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.
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.
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.
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.