Research suggest that in just under half of all marriages, one spouse will cheat on the other at some point during the marriage. For some couples, this will spell the beginning of the end of the relationship or signal that the end has already begun. However, many other people will commit an act of infidelity only to regret the error and to feel more committed to making their marriages work.
However, people in this situation often feel tortured by guilt and believe that they need to confess their infidelity to their spouses in order to truly put their betrayal behind them. Many feel that their partners deserve to know the truth and that it isn’t fair to keep the information from them and continue in the relationship as though nothing happened.
However, many experts argue that the urge to confess is essentially selfish and typically does more harm than good. The person who is desperate to confess often feels the need to ease the tremendous guilt that she feels, but the cost of a confession is that an innocent spouse goes from being happily unaware to shouldering his own burden of pain, anger and doubt. Cheaters may argue with themselves that the desire to confess is about fairness and honesty, but deep down it is usually about the desire to make themselves feel better.
People who cheated on their spouses have already made one selfish decision, and it is important that they not make another decision that is purely about their own happiness. Cheaters should think long and hard about what they hope to achieve by confessing their transgression, and they should stop themselves if their own guilt is the primary motivating factor.
It’s possible that some cheating spouses may genuinely feel that their partners have a right to make an informed decision about whether to remain in a relationship after an infidelity. Some spouses may have made it clear that they always want the full truth or that they would consider infidelity to be a deal-breaker no matter what. But it can be harmful to assume that someone has this point of view and to inflict a painful truth on them that they would rather not have heard. Most relationships necessarily contain the occasional half-truths or unspoken thoughts, and partnerships that truly practice unabridged honesty are extremely rare.
When Coming Clean Is Important
If your infidelity is about to be exposed, coming clean right away is often the best thing you can do. As painful as the confession is likely to be for your spouse, it is still more painful to find out indirectly. This may or may not make it more likely that your relationship can survive the affair, but the important thing is that you now take steps to minimize the inevitable distress that your spouse is going to experience.
If your cheating has put your spouse in harm’s way, it is also critical to confess your transgression immediately. If your affair included unsafe sex, your spouse needs to know right away in order to avoid potential exposure to a sexually transmitted disease or to get tested. Once again, the pain that the confession will inflict is overshadowed by an even greater threat.
Ultimately, it is entirely up to each individual whether to confess to an extramarital fling. But have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve by making such a potentially heart-breaking confession, and ask yourself whether your primary concern is for your spouse’s well-being or your own.