I’m feeling like I’m in a Star Trek episode being transported back to 2002. I remember clearly because that was the year of our engagement…but it was also the year when I cheated. In that moment of betrayal, I recall thinking all types of things, but the biggest reoccurring thought was: Should I tell him or just keep it to myself? Can I save my marriage, even though it hasn’t yet begun?
Save My Marriage: How to Come Clean After an Affair
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By default, these questions were raised, but by design, deep down inside I knew I would tell him because I believe ever so strongly in the following philosophy:
If you intentionally withhold the truth from someone not only are you continuously lying but, even worse, you are making a decision for them and robbing them of the opportunity to make their own decision. So, ultimately, you will forever be living the lie.”
Did you notice the above words default and design are in bold? Here’s why…
Both our engagement and the first year of marriage were impacted by affairs—my affair during our engagement and my husband’s affair in our first year of marriage. I quickly understood that our marriage could not successfully run by default. Rather, we had to design our marriage and become intentional about developing our marriage. We had to understand what caused his affair and mine to ensure this would never happen again.
I’m not going to paint this process as an easy one, but it is possible. Expect to jump some big hurdles between the affair and happily ever after, including the first hurdle, which is being completely honest and coming clean to your spouse about your affair.
I remember the day I decided to tell Chris. My mind filled with the various ways it could play out. I waited till he came home from work and had a chance to relax a bit from the day. I sat him down and said, “I have something very difficult to disclose to you but I always want to be honest with you.”
It was rough. But, I told him everything and answered his questions honestly. At the end, I told him “if you want to leave me, I understand” because I prepared myself for the worse. Luckily, he said, “I love you and want us to work past this.” We went to counseling and did just that, worked past it.
Understand there is never the “right” time to disclose an affair, but I can tell you that working through our affair made our marriage stronger than before.
So how do you disclose an affair?
Come Clean to Yourself
You have to get real with yourself before you can get real with your spouse. Getting real simply means acknowledging what acts have been damaging to you, your spouse and the marriage.
Don’t allow the devil to destroy you in terms of beating yourself up for this mistake. Yes, an affair is a mistake…if you are remorseful and don’t go on to be a repeat offender
Come Clean to a Second Party
Do you feel led to come clean to a trusted second party? Do you think this option will give you the strength to come clean to your partner?
Explore your options in knowing who to turn to. The very people and places who make great counselors for the spouse who was cheated on can be just as useful to the wayward spouse.
Come Clean with Your Spouse
Last, but certainly not least, you must come clean to your spouse. Coming clean will likely be the most difficult decision you’ve ever made. Remind yourself that you are doing the right thing and be courageous, trusting that you can do this…because you can! Here are my suggestions:
Before the Talk
You’re going to be revealing hurtful news, so you want to make sure your spouse is in his or her most comfortable setting, where he or she can absorb the information.
- Identify the best day and time for you both, with priority to your spouse. Select an open day to talk to ensure neither you nor your spouse is rushed. You will need time to let the storm settle afterward. Also, choose a time of day that your spouse will be most receptive. Is he or her a morning person?
- Identify where to do it. Your home is likely the best place to reveal the news. But consider which room setting works best. I’d recommend a living room setting, where you can consider leveraging your existing bond and intimacy. Sit alongside your spouse on the family couch, and hold your spouse’s hand while revealing the news.
Plan the Talk
Also, I highly recommend scripting out what you will say beforehand. You can do this in your head or on paper. I prefer on paper because you are more likely to edit yourself and cut out parts that distract from the purpose of your disclosure.
Anytime you’re delivering bad news think of an Oreo cookie, delivering the confession in layers:
- Top Cookie = Good News (Foundation)
- Cream Filling = Bad New
- Bottom Cookie = Opportunity/Good News (Paint a Solid Picture)
Here is an example of what it could look like: [Top Cookie] My love, (or personalized term of endearment) you make my life enjoyable in more ways than I can count and I’m truly grateful for you through the ups and the downs. [Cream Filling] I don’t believe in keeping secrets from you, and recently I have and I’m not proud of this and want to come clean because I owe you that and owe our marriage that, as our marriage means the world to me. There is no easy way to say something hard, I regretfully cheated on you and have ended the affair (if you have).
It pained me to lie to you, and I respect you too much to go on lying to you. So I’m prepared to offer you full disclosure in sharing the whole truth with you now or later. [Bottom Cookie] I’m DEEPLY SORRY for my actions and feel absolutely horrible! Please KNOW I LOVE YOU and want to spend the rest of our lives together. I’m truly remorseful about my actions and pray that you will forgive me in your time.
The above script is merely a sample template, please customize it as you see fit.
During the Actual Talk
When you’re ready to make your confession, you should also keep a few things in mind. Coaching couples has taught me the following in terms of accepting responsibility for your actions:
- Be clear. Don’t babble. Explain what happened without giving information overload. Your spouse will be emotional, so confusing information and too much information will add to their stress. Your spouse will ask the necessary questions when he or she is ready.
- Tune in to your emotions and express them genuinely. While I did encourage you to pre-script your confession, your apology needs to be sincere and meaningful—not just rehearsed words.
- Accept responsibility. This means abstaining from placing blame regardless of marital problems that steered you astray. Don’t fall victim to the “Blame Game.” These exchanges can occur further into the conversation. Now is all about you coming clean!
- Be remorseful. Express to your spouse just how horrible you feel. But don’t anticipate any compassion because, as harsh as it sounds. Now is not about you!
- Expect multiple conversations. This will be ongoing. Immediately after this talk, your spouse may want to scream at you, hug you (surprisingly) or have nothing to do with you for a while. Be sure to respect your spouse’s need for space and processing. Give your spouse what she/he needs to recover.
After the Talk
You now will probably feel your guilt more than ever—now that you’ve seen the pain it’s caused your spouse. But it’s important to put your focus on your spouse—not your guilt. Walk in their shoes. How would you feel if you were in their shoes hearing the news?
- Allow your spouse the time he or she needs. If that means time apart completely or in different rooms. We were able to stay under the same roof, and I suggest this if you can.
- Understand your spouse has a right to her/his anger. As you work to stay with your spouse, over time they show their anger. Know it’s a part of the healing process of grasping what transpired.
Healing for infidelity is hard—but it is possible. Despite our early affairs, my husband and I have been happy since and are now in our 10th year of marriage. Glory!
BMWK, have you ever had to break tough news to your spouse? What tips do you have to reveal a hurtful confession?
Editor’s Note – This post was originally published on October 14, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.