If you knew that you’d done something that might hurt your spouse, would you tell them? Maybe you have a porn addiction that they haven’t discovered. Perhaps you have a gambling problem, have had an affair, or one of the hundreds of other possibilities. Any one of these could be devastating to your spouse and your relationship. So is there ever a good time to share everything? How can you tell your spouse that you cheated?
Does The Benefit Outweigh The Cost?
The answer to that question is complicated. But, simply put, yes, there are times when it might not be best to tell your partner about something that happened in the past. This might come as a surprise to some because here at Marriage Helper, we always want you to tell the truth. But you have to weigh the benefits first. Even in the book of Proverbs, it says only a fool speaks his whole heart.
If the secret you’ve been hiding from your spouse happened years ago, why do you want to tell them now? Think about the outcome of telling them and ask yourself who it will benefit. For example, telling your spouse about your infidelity from 20 years ago is not likely to benefit anyone. Your spouse will be upset that you had an affair and possibly more upset that you hid it for so long. If the marriage ends at that point, who benefits? The wife didn’t because she was hurt, and neither did you or the marriage.
Should I Or Shouldn’t I?
It’s not as cut and dry as that scenario. We’re not advocating that you lie or hide things from your spouse. However, there are other questions to ask yourself if you’re trying to decide whether to tell your spouse about something. First, how is it currently affecting your relationship? Do you live in shame, guilt, or fear? Is it keeping you from becoming closer to your spouse? If the answer is yes to any of those, you should be upfront with your significant other and let them know what happened.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to tell your spouse, try your best to remove the shock factor. While there’s no way to remove the hurt completely, try your best to mitigate it by having the right environment where it’s safe to speak. Don’t bring it up out of the blue. Start a deep, meaningful conversation where you’re trying to understand each other.
Be prepared for a negative reaction. Don’t assume because you’re making a noble gesture of confessing to your spouse that their immediate response will be positive. While your secret might have happened years ago, it’s new to them and happening right now. Try not to react to their negative reaction either; expect it to happen. And don’t try to justify your actions. Instead, accept responsibility for what you’ve done without putting the blame on anyone or anything else. Tell them how sorry you are and ask for their forgiveness.
It might hurt both of you, but to have a chance for the relationship to continue growing, you’ll need to face the consequences. You can’t continue feeling the way you are with guilt or shame.
How Many Lives Will Be Affected?
There are other factors to consider, even if you feel that your secret isn’t preventing your relationship from moving forward. Ask yourself if there is any other way your spouse can find out about your secret. While it will hurt to hear it from you, it will be much worse if they find out from someone else. If a friend, a relative, or someone in the community knows about your secret, there’s a good chance that your spouse might discover it someday. This is another situation where you need to come clean with your partner before someone else does.
You might also be concerned that it will affect others if your secret comes out. For example, if you had an affair, the other person might also be married. It could end your marriage, and your affair partner’s as well. While this needs to be considered as you weigh the benefit, hurting other people might well be part of the cost of your actions.
Not All Advice Is Good Advice
We always coach people to consider how to handle things where the fewest people get hurt and the most people benefit. But the truth is, most people can’t make that decision wisely by themselves. So, who can you turn to for advice?
Most would turn to their friends and family, but often family will only answer based on how they feel about the situation. For example, if they are offended by your actions, they’ll say you need to suffer the consequences and tell your spouse. On the other hand, if they love you unconditionally, they’ll likely tell you you’ve done nothing wrong and to hide it, making excuses for your actions.
The best option is to find a neutral party who understands marriages, relationships, and your community. Many people turn to their pastor in this situation. Unfortunately, these clergymen often have not been trained in dealing with marital problems, so they might not be the best person to talk with either. Keep in mind that anyone you confide in is another person who knows your secret.
Being Surrounded By Others In The Same Situation Can Help
At Marriage Helper, we have trained coaches that can listen to your story and direct you to the right materials. We also have solo and couples workshops that you can attend to learn more skills to help in this situation. The solo workshops can help you understand why you did what you did, how to forgive yourself, and what to do to continue making the relationship stronger.
Remember, telling the entire truth might not be the best solution. It’s crucial to weigh the benefit versus the cost. If you decide to tell your spouse what you’ve done, we’re here to help in any way we can.
For more information on putting your marriage back together, check out our FREE eBook, “7 Keys To Fix Your Marriage.”
If you had an affair and are still struggling with whether or not you want to save your marriage, check out our eBook, “Married But In Love With Someone Else.”