Have you been struggling to decide whether or not to tell your partner about a current or former affair?

Are you convinced it’s probably the right thing to do, but your afraid of the consequences?

Have you come close to telling so many times, but in the end you just can’t bring yourself to do it?

If you are still considering the pros and cons of telling your partner about an infidelity, read here to learn more.

If you have decided for whatever reason not to tell your partner about an infidelity you need to know that if it’s eventually discovered the fallout will be far worse then if you had offered the information voluntarily. That still may not pursued you to take the risk. That’s understandable. This decision is a difficult one.

When an extramarital affair is discovered the hurt partner’s trust is destroyed. Whether that loss of trust is permanent or temporary has everything to do with the choices you make now. As painful as it is for a partner to be told about a marital indiscretion, it is far more painful for a partner to hear about it from a third party or to stumble upon the incriminating evidence.

Therefore, the best choice could be for you can make a confession ASAP. Ever day that you wait, you risk having it discovered before you’ve had a chance to share the information.

OK you’ve hear it and you’re still not persuaded. Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Yes but I don’t think it’s going to be discovered and so I’ll role the dice.” Maybe your cynical that couples therapy professionals have a “confess and work it out” bias. It is their industry after all. It’s how they make a living and they believe in their services.

Fair enough. So let’s talk about plan B. You need to write a letter and save it for this potential “in-emergency-break-glass” situation. In other words saving it for the possibility that one day the truth will come out.

Here is what shocked partners ALWAYS want to know:

  • How the affair came to be?
  • Who the person was (i.e., high school sweet heart, co-worker, random person you met on a plane).
  • What you were attracted to in this other person? “I don’t know,” won’t fly with a hurt partner. Be honest with yourself and then write it down.
  • Where were places you went together? You’ll want to cover in particularly if you were ever in your family home together, favorite restaurants, or any other places you have frequented with your spouse.
  • Include specifically how many times you saw each other. “I don’t remember,” will not be good enough for a betrayed partner; not by a long-shot. Rack your brain, study your calendar, give your best estimation.
  • Address who might have seen you two together.
  • What was the duration of the relationship?
  • Who initiated to relationship and who ended it and why.
  • Sex – You don’t need to give details about the sex, but you do need to say if sex was involved. And if sex was not involved what level of physical intimacy was.
  • You’ll also want to address what level of emotional intimacy was there as well.

And here is the most important part to rebuild trust . . .

Explain why you didn’t tell your partner sooner. Don’t sugar coat it. There is likely an element of self-protection or self-serving motivation. For example, “I don’t want you to hate me” or “I was afraid I’d be left penniless and on the street.” These are likely mixed  with other more morally neutral motivations such as “I feared it would result in our family breaking up and hurting the kids.”  Or “I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to take your hurt and anger for as long as it would take to heal the relationship.” Or “I didn’t want to hurt you and I thought I should just recommit to my vows, move on, and forget about it.” Don’t try to make yourself sound noble here, if you are sharing this letter because the “stuff” has hit the fan it will be tone deaf and poorly received.

Instead if you feel true remorse and regret share those feelings as humbly possible. If you were struggled in your decision to tell versus keep it a secret share that as well and again what the struggle was about. Emphasis your commitment to your marriage and what efforts you have since taken to ensure cheating did not happen again.

Then time stamp it. Put the date on it electronically or include in the envelope a newspaper clipping. Sometimes the low tech solutions are best. If you’ve been exploring this decision with a rabbi or therapist consider asking him or her to sign and date it across the envelope seal (as is done with letters of recommendations). Then keep it in a secure but accessible place. Perhaps you’ll never need it, but if the secret is ever reveled you’ll be glad you have it. A contemporaneous explanation of your thought process and rationale, as well as your anguish, could be a tremendous comfort to your partner.

I’m Dr. Elizabeth Carr, Affair Ambivalence and Recovery Specialist at Kentlands Psychotherapy. Do you need to sort some things out? Call me, perhaps I can help. I offer in-office counseling for individuals and couples, as well as virtual therapy sessions for individuals who are looking for support and guidance around their infidelity.  I can also be reached via encrypted text messaging programs such as Dust, Signal, and Confide at 301-356-4505. If you’re calling please use the office number, 240-252-3349 ext. 801, the cell is just for texting.

P.S. If you are currently in an affair and needing to make some decision, click here to read more.

P.P.S. If your infidelity, emotional affair, extramarital activity has come to light and you and your spouse are looking for assistance in the recovery process, click here to read more.