After Confessing Adultery to Your Spouse, What Happens Next?
You wrestled terribly with the reality and whether confessing adultery to your spouse would make anything better.
You violated your beliefs, your values, your vows. But, finally, you told the truth.
You didn’t want your spouse to find out from someone else. You couldn’t live a lie.
So you confessed, not knowing what the future held.
So, now what? Now you move forward and do what you can to recover.
Start with a few strategic decisions:
- Decide what you want. Are you confessing with an exit in mind? Or do you hope for forgiveness and a commitment to doing whatever you can to save your marriage? Move ahead with clarity and purpose.
- Seek the help of an experienced and qualified couples counselor. This is no time to go it alone. Whatever you and your spouse decide to do from here on out, you will benefit greatly from the objective guidance of a counselor. He or she can help you manage the emotions, cope with the realities, and communicate with solutions and resolutions in mind. Managing the emotions means, in part, refraining, as far as possible, from discussing the affair at home and putting those emotions in the sessions. The payoff will be, there will be less unpleasantness between sessions.
- Keep telling the whole truth. For as long as it takes, with some understanding that you will wish to stop talking about the affair long before your partner can let go of it. As the initial shock dissipates, your spouse will mentally start working through the betrayal. He or she will likely want to know how you could’ve done this; who your partner or partners are; where, when, and how you were intimate; and a host of other details that you may want to forget. In the best interest of your relationship and to work toward restoring honesty, you’ll do better to let the information flow as your spouse asks for it. Confessing adultery to your spouse includes a decision to accept the responsibility and consequences of your actions patiently and sincerely. You needn’t provide unsolicited details, but now is not the time to hold back or continue any form of deceit. Continue to put everything on the table for consideration and digestion.
- Determine that there is no going back. If your relationship is your priority, commit to it and declare your commitment to your spouse concretely. Recognize that life will not and should not go back to the way things were before the confession, and show that you understand your spouse’s distrust and are willing to set hard boundaries to make your life together better. All contact with your affair partner must be severed. Any communications, photos, gifts, or mementos must go. Saving your marriage will take your whole effort and full emotional investment. Choose only your spouse going forward.
- Work on you. With your counselor, and preferably with your spouse present, take a close look at your part in the breakdown of your marriage. What was happening with you before you strayed? Identify how you were vulnerable. Do internal work that you might share with your partner when the time is right. Demonstrate that you are willing to do more than blame or project onto your spouse. Be as proactive as possible to build the tools you need to develop your personal coping skills and deal with underlying personal issues or insecurities. Try to keep these discussions in therapy, and refrain from prolonged discussions at home.
- Work on your connection. Again, with the help of your counselor, deal with the poor communication and unproductive relationship patterns in your life together. Assure your partner that you want to do what you can to resolve old resentments, honor his or her need to heal, and improve your interaction. Seek forgiveness and patiently wait until your spouse can offer it.
Confessing adultery to your spouse may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
Even if you feel unburdened by no longer carrying the secret and shame, the weight of breaking your vows will be felt in new, unexpected ways as you deal with the truths of your relationship.
To varying extents, full or partial recovery, forgiveness, and reconciliation are possible, but give your spouse time. Seek support and pursue healing.
If you or your spouse feel unable to continue the relationship or request a separation, you will both endure a good deal of change and emotional pain. Consider continuing therapy as a way of navigating the difficult emotions and choices ahead.
Robert Menuet, LCSW, is a therapist who practices in the Greater New Orleans, Louisiana, metropolitan area. He specializes in Marriage Counseling, Couples Therapy, Relationship Therapy for Singles, Couples Therapy For One, and he consults and treats couples who work together in family business. He has 34 years of experience and has been trained in couples therapy and mediation at the Washington School of Psychiatry and Loyola University College of Law.