Should you confess if you've had an affair?
Some people are opportunistic cheaters and jump at a bit on the side whenever it's on offer, even if they're blissfully, happily married.
But most - women particularly - are lured into infidelity during difficult times and end the affair when the marriage becomes stable and satisfying again.
You’re then faced with a moral dilemma: if you've had an affair but it's now over, is it better to come clean or say nothing?
People assume honestly is the best policy but in this scenario but it's not necessarily true. It depends very much on the circumstances.
If the affair is known or strongly suspected, you’re usually better off telling. You won’t gain by denying it because you’ll probably get found out anyway and you might save the relationship by confessing.
As the late US psychologist and infidelity expert Shirley Glass said: marriages fare better after a voluntary confession than after an unwanted discovery.
Another time to tell: if you’re in therapy because your relationship is in trouble. There’s virtually no point in going if you’re not going to confess to an affair. The whole point of therapy is to provide a nice, safe environment (free of knives and heavy objects) where you can both tell the truth and sort out issues once and for all. (If you’ve agreed to therapy because you’re planning on leaving but feel obliged to trot along before doing so, call the therapist and explain the situation privately.)
There are also valid reasons for keeping your mouth shut.
Confession means you’ll be living with someone who sees you as less than perfect - and many can’t cope with that.
Our ‘looking glass self’ - other people’s opinions of us reflected back - influence our self perception. If you don’t like the person you see in their eyes, you won’t like yourself much either.
Some experts will also advise you not to tell if your partner’s not the strongest person emotionally. News of an affair isn’t exactly going to give them a leg up on that steep, bumpy road to high self-esteem. Telling is going to wipe out any trust they had managed to muster up - and it could take years to rebuild (if, indeed, that’s possible).
Is your motivation to tell to make yourself feel better?Confessing to an affair makes the person who had it feel better - guilt lessens after a confession - and the innocent partner feel devastated. Which isn't exactly fair, no matter how you look at it!
The bottom line:
It seems wrong to withhold such crucial information from someone you love but, often, doing so saves the relationship.
I've seen many good marriages shatter when a well-meaning (if not well-behaved) spouse confesses a short-term affair or one-night-stand. Trust is broken and sometimes never regained.
The couple split with both losers and the "Why did they tell me? Why didn't they just keep quiet?" question hanging sadly in the air.
Plenty of people who love their partners – me included - would much prefer to be kept in the dark if the affair is over, their partner still loves them and deeply regrets what they did.
Being honest isn't always best.
Confessing under these circumstances often does little but cause intense pain and wipe out trust which can take years to rebuild, if it all.
If you're labouring under the illusion that confession is 'doing the right thing', don't kid yourself. It may not be.
Besides, it's a bit late now to be moralistic about the situation, given you were the one who cheated!