Secrets – Keep them or Reveal them?

If a person has a brief affair in a relationship and the affair ends, should the betraying spouse keep the secret? After all, it seems that telling this secret would needlessly hurt the spouse who was betrayed and only serve to alleviate the guilt of the spouse who cheated.

Right?

Secrets Keep or Reveal 1

I once met a man, I’ll call him Peter, who had a wife, 2 children, and another on the way. He had a brief affair (3 encounters) with a woman I’ll call Trish, who didn’t know Peter was married. Trish ended it after she chanced to meet someone who knew Peter and told her of his lie.

3 months later, Trish called Peter. She was pregnant and decided to have the child. She said it might be Peter’s, or it might be another man’s she was involved with.

Trish wasn’t going to test for paternity until after the child was born. Peter was in agony. Should he tell his wife, Barbara, that he may be the father of this child? Should he wait another 6 months for the baby’s birth and hope he’d never have to confess to Barbara after all?

The man had a sense of honor to the child and Trish. (Yes, maybe a little late, but he felt sincerely penitent). He wanted to be a real father to this child and support it financially and with his involvement. He didn’t want the child to grow up not knowing it had a father who cared.

Secrets Keep or Reveal 2

I asked Peter to consider telling his wife, Barbara, now. Yes, she’d be devastated. She might leave him because of it. But if the baby turned out to be Peter’s, Barbara would feel doubly betrayed. She’d know he’d been lying to her all that time.

Peter decided not to tell his wife. But about a month before Trish gave birth, Peter decided to reveal all. His reasoning? He was giving his wife some advance warning, but she didn’t have to spend a full 6 months in agony wondering about the baby’s paternity the way he was doing. It would only be a few weeks.

The baby was born. It was his.

How did it all end for everyone?

Barbara felt hurt, betrayed, and confused and knew this would change the lives of their entire family. However, she also felt compassionate to Trish and the baby.

The last I heard, this couple was working on how to preserve their marriage and integrate Trish’s baby into their lives in the future.

That was in the early stages. I don’t know what happened as time wore on and the shock wore off.

But I know that people are resilient. They recover from terrible emotional pain. While many marriages wouldn’t survive this, I personally know of a few that have. (I’ve changed the details of this couple to protect their privacy.)

Secrets have a way of slipping out, no matter how careful a person thinks they’re being. When the betrayed person doesn’t know the secret for sure, they often have an uneasy sense that something not quite right is going on. This sense can taint everything.

Secrets Keep or Reveal 3

As for the secret keeper — the secret can eat away at them. It can erode their ability to feel close to the person they’re keeping the secret from. The secret itself can cause as much destruction as the act of betrayal. (Or maybe not — I don’t know.)

We try our best, but we’re all flawed in different ways.

 

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10 thoughts on “Secrets – Keep them or Reveal them?

    1. Yes, that’s how I feel. But I’ve seen other perspectives and they sometimes seem to work for the person. I’m not sure how long they do and how satisfying they are, however.

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  1. My gut says tell the truth. I’d like to think that we can trust people enough to accept our truth. Or at least give people the opportunity to choose if they will accept it or not.

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    1. I think, like you, that most people want to tell the truth. Unfortunately, however, the person who hears the truth doesn’t have much of a choice in how they react. I’ve seen the betrayed person suffer from a traumatic emotional reaction that they had no control over and that lasted for months or longer. Sometimes no matter how hard they tried, they could never get over the betrayal.

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      1. I reckon that the person telling the truth still can’t be blamed for that though. They are responsible for their actions and choices, and not for the reactions of others. Doesn’t mean they can’t feel terrible about it or not care. It’s up to the betrayed person to work through the pain and know their worth and that the truth doesn’t have to destroy them, etc. I guess truth never promised to be easy. So many interesting thoughts to do with this question.

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  2. My instinct would have been to tell the truth. I’ve always valued honestly above all else. Now, I don’t know. I found out about 8 weeks after he ended it. He says he never would have told me because he figured out that it wasn’t who he wanted to be or what he wanted to be doing. He wanted our life, and in the two months when I didn’t know, he was the man I needed him to be – however, all that came crashing down and all I could think about was the affair. I can’t live in the present, three years later. I have PTSD. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know. He made the mistake. He fixed it. It isn’t mine to carry. I know that now I can see the whole picture, but I hate it. I hate that my marriage is gone. That I’ll never be the only one he wanted, and keeping my vows means he will get to know that (I’ll only choose him). I do think the truth always comes out, but I wish it wasn’t my truth.

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    1. I asked if he would have told me if I hadn’t have found out – he said no, he wouldn’t want to hurt me like he knows he has done.
      I asked if I hadn’t have found out, would he still be friends with her – he said yes (that was gutting).
      He said it wouldn’t have carried on for much longer if I hadn’t have found out, he said it was never about replacing me, he said he would have never have had sex with her (not sure I believe that).. It would never have been something physical (mmmm don’t think I believe that either) – it was the whole flirting, attention, reading about the sexy stuff, writing about the sexy stuff, graphic pictures etc.
      He said he felt awful whilsts doing it (he actually stopped eating during it, I knew something was wrong). I asked if he felt so awful – why do it? …. He said he was caught up in the excitement, he wasn’t thinking…. His penis took over!

      I’m glad I did find out, a relationship can’t survive on a lie….. However I am just so angry and upset that it happened. I wish it had never happened.

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    2. We always think we want to know the truth, but if it is a brief affair, and if the person who cheated is able to move on and recover from it, the relationship might be able to heal if the innocent spouse doesn’t find out. But everyone is different and the reasons for cheating on a spouse are complex. Each person has to work out what they believe is best for themselves. And they never can predict what the outcome of telling the truth or lying will be.

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      1. Very true. We can never really know. I am mostly struggling with not liking this version of my story. But I need to get to a place of making the most of it – I hate feeling like I am spending my days unhappy because of his choices and becoming more and more someone I don’t want to be (the insecure, angry, sad, broken version of me I’ve been for three years). I have felt like I am finally ready to choose myself again, even though it’s still really hard to fight all of that.

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        1. It’s very hard to recover. When I recovered from a broken heart in the past, I reminded myself that what the other person did was about them, not me. And the love I’d felt for them resided inside me and not them. That meant that the love inside me would eventually attach itself to another person because I had the capacity to love. I had to remind myself a lot. And write, and write, and write about it, until the story became boring to me.

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