Q. I just ended a threeyear affair and I’m miserable. I couldn’t take the strain and I always felt guilty even though there is very little positive in my marriage. My partner doesn’t know about the affair and I’m wondering whether to tell or not. What do you suggest? A. You can get a huge variety of opinion on this issue so we’ll have to answer you in terms of what we have found works best for the majority of our clients who have found themselves in this situation. The best answer is, in a word: tell. When we see couples and one of them “discloses” to us, but not their partner, the fact that they are having an affair we give them a choice: either tell your partner about the affair and then work out what’s best for the two of them as a couple (or as parents as well), or find another therapist. We refuse to carry the secret of the affair into marriage therapy so that one person is working on the relationship while the other is still invested in someone else. When the affair is over, some of the same dynamics are still at work. We believe it’s almost impossible to be in a relationship that’s satisfying for both partners when one of them is carrying the burden of an ongoing OR a recentlyended relationship. We’re simply not built with enough emotional reserve to be honest about our feelings, to show care and consideration and to truly be present for our partner when part of us is invested elsewhere. There are also the issues of secrecy and of being discovered. You assume that your partner doesn’t know about your affair. We would never bet on that. There are always clues: slips of the tongue, unaccounted time, strange receipts, items on the charge card.. and mysterious telephone calls. Perhaps you explained these to your own satisfaction but after three years our guess is that there is a trail of puzzling bits of information that your partner might have put together to spell “there’s a third party”. Then of course there is the possibility of a mutual friend who may have seen you and who may say the wrong thing at the wrong time; or there is the waiter or busboy who might recognize you and pass a comment that you would find disastrously embarrassing and impossible to explain. “But”, you will say, “I don’t want to rock the boat. I wouldn’t want to hurt my partner by telling.” Our reply to this is that ethically you cannot commit yourself to two people at a time if one of them believes they have an exclusive relationship with you. If the two of you have an agreement that it’s alright to have outside relationships then you wouldn’t be referring to having as an affair. We believe that fairness in a relationship is one of the most important factors in binding people together. So, decide whether you can be ethically true to your partner. The result may be outrage; it might be a long period of withdrawal, it might even be relief. If you’re committed to your current relationship then offer to seek help (counselling, coaching, therapy) in repairing both the original difficulty that led you to have the affair and to the damage caused by having had it.
You may lose your relationship, your affair may be over and you may feel alone. You may also feel lighter and more honest and ready to move on having learned something about yourself and about trust and fairness.