Telling the Truth About an Affair

 
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Years ago, I had an affair with my friend’s husband. The sexual relationship was short-lived because we both felt terrible. He’s remained faithful to her since and she and I are still close. You seem to recommend telling the truth no matter what. But wouldn’t confessing to her just be hurtful in this case? When should a secret stay a secret? I wrestle with this every day.

If you’re wrestling with this, it’s probably because you feel “two-faced” and have been unable to find relief. There’s good reason that secrets gnaw on people of conscience. It’s because lying “for someone else’s sake” is suspect. It’s more likely that you and her husband made a pact of secrecy out of your own fears and wants, not from caring for her well being. If you had really been considering her, you wouldn’t have acted on your attraction to begin with, right?

The question is: Do you have the right to decide what’s good for another person when you’ve betrayed them? Defining “good” is tricky because you and her husband are attached to what “good” looks like, which is how it affects you and her husband. “Good” to you means maintaining the status quo. If you told, you would decide that it was a “good” decision only if she were understanding, forgiving, or at least willing to continue both her marriage and her friendship with you. You see, the lens through which you judge whether the truth is “good” to tell is going to have filters on it that bias you.

What if she’s angry and hurt? What if she wants nothing more to do with you? What if she files for divorce? Because you and her husband are attached to maintaining everything as is, if these were the outcomes, you would probably judge telling her as a big mistake.

Yet, who are we to know what truths someone needs to find out or how they should deal with them? Maybe the truth about your affair would validate a nagging sense of betrayal she has already felt. Maybe she would be happier “moving on.” Maybe this information would allow her to explore and heal other wounds around betrayal and secrets. Maybe she has secrets of her own that she has been afraid to tell and this would help release her from her prison of fear.

So should you tell? My answer is that I don’t think you have the right to withhold the truth. Your secrecy is further betrayal and it is based on your wants and fears, not on her needs. You are covering up one deceit with another and attaching lofty principles to convince yourself that your continued deceit is noble and that you and her husband are the only ones carrying the burden of the secret.

But our secrets don’t just run and ruin us; they run and ruin others’ lives as well as I discuss in my book, Enough is Enough!. In over 25 years of private practice as a life coach, I’ve never heard one client who’s heard the truth about a partner’s affair say that they wish that they hadn’t been told. Everyone’s spirit suffers from secrets and betrayal because guilt creates separation. In perhaps dozens of ways, her husband has not been able to share himself with her since having an affair with you. And how has it impacted your friendship? How have you pulled away or hidden from her because of your guilt? How have you been emotionally unavailable to her?

The truth requires courage. When you tell her the truth, you need to find the courage to let go of trying to control her reactions or the outcome. You need to find the courage to grieve the potential loss of this friendship as well as the loss of your friendship with her husband. You need to have great courage to allow for what she needs rather than for your need to preserve her image of you.

The next part of your healing journey will then be about feeling the deep remorse that underlies your guilt and forgiving yourself for causing this kind of suffering to your own and someone else’s spirit. As you forgive yourself, make a commitment to your own spirit to always choose truth over fear.

Visit StopEnduring.com to read articles and excerpts from Jane Straus’s popular book, Enough Is Enough! Stop Enduring and Start Living Your Extraordinary Life; watch Jane on TV; listen to her radio interviews; and share your most personal secrets anonymously.

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