guilty of adultery, need help
February 27, 2015 6:10 AM   Subscribe

I have cheated on my wife. Basically a one night stand, but the relationship was somewhat longer. I am now in the depths of despair and need to figure out where to get help and how to proceed. If anyone has any online support resources for adulterers I'd be interested. I'd also be interested in any therapist recommendations in the Newton, MA area. I am in disbelief that I've even typed these words. Thanks for any input.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think that first and foremost, you need to figure out if you want to stay in the relationship that you are in (meaning with your wife). Once you do that, your future goals will become pretty clear.
posted by Fister Roboto at 6:44 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Try It has online forums for both people on both sides of the adultery divide.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:46 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, please visit a clinic and get checked for the benefit of your piece of mind and that of your wife. There's no stigma to this: You should do this any time you have a new partner.
posted by mochapickle at 7:03 AM on February 27, 2015 [12 favorites]

Surviving Infidelity has a forum called "Wayward Side." It looks like the assumption is that posters have confessed or been discovered and are trying to patch up their relationships.
posted by BibiRose at 7:30 AM on February 27, 2015

It is great that you can acknowledge that you need and want help. This is a very desperate situation to get yourself in and it is hard to get back out. Do not be ashamed to get all the help you need for yourself and your marriage!

A great website is which also guides you step by step through the process of surviving this situation, both as the cheater and the cheated-on. If the website isn't enough, they also do counseling. However, I have found that the advice is very good and that it helps both emotionally and practically. Please disregard the Christian undertones if this isn't your thing, the general advice is universal.

Good luck and don't be too hard on yourself. No one is without fault and the fact that you are willing to face the situation is a good start.
posted by Fallbala at 7:46 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I read a great comment somewhere on AskMe (which I can't find, can anyone else remember this?) which talked about how when you cheat in a relationship it's often an unconscious/semi-conscious attempt to change the status quo. As in, something's not right so you cheat as a kind of desperate, something has to change and it might as well be this kind of flailing maneuver.

That might help you with framing it. Did you cheat because there is something not right, or missing, in your marriage, or in your life? It doesn't make it right, but it might deflect some of the "this is because I am a horrible person" despair that is filling your mind right now. Do you think it can be changed? If so, get to work on that - involving a therapist - asap. If not, then use this as a painful wake-up call and make some life changes.
posted by greenish at 7:48 AM on February 27, 2015 [13 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
thanks everyone for the input, I am seeing a therapist today. I desperately want to stay married I love my wife dearly and need to make it right.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:12 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, you need to be less harsh on yourself...even if you don't feel it, stop using the word adulterer. And "guilty of adultery". You messed up. We all make mistakes. You can't unring a bell, but you can dedicate yourself to not doing it again.

You didn't say if you told your partner, but if this is truly a one-off, I wouldn't. Work with your therapist to deal with the guilt, but often telling someone that just causes them heartache they otherwise wouldn't have had.

You're not a bad person. You are human. Try to forgive yourself and work on yourself to find out what might have been missing before and try to find it with your partner.
posted by inturnaround at 9:02 AM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think Dan Savage has some great advice regarding cheating. I don’t always agree with everything he says, but in this instance I do. He says that if it is just a one off thing, a blip in an otherwise happy marriage, something that you regret desperately and immediately – then you don’t need to tell your spouse, in fact, you probably SHOULDN’T tell your spouse.

Move on, don’t cheat again and try to regard it as a learning experience. Try listening to his podcast, Savage Love, for some insights into this situation – he talks about it quite frequently.

Go and get counseling and therapy for yourself if you feel it would help. You sound as if you have no intention of ever doing it again and it’s made you realize whole-heartedly that you love your wife and want to be with her forever. if it truly is a one off, then don't tell her - work on how to move on yourself.... give her a kiss tonight, tell her you love her... truly appreciate her in a new way. You can move on from this successfully and come through it, a stronger couple.
posted by JenThePro at 9:05 AM on February 27, 2015 [14 favorites]

I have to disagree with not telling. For me, cheating is usually a dealbreaker (one boyfriend, we got past it, but still). Not being told means I am not being allowed to make my own informed decision on whether or not to stay in the relationship.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:30 AM on February 27, 2015 [29 favorites]

Cheating on your partner is not a mistake. It is the culmination of a series of purposeful choices. You need to face that at every branch in this path, you made a purposeful choice that lead to you having sex with someone who is not your wife.

Don't mistake your fearful regrets now for resolution to never cheat again. Being scared of facing consequences for your choice is not the same thing as gaining insight into why you made that choice.

You should work very hard with your therapist at first on not your guilty feelings or fears, but on accepting you made this purposeful choice, and exploring your reasons for doing so. I don't think you can feel sure you'll not do this again until you've really explored why you did it this time. Don't lie to your therapist - it won't help you in any way and you'll need the practice in not being a deceptive person.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:54 AM on February 27, 2015 [37 favorites]

Day off, no kids, well rested, at least several hours to retreat to separate corners, no alcohol, no plans.

And, having been in her situation, she may well need either an escape route (go for a walk/drive/to friend or relative's place), or will need you to absolutely and immediately acquiesce if she says "GTFO, now."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:31 AM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

[This is another followup from the asker. Asker, please use the contact form going forward to let the mods know if you have a comment, so that we can post it for you anonymously like this.]
Thanks for all the good input. I would have considered sparing my spouse the knowledge, but the other woman is untrustworthy so I must bring her in to my mess. It is breathtakingly painful. Seeing the therapist helped, but now I must tell her.

Better to:
do it now regardless of where she is and how much time we'd have to talk? Or pick a day in the near future that I know we'll both have off and the kids won't be around?
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:32 AM on February 27, 2015

I'm getting a lot of self pitying and flagellation vibes from your posts and comments. When you tell your wife, don't be beating your chest and wailing about all the pain your actions have caused. For the love of all, don't turn the conversation into her having to comfort you!

but the other woman is untrustworthy


I think Dan Savage has some really awful and self-serving advice regarding cheating. Someone cheating on me and then withholding that information because they don't want me to make decisions based on that knowledge that could hurt or inconvenience them? Nuts to that.
posted by Dynex at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2015 [26 favorites]

One thing I will beg of you: beware of the emotional dynamic where you are so writhing with guilt when you tell her that SHE ends up comforting YOU. You're the transgressor here, and you know it, but if you keep constantly stating what a horrible terrible no good very bad person you are, she may be awkwardly compelled to say "No, no, sweetie. . . no, you're not that bad. . . no, of course I still love you, everything's going to be OK." That's a rotten position to put someone in when they're still reeling with the shock of betrayal. (Alternative answer is that she just says "Yep. Yep, you are. Uh huh. Nail on head there" and then that widens the gulf between you. There's really no winning with that strategy.)

I don't know about soon vs. now, but it definitely has to be one of those two. Don't bring gifts, no flowers, no candy or anything like that; this is more than can be fixed with flowers. Sit down and say something like "I fucked up bad. I slept with someone else. It was a terrible decision which I regret immensely and completely. I love you, and I can't believe I did something this dumb that would hurt you this badly. I very much want to stay married to you, and I will do anything in my power to make that happen." Then STOP TALKING.

I don't know how she'll respond, but no matter how she responds, it's OK. She may stay constant in her reactions, she may vacillate wildly, but it's OK no matter what, she doesn't owe you one particular response. You might want to consider sort of pre-staging some folded clothes in one section of a dresser drawer so that if she says "get out NOW" you can just grab your shit, stop by a drugstore for toiletries, and go find a hotel.

And also yes, definitely explore with yourself in therapy what was motivating you to make these decisions. Nothing is just out of the blue; people make choices for reasons. Until you know what your reasons are, you can't really affirm that you won't make those same choices again.

Good luck.
posted by KathrynT at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2015 [22 favorites]

"I fucked up bad. I slept with someone else. It was a terrible decision which I regret immensely and completely. I love you, and I can't believe I did something this dumb that would hurt you this badly. I very much want to stay married to you, and I will do anything in my power to make that happen." Then STOP TALKING.


Especially the 'stop talking' part.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:41 AM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

If you think you have to tell her because you feel the need to confess / you think you'll feel better about it because you confessed - the Good Feeling will last something like 10 minutes.

If it's truly a one-off, accidental thing, then I'd advise not telling your wife, ever. If nothing else: is there a reason you're in a hurry? Maybe you should give yourself a little time to calm down, a few more sessions of therapy?

Also, I disagree that you need to "GTFO" at your wife's request. That seems to be a popular attitude with some people, but I don't see that there's any kind of legal requirement for you to do this.

I know you feel badly about having cheated on your wife, but ya know what? It's far from the worst thing a person has ever done to their spouse.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:05 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

The thing is, cheating is never accidental; you don't trip and fall and end up with someone else's genitals surprise-entangled with yours. It is, as said above, a series of choices that are made.

And the thing about telling is this: with most marriages (and this seems to be one of them), monogamy is explicitly understood to be one of The Big Rules That We Agree To. As in, it's one of those rules that if broken, is grounds for dissolving the union. This whole weird attitude of "don't tell your spouse you've cheated" is basically saying "well yeah I agreed to that rule but I don't actually have to follow it, because you're not going to know when I've broken it." It's denying the other party the ability to decide for themselves whether they will forgive the transgression or not; it's denying their agency. Not to mention that it's lying, which I think most people are in agreement is Not Done with one's spouse--that, in many ways, is one of the major points of long term committed relationships; someone to be honest with.

Not telling one's partner is nothing more than saying "I broke the agreement we entered into, and I'm not going to tell you because then I might suffer." That's not acceptable adult behaviour. Not least because the OP's partner is now at risk of an STI. I personally know several guys who contracted HIV because their supposedly monogamous partners were screwing around on the side. One of whom got very sick and died relatively quickly, because nobody thought to perform an HIV test until it was too late for the late-90's drugs to have much effect.

There may not be a legal requirement to GTFO, but there's absolutely a moral/ethical one. This is fairly shattering news, and she will almost certainly need space--and why should she have to leave the house for the day/week/forever when she did nothing wrong?

Adults own up to the consequences of their decisions, and cheating is always a decision.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:39 PM on February 27, 2015 [41 favorites]

unless a couple has agreed to a don't ask, don't tell policy in advance, it is the right of a person to know if the person s/he's sleeping with has slept with someone. besides, the guilt of keeping something this big a secret (and the planning that comes along with it) will damage the relationship in other ways.
posted by kinoeye at 12:56 PM on February 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

It's no longer about you. You have done something dreadful to hurt the wife you say you love. Your job now is to make things right with her, for her, not for you. She may or may not decide to stay with you. Frankly, that is her concern and no longer yours. She was wronged, by you, and your job is to do everything you can to ease her pain. Be honest, be caring and forget about your own needs. If you focus on meeting her needs, and not your own, you might be able to undo some of the damage you have done. If you can succeed at that, who knows, she might even decide to stay with you. If instead you make it about you, she probably won't stay and even if she does I am pretty sure you will both end up miserable. Love means putting the other person first.
posted by caddis at 12:58 PM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

What comes to my mind is from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 9:
- Made direct amends [not just an apology or a confession] to such people [like your wife] whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them [like the conversation turning into her consoling you] or others.

In my opinion, yes this is something you and she need to talk about and sometime in the near future (days/weeks, not months/years). But, you need to work on yourself to make amends, not just confess. And, pick an appropriate time/place. And figure out how to give her space if/when she needs it (like don't have the kids around -- take the responsibility of the children for a few days if she needs that much space). Etc...
posted by elmay at 1:04 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with those that say you should tell. I wouldn't have always provided this advice, but now that I've lived this I would recommend telling her. Because it's quite possible that she will figure out there's something wrong, and that you're hiding something. When my husband cheated on me, I found out before he told me, and I said nothing. I knew that if he didn't tell me himself (he did), there was no way I would ever be able to trust him again.

Having said that, be sensitive regarding when you tell her. Make sure it's at a time when she has the luxury of a bit of time away from your kids. I ended up having to deal with some of the fallout while my nephew was visiting and trying to process everything while having to shelter him made a horrible experience even worse.

And echoing others, if you really want to fix this, it has to be about her. This is going to suck for you too, but you need to set that aside and focus on giving her what she needs, including full access to any email, phone messages, Facebook, etc. if she wants it. It is going to take time (potentially months and months) for her to rebuild her trust in you if she chooses to stay together. And you will need to be patient while that happens.

There are a lot of resources out there, but I found this post on Surviving Infidelity to particularly helpful, partly because it helped me explain to my husband what I needed from him.
posted by Lamb_Chop at 6:28 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Basically a one night stand, but the relationship was somewhat longer."

No, you didn't basically have a one night stand, even if you only had sex once.

If I were you, I would NOT tell your wife. If you tell your wife, all you're going to do is give her pain in order to clear your guilty conscience, and that's cruel. You screwed up. Don't dump the pain on her. Instead, if I were you, I'd find ways of becoming a better husband. I'd never speak of what I did, but I would never forget it either, and I'd work hard to be a better husband in order to prove to myself that I am the man my wife deserves.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 7:44 PM on February 27, 2015

Please get tested for STIs, and refrain from unprotected sexual contact from your wife until you're clear. For some STIs a waiting period of up to 3 months is required.
posted by Mistress at 7:23 AM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

One last thing to consider: where do you live? If you insist on confessing to your wife, you should investigate what, if any, legal consequences there might be. IANAL, IANYL, etc, but even here in the USA, in some states an outright confession of infidelity might affect things later during divorce proceedings. Outside of the U.S. - the sky's the limit. My point being that you might want to consult with an attorney before you throw yourself upon the mercy of your wife.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:32 AM on February 28, 2015

I just want to answer the question that greenish posed above, asking about a recent and relevant AskMe comment. The comment referred to (which I would favorite 10x if I could) is by user "pretentious illiterate" here.
posted by quoth_the_raven at 10:04 AM on March 2, 2015

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