It can be an oppressive burden to decide whether one should confess an affair. There are many different opinions about the right thing to do. Books have been written about this topic. People will offer their opinions. Some will say, confess, otherwise there can be no healing. Others might offer, “What they don’t know, won’t hurt them.” Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide to disclose something that potentially can destroy or heal your committed relationship. Below are 7 considerations to ponder when deciding, “Should I C.O.N.F.E.S.S. my affair?”
- The decision to confess an affair to your partner is one that only you can make. Do not make it alone. A therapist can help you unpack the necessary components that need your consideration when deciding what is best for you, your partner, and your relationship.
- Each relationship has it’s own unique dynamics that need to be explored so that the best decision can be made. At the very least, having a supportive person to help you overcome the guilt, shame, and anxiety of having the affair will bring healing to you and indirectly enhance your relationship with your partner. Just because you had an affair does not mean you do not deserve your own healing! A therapist can help with your own healing process, the necessary considerations to help you decide if disclosure is best, and help with a disclosure plan that will put into place a support system for you and your partner should you choose to disclose the affair.
- If you choose to disclose the affair to family members or mutual friends, it is imperative that that person will not hold the affair against you, and will be able to hold the information without being impacted by the secret if you choose not to disclose the affair. Too often people will discuss their anxiety and guilt with unsuspecting family members or friends who will later disrupt your healing process because they hold resentment against you for the affair. CHOOSE WISELY!
Will disclosing the affair to my partner provide an opportunity to benefit the integrity of my relationship? This is where it gets tricky!
- The anxiety and fear that accompanies even the thought of disclosure, plus the anticipation of the emotional earthquake that will most likely occur in the relationship or even the fear of losing the relationship, can cause people to justify the decision not to disclose. No one enjoys emotionally harming his or her loved one. Be careful that you do not use that as an excuse not to disclose. When finding out about an affair, most people report that sex is the lesser of the betrayal; most feel that it is the betrayal of trust that causes the most pain for the offended partner.
- Many relationships that have been through the recovery process (and yes, there is a recovery process) of an affair report that the relationship bond is stronger as a result of the affair than before the affair was disclosed. This is because the affair threatens the very fabric of the committed relationship, and catapults partners into a discovery process that often leads to healing and greater connection sexually, spiritually, and emotionally. So don’t be afraid. If the disclosure will benefit the integrity of your committed relationship, the disclosure could be the beginning of a renewed intimate relationship between you and your partner.
The intention of any affair is to put distance between you and your partner. That being said, it is important to explore what purpose the affair served for you? Ask yourself was it a one-time anomaly that happened outside the scope of my character? Was it for the sex? Is there an emotional connection involved? Is it easier to get my needs met from the affair than having to negotiate with my partner to get my needs or wants met? Is this a pattern for me?
- Remember, disclosing an affair requires a deliberate decision making process in order to provide the best chances for healing and recovery for you, your partner, and your relationship. It is important to unpack what you needed to be distanced from in order to ensure that another relationship rupture does not occur. If you truly feel that the affair was a mistake, that you would never do it again, and you cannot find (with the help of outside counsel) any contributing marital issue that resulted in your choice to have the affair, it may be that the disclosure would not benefit the integrity of your relationship.
- If you discover that there is a pattern in your relationship that includes your need to emotionally or physically distance yourself from your partner (whether through sex, alcohol or drug use, work, or depression, to name a few), there is a good chance that your partner is doing this dance with you, even if neither of you realize it! Disclosure provides an opportunity for both of you to heal yourselves, and bring healing to each other, within the context of your committed relationship. If addiction issues were in play when choosing to have the affair, there is a good chance that the addiction is not only impacting your level of intimacy in your relationship, but also your ability to be fulfilled emotionally and spiritually, and the risk for an “affair relapse” is increased. Please get help!
It is important to consider your faith beliefs when deciding if and when to proceed with a disclosure to your partner. Most faith practices include guidelines for relationship issues. Feelings resulting from the affair, such as guilt and shame, can impede your ability to maintain the integrity of your faith beliefs. Seeking religious counsel will also help you to decide how to proceed with your partner, while maintaining the integrity of your religious practices. Religious counsel can also be a great source of support for both you and your partner if disclosure is decided upon.
No doubt you are fully aware of the impact your decision to disclose will have on your partner. You are the best person to understand how your partner will be affected by your decision. It is important to consider your partner’s emotional resiliency, specifically his or her ability to perform everyday responsibilities under stress, and the values he or she holds with respect to relationships, family, and faith.
- If your partner has a tendency to get highly emotionally reactive and tends to withdraw into unhealthy behavioral patterns when under stress, it will be important to weigh the benefits of a disclosure. This is especially true if your partner is responsible for the care and protection of another person (such as elder parents, or children). People who tend to get highly emotionally reactive will need more time in the early stages after the disclosure to process the anger and pain of the betrayal. This process can sometimes impact their ability to fulfill their responsibilities to the people for which they care. Solely, this is not a good reason not to disclose an affair. It is however an important consideration. If you should choose to disclose, it is imperative that you attain appropriate support for your partner so that when the disclosure occurs, he or she has a safe place to go to get the help they need to process through the grief and anger.
- Your faith beliefs of your partner or spouse will also be an important consideration when deciding whether or not to disclose. As stated earlier, it is not the sex that most disrupts the relationship bond. It is the betrayal of trust. If your partner places a high value on trust and faithfulness in your relationship, it would be important to respect his or her right to choose whether or not to remain in the committed relationship when the integrity of the relationship has been jeopardized.
- You would be less likely to disclose an affair to an unsuspecting partner than to a suspecting partner. A disclosure to an unsuspecting partner will result in pain for that person that may not be necessary for healing and intimacy to be re-established in the relationship. However, if your partner has offered suspicions, and these suspicions have been condemned or disregarded by you, it will be important to consider the impact of your dishonesty on your partner’s innate ability to sense that “something” is going on with you. After all, your partner has a right to get confirmation that they are not “crazy” or “jealous,” and that their “spidey senses” have been accurate and can be trusted (this is especially true if your partner knows the person with whom you had the affair).
Safety is of the utmost importance. An unprepared, rash disclosure can lead to revenge, and the resulting effects can be devastating not only to you, but to the one with whom you had the affair. Additionally, if the one with whom you had the affair is in a committed relationship with someone else, the need to keep all parties involved safe from vengeance is even greater. Do not confess an affair if there is any risk of physical harm to any party, or if children will be at risk for financial, emotional, or physical harm.
Disclosing an affair to your unsuspecting partner for the sole purpose of relieving your feelings of guilt and anxiety, without going through an intentional decision making process, is not only irresponsible but also emotionally abusive. Harm has already been done. There is no need to add insult to injury.
Deciding whether or not to CONFESS an affair is no easy task. The burden of not disclosing can sometimes be heavier than the fear of the emotional impact and results of a disclosure.
Seeking appropriate (C) counsel to help you unpack the important considerations will bring clarity to your decision, and lay a foundation for a recovery process that has the potential to bring more intimacy, joy, and fulfillment to your committed relationship. Weighing these 7 essential considerations will help you to make the most beneficial choice for you, your partner, and your relationship. A decision that takes into account the (O) opportunity to benefit the integrity of your relationship, the (N) nature of the affair, you and your partner’s (F) faith beliefs, (E) empathizing with your partner’s emotional make-up and values, (S) safety concerns, and being confident that the disclosure is not purely (S) selfish in nature, will provide the best opportunity for healing and growth for you, your partner, and your relationship.
About the author
Sandy Jocoy is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern offering psychotherapy services to couples, individuals, families, and adolescents. Her practice is focused on helping couples and individuals overcome the effects of infidelity and addiction.
Sandy is under the supervision of Bert A. Overholt, MFT, in Woodland Hills, California. She offers a sliding scale fee. Please contact her at sjocoy.mft [at] gmail.com. (replace [at] with @).