To Tell or not To Tell

To Tell or not To Tell
by Peggy Vaughan

People who have had an affair often wonder whether or not they should tell their spouse. Every person must make this “to tell or not to tell” decision for themselves. However, there are some factors to consider that might not at first be obvious. While there’s an understandable caution about the potential risk of telling about an affair, there’s also a risk if it’s “not” disclosed. In marriages where affairs are kept secret, certain topics of discussion are avoided because the deceiving partner fears being discovered and the other is reluctant to appear suspicious. This causes many relationships to be dominated by dishonesty and deception. It’s doubtful that a couple can keep something like this hidden for the rest of their lives without a terrible strain developing. A large part of the high divorce rate may be due to the alienation caused by the dishonesty inherent in affairs, even if the affairs are never confronted. So it may be that there is no escape from the pain, regardless of whether the affair is kept hidden or exposed.

This is not meant to diminish the pain of finding out. But one of the advantages of volunteering the information about an affair instead of waiting until it’s unexpectedly discovered is that it allows a degree of preparation that can significantly reduce the pain of finding out. The person doing the telling has a responsibility to take steps to increase the likelihood that the disclosure will lead to building a closer relationship rather than tearing it apart. First of all, they need to be motivated by a desire to improve the relationship, not a desire to unload their feelings of guilt. They also need to be prepared to hang in and work through their partner’s reactions to the information, regardless of what those reactions may be.

So it’s not a simple matter of whether or not to tell. It’s a matter of why, when, and how. Perhaps the most responsible course is one that doesn’t rule out telling “at some point,” and uses that thinking to consistently improve the honesty and commitment to the relationship in such a way as to make it possible to eventually “tell.” In the meantime, this will have the benefit of strengthening the relationship, regardless of whether it leads to telling about the affair.

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