Help me get over my guilt over a past infidelity!
August 26, 2005 5:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I get over the guilt of having been (very) unfaithful to my loving wife, when she doesn't have any idea it happened?

A few years ago, my wife got a great job offer several hundred miles away from where we were living, and we decided to move, as I didn't much like my job anyway. She moved, and I stayed behind so we could continue to have my income while I looked for a job near where we were moving.

I flew to visit her every couple of weeks, at which times I also went on as many interviews as I could get. I finally got a job and moved to join them after almost four months of looking.

During those months, though, I did a very, very bad thing. My wife and I had been having some issues in our marriage before the move, and being apart, especially with her stress from having to find a place for us to live while starting a new job, didn't help. I had a lot of free time, and unwisely started spending a lot of it hanging out with an old female friend of mine who'd recently split up with her husband, and with whom I'd had a fling back in 1995, before I was married to my wife.

I was lonely, she was lonely, and before either of us knew what was happening we were having a full-blown affair. I somehow managed to convince myself I was in love with her, and told her so, though I realize now that that was really my frustration and loneliness talking. Even after I moved to live with my wife, I e-mailed her poems, and went on walks after my wife was asleep so I could call her from my cell phone. Each time I came back to the area she lived, for a variety of legitimate reasons, over the next six months (four or five times), we slept together several times. My wife knew absolutely nothing about it.

She still knows nothing about it, and I have no intention of telling her. The woman with whom I had the affair has since gotten engaged to someone else, and I trust her to keep the secret. My wife and I have mostly fixed things up in our marriage, and are very happy together as much of the time as any married couple, I suspect, is.

But I'm still wracked with guilt, and don't know how to fix that. I'm happy with my wife now, but the knowledge of what I did still burns in the back of my head. Sometimes I feel like I should tell my wife, but then I think it through and don't see any good reason to do so—we're happy together now, so why ruin that by telling her about an affair that's over and will never be resurrected?

What can I do to ease my guilt? Do I even deserve to have my guilt eased, or am I too much of a jerk?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I agree, no need to tell her. There's not much recourse for getting rid of the guilt though, I think. Just try to be as good a husband as possible. You will probably always feel guilty, even down the roads many years, but it will ease up.

FYI I don't say this with any firsthand experience, so maybe I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.
posted by poppo at 5:25 AM on August 26, 2005

You'd probably cause her more hurt by telling her. You are just going to have to live with the guilt I'm afraid.
posted by KirstyFairbairn at 5:28 AM on August 26, 2005

Perhaps you could come up with some kind of good deed penance for yourself. Think of a few things you could do that you would HATE doing, but that would help the community, like some kind of volunteer work, and make yourself do them as your "punishment." This might help you work through your guilt.
posted by JanetLand at 5:34 AM on August 26, 2005

Think of the guilt as a seat-belt for your soul. It's your brain's way of telling you not to cheat again. It's reminding you that the fun of being unfaithful is not worth the hassle of deceiving someone.

Offloading the guilt - and the pain - onto your wife would absolutely be the wrong thing to do. It's your burden to bear, and it's there for good reason. Don't rid yourself of the guilt; just learn to respect it.
posted by skylar at 5:35 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

when I lie to my wife (generally it was about progress on my dissertation) the guilt would make me really cranky and hard to live with. Are you sure she doesn't already know?
posted by mecran01 at 5:54 AM on August 26, 2005

I'd agree that you should not tell her. You should be feeling guilty, but you should also get over it sometime. You might want to try therapy for yourself as a way to work through some of the issues. You don't really want to give yourself a free pass, though, because the guilt is like a seat belt for your soul. (I like that.)
posted by OmieWise at 6:04 AM on August 26, 2005

I was sat with a colleague at work yesterday talking about how bitter we both felt about having someone be unfaithful, us both having experience in the area.

At this point, another colleague walked in who is a lot older than us and basically said "Everybody cheats. You'll learn this when you get older, everybody cheats".

At this point, my colleague I was talking to originally and I basically agreed that, supposing this is the climate we have to perhaps deal with at a later point - that if anyone did cheat on us, we'd rather not know about it.

Guilt forces you to justify your actions for wrongdoing, but I think in your circumstance you'd be better off letting it manifest itself in appreciating your wife more. You've ascertained that you intend to stay faithful to your wife now, so make the very best of the times you'll have together.

The past is best left where it is, and you've learned your lesson so concentrate on making the quality of life for you and your wife as great as you can.
posted by rc55 at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2005

..and moved to join them after almost four months

who is the THEM in this sentence? are there kids involved that you aren't mentioning? Perhaps their welfare should inform a good portion of your thinking going forward.
posted by spicynuts at 6:36 AM on August 26, 2005

Confession is good for the soul. That's why some Christian denominations believe in confession as a sacrament, allowing believers a safe space to unload the toxic residue of wrongdoing and receive absolution. (Most of those confession systems are private, agreeing with the posters above that publicly airing your errors may create more problems than it solves.)

Whatever your ethical system, this posting seems like a start.

Barring religious or therapeutic listeners, why not work off your debt? Pick something to do for your wife that will take months and is above and beyond the normal husbandly thoughtfulness. Secretly do her a great kindness. If she find out about it and asks why, tell her simply that you did it because you love here so very much.

Perhaps that way your internal scales will eventually find balance.
posted by sacre_bleu at 6:38 AM on August 26, 2005

Er, love HER.
posted by sacre_bleu at 6:39 AM on August 26, 2005

You are a human being and human beings make mistakes. In this case, it seems quite clear that you were suffering and under such circumstances it's understandable that you did what you did. Guilt, I find, is generally a waste of time. Adultery isn't a sin any more than falling in what-you-may-think-is-love is--human feelings and relationships are far too complex to be broken down in such primitive 'right/wrong' terms. Let this deed be a testament to your frailty. But it is vital that you be honest with yourself. You must be 110% sure that: (a) you love your wife (b) what you did was a mistake and you will learn from it and make efforts to avoid repeating it (c) you are willing to make the significant effort to get the marriage back on very strong foundations. (If there's any doubt about a, b or c then you may want to considering having a long talk.) The best way to deal with guilt, discovered long ago by various priests, is to drown it with positive actions. Don't dwell on your guilt--instead take that anxiety and nervous energy and pour it into deeds that reaffirm your mental state instead of sapping. The greater the guilt, the greater the action.
posted by nixerman at 6:39 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

What can I do to ease my guilt? Do I even deserve to have my guilt eased, or am I too much of a jerk?

Nothing. That is your cross to bear because you fucked up. Don't try to selfishly ease your own suffering by telling her. If the worst thing that happens because of this is that you feel guilty for the rest of your life, you'll have gotten off easy.

I'm not trying to make a value judgement. People are free to live whatever lives they so choose, but must be prepared to accept whatever consequences stem from their actions. Good and bad has nothing to do with it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:46 AM on August 26, 2005

Get your blood tested. That's the least you can do for your wife and you don't have to tell her about that either. Unless, of course, you're diseased.
posted by KathyK at 6:51 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

What skylar said: Think of the guilt as a seat-belt for your soul. Guilt and shame are useful short-term emotions, up to a point and for learning purposes only. Learn some valuable life lessons from this experience, and try to understand your own soul. Then, let go of the guilt. It will poison both of you if you don't. Telling your wife would be so incredibly hurtful, with no positive results. I say this as someone who has been on the receiving end of a cheating spouse. I wish I had never found out.

Suggestons from others about atonement gestures toward your wife are also good, as long as you are sure you won't be building some secret resentments. Just be as kind and understanding with yourself as you would want your wife to be with you- if she knew.
posted by Corky at 6:53 AM on August 26, 2005

I know I'm in the minority here, but I think it may be helpful to tell her and really deal with it WITH her. I think secrets pull people apart.
posted by abbyladybug at 7:11 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Are you sure your wife doesn't need to know? I agree that it would cause her a lot of pain, and that's a very good argument for keeping the affair secret, but unless she knows the truth, how can you ever have an honest relationship with her?

It's clear from your post that this issue is eating you up, but I don't think the guilt comes just from the affair. That's something that happened in the past and is history. I guess some of your guilt comes from the fact that you have to keep lying to your wife -- maybe not in so many words, but certainly emotionally, and every day. Honestly, what do you think would hurt your wife the most -- knowing you had an affair or knowing you have hidden it from her all this time?

In her position, I would want to know the truth. It would be painful, but I would get over it. Clearly, your wife may be a different kind of person, but I think she deserves to have all the facts, so she can decide for herself whether your betrayal is something which she can accept from you or not. And in the long run, I think that's the only way to deal with your guilt and move on. Otherwise, you may have to be prepared to live with it.
posted by londonmark at 7:33 AM on August 26, 2005

Another vote for shut up and bear it. Like all emotional pain, it will fade over time.
posted by LarryC at 7:34 AM on August 26, 2005

Do not tell her.

You will have to live with the guilt, but that's what happens when someone does something wrong. I agree, the guilt and regret mean that for you, infidelity was a wrong choice in your marriage.

Telling her will likely alleviate your guilt somewhat, and it will break her heart, and cause her doubt every part of your marriage, her worth, and your love and history together. She will have a very hard time getting over the betrayal. She may leave you. She will never trust you again.

I thought I'd want to know about it, but when it happened, I discovered that I would have been much better off, had my husband kept his mouth shut and lived with the torture he was going through. He deserved it.

Part of me hates him, I will never trust him the way I did before, and our marriage is irrevocably changed by what he did.

There were problems in our marriage, too--after eight years, the romance had wilted, sex was much less frequent than it should have been, we'd grown too accustomed to each other, and lazy in our love.

What he did did not solve these problems; rather, it made them far worse.

He also lied to me about his involvement with the woman being over, when it was in fact, not, and that lie on top of the betrayal in general, changed how I felt about my husband. Forever.

We are still together for now, but...

Don't tell her. Live with the guilt. Sorry, but you deserve it.

I don't mean to sound harsh or man-hating--I'd say the same thing to a woman who betrayed a partner.
posted by Savannah at 7:38 AM on August 26, 2005

How do I get over the guilt of having been (very) unfaithful to my loving wife, when she doesn't have any idea it happened?

You could realize that you have not seriously harmed her through this affair because she does not know, because you are not (presumably) acting all weird about it, and because you were having marriage trouble before the affair.

Also, because you and your wife were apart when you had the physical part of your affair, the affair did not significantly deprive your wife of your attentions. Sure, you sent out a few poems after, but would you have given them to your wife if the affair hadn't happened?

You could also realize that, because you genuinely feel rotten about it, you have paid some penance and maybe become a better husband in the process, a husband who is more serious about being a husband.

And some actions:

If you're religious, you could go and admit it to a holy person, get it off you chest before the eyes of god or whatever. If you feel like you've done something bad as a man to a woman, as if you've somehow been the dirty dog some women say all men are, you could donate some money or time to a charity for women.

And you could of course try being even better to your wife now than you used to be before the marriage troubles and affair. Make a list of all the selfish/mean/lazy/dumb things you do that make her life harder than it needs to be, then stop doing them. And make a list of all the nice/smart/lovely things you do that make her life better, all the things that make her laugh or let her rest, then do more of them.

That is the strategy for making yourself feel better and be better.
posted by pracowity at 7:44 AM on August 26, 2005

Maybe you can "buy" the guilt by giving her something expensive like a diamond ? Or go on a second honeymoon ?
posted by Baud at 7:57 AM on August 26, 2005

I think the idea of finding a way to punish yourself is erroneous. You are already punishing yourself quite enough, that's clear.

I am also skeptical that you are at this time fully aware of your true motivations - who among us really is, without outside perspective and guidance? In addition, I second the thought above that people are generally benefited by confession.

For these reasons, I think you might be benefited greatly by some short-term interpersonal therapy. A good therapist can guide you through the welter of feelings that comes from these sort of situations; both the actions and the later ruminations on them. If you don't want to talk to a therapist, talk to your religious person, social worker, or someone else who is used to hearing people's secrets and being supportive about them.

Without really knowing for sure, I tend to agree that it's not time to tell your wife about this. This kind of revelation has destroyed strong, healthy relationships and it sounds like yours is tenuous but improving. It's OK to have some secrets.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:11 AM on August 26, 2005

I'd like to second, are you sure she doesn't already know? Guilt is pretty easy to see, and if you're trying to make up for something she doesn't know about, I think it will make itself apparent. "Try being even better to your wife now than you used to be before the marriage troubles and affair" is the most obvious.

How are you supposed to act normal with this "cross to bear"? You have changed, and while I'm sure people who have been in this situation are way more credible, I would say you are sacrificing the possibility for honesty in your marriage by suppressing this. Denying the fact that things have changed will just make things worse, I don't think they'll just fade away. I would rather have the truth.
posted by scazza at 8:14 AM on August 26, 2005

> I would rather have the truth.

Bleh. As someone in an earlier comment noted, discovering the truth about her husband did her no good and lots of harm.

Anonymous may (or may not) be a little weird to his wife now, and it may be weird for him to start trying harder now, but he remains and will remain a husband as long as he doesn't tell her.

If he tells her the truth, he'll transform himself, perhaps forever, into an untrustworthy (heartless, cheating, lying, scum, I'll kill the fucker, etc.) bastard and that may be the end of the marriage.
posted by pracowity at 8:43 AM on August 26, 2005

If you're religious, you could go and admit it to a holy person, get it off you chest before the eyes of god or whatever.
I'd like to recommend going to see a Catholic priest regardless of your affiliation. Priests hear and see this exact kind of stuff day in and day out and they are (usually) well trained to help people deal with the emotional baggage that comes with this kind of stuff. Some priests are a helluva lot better at this than others, so maybe you could discretely ask around about who a good priest to go to for confession is- if you happened to live in Atlanta, I could help out.
Think of it as free therapy where everything said in the confessional stays in the confessional.
posted by jmd82 at 8:51 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

You should ask yourself what your WIFE would want. It continues to amaze me the way that (usually) men are able to justify not telling their significant other "because it would be too hard on her" and would rather buy her stuff, become a better husband now (somehow a miraculous change), and otherwise promise to high heaven that they'd never do it again.

I'd bet that she already knows in some capacity, and is either justifying the change in your behaviour or is choosing not to deal with the obvious. In any case, you definitely need some personal therapy, it sounds like the two of you could use couples therapy (not nec. about the cheating, but about communication, sex, etc.) to sincerely work towards making this marriage the best it can be; not just hoping that "this terrible guilt" will prevent you from harming this marriage even more.

Your post reads, "boo hoo, we were having problems, I cheated on her when she trusted me most, I wouldn't want to hurt her or the marriage by telling her, so how can I make this pesky little guilt go away?" If her trust didn't prevent you from doing it the first time (and the continued affair from afar) then how is she and YOU to know that this little guilt will prevent you from doing it again? It doesn't, not in my experience. You need to look at what made this possible in the first place.
posted by fionab at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2005

Sparing people pain may seem like the right thing, but in the end, if you don't tell her, your relationship is based on a lie. What is the point of having a relationship if it's based on lies? You are deciding what's best for her without her participation, and I think that's selfish and unfair. It isn't yours to decide.
posted by abbyladybug at 9:19 AM on August 26, 2005

Watch Crimes and Misdemeanors or at least the last five minutes. And no, I'm not saying you need to kill your wife, but it does bluntly tell you how to get on with things.
posted by furtive at 9:23 AM on August 26, 2005

In my opinion, the right thing to do is tell her. Secrets are the last thing you want in a relationship.

I would be horrified if I found out my husband had done this - but I would be more horrified to learn he intended never to tell me.
posted by agregoli at 9:27 AM on August 26, 2005

I think you need to line up a marital counselor and get some advice. No, I don't think you should hurt her, but (like a previous poster), I do believe that secrets and lies on this scale separate people.

Think of what COULD happen. You don't tell her and 5-10 years from now, she finds out what happened from something/someone else. Now, not only did you cheat but you also didn't come clean about it and she was caught off guard by it.

I would hate to hear that my spouse had cheated, but I would rather hear it from HIM than from someone else. I don't know if I could have recovered the trust lost but at least I would have been empowered to think through it and make the decision. That is something that could be given to me if I was in your wife's shoes. I think you owe her that at least.

I also think there are better ways to tell her and deal with the fallout than others. That is why I'm suggesting that you see a counselor first.
posted by jeanmari at 9:30 AM on August 26, 2005

It's obvious from the range of answers here that there's no obvious way to handle this sort of thing.

There's some truth to the observation that secrets warp people's behavior. Your wife may have a better idea of what happened than she's prepared to admit, either to you or to herself. But that in itself won't help you figure out what to do.

I hope you can find a therapist or wise friend to talk with.
posted by tangerine at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2005

As someone who once cheated on his wife, (ex-wife now) and has now had 15 years to live my guilt -

1) Don't tell her. There is an extremely slight chance that will make things better in the long run. But there is an overwhelmingly huge chance it will make things worse than they are now. When you feel the urge to tell her, repeat this, "Doing it was bad enough, and it's in the past. Dumping it on her now can't fix anything and will only compound things."

2) You won't get over the guilt, so don't bother trying. You've done lots of bad things in your life. You know better now. Such is life. Doing bad things is part of being human. As is being guilty. Guilt is normal and healthy.

3) If you love her, and she loves you, and you look forward to building a life together, that's good enough. Embrace it and stop worrying about wacky shit you did in the past. Love each other and be happy.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:21 AM on August 26, 2005

I don't know what I can add to all this. I'm not even sure what to suggest. I will say that I was in a similar position (living for a time in a different state than the rest of my family), and, while I didn't have an affair, I did find myself questioning my love for my wife for reasons I still don't fully understand (this was two years ago).

I didn't have to tell her that I was questioning my love for her, because the way I interacted with her made it pretty plain before we started talking about it. I think we both really thought we weren't going to be able to stay married.

But we worked on it together and went to counseling together. I thought our counselor was largely useless, blaming me for all the problems we had as though I'd deliberately caused myself to feel the way I did. But the counseling helped in the long run, I think. It wasn't too long before I remembered all the reasons I'd fallen in love with my wife in the first place, and my feelings returned to the way they'd been before.

I guess my suggestion would be that, if you're sure she doesn't know, don't say anything. But if it's at all possible that whatever feelings you had that precipitated the affair in the first place are still there—at all possible—I think you and your wife should go to counseling to make sure the issues are brought out into the open. Because the last thing you and she need is for you to do it, or something similarly hurtful, again.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:39 AM on August 26, 2005

A relationship built on lies cannot stand. As has been pointed out above, secrets--especially enormous secrets like this--warp behaviour in painfully obvious ways. She may not know the details, but I guarantee that she knows something's up.

Tell her. Be thoroughly honest with her; don't sugar-coat, don't equivocate about who started what. Beg forgiveness, and take what's coming to you.

Trying to not feel guilty about this? Too bad. You do the crime, you do the time. That's what being a grownup is; evading responsibility for your actions, or trying to, is childish.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:44 AM on August 26, 2005

I'm so relieved some others in this thread are also in the "tell her" and "don't base relationships on lies" camps. I was starting to get very disheartened with humanity.

Someone said that fessing up means it will definitely end in tears. I say that it would have ended in tears anyway. The ONLY hope there is is to tell and deal with the aftermath like a grownup, not by "protecting her." I'm sorry, but that's cowardly and just utter bullshit. I think people rationalize NOT telling because the thought of making themselves look that bad to someone who currently respects them is unthinkable. In the end, honesty is that better choice.

If you keep these things secret, don't you just end up doing them again?
posted by abbyladybug at 10:51 AM on August 26, 2005

It might help you to see the affair as a learning experience, from which benefit can come to your marriage. You know a lot more about yourself now, and maybe you know more about how to make a good relationship. I think you should keep it to yourself, and not tell your wife (unless you think she might find out, in which case the news would hurt less coming from you.)

Most guys suffer from dickbrain at some point in their lives. You're lucky it didn't damage your life too much -- let it go, and don't make it worse by digging through it with your wife.
posted by anadem at 10:57 AM on August 26, 2005

I have to say that you definitely should tell.

Part of having a real relationship and being a real grown up is knowing what's really going on and dealing with it. If you're dealing with massive guilt about something you've done - especially as it relates to your wife - and you don't share it, you're not honestly portraying a huge part of yourself. You're not giving your wife the chance to know who you really are and what you're experiencing.

If you lost your job would you not tell her because she'd be worried about money? If you had cancer would you not tell her because she'd be upset you might die? Of course you would tell her because dealing with hard shit is what life and marriage is about.

Deny her this big truth and your resulting emotions and you've done more than had an affair. You've lied to her every single day forever and ever. She deserves to know and you deserve to deal with the consequences.

Someone above said that finding out meant you couldn't trust your SO again. Isn't that kind of the point? Shouldn't the wife be given all of the information there is so that she can make informed decisions about who she is married to and what kind of trust he deserves?
posted by aaronh at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2005


I would favour JanetLand's idea over sacre_bleu's because you shouldn't profit brownie points with your wife because of your wrongdoings --- this is just assuming that you want to follow an atonement suggestion through.

Only you can decide whether to tell your wife or not. I'm unconvinced this type of thing is an 'ALWAYS tell' situation. It involves hurting someone greatly. That's a grave consequence and to judge whether the greater good will be served requires knowing something about how she is likely to react. I would not want to cause extreme mental anguish of a longstanding nature on anyone. But that's the only criteria I would use to decide not to tell. Otherwise I would side with those advocating honesty and communication and owning the consequences like adults do.
posted by peacay at 11:48 AM on August 26, 2005

Do you want her to tell you about her affair? What if the guy's still in town?
posted by ewkpates at 11:58 AM on August 26, 2005

Someone said that fessing up means it will definitely end in tears. I say that it would have ended in tears anyway. The ONLY hope there is is to tell and deal with the aftermath like a grownup, not by "protecting her."

This is a lie. There is absolutely nothing to be gained for anybody by telling her and it's doubtful that the asker's relationship will "end in tears" if he truly loves his wife. The whole "relationship based on a lie" is a cliche, not sound advice; believe it or not, married people do indeed keep secrets from one another. So I'll just pipe in and second y6's answer.
posted by nixerman at 12:10 PM on August 26, 2005

Married people do keeps secrets from each other sometimes - but do you think their relationships are as healthy as the ones where they tell each other everything important?

I doubt it.
posted by agregoli at 12:13 PM on August 26, 2005

Ditto what KathyK said; whether you decide to tell her or not, you don't want her to find out the hard way.
posted by kimota at 12:34 PM on August 26, 2005

I think it's worthwhile to look at a bigger picture, rather than just the affair and should you tell or not. May I recommend the book Tell Me No Lies? The authors are therapists down in the Menlo Park area, and have some interesting ideas about the function and effects of lies in marriages. You can look at some of the pages at Amazon, so maybe you can figure out if this approach is interesting to you.
posted by jasper411 at 12:53 PM on August 26, 2005

I ran this past my wife, and she says DON'T TELL HER.

For what it's worth, my wife is very, very law and order, justice-oriented. And she still says don't tell.

I wonder why she has this entirely contradictory opinion on this one topic....oh crap.
posted by craniac at 1:07 PM on August 26, 2005

I'm really surprised. I think the poster should tell his wife, after perhaps seeking counseling, like jeanmari suggested. I haven't been married as long as some other commentors, but I cannot imagine living the rest of my life with a secret like that.

That is to say, personally, I do not think I could feel I had not compromised my integrity by accepting the presence of the lie as a feature, however minor, of my daily life.

Even at the risk of divorce, it would be a crime against my own honor to keep it up. Every time I have made the decision to fess up and be honest, I have always ultimately felt it was the best decision that personally could have been made.

That is my purely personal viewpoint, though. It is possible that the posters saying "don't tell" know more about realpolitikrelationship than me.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:15 PM on August 26, 2005

Married people do keeps secrets from each other sometimes - but do you think their relationships are as healthy as the ones where they tell each other everything important?

How would anyone know? If people have happy "healthy" relationships are they likely to tell anyone if they also keep secrets? Where would we get an idea of their percentages vs. those who did not lie or lied and had bad relationships?

There is a huge difference between telling a lie when asked or going into a new relationship with an intent to deceive, and being in a committed relationship where some hurtful fact is never revealed. Truthfulness is a wonderful thing and is something to strive for, and if you are in a relationship with no secrets congratulations, but the view that the only good relationship is one that has no secrets is extreme.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 1:20 PM on August 26, 2005

Don't tell, it may or may not make you feel better, but it will definitly make her feel worse.
This next suggestion is a bit tongue in cheek, but how about you watch a movie where cheating is taking place and casually say "You know, if someone cheated on me, I wouldn't want to know" and she what she says. I'll bet she says, "Me neither".
posted by 445supermag at 2:17 PM on August 26, 2005

50 to 60% of couples (both men AND women) cheat at some point in their marrage.

Don't tell her- be a better husband. Don't stray. Be forgiving, be a better person to her and other people.

Guilt? Go take this bad thing and do something noble. Give some money to a charity, better yet, go volunteer. Do some backbreaking labor.

Your marriage barely survived the will not survive a confession of betrayal of your marital vows. And one day if she cheats on you, forgive her.
posted by filmgeek at 3:27 PM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Anonymous: I try to imagine myself in the cuckold's position (something you and I could both already be in as far as we know) and ask myself whether I would want to know or whether I would rather continue in what I imagined was a strictly monogamous relationship. I am certain that I would be better off not knowing. (I can't remember why it came up, but I even remember telling her that she had better never tell me if she was ever unfaithful because I would be gone the next day.)

Of course, if other people knew, it would not be fair to be left in ignorance and talked about behind your back, so you have to make sure you tell no one and that the other woman also keeps her mouth shut.
posted by pracowity at 4:02 PM on August 26, 2005

David Mamet:
You cheated on your wife...? You did it, live with it.
posted by cribcage at 5:34 PM on August 26, 2005

Remember that rhyme about Humpty Dumpty? Regardless of whether you tell her or not, the chances of your marriage surviving have become quite a bit slimmer.

I didn't tell my SO, and I think in my context it was the better choice. But in order to assuage my own guilt, I had to find a way to rationalize away what happened, and a consequence of that was that I felt less inhibited about cheating again. Furthermore, numbing myself to guilt led toward becoming emotionally dead. I hit rock bottom after becoming a total slut, and only after several years of soul-searching have I been able to find rewarding love again.
posted by randomstriker at 7:11 PM on August 26, 2005

Do NOT tell her. It will make her feel awful. YOU should feel awful, not her. YOU should have to live with this for the rest of your life, she shouldn't.
posted by suchatreat at 7:14 PM on August 26, 2005

I'd want to know so I could decide whether or not to divorce you.

What this means in practicality is that, if you were married to me, the only way you could confess your crime and keep the marriage going is if you first did lots of soul-searching and figured out why you made that series of decisions, why the affair really ended (did the other woman end it, or did you realize your mistake and end it yourself?), and what you learned that makes you worth staying with. I do think it's possible to make a series of bad decisions and come out on the other side a better person, so if this is the case here, you'd have to prove it to me with your self-understanding.

I find it striking that you characterize your marriage now as "mostly" fixed and qualify your happiness by comparing it with other marriages -- it sounds to me like you're saying that you suspect other marriages aren't all that blissful, so if yours isn't either, that's average and acceptable. Maybe you should seek more fulfillment than that.

But I'm not sure how your relationship with your wife could grow to be more fulfilling if you continue to withhold from her the truth about who you are. It's as if she's having a relationship with an earlier edition of you, one that you yourself have moved past. Personally, I'd feel more guilty about continuing the relationship with such a hole in the middle of it, than I would about a past mistake I had genuinely learned from.
posted by xo at 7:46 PM on August 26, 2005

Ideals are like the stars. We cannot reach them, but we are enriched by their presence.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:56 PM on August 26, 2005

It's hard to offer advice on something so personal, so I'll just share my own wishes in hopes of offering a useful perspective.

I want truth from my partner, but I don't necessarily have to know his every little action. What I want truth about are his feelings, his intentions, and his commitment.

If he were to have an affair that did not affect his love for me, or his commitment towards me (or that made it stronger, as has been the case for some of my friends), I would not want to know. He knows what his feelings are, and I've asked him to make that judgement: if he has something to tell me that would make me insecure, and he knows that he will be with me for the unforeseeable future saying "no, dear, I'm not thinking about her, no, dear, I don't wish I made another choice" and meaning it, then don't put me through that. And don't feel guilty. Just know that everyone is ultimately an individual, and sometimes what is right for an individual can be difficult for a couple. Spare me (important caveat: if there is a chance of STD he must tell).

On the other hand, if he is having an affair that is causing him to question his feelings, intentions, or commitment to me (whether it is ongoing or whether it has ended and the questions remain) I need to know NOW NOW NOW. Because then it is not about him as an individual but about us as a couple. Then I want to be involved in decisions about counselling, separation, etc.
posted by carmen at 9:15 AM on August 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Your wife probably knows.

Much of my first marriage was a long-distance relationship. During that time, my (now ex-) husband was unfaithful.

Before he confessed, I already knew in my gut he'd had an affair. I knew it, but I didn't confront him about it directly, because I knew that living apart had been stressful, and I had decided to give the marriage a real effort going forward and let bygones be bygones.

Despite already knowing, however, I was unprepared for how horrible it was when he confessed. I felt ill, I remember running to the bathroom and throwing up. He felt a huge weight off of his shoulders, having confessed, and meanwhile I was devastated. He wanted to move forward, but what he had done was saddle me with the burden of dealing with it. I'd been willing to let that sleeping dog lie, in that I'd known that he'd cheated, and had been willing to let that go and move forward, but once he dredged up the past and brought it out into the open, I had to question every aspect of the relationship. Additional episodes of infidelity on his part ultimately put an end to the marriage.

I think you need to examine your motives in telling or not telling. If you want to tell so that you can get it off your chest and move forward with your marriage, I'd caution you to consider that your wife may actually suspect or know, and want to move on, and bringing up what appears to be a closed chapter may rupture more than it heals. If the affair is truly over, and you are not a serial philanderer, and you really want to stay married, then keep it to yourself. The guilty conscience is the price you pay for breaking your wedding vows, and if she has chosen to look past that and stay with you, you ought to be grateful, instead of dropping a big stinky bomb in the middle of your relationship.
posted by ambrosia at 10:35 AM on August 27, 2005

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