Should He Confess Affair?

Q: My wife and I have been married 20 years and we have three beautiful girls. Overall we have had a wonderful marriage. Regretfully, a year ago, I had an affair with a close friend of ours. Stress, financial frustrations, and not spending quality time with my wife, along with frustrations in the other woman's life, seemed to create an atmosphere that made it possible for the affair to begin. We are both extremely ashamed and guilty over this. The other woman and I agreed to put great distance between us (no conversations without spouses present). This we have done for many months now. We felt it was not wise to tell our spouses, but to commit ourselves afresh to invest in our marriages. Is not telling them the wisest recourse? It just seems that it would be unfair to our spouses to lay this baggage on them, and also risk hurting them as well as our children. -- Matt, 40

Dr. Susan: This thing is festering in your mind, isn't it, Matt? And that's the problem now. You and your affair partner still see one another along with your mates, but only she and you share this huge pink elephant of a secret. Secrets are inevitably bonding to those in the know, while making you more deeply separate from your poor deluded wife. Plus, what if your lover decides to tell her mate? Then yours will find out. Much better for you to be the one to confess than for her to find out from someone else.

You ask if it would be unfair to lay this baggage on your wife and kids. I would hope that no matter how devastated your wife would be -- and you can expect this news to be earth shattering to her -- that she wouldn't be petty enough to tell the kids their dad behaved like a creep. But I don't know her, so the risk may be real. Only you can judge this one.

The key to deciding how to handle this, Matt, is to be utterly clear about what level of intimacy you want to achieve with your wife. In my own study of very happy long-term couples in Loving in Flow, a surprising number had had affairs in their past. Most had talked about them openly and gotten past them. I won't kid you about how challenging this is, though. Do expect the fallout to hit the fan in a huge horrible way, and be prepared to show your remorse for a long time to come. The fact that you're still seeing your affair partner socially troubles me, though I know you can't escape this without confessing the reason. Speaking as one who's been through something similar, I can only tell you it would feel truly icky to find out that I'd been unknowingly laughing with someone my husband had slept with. Being the last to know is one of most people's worst fears.

Follow your gut, though. Perhaps, if you can forget this, then forget it. If you can't, then it's going to come between you, sooner or later.

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