affair. If you’ve had multiple affairs and your spouse is aware of at least one, then it may be best to not tell your spouse of others. In situations like this, you have decide whether or not you wish to compound the hurt for the sake of confessing.

I also wrote a blog on how carrying the affair as a secret from your spouse, a dead affair, is a huge burden and if you think you can “fix” your marriage and/or yourself of the factors that you believe drove you to your affair (or at least let you be open to the possibility), you’re less likely to be successful.  You can’t fix a marriage (or yourself) of fundamental flaws like these with an unaware partner. They don’t realize how close they came to losing you, and probably have no clue as to the extent of your marital dissatisfaction.  So keeping it a secret and vowing to fix everything is unlikely to work.  You are more likely to skulk back to your marriage just as it was prior to the affair, and now you are worse for the wear and carry this burden of guilt and shame to boot.  You will have a hard time making things better at home, and in fact if the same factors persist, you may drift back into your affair, or another one at some point.  So that is a reason, to me,  to confess to your indiscretion(s).   Be radically honest and let the chips fall where they may is what I’ve told a number of people who have written me with this question.

But you must be prepared then to lose your marriage.  There are many spouses who cannot, will not forgive.  Ever.  It’s just who they are.  Your confession, even if they themselves abused or neglected you severely, will be the final coup-de-grace and excuse for them to divorce you, ruin your reputation, keep you from your kids, and cause you grief forever.  You have to face that as a possibility.

Regardless of whether you’ve confessed to an affair or not, you are still faced with a choice. The choice to stay with your spouse and try to work through the marital issues, stay with your spouse and continue the infidelity (if it’s still going on), or to go ahead and break from your spouse if you truly feel that your relationship cannot be salvaged. Affairs are usually the sign of something gone terribly wrong in a marriage. They rarely happen in vacuum. Asking yourself honestly WHY you chose to have an affair is, to me, the more vital question.

In the end, those are much bigger issues than confessing to the affair itself.  If you’re having difficulty talking to your spouse or making the choice to tell your spouse of your affair, then an individual counselor or even couple’s counseling might be in order. I hope this blog entry helps to at least relieve the burden of those that are on the fence on this question, and at least gives a mental construct and factors to go through when making this decision.

And I’m going to ask again. Nicely.  Please, NO COMMENTS FROM BETRAYED SPOUSES.  This blog entry is not for you and your opinions are not going to exactly be neutral. You would have to be in the position of the former cheater to understand the dilemma and most of you have not.  So I’m asking nicely.  Please no Betrayed comments.  And for the rest, the same request:  Agree, disagree, but you must be civil about it. If you are not, your comments will not be posted.

 

© COPYRIGHT 2006, 2007, 2014 Recovering Wayward Enterprises, LLC

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6 thoughts on “To Confess or Not Confess Your Affair

  1. I’ve read that article before. All very interesting perspectives and yes, it does depend on the situation.

    However, I would reiterate one very important point. If the affair was sexual in any way (oral and/or intercourse), the fear of STI is REAL. “They could be diagnosed with an STD, even with the use of condoms.” It’s critical that everyone get tested for the full battery of tests. Many men think that if they wear a condom, they are safe and so is their spouse or AP —> WRONG. So, if that requires full disclosure of the infidelity to protect the health of their spouse, they MUST do that. If not, it’s like letting a toddler play with a loaded gun and walking away from them because it’s not your problem.

    • you make a good point, but it sounds like a backdoor to force disclosure in every case of physical infidelity. I think this — if you do engage in sex with someone else, it’s your obligation to get yourself tested and if something shows up, then absolutely you MUST tell your spouse. I don’t think confession however is necessarily the result of all physical encounters. I think it’s a factor but there is more than one option.

      and for the record, yes. After it was over, I got tested. As humiliating as it was, I certainly understood my spouse’s concern in that area.

  2. “If you’ve had multiple affairs and your spouse is aware of at least one, then it may be best to not tell your spouse of others. In situations like this, you have decide whether or not you wish to compound the hurt for the sake of confessing.” I know you asked BS’ s to
    refrain from imput..but having been in this particular situation…I can add that this will eat upon the truly remorseful WS heart and mind, while trying to move forward openly and honestly with theirs pouse and prevent a free spirit, which may still one day in the future be compelled to come forward causing even more pain and suffering to a spouse already healing and a WS to later lose something that could have been saved had they been completely honest from the start.

    “I also wrote a blog on how carrying the affair as a secret from your spouse, a dead
    affair, is a huge burden and if you think you can “fix” your marriage and/or yourself of the
    factors that you believe drove you to your affair (or at least let you be open to the
    possibility), you’re less likely to be successful. You can’t fix a marriage (or yourself) with fundamental marriage flaws like these with an unaware partner. They don’t realize how close they came to losing you. And probably have no clue to the extent of your marital dissatisfaction. So keeping it a secret and vowing to fix everything is unlikely to work. You are more likely to skulk back to your marriage just as it was prior to your affair, and now you are worse for the wear and carry this burden of guilt and shame to boot. You will have a hard time of making thisngs better at home, and in fact if the same factors persist, you may drift back into your affair or another at some point. So that is a reason to confess to me. Be radically honest and let the chips fall where they may.”

    Wonderfully stated. My H had kissed a girl many years ago, he came forward (but did not tell me they made it to 3rd base), and I forgave him, but we didn’t discuss the “Why’s”, had we focused on the Why’s rather than putting it behind us and moving on as if it never
    happened, and he chose to be completely honest at that point… he wouldn’t have carried a burden of guitl and perhapse we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now. We could have gotten him the much needed help that he needed.

    • You may be right, but you have to understand how hard that would’ve been to do. Even the disclosure of one kiss many years ago could completely unhinge a spouse and derail your marriage. One kiss! Some spouses are more volatile and emotional than others, and the former cheater may not have confidence that they will deal with this information appropriately. So this question – potential discosure to your spouse – It’s not just laden with fear of the unknowns, but also with the personal guilt they carry around. It’s not simple for ANYONE to take that step given the unknowns.

      I see blog entries, written by Betrayed Spouses, that are vile, full of rage, and almost unreadable with all the yelling, capitalized letters, swearing, immaturity, self-righteousness and meandering nature of some these entries. Sometimes for affairs or near-affairs that occurred years previously. Is it any wonder that their former cheating spouses are either completely bullied into silence or are at minimum intimidated or discouraged and end up leaving anyway?

      Again, this is why I asked Betrayeds to refrain from this entry. I’m not saying your input was anything but civil – it was — its just that its frankly too hard for most Betrayeds to put themselves in the shoes of the Wayward Spouse and see this type of question from that perspective. There is little objectivity and neutrality in this subject. It’s easy to say, “HELL YES, YOU TELL YOUR SPOUSE!” when you’re not the one that has to tell.

      I think what I have learned is that MOST people carry terrible sins or secrets with them and often do not tell their spouse. It’s easy to point fingers at the other person, but how many people voluntarily confess ANYTHING if they think it will send their spouse into a rage?

      Almost nobody.

      it’s my only point here. There are so many considerations and factors. The maturity and stability of your spouse to handle this information in an appropriate way is a big consideration in what you end up doing. Its why I posted the article. There IS no “one answer”. I just gave a construct for deciding on two courses of actions both of which have very uncertain outcomes. This type of decision is very grey.

      • I understand everything you stated in the article. Was just reiterating what you said about keeping some of it secret while vowing to to fix everything is “unlikely to work. ” since the spouse would be unaware of the extent of the problem or unhappiness within the marriage…by givng that exact example. Because a “kiss” was made to be less (in our situation) than it was, we swept it under the rug and he ended up carrying the burden of a not radical whole truth, and found it harder to live with himself. Please understand, I’m not putting my opinion here at all. Was only trying to give an example to what you were saying..to hopefully further help WS in their decision process.

      • And to include that by his refraining of the radical truth which would have made him a (don’t take this religiously) free spirit …he now hated and became unable to live with himself, which “made a hard time of making things better at home..problems persisted”, and he not only fell back into an affair but many more as a result.
        I completely understand how hard the whole truth was and is for him ..a truly remorseful spouse, but these are just more examples of why less that the whole truth is unlikely to improve the marriage. Again, not placing my opinions of whether or not to come clean..Just trying to help a WS in their thought process while making a very tough decision. 🙂

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