NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Should You Reveal to Your Spouse That You Cheated in the Past?

Trying to decide whether or not to reveal a past affair to your spouse or significant other can be one of the most challenging decisions that you can make in your life, and no one can tell you what to do (see my articles about infidelity: Infidelity: Cheating on Your Husband Even Though You're "Not the Type"Relationships: Coping With Secrets and Lies in Your RelationshipWhen Trust Breaks Down in a Relationship and The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable).

Should You Reveal to Your Spouse That You Cheated in the Past?

Before you confess to your spouse or significant other that you had an affair in the past, there are some important things to ask yourself:

Consider the Following Questions
  • What Are You Hoping to Accomplish By Revealing a Past Affair? Assuming that the affair is truly over and you and the other person aren't just on a hiatus, what are you hoping for by telling your spouse or significant about the affair?  
  • Have You Forgiven Yourself For the Affair? Sometimes people reveal past affairs because they've been unable to forgive themselves and they're hoping that if their significant other  forgives them, they'll feel better about themselves.  The risk, of course, is that their significant other won't forgive them and that, worst case scenario, the relationship will end.  
  • Have You Considered How Your Significant Other Will Feel After You Reveal the Affair?  You might feel better after you confess that you were having an affair.  The pressure of keeping that secret will no longer be part of you.  But, even though you think of the affair as over and in the past, your significant other will be learning about the affair for the first time, and it will probably feel like it's happening now on an emotional level for him or her because the emotions will be so strong and immediate.  Your significant other might also question his or her understanding of the entire relationship, especially if s/he never had any idea that you were cheating or that you were even capable of cheating.
  • Do You Understand Why You Cheated? Have you done the necessary internal work to understand why you cheated in the first place?  Did alcohol or drugs contribute to the problem?  It's important for you to know why you started cheating and, if you reveal a history of infidelity, your significant other will also probably want some answers.  Do the same problems exist for you or your relationship now as they did when you cheated?  If so, what are you or you and your significant other doing to work on those issues? 
  • How Did the Extramarital Affair End? Assuming that the affair is really in the past, did you end it, did the other person end it or was it a mutual decision?  Why the other relationship ended is as important to understand as why you began the affair in the first place.  It's a necessary part of what you need to understand about yourself.
  • Are You Being Honest With Yourself About the Affair Being Over? Some people decide to confess an affair because they're afraid they'll start up with the "other man" or "other woman" again.  They fear that they won't be able to control themselves so they want their significant other to know about the affair so that the confession will be an impediment to resuming the old affair or starting a new affair.  This is more common that people think, and it's not a solution to the problem.  Even if your significant other forgives you and is willing to act as your "conscience" by monitoring your whereabouts and actions, this would be very unhealthy, codependent behavior.  It would be highly stressful for both of you, and it wouldn't solve your problems to have your spouse act as a "parent" to you.  You need to dig deeper within yourself to get to the root of your problem. That gets back to the question: Do You Know Why You Cheated?
  • Are You Trying to Sabotage Your Relationship? Sometimes, when people confess to a past affair, on an unconscious level, they're trying to sabotage their relationship.  The relationship might feel "dead" to the person who cheated and, on an unconscious level, s/he might want out, but don't have the courage to end the relationship.  Instead, they want their significant other to end it.  They think that a confession about infidelity might be the way out for them if the significant other leaves.  This will take a lot of self exploration because it might not be apparent to you.
  • Are You Ready to Deal With the End of Your Relationship? It's often hard to predict how a significant other will react to finding out about prior infidelity.  For some people, infidelity is unforgivable and they will end the relationship.  Other people will try to work on the relationship, even if they are very hurt and not sure if the relationship will survive.  So, some relationships end, some relationships muddle through, and some relationships become stronger after infidelity is revealed.
Getting Help in Therapy
As I mentioned before, no one can advise you what to do in terms of revealing or not revealing prior infidelity, but it's important for you to understand your motivation in revealing the affair and whether you're ready to deal with the consequences, whatever they might be (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

There can be compelling arguments on both sides as to whether to reveal the affair or not.  A skilled psychotherapist won't tell you what to do, but she can help you to deal with the questions I posed above and can facilitate your decision-making process (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling alone with this important issue, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional, who has experience helping clients with this issue.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I have helped many individual adults and couples to work through relationship issues.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.