Sharing Infidelity: Do We Tell Our Friends and Family?

To Tell or Not to Tell…Our Friends and Family

People struggle with the decision of whether to tell friends and family and, particularly their children, about the infidelity that occurred in their marriage. For some, the ugly truth comes out before they consider it. Sometimes, kids are collateral damage in the ensuing chaos, overhearing or directly witnessing the arguments and drama by parents overwhelmed with their emotions.

I’ve heard both sides of this dilemma declare with certainty that their perspective is the only right choice for one reason or another, but I’ve also heard people regret how they handled it and wish they could go back and do it differently. Some feel it is inherently wrong and deceptive to keep a secret like this within a family, and the truth should be shared no matter what, while others argue there are no circumstances in which children should ever learn of their parent’s betrayal, even as adults.

In my time spent on the Affair Recovery forums, I have heard from many people whose children learned of the infidelity amid the discovery alongside the betrayed partner or overheard enough to put the pieces together. Sometimes, an overwhelmed spouse blurts it out to friends or family as they begin the free fall into shock and confusion, often regretting it later. Some affairs are made very public, and everyone knows, whether you want them to. In those instances, choosing whether to tell is moot, and the path forward is more about damage control. But for those that still have that choice, which is correct? Do we tell our friends and family, or not? What about our kids? What do we do?

There is no single right answer to this question. People are unique, and situations differ. There are many variables and nuances between families, spouses, betrayal stories, and other factors, so each situation is individual. Family and friends vary in their emotional capacity and stability; of course, age is a factor in whether (and how) to discuss something so difficult with children. There is no single “best” way to handle this, but I can tell you what we decided to do and how it worked out for us.

First, some background. During my husband’s affair, I told no one of my suspicions. Not a word. I accused him directly, and he denied it, but I never said anything to anyone else and kept all my fears and feelings to myself.

Over ten years passed before my husband finally confessed. During all that time, I never told anyone, and he had certainly never told anyone - other than the affair partner, of course.

After he confessed, I didn’t know what to do about sharing this nuclear bomb that had just been dropped in my lap. My world crumbled around me and I was very alone. Neither of us wanted to share this news with our family or friends. I needed support, but I couldn’t get past the shame (mine and his) to open up to anyone I knew. I had already carried it alone for a long time and didn’t even know if I could get the words out of my mouth.

My husband’s affair had ended years earlier, so it felt punitive for me to want to tell anyone. Initially, I believed that I should just be able to “get over it” since it was a long time ago and that there was something wrong with me for feeling so much pain. I did not immediately understand the magnitude of the impact this would have or the benefit of having someone to talk to. I was ashamed of his infidelity, and I felt worthless. I thought sharing it would just highlight my deficits for all to see, and then they would also know I was not enough.

Eventually, I told one longtime coworker, but I soon regretted it and otherwise kept it hidden. I heard someone describe the feeling of hiding a dead body while trying to heal. That’s pretty much what it felt like, and I put a lot of energy into keeping our secret. It was nearly impossible to keep my emotions in check and pretend everything was fine day after day, but that is exactly what I did, at work and home. So much so that it was hard to devote time and space to healing, and it was counterproductive in that regard. Over and over each day, I would leave the room to cry and return with a fake smile and pretend to be okay. I felt fake. I felt disconnected from my kids, my friends, and my family, and they had no idea I was in any distress at all. As time went on, I spent more and more time separating the two lives, the public façade and my private reality.

I made many mistakes along the way, and I wish I had done many things differently, but for the most part, I don’t regret keeping this from our children, family, and friends during this very raw time. It was very hard and lonely.

However, I felt very unsettled about lying to everyone. They only knew the fake mom/friend/daughter who pretended to be okay. It felt really unfair and kept me from feeling connected to them, which was just another loss I experienced because of the infidelity. I also worried about the potential that our kids might have overheard our conversations and possibly already knew and felt we were intentionally keeping a secret from them or worried about our family. But there was no way to find that out without asking, and I wasn’t ready to open that can of worms.

People I had met through AR forums and groups told me I should tell my kids, who were teens / young adults at the time. They offered perspectives from their situations, but for most of them, the disclosure had negatively impacted their relationships with their kids, and it scared me. But their situations were not mine, and telling my kids felt wrong. And yet, I also felt deceitful for hiding this “thing” in plain sight in the middle of our family. It was a conundrum, and I could not predict the outcome if we decided to share the truth. If we told anyone, we couldn’t take it back again. So, I felt more comfortable just holding off, maybe forever, to avoid having it go badly.

Over time, as I began to heal slowly, I revisited this question here and there in my mind. I still had all the same hesitations, but I also felt resentful for feeling like I had to keep a significant part of my life hidden from the people closest to me. I felt they didn’t even know me anymore.

After several years of recovery and finally getting to a more stable place, I revisited the idea of telling our children and discussed it with my husband. I was not looking for a pound of flesh, nor did I want to damage my kids' relationships with their father. I was also concerned about how they would navigate the information and how it might impact them individually. However, I was wrestling with the inauthenticity of all of my close relationships, as the real me, the most gut wrenching parts, remained hidden. Not only do they not know about the infidelity and the resulting trauma, but they don’t know that for a while, I was so depressed I struggled just to stay alive. To be present. To be a parent, a daughter, and a friend. I wondered if my kids thought I just lost interest in them or didn’t care. They also did not know about the strength it took to face this and the deep respect, partnership, and support my husband and I have since found in each other. My husband held me together when I couldn’t do it for myself and showed strength and humility my kids knew nothing about.

I also started to think about my kids as they entered into adulthood. I wondered about their expectations for marriage and if they would share their struggles or face them alone and in secret as we had done. I didn’t want that for them. I didn’t want my kids to have the fake Instagram standard for marriage where everyone looks happy and shiny on the outside, and the viewer is left feeling like they are the only ones facing hard things. That isn’t real and can be so isolating. I wanted my kids to know marriage is hard and everyone will endure things they didn’t expect, even if it isn’t to the level of infidelity. I wanted them to know that even if everyone else’s marriage looks easy and perfect, they hide the reality of any relationship between two imperfect people. Some people may have very little trouble in their marriage, but it gets hard for everyone at some point, which is just reality. (To be clear, I don’t consider infidelity to be a routine part of marital hardship; it is in a category of its own and carries more pain than any other relational situation. However, in general, all marriages will face some hardship, and unfortunately, some of those will include betrayal.)

I wanted my kids to know how to be resilient and see a living example that marriage can survive difficult and painful things and is important enough to put forth the effort. In our marriage, our tendency has always been to keep all marital conflicts hidden from our children when possible, but doing that can send the message that there isn’t any conflict, which is just not real. I didn’t want to get into the weeds with them about any of our issues. Still, I wanted to acknowledge that we are flawed, have endured a lot of hardship and heartache, and can be a safe and understanding resource when they someday face trouble in their marriages.

I certainly didn’t know what to do or what the right decision was, but my biggest fear was hurting my children in the process. My therapist assuaged some of those fears when she said - if your kids know or even suspect there was an affair. Still, they see you leaning into each other and showing love toward one another, even amidst tense moments, then you are showing them love and forgiveness. And that model is even stronger if they know what has happened.

After much thought, my husband and I created a narrative to share. We did this together. The narrative was entirely truthful but selective about what we included. We didn’t include specifics about an affair being part of our marriage history, but we did talk about the hurt that has happened - before, during, and after the affair, and how we have worked together to overcome it.

We spent a few days writing out what we wanted to say, and once we had agreed to the general sentiment, we sat them down together and shared it. We didn’t read it verbatim but took turns talking about pain and humility and being unable to make good and loving decisions when we were focused on our individual hurts. We described in very general ways how we had felt misunderstood and hurt each other over the years. My husband took ownership of hurting me very deeply and being grateful for my forgiveness.

We talked about communication, or the lack thereof, as well as sadness, depression and bitterness, and I shared for the first time that I had been going to therapy for quite a while and that we had also started couples counseling. The faces of my children revealed their surprise. I told them I didn't want to keep the therapy a secret, but for a season, I did need to keep it private as I dealt with some things. I wanted to normalize getting help so they didn’t ever have to feel like they needed to suffer in solitude like we did.

In the end, our advice to them was: When things are hard, don’t stay isolated. We hadn’t sought help before because we didn’t know what to do; we felt alone and we thought no one would understand. But you don’t have to keep “hard” hidden. God put us in community for a reason. I wish we had recognized that years ago.

We described what we have learned about God and ourselves in the healing process. Before sharing this, I suspect if they had their own marital troubles, they would have been unlikely to share them. I hope now that we normalize struggle, heartache, therapy, resilience, and openness so they will feel open to seeking support when needed.

They didn’t have much to say that night, but they did ask a few questions over the days that followed, which allowed for a little more general conversation about therapy and relationships. We had also decided to include our son’s fiancé in the conversation, and I was initially worried she might feel uncomfortable with such an intimate conversation. However, she commented that she appreciated the openness.

I hope they can learn from our mistakes, and I felt liberated by sharing this with them. We didn’t tell them there was infidelity, and we didn’t get into specifics. This was enough. Unexpectedly, having this conversation released me from my lingering resentment at feeling fake and having to keep his secret. I hadn’t realized it was still there until I could let it go.

I don’t know what it would have looked like if we had tried this early in our recovery. I honestly don’t know if I would have been satisfied to leave it at that without having the full story be known so they could truly understand the depth of my pain. But I am at a place now where this was enough for me.

It was truly liberating without causing relational damage. I can’t say if this approach is right for anyone else, but it was right for us. My husband’s partnership and humility have been crucial in our progress, and this narrative was a joint venture.

Infidelity’s impact extends beyond the marriage to the family. So does healing.

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Your insight and experience provides a very resourceful insights into how to go through such a tough phase and a very crucial information for ways to communicate all this relationship turmoil to our lovely teenaged and young adult children.

Thank you RJB

This is a very tough area to navigate after betrayal, so I wish you the best in deciding what is right for you and your family.

I appreciate your comment.

Lots to consider - take your time

I applaud your decision to finally speak to your adult children about your problems. I think, as you mentioned, it's important to normalize openness and asking for help. Still, there are many factors to consider and I'm grateful for your blog on the topic.

My circumstances were somewhat similar, as the physical component of my husband's affair had been over for years, but they had kept in touch. We had our d-day 3 weeks before Christmas, and our children were slowly finishing up at university to come home for the holidays. We knew if they were home with us they would notice something was wrong (we were both very much 'basket cases' at this point, unsure if our marriage would continue). And we are a very close family, and promote openness and support one another. So we decided to tell them, however, we didn't want to spoil Christmas so we waited a couple of days after to sit them all down and tell them what was happening. We included my son's fiancée in the discussion as well because we knew she would be his support, but we asked her first if she would be willing to participate in our family discussion and she agreed. During this talk, we were a united front. My husband wanted to be the one to tell the kids. We made it very clear that we were unsure of our future but that whatever we decided, it would not impact how we feel about them, or our willingness to be there for them. And also, to reassure them that we would get through this, regardless of our decision. Naturally, they were all shocked and upset, but having them altogether to talk through their feelings with each other and with us was very helpful. They were all very understanding and supportive of each other and of us as we worked through the pain. It was certainly a turning point. When your adult children start to see you as regular people with flaws and vulnerabilities and not 'parents', a lot of things change, but I believe they change for the better. We now enjoy even better discussions with our kids, sometimes on sensitive subjects, and learn from one another as we go through our lives.

Hi forest bend

Thank you for sharing your experience. Your decision was very brave as you could not predict the outcome, but it sounds like it was the right choice for you and for your family. I agree that it is helpful and bonding for our kids to see our flaws and allow us to support each other. True intimacy (romantic or otherwise) requires sharing the good and the bad. We have not always done this well in our family, but we are trying to do that from here.

We also felt like a very close family and the thought of sharing any part of our story felt threatening to that closeness, so I was paralyzed with indecision. I guess the best decision for me was just to wait until I had a clearer direction. I was pretty good at hiding my emotions so I had that choice but I know that's not always the case.

I appreciate your comment, and I'm glad things turned out well for you. I wish you the best in your continued recovery and healing.

Thank you for your thoughtful

Thank you for your thoughtful & insightful writings.

Thank you Marc D :)

That is very kind of you to say. I wish you the best in your healing.

I told & I'm glad I did

I appreciate you sharing your story. For me, I told my brothers and sisters and his brother and sister, I also told our three adult children, including my son-in-law. Everyone surrounded me with their support. And they also loved and supported my husband. I also called our church and ask the secretary to add us to the prayer letter. The information shared was anonymous and respectful. No details were given to anyone in that prayer request. However, when we had our first counseling session with our pastor and his wife, I was basically shamed for opening up my "big mouth". I still have a really big problem with the shaming that was done to me and he's done done to the Betrayed spouses in situations like this. If my husband didn't want anyone to know what he had done, he shouldn't have done it in the first place!
We are 5 years out from our D-Day and are doing very well. I forgiven him, I have taken him back, & we've had extensive counseling individually and together. I don't go around telling new people about what happened 5 years ago, but I did tell the important people in our lives at that time, because I don't believe in keeping secrets within families. I also don't think I could have been as brave as you were in my work place by putting on a fake smile.
I feel that holding things can do a great amount of damage to a person. Internalizing pain and added stress can cause cancer to grow faster and is more likely to metastasize than it would be without that stress. As it were, 18 months after our D-Day I was diagnosed with breast cancer that metastasized when it shouldn't have, based on the size of my tumor. Fortunately, we were reconciled at that point and my husband was a great support to me. I think telling young children is not a good idea, but telling adult children and allows them to work through their own grief. Taking the responsibility of other's grief upon yourself can be highly detrimental.
Everyone is different, of course, but for me holding things inside would have just caused more anxiety and stress. And I think if a betrayed spouse chooses to tell others they shouldn't be shamed for it. I wonder if some people think telling others is like gossip? I don't think telling other people what was happening in our marriage was gossip, it was my story to tell, my experience and pain to share, and that is not gossip . Like I said, if my husband didn't want people to know, he shouldn't have done it in the first place. That's my opinion, thank you for listening.

Hi Ginger M

I appreciate you sharing your experience. I am very happy to hear you were surrounded with support when you shared with your family, as that is often not the case. I would be interested to know how your children handled the news and how it impacted your relationship and the relationship with your husband.

Sadly, the church can be the best or worst place for support after infidelity. I'm curious if, after you reached some stability, you reached out and gave them some perspective on how they could be more helpful to couples in the future. People who haven't been through it just don't get it.

I fully agree that internalizing the pain can be very physically damaging and have read many stories about cancer or auto immune diseases occurring amidst all the stress. I really didn't care at that time because I was in such a bad place. I didn't want to live at all so my health was not on my radar at all. It was a very dark season. I hope your cancer prognosis is good, and I'm sorry you had to endure that as well as the betrayal.

Yes - betrayed spouses should not be shamed for telling people what they are going through. But we can't control other people's actions and their misconceptions about infidelity so sometimes that is just the sad reality.

Thank you for your comment. I wish you the best in your healing. :)

Our kids' reactions

Our adult children reacted in ways I never expected. Our daughter basically said it didn't matter to her whether we stayed together or not. Our youngest son said "I don't see how this affects me." and our oldest son said "I wonder if I'm monogamous?" I thought those were really weird reactions, which as you said, I can do nothing about. They have all been pretty supportive though, they did not shame their dad, or take sides and they all have great relationships with their dad, me & each other.

Thanks for sharing

Those are interesting responses. I'm glad the overall sentiment was that of support and that your relationships are intact. Sadly that is often not the case so you are very fortunate in that regard.

I didn't inform the AP's husband and that backfired on me

I was encouraged by our pastor not to inform the AP's husband. The reasons not to tell were based on fear and lies. The AP's husband was in the military and was described by the AP as revengeful and violent, and there was fear that he would retaliate against my husband. I was completely terrified that my husband would end up being beat up and left for dead . There was also the factor that they had two children age five and 13, and if I told him, he would likely leave her and it would ruin their family and the children would be devastated. So, my husband encouraged me not to tell the AP's husband about their affair, & I agreed. Boy, was that the wrong decision. Because I didn't tell, my husband's affair continued for another 6 months, and became even more secretive.
In the end, her husband put two and two together and asked me if I was aware of an affair. I had to confess to him that I'd known for 6 months, and told him about my fear of him retaliating. It turns out he is a very gentle man, and according to him he would never do anything like that. He also was very forgiving and took her back, changed his work schedule and with the military so that he could be home more with her and their children. He got counseling with her and as far as I know, 5 years later, they are still together.


Interesting turn of events. I am not surprised the demeanor of the AP's husband was not portrayed truthfully to you, but it is always difficult to know from your position in the midst of so much deception.

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