Monday, September 9, 2013

Should I Tell, Reloaded

In our book, Healing Infidelity, I included a chapter directed to the unfaithful spouses who have cheated but haven't told their spouse about it. Usually don't plan to. Usually these are spouses who have ended their affair or in the process of doing so, though sometimes a guilt-ridden unfaithful spouse in it up to their necks can struggle with this question as well. Naturally, to read that chapter, I'd suggest buying the book. But if that isn't practical, you can read the article on the web.

In that chapter, I looked at whether to tell or not from the perspective of healing. In short, as long as this secret remains hidden, it will act as an untreated cancer. It is only when it comes into the open that it can be effectively dealt with and the relationship fully healed by applying the needed medicines.

To that end, I gave a couple examples of when an unfaithful spouse might have valid reasons not to tell. One, with an abuser. Telling would give the abuser more emotional control over you, and the more pressing problem is getting out of that relationship, not healing this one breech, as wrong as it may be. IOW, there are bigger fish to fry.

The second generated a little more disagreement among my fellow hurt spouses. I suggested another time one might not tell is if the marriage is essentially over, divorce has happened, in process, or is a foregone conclusion. From a "I want to heal our marriage" perspective, telling at that point would be pointless. Telling is certainly not going to heal the marriage, only accelerate the breakup.

But my hurt spouse friends disagreed, saying that even in that situation, they would want to know the truth and telling would confirm to them they weren't crazy in suspecting something was off. It would bring a sense of closure to the separation as well. I can see that aspect. That, however, is not going to be a compelling argument to an unfaithful spouse to out himself. Is it the right thing to do? Yes. The other spouse has a right to know what was done to them, just as an employer has the right to know a former employee embezzled money from the company.

That said, for some hurt spouses, they wouldn't care to know. You get some of those when they are married and regretted finding out. These are certainly in the minority among hurt spouses. Most hurt spouses, overwhelmingly, are glad they discovered the truth, despite the hurt and the trauma. But I'm sure that number would go up significantly if it was about a former spouse. A relationship that is over and done with. Why waste emotional energy on discovering a former spouse was cheating? Personally, I don't think I would care to know at that point because I can see no practical benefit to me knowing. So I feel there would be a lot more hurt spouses who would rather not know if there was no chance to fix the marriage.

For me, at least, the decision on whether to tell or not centered around healing of the relationship. If telling only added another nail into the coffin, then why drag the hurt spouse through more pain and potential trauma? But if not addressed, the hidden secret can eat away at a marriage that is otherwise not teetering on the rocks of divorce. Better to get it out in the open and work together to renew the relationship as a team.

But I'm adjusting this a little. There is a reason an unfaithful spouse would want to tell in that instance. It still centers around healing. Not the relationship, if that is gone, but one's self.

One unfaithful spouse posted one time that she was having a problem dealing with her guilt. She had ended her affair, but hadn't told her husband. She was asking for ways to deal with her guilty feelings short of telling him, which she had vowed she would never do. I spent an hour writing a response to her, only to have the Internet chew it up and spit it in the garbage, never to be seen again. But here was the gist of my message, which would apply equally to a divorced or headed that way marriage, or simply troubled but no one thinking they wanted out.

After suggesting some things she could do, I boiled it down to a simple fact. To deal with the guilt effectively required forgiveness from the one you offended. Until you received his forgiveness, guilt would tend to hang around, and healing of yourself from what you've done would not only be near impossible, but would be dragged into any future relationships. Not telling prevents any of that from happening. It is hard enough for unfaithful spouses to "forgive themselves" when their spouse knows and has forgiven them. It is near impossible when your spouse hasn't a clue about the damage inflicted upon them.

So I'll amend that to say from the unfaithful spouses' perspective, there is reason to tell even if the relationship is in the throes of dissolving. You may not heal that relationship, but it may be the only route to healing yourself and not infecting future relationships with this destructive dynamic.

Telling is a hard and brave thing to do. What are other situations where you think telling would be unproductive?

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