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If You Cheated, Should You Tell?
Should you tell if you cheat? Is honesty better or worse once you have cheated? What are the long term effects either way? Dr. Trina Read has researched some answers.

John Dalog
There are a lot of factors to weigh before you decide if you're going to come clean or tell your spouse about your infidelity.

Immediately get yourself tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and put all sexual contact with your spouse on hold.”
You’ve done the deed and cheated on your spouse. Now in the aftermath you aren’t sure what to do. Some people feel telling a spouse about an affair is an absolute must. Others feel that under certain circumstances it is best to put the episode behind you and try to heal the marriage. Who is right? Or is there a right answer?

My Experience

This question all started when my husband I and were listening an interviewee talking about why he felt cheating was healthy for a relationship. Both of us have had ex-partners who’ve cheated on us and my husband first said, "It’s just better not to tell." I was like, "WTF? Of course you have to tell. You’ve done the deed and you need to come clean." Mini-fight ensued (actually it was a toe-to-toe fight) about the reasons why, or why not, someone should confess if they have cheated. Both of us felt passionate and had solid reasoning which created a debate stalemate.

I wanted to understand why there could be such an emotional and intellectual difference of opinion so I began my research. Plus, I felt a little shaken that if my husband did cheat he felt it better not to tell me.

Cheating studies and research is all over the map. Some researchers say there's a 50–50 chance today that one partner will have an affair during a marriage, including non-physical relationships. Other experts believe this increase in cheating is due to greater opportunity (time spent away from a spouse) and people developing a 'serial monogamy' habit before getting married.

Digging deeper into the topic, I found that whether you should tell a spouse about an affair is a highly complex and personal matter. The field of ethics can be divided largely into two camps: the good and the right. If you are in the "good" camp you may feel it best to not mention your indiscretion if you feel that your relationship would be better off that way. In fact, 27% of people who reported being happy in marriage admitted to having an affair.

Meanwhile, the "right" camp believes right is right, wrong is wrong, and therefore you must tell your spouse about what you did.

Before confessing the deed to your spouse, however, there's also the the larger social circle to consider, including your kids, extended families, and shared friends—amongst others. It's important to consider how a potential breakup would effect everyone else and your relationship with them?

Other considerations include asking the question why you cheated in the first place? Perhaps you had a moment of weakness, a one-night-stand that will never happen again. Or you were feeling unhappy in your marriage and went looking for attention elsewhere. Was it a lack of respect or caring for your spouse? Or perhaps you’ve fallen out love and cheating was an easy way to get out of the marriage. This understanding is vitally important if you plan on working to repair what's broken—this might require professional help.

Once cheating has taken place, unfortunately, there's even more problems to consider. Cheating has put you at risk for social diseases such as venereal disease or AIDS. Immediately get yourself tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and put all sexual contact with your spouse on hold.

Reactions to the Cheating

Most people react blindly when they find out their partner has had an affair, which may lead to actions of revenge that they later regret. Usually the first thing to happen upon confession is the cheater is told to leave. This is not necessarily a good idea. The spouse who has been cheated on may eventually decide to do this, but for now there’s a lot they need to know about the situation before they can make an intelligent decision about what to do. For starters, as long as you are in the same house, you have a chance to work things out.

If you decide to reconcile, everyone who has been told about the affair could make things difficult by harboring anger and hostility for what transpired. They may also show resentment toward partner taking them back.

Another unintentional consequence once a spouse has been told about an affair is they may become inquisitive. It’s natural for people to be curious about the other person. Repeatedly questioning, referring to them, or dragging their name into a conversation will put the spotlight on that person instead of on the real issues of the infidelity. Your spouse might even call or confront the other person.

What Are the Long Term Effects If You Tell?

Trust is the foundation to any solid relationship. The emotional fallout from finding out that your spouse has cheated can be overwhelming. It produces anger at the spouse for cheating, anger at the other person involved, anger at oneself for not finding out earlier or for being so trusting. Your spouse may feel they have lost the person they invested so much time, effort, love and intimacy. Feelings of depression and other health issues may surface.

Your spouse may no longer trust you and you may live with feelings of guilt until the situation is finally resolved; or perhaps you have them for the rest of your life. The stress may make you perform poorly on the job and make you susceptible to poor health. Finally, there is a real possibility you lose your family, possessions and must start your life all over again.

The harmful effects of how cheating affect the children are well documented. Children are often required to be loyal to one parent and not to the other. Sometimes children are fed a lot of negative information about their mother or father and children are understandably confused; and their self-esteem takes a hit. Your adult children may no longer associate with you.

Family members on each side may align themselves with one or the other spouse, thus fueling disagreements between the two families. Family and friends may also influence initiating a separation or a divorce.

If you decide not to tell you will have to live with the guilt that one day your husband or wife might discover the truth. As mentioned above, this guilt may affect your health and your interactions with the people around you. The decision to tell is a personal one that again boils down to being either "good" or "right." While that's a personal decision, the simplest solution is to not cheat and avoid the conundrum.

Dr. Trina Read has a doctorate in human sexuality. Dr. Read is also an international speaker and offers free sex and lots of other information and resources on her website www.trinaread.com. To order her book, "Til Sex Do Us Part," click here.

You can also hear more from Dr. Trina Read on the Hitched Podcast.

Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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