As a rule, most sensible therapists believe that it is not a good idea for a cheating spouse to confess to his or her dereliction.
Elizabeth Bernstein summarizes their opinion:
Some therapists I spoke with were torn on whether or not to tell a spouse about an infidelity. If you have put an affair behind you, your marriage is strong, and you have reason to believe your past transgression won’t be discovered, they recommend keeping your secret and not hurting your spouse needlessly with a confession.
As I see it, when you tell your spouse that you have had an affair the first question she is going to ask herself is: why is he telling me this? And she will not be able to come up with a good answer. If she did not suspect as much, when you tell her she will start thinking that you are trying to hurt her gratuitously and that she does not really know the man she is married to.
She might also believe that you are threatening her marriage or her family. If you did it once, she might be thinking, you might certainly do it again. She might also imagine that you have contracted an infection and risk passing it on to her.
It is worth emphasizing that some infidelities are not affairs. A one-night-stand that you indulged on a business trip to Hong Kong is not the same as the affair you are having with the intern or the nanny.
I hate to have to mention, but since no one else ever does, I will. It does happen that women know about their husbands’ affairs and do not care. Some marriages are more like arrangements than like love matches. In those cases women will cast a blind eye on their husbands’ affairs… while thinking that it gives them the freedom to indulge relationships outside of marriage. In some cases, when men pressure their wives into performing sex acts they do not want to perform, said wives are often willing to allow their husbands to indulge such acts elsewhere.
An affair with an intern or a nanny are quite different. These women will not be in it just for the sex. Your wife will care about the intern or the nanny because she knows that these women have something other than sex in mind. After all, they are women; she’s a woman; she knows how women think.
Coming after the Ashley Madison hack, Bernstein’s article addresses the risk of getting caught. If your name and profile are on Ashley Madison, the chances are pretty good. If you have left an electronic or paper trail, the chances are also good. The more often you and your paramour have been canoodling in public, the better the chances of getting caught. If you or she have told lots of people, the possibilities for exposure multiply. Obviously, if you cheat in a place where your spouse might walk in on you, the chances of getting caught increase.
You might say that there are degrees of certainty. When your wife catches you in bed with another woman, you are more likely to lose your marriage. She will know to a certainty that you have cheated and, especially, that you do not respect her. If you are having sex in the marital bed your wife will consider it a violation of a space that is sacred to her. As they say, it’s never just the sex.
If your wife hears about your affair from a friend or through the gossip mill, she might still convince herself that the stories are lies. If she does not catch you in flagrante delicto she might be willing to cling to the notion that it’s not true.
As a cautionary note, one must explain to men that women are far more intelligent about these things than men are. A man who thinks that because his wife is off on safari in Timbuktu he can happily bring his lover home for a mid-afternoon tryst should understand that said lover, if she has more than sex on her mind, is likely to leave a clue or two lying around, an earring a thong, where he will not see it but his wife will.
Things are a bit murkier when your name is going to show up on Ashley Madison. Then, it will not just be your wife but the whole neighborhood that will know. Undoubtedly, it is best to fess up to having used the site, but, hopefully to say that it was just all fantasy. From the statistics I have seen it appears that much of the cheating was in peoples’ minds. If you used the site to hook up with a married women from the next township, in a situation that is not likely to be exposed, it is best in my opinion to lie... like your life depended on it.
Some people distinguish between emotional infidelity and sexual infidelity. They often consider the former to be worse than the latter because it seems to suggest an interest in leaving the marriage. But, the latter does involve other kinds of risks: risk of infection or risk of an extramarital pregnancy.
In the meantime, Bernstein’s experts suggest that if you are going to get caught, it’s best to confess now and to act very, very contrite. Beg for forgiveness.
First, of course, you should have ended the affair. Of course, once you end an affair you increase the risks of being exposed. Perhaps your paramour is not very happy about being dumped—especially after you assured her that you were getting a divorce—and is going to tell all to your spouse and all of your best friends.
Need we mention that anyone who engages in that level of subterfuge deserves what he gets.
When you confess, one expert suggests, your wife does not have to confront you or to deal with your lies.
Experts suggest that if you are going to get caught, honesty is the best policy, but, within limits. You might say something about how your marriage has grown more distant, but you do best not to describe your cheating ways in graphic details. Your wife does not want to know. She does not care. If you tell her she will never be able to get the image out of her mind. It will not turn her on.
Keep in mind, she would rather forgive and forget. If possible, you should allow her to do so. It is also helpful to change some of your habits. If you were staying late at the office in order to do the intern, you should start coming home earlier. You might also open a line of communication with your wife on those occasions when you have to stay late at work. Rather than make her think that she needs to check up on her, be more open about your comings and goings.
I know I should not tell you this, but when you are confessing and are speaking of the “other woman” never, never, never pronounce her name. The one way your wife can figure out whether you still have feelings for Constance will be in the tone of voice you use in pronouncing her name. Women are really good at sussing out a lie.
If you don’t get what I mean, listen to President Obama talk about the Prophet Mohammed or the Minister Farrakhan. You will hear the deep reverence in his voice.