Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Disclosing the Affair: Do I Tell or Not?

Series: Disclosing the Affair

Part 1: Do I Tell or Not?
Part 2: Who to Tell?

“Why should I tell?” is one of the questions most frequently asked by the unfaithful mate and, for them, this question presents a frightening dilemma. The arguments are universal: Why should my mate be hurt because of my bad behavior? What they don’t know won’t hurt them. They’ll never be able to handle the truth. It would be the end of my marriage. How could I do that to the other party and their marriage? Why should I dump my stuff on them just to get rid of my guilt? And the list goes on. At first glance, these arguments seem logical but they fail to address the larger issues.

Infidelity isn't the problem. The problem lies in our inability to know what to do about the infidelity and how to respond to infidelity. Most arguments against telling are self-serving and don’t address the best interest of one’s mate or the best interest of a healthy relationship. Maybe a better question would be, “Would my mate want to know?” The vast majority of the time, the primary motivation for not telling is fear. We’re afraid of what would happen if our mate were to find out. How will they react? What will it cost me? Telling all is about surrendering a secret life as well as choosing truth instead of deceitful lies and health over pathology. It is about surrender not control, about letting go rather than hanging on.

Recovery is not about maintaining the status quo and it is not about business as usual. Rather, it is about a changed life, a new beginning, and true intimacy. When describing the perfect relationship the author of Genesis states: “And the two were naked and not ashamed.” This doesn’t mean that they had their own little nudist colony; rather, it means they were able to fully share their lives, to be fully known, including all of their secrets, fears, dreams, failures, and successes. Nothing was hidden from the eyes of their mate and at the same time they felt totally accepted. That state is a far cry from the condition of those trapped in a secret life. In fact, those individuals find themselves hidden and ashamed. Recovery is about new beginnings and the old baggage needs to be discarded.

To do that, the truth has to be removed from its hiding places and exposed to the light. Infidelity is the keeping of secrets and intimacy is about a willingness to be fully known and a willingness to fully know another. The problem with infidelity is it inhibits a couple’s ability to be fully intimate.

Admittedly sharing information for the sake of relieving guilt is self-centered. Sharing with no willingness to help the other person heal from the wound of the betrayal is heartless. It comes down to your goal. Are you seeking a meaningful relationship based on honesty and intimacy or a relationship based on victimization where both live in the shallow disconnectedness of silent despair?

The most disturbing aspect about not sharing the whole truth and nothing but the truth with our mate is the control and manipulation. Information is control and the unwillingness to share the truth robs one’s mate of being able to make an informed decision. It ruins the unfaithful mate’s opportunity to truly be chosen. Living a facade is no way to experience love You can never be loved unconditionally if you only conditionally allow your mate to know who you are.

Decisions regarding “telling” don’t need to be based upon what a spouse has stated regarding what they will do if their mate betrays them. No one knows how their spouse will respond. In the majority of couples we’ve treated, the hurt spouse has previously made threats that if their mate ever cheats on them, then they’re gone, but they can never know how they’re going to react before they actually find themselves in that situation. Our experience shows that God frequently gives the grace to the betrayed spouse to give the relationship a chance as long as their mate is broken and grieved over what they’ve done to their mate.

Some of you may be saying at this point, “You don’t know my spouse” and you’d be right, but at the same time, maybe you don’t know how they’ll respond. In the past 25 years of working with marriages impacted by unfaithfulness, I can only think of a handful of cases where I didn’t believe it best to tell the truth. If you didn’t want to hurt them then you shouldn’t have done the deed. To keep them in the dark is almost always in your short-term best interest and not in theirs.

In many ways the most important issue of recovery isn’t about the behavior. If all we try to do is stop bad and hurtful behavior, then all we will have done is swept cobwebs. In my mind, we need to kill the spider and that work can never be done in secret. It requires eliminating shame, which is done by revealing our dark side and receiving the grace of God. It’s learning how to embrace what’s done and to take personal responsibility to address the problem. This sort of work can never be done for one’s mate, it can only be done out of my own desperation to become a loving human being. It’s facing the consequences rather than avoiding them through dishonesty. It’s about growing up.

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