• Should you confess if you've had an affair?

    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.)

    Keep quiet:

    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!

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    Comments (3)

    • Daniel Maycock: October 12, 2016 20:32
      Very wise words.
      (I believe) I've not been in the position of being cheated on and certainly not having to deal with the aftermath. My heart says to me that cheating is not only wrong, but it causes a lot more problems than anyone should have to put up with.
      (God forbid) If I find myself in a position where I had been unfaithful, I would want to do the right thing for the situation and the person and I would not want to hurt anyone or leaving someone hurting.
      On the flip side, if someone wanted to be honest and were truly sorry for their mistake and if they wanted to work at saving the relationship, I would work to forgive them and try to make a better life for both of us leaving the mistake of the past behind. But easy in hindsight and easy to say if you've never been in that position;
    • Liz O'Farrell: October 22, 2016 11:06
      I found out a week ago that my long term partner had cheated. The woman sent a letter plus evidence to my work place!! My partner says that they had a brief affair about 20 months ago but had remained friends. He suggests that most of what she claims is a lie. His son and daughter have now disowned him. I want to try and forgive as he says he wants to' do anything to make it right'. I am damaged and so confused.
    • Paul: October 27, 2016 14:56
      Absolutely ridiculous, selfish advice. If you love someone, they deserve access to the truth so they can decide what they want to do with their life. If you cheat, you don't deserve the love of that person, you ought to be judged for it.
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