Should You Disclose An Affair?

30% to 60% of all married couples will engage in some form of infidelity. With this staggering statistic, we have to wonder how beneficial it is to disclose an affair to an unknowing spouse even if the consequences are great.

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30% to 60% of all married couples will engage in some form of infidelity. With this staggering statistic, we have to wonder how beneficial it is to disclose an affair to an unknowing spouse even if the consequences are great.

Lying among martial partners is not uncommon, but when it comes to disclosing an affair the risk and consequences grow exponentially making the decision to tell a difficult one. With a specialty in infidelity and divorce, I see many versions of secretive and deceitful behavior among couples. More often than not the need to disclose an indiscretion surfaces when the affair has been exposed or the person has been caught. Up until this time the cheating partner is conflicted and guilty, but not willing to risk full disclosure.

For some of these spouses the fear of disclosure surrounds possible retaliation that may include a loss of parenting rights or horrible financial fights. For other cheating partners, the withholding of information is a form of protection, and a desire to not inflict the pain that will come with sharing the news with their partner. I have even seen lying become a selfish act when disclosing the affair will mean that it has to end.

Circumstances around the affair also have to be considered. Some might argue that a short-term or one-time affair isn’t worth disclosing. There are also issues to consider when the infidelity is a byproduct of sex addiction or other acting out behaviors. In some cases, telling becomes a safety issue, while at other times disclosure of an affair may not be worth the pain it will cause.

Withholding information is not always the same as lying, but at the end of the day this is just splitting hairs. The real question is whether telling a partner about an affair is a good and healthy thing to do, or if not telling them makes more sense. More often than not disclosing an affair results in separation or divorce leaving most people in an eternal state of ambivalence. The only way to put an end to the uncertainty is to explore both sides of the disclosure equation. While there are no hard and fast rules about this, we can try and come to a consensus on what is most healthy for both parties and the marriage.

Pros and Cons

The biggest con of disclosing an affair is the risk that comes with the admission. Knowing exactly how a partner will respond is difficult, but it is easy to presume that anger and an unwillingness to forgive will be part of the experience. Disclosing an affair could easily mean the end of the marriage, and if this isn’t the desired outcome telling a partner may bring a grave result. Admission of an affair is painful for both parties, and it puts a permanent mark on what was previously a clean marital record.

The pros of disclosing an affair can ultimately reflect courage and even a sense of remorse on the part of the cheating spouse. The betrayed partner may be more likely to be understanding and forgiving if they don’t have to “discover” it on their own. A willingness to come forward with the information could help with trust and may elicit less of an inquiry from the hurt spouse. Disclosure is also better for everyone’s health because secrets and lying create great stress, and more often than not the unknowing partner feels the negative energy even if it’s not conscious.

Fit or Flop

Overall telling a partner about an affair is a fit. Honesty always trumps dishonesty for both parties, and if there is any chance for the marriage to be saved it has to be rebuilt on a foundation of honesty. While it may cause hurt and unpleasant feelings, robbing a person of their free will to have all of the information they deserve to make proper decisions about their life is unfair. It’s selfish to keep an affair from a partner because it really only protects the person who is doing the cheating. The issue is not really whether to tell, but how to tell a partner that they have been betrayed. Being willing to confront the difficult emotions that come with the news, and showing the strength of character to admit the misconduct shows great respect for the injured spouse.

Uncovering an affair is demoralizing and shocking, so when a cheating partner is willing to come clean the betrayed spouse can salvage their self-respect, and feel better by the accountability and responsibility for the indiscretion.

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