“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.
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.
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.
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