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July 2003
REVEALING THE SECRET OF AN AFFAIR
By Glenn A. Peters, Ph.D.

In the book, After the Affair, Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, Janis Abraham Spring, Ph.D., lists several different questions that an unfaithful partner can ask him or herself in helping to determine whether he or she will reveal the affair to the hurt partner. It is important to note that these questions are only helpful cues to think through a significant and difficult decision. A decision about revealing the affair needs to be thought through by the unfaithful partner, and certainly considerations about the unique and particular relationship needs to be taken into account. Remember, we are not listing here considerations for continuing an affair, most therapists agree that if you want to work on your committed relationship it is best to end the affair.

Disadvantages of telling:

  1. You believe the revelation will crush your partnerís spirit irremediably. You believe that telling your partner about the affair will harm your relationship more than the affair itself. Some couples have found that by not revealing the affair and by significantly working on the relationship that they have been able to make changes that have lead to a long lasting mature love with their one committed partner. They believe that if they had revealed the secret to their partner it would have caused irremediable harm that they would have been struggling with, unable to go beyond, throughout the relationship.
  2. You believe the revelation will create an obsessive focus on the affair, and keep the two of you from examining the problems that caused it. You believe that by discussing the affair you will cause tremendous bitterness and resentment that would not allow you and your partner to discuss the important issues in your relationship, the issues that have allowed a third party to invade your home.
  3. Your partner is physically disabled and unable to provide sexual companionship, and you choose to stay together to provide medical and emotional support to some one you care about.
Advantages of telling:
  1. Telling the truth is usually better than having your partner stumble upon it. If you end the affair and reveal it, you may earn yourself a modicum of trust certainly more than if you are caught in the lie.
  2. Telling may increase your chances of staying faithful. By telling the truth you are more likely to examine itís meaning and avoid a repeat performance. By revealing the modus operandi, not all the gory details, that could only cause harm, you are revealing your way of being able to accomplish an affair and this could help you stay faithful.
  3. Telling may waken your partner to the need to address whatís upsetting you before it is too late. Sometimes it takes a confession for your partner to be able to hear your cry for help. Revealing your secret may hurt, but later on your partner may also see it as an act of consideration, if the alternative might be to lose you or go through a relationship with somebody who is not fully present.
  4. Telling establishes the primacy of your relationship with your partner. Knowledge is power and when you share your secret, you give your partner both. It also tells your partner that you donít have the right to determine what is best for them. It gives your partner the right to decide whether to stay or leave with equal access to the truth.
Of course the decision to tell or not to tell is up to you, the unfaithful partner. You hold the cards in this decision making process. But since it might be difficult for you, to go beyond your own self-interest, it may be important to examine this decision with a third party, an objective other, a therapist.


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