Affair Questions & Answers > The One Who Had an Affair > Should I tell my spouse about my affair even if they may never find out?
You may not like my answer to this question, but please read all of it before checking out...
If you want to have a healthy marriage, the answer to that question is almost always yes. Although keeping the secret may allow you to escape immediate conflict or consequences, the long-term cost is not worth it.
Choosing not to tell is almost always an act of self-protection. You don't want to face the feared consequences. But in doing so you are making a decision for your spouse instead of allowing him/her to make the choice for themselves. In reality, what your spouse wants is less important to you than what you want. That kind of thinking probably contributed to your affair behavior in the first place.
Is there a risk in telling? Yes. While most spouses, after dealing with the initial pain of discovery, will want to work on restoring their marriage, it is possible that a betrayed spouse will choose separation or divorce. But they have the right to make the choice of staying or leaving based on the whole truth. If not, any forgiveness or trust offered to you is inherently incomplete. And even if your confession results in your spouse choosing to leave, your honesty is still a very important step toward becoming a healthier person.
Let me be very clear about this: truth-telling is a painful process. Your spouse will likely have a strong reaction to what she/he hears. The alternative, in my opinion, is to pay a possibly even greater price down the road instead of dealing with the issues right now.
What most clients (especially men) fail to understand is that your spouse is actually more concerned about TRUST than about specific details of the affair, even though she/he is probably asking about details. They want to protect their spouses by not revealing painful information, but withholding that information actually does more damage because it hinders openness & trust. The process of getting through this and moving toward real forgiveness and trust is sometimes a bit messy, but the benefits make it worthwhile.
Telling the whole truth has these benefits...
- Your spouse becomes more assured of your honesty because you are telling things you haven't been "caught" in... things that may not otherwise be known. These become evidences of your honesty & your willingness to relinquish control (which is affair behavior).
- It provides the opportunity for true forgiveness to take place. If your spouse only knows part of the story, then he/she can only forgive that part, and you will only receive forgiveness for that part. Your spouse has the right to forgive, or not forgive, everything.
- Nothing remains that has to be kept hidden from this point on. Secrets require emotional energy (even when you try to forget them). Secrets sabotage intimacy. Total honesty provides a freedom that you can't get any other way.
- You eliminate the risk of secrets being revealed in the future. I can't tell you how many times a client has made the choice not to confess parts of their story only to have that choice backfire on them in the future. They convince themselves that the whole truth would only cause more hurt and anger; why confess something that nobody will ever know about? But in many, many cases, those hidden parts of the story are eventually uncovered. When that happens, any repairs to trust will likely be undone and the damage to your marriage may be even more severe.
- You become less likely to have another affair. Keeping secrets is affair behavior. If you rationalize your secrets now, it will be easier for you to rationalize more secrets in the future. A marriage rebuilt on a foundation of truthfulness will be less vulnerable to affairs.
Reasons you might NOT tell the truth:
1. The truth would put your spouse at risk.
If telling about the affair would create a dangerous situation (as in cases where there is a history of abuse, violence, attempted suicide, or other significant mental health issues), you should work with a qualified counselor to help you determine what choices should be made.
2. Knowing the truth will result in greater consequences for your spouse.
I hesitate even writing this, because I know that most people involved in affairs look for any justification to not tell the truth. So let me say it clearly again: Telling the truth about your cheating is almost always the best choice, even though it probably doesn't seem like it to you. Dark secrets are the enemy of intimacy, so you have to understand that choosing not to tell means that you will never receive your spouse's forgiveness and will have to keep something hidden for the rest of your life. You need to carefully weigh the cost of not telling.
But I do know the tremendous pain this brings to a spouse and so I cannot be authoritative in this matter. If you are considering keeping your affair a secret in order to protect your wife/husband, then I hope you will consider these things before making your decision:
- You should seek counsel. Talk to someone who has a good understanding of healthy relationships. Good counsel encourages wise choices.
- You have to be honest about your motives. If this has more to do with protecting yourself, then you're making a selfish choice. This has to be about doing something that is good for your spouse, not you.
- You must be willing to stop your affair behavior. If not telling is simply a choice that gives you freedom to cheat again, then it's a bad choice. You have to be willing to get whatever help you need to make healthy changes.
- Your spouse must not be already accusing or suspecting. If they are already suspicious and have been asking questions, then you need to be honest. The choice of not telling should only be considered if your spouse is completely unaware of your affair behaviors (past and present).
- You must be certain that your affair will not be revealed. I can't tell you how many times I've worked with clients who were SURE their spouse would never find out certain things, only to be surprised when these things are eventually revealed by unknown witnesses, missed evidences, the affair partner, or even their own conscience. Your lack of honesty now will be compounded if the truth is revealed in the future. If you have any doubt, deal with the backlash now, not later.
Writing a Secret Confession
If you do decide not to tell, I would strongly encourage you to write out a full and complete confession of your affair along with the reasons why you are choosing not to tell your spouse. This letter should clearly communicate your regret and sorrow along with your commitment to your marriage. Try to imagine your spouse finding out about your affair and think about what he/she would need to hear from you. Take your time in writing it, but once it is done, seal it in an envelope and take it to someone (someone who would not be likely to lie for you; not a close friend) who will hold your confidence. A pastor or counselor would be a good choice. Ask that person to sign and date the envelope across the sealed flap and then keep it in your confidential records with clear instructions to never release it unless you ask for it someday. If the truth ever comes out, this letter may be helpful in explaining why you decided to keep your secret.