Is Honesty Always the Best Policy When It Comes to Infidelity?

Unhappy couple sitting on stone steps

According to a recent article, being completely honest with your mate about infidelity might not always be the best strategy. Clinical Psychologist Bruce Stevens explained that understanding the need to be honest about the affair can help guide the decision whether to do so or not. Stevens has worked with couples for more than two decades and said that his experience has shown him that only about half of marriages survive after an affair has been revealed. He says, “After an affair is found out, it’s like a bomb has been dropped on the relationship and you cannot predict how it will go.”

When someone confesses to having an affair, it can create a sense of chaos unlike any other the relationship has ever experienced. Stevens knows that couples who put in the effort to work through the many issues that arise after the affair have a good chance of salvaging their relationship and usually have a stronger, better, healthier relationship because of it. Stevens says that many people admit to their affair in order to assuage their own guilt. He believes that this reason should not be the motivating factor for full disclosure. Stevens says there is no guarantee that both partners will be able to overcome the damage caused by the truth and thinks it’s almost like playing Russian roulette.

The good news is that Stevens also thinks that there is significant hope for couples who can be realistic after they go through the pain of discovering an affair. If both partners are willing to accept responsibility and recognize that they are both human beings, flawed and imperfect, they have a very good chance of moving forward in their life together. Regardless of whether partners choose to come clean about their infidelity or not, Stevens reminds us that affairs are like fairytales. They are illusions that allow us to temporarily escape reality. The difference is, affairs rarely end “happily ever after.”

Related articles:
Reasons for the Affair
When Is the Marriage Really Over?
The 5 Truths Every Married Person Needs to Know About Affairs

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  • Doug

    June 27th, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    I only wish that I had not been so honest with my ex wife when it came to my affair that I had. I think that if I had not told her then I could have let it all go on my own and we could have worked through the problems that we were having. After I told her everything though, there really was no hope for the two of us reconciling. She is a good person, don’t get me wrong, but she could have never forgiven and forgotten like we would have neede to make the marriage work. I am not placing the blame for the marriage failing on her, because I was the one who made the choice to cheat and to confess when that affair ended. But it did not make it any easier knowing that she would always hold all of this against me and that our marriage was no longer salvageable.

  • LIBBA w

    June 27th, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    What would irk me more would be if my husband was not honest with me about infidelity and then I ahd to find out about it on my own. Now that would be trouble. Man up and tell me if there is something going on on the side, and the same thing goes for the wives too.

  • Catherine

    June 28th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    I think that there is a line that you have to draw when it comes to reporting infidelity to your partner.

    Do I think that you should be honest with your spouse if you have cheated? I do. But do I think that they need to know every single detail, every thing that you did together or every time that you met? I don’t.

    There is only so much that a loving spouse could deal with, and all of that detail is just too much for them to have to thin about.

    be honest, be forthright and try to work it out together. It will be hard. But maybe not having all of the salacious details will help them to have a better chance at surviving this.

  • polly

    June 28th, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    The hardest thing is for both partners to admit that they were are fault. The partner who does not cheat has a tendency to want to be the martyr, and while it is not a good choice when someone has an affair with someone else, it always takes two to tango. There could have probably been a better solution but sometiems it can feel like this is the only way to live a little. I am not making excuses and thankfully I have never been put in this situation at least not that I know of. But I know marriages that have survived this and those that have crumbled and at some point in every one of them the one who did not cheat wants to think that it is all the fault of the cheater. But the ones that survive it are finally able to reach a point where they can see there own faults and the things that maybe they did to drive their partner to choose this. They know that this does not excuse the behavior but being able to see that in all likelihood they were ate fault too makes it a little easier for them to forgive the infidelity and move forward, often with a stronger relationship than before.

  • Heidi

    June 29th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    Honesty is usually going to be the best policy. That does not mean that the truth doesn’t hurt because many times it sure does. But I would rather have the truth than live in the middle of a lie. Wouldn’t you, or do you choose to remain blissfully ignorant, because I am sure there are a lot of men out there who would be happy to comply with that.

  • Christina

    June 29th, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    This is weird. how is coming out with the truth about you having cheated be bad? Yes, the relationship may not survive but its better than your partner finding out otherwise. then there is almost no chance of the relationship surviving. At least the truth route has chances.

  • Connor

    June 30th, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    I love my wife too much to ever cheat on her, that is one thing that I would first wish to make very clear. But even if something did happen and I cheated, then I think that I would feel much too terrible to not confess to her what I had done.When you love your spouse you want to be honest and truthful with her, and not withhold anything. That’s the part about being best friends, and always having that kind of friendship to fall back on when something else in the marriage feels like it is going wrong. I have known guys who have a different girl in every town, but they still go home at night to play the role of the doting husband and father. I just don’t get how they live with that kind of duplicity and duality in their lives.

  • larkin

    July 1st, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    in cases like this i have to say that i think honesty is highly overrated
    sometimes we know it can do more harm than good
    so you have an indiscretion, why do you always have to tell?
    it may or may not ever happen again- and if it doesn’t happen again do you want to take the chance of ruining your otherwise healthy relationship over the actions of one night?

  • Tally todd

    July 2nd, 2012 at 4:37 AM

    My husband and I went through intense counseling together after I had an affair. I don’t really think that either of us was surprised that I did it, given the amount of travel that he has to do and the fact that I just got lonely. But even though there was no surprise, it does not mean that we had an easy time working through the issues. There were a lot of things in therapy that we knew we could work on, like making time for one another and making the most of the time together when we were not traveling for work. But changing all of that travel was something that we knew we couldn’t control so we had to come up with better skills for dealing with it. I am not sure that our journey toward marital reconciliation is completely over, but we are working on it. Thankfully I love him and he loves me so that does make it a little easier to work through but I know that sometimes even that is not enough.

  • zosorry

    July 19th, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    I had a workplace affair amidst depression and a seperation from my wife. I ended it and moved back with my wife. I told her a few months after I moved home in hope of an honest connection and rebuilding “us”. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but we just had our second child and I wanted our family together more than anything and we had a “hollow” connection. I believed because of my shame and guilt being a burden on my spirit. A few days after I confessed she told me about a one night fling during this same time. The fallout ended in the death of a beautiful dream for a family that never had a chance to be a family. Life moves on and everyone is ok these days but there is an emptyness in me that I have just accepted as the norm. I write this all to share a bit of advice. Sometimes the priceless lessons in life will cost you everything but I would rather lose than cheat and win. If you have already screwed up and are wrestling with telling the truth to your spouse. Do it with a counselor or third party and be prepared and realistic about it. If you do this with the hope of a better love and your partner sees this then you are headin in the right direction. After you tell them give them as much time and space as they want to heal. After a long time you both will be able to think clearly and process things without emotions affecting your decisions. Looking back I believe this would have worked for us. I hope it works for you because I wouldn’t wish my life the last 3 years on anyone.

  • Isabel

    August 26th, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    I’m stuck in the middle of an affair. My spouse and i were going through a really tough time we weren’t together at the time but i still wanted to be with him and wanted to work things out. I found out he was rekindling with his ex-girlfriend and i fell into temptation. I cheated on him and i feel a great amount of sorrow and guilty ness. I later found out he cheated before this time during and tried to keep doing it. and i realized the pain an infidelity can cause. I dont know if i should let him know because although i forgave him I’ll never forget the pain and the distance and distrust our relationship had gone through after. We are having out first child together and things are getting better and our relationship is getting stronger an believe me we love each other but me telling him will put the final strain on our relationship to end it. I’m scared to tell him but I’m also scared to lose my family & him finding out otherwise. Infidelity should never be excused. I dont know what I’ll do but if you have the choice make the best decision for your marriage not to ease your guilt

  • Teresa

    February 14th, 2015 at 9:00 PM

    Honesty is a must. The bible tells us to confess our sins to each other to be healed and we must bring all darkness to light. If you want a marriage that operates in the LIGHT you must confess the darkness. A marriage that truly is blessed is a marriage that is in light. Keeping an affair a secret is keeping your marriage in darkness and division has occured. The cheating spouse has divided them self from the marriage and the only way to truly become united with your spouse again is to tell the truth. Otherwise, your marriage will always remain in darkness. In the Old Testament the bible also tells us that one can not prosper when sin is hidden. Do not allow darkness to reign in your marriage as it will not prosper. Even if your spouse divorces you because of your unfaithfulness, it is important to be faithful to GOD. God tells us in the bible to confess our sins to each other. When you have a secret from your spouse, YOU ARE DIVIDED from you spouse and GOD. Well you actually became divided from your spouse spiritually during the affair as your became one flesh with someone else and created an ungodly soul tie. If you want to become united with you spouse in this way you must bring it to light. To continue in darkness, you continue to be divided from your spouse spiritually. Bringing Light to darkness breaks the darkness and breaks the division you have with ungodly soul ties. God honors you when you operate in righteousness not in secretiveness. When you cheat on your spouse you must be willing to do what it takes to make it right and be willing to face the consequences. When you are you unwilling to tell the truth you are more worried about yourself in what will you loose! But come on now…you chose to lose from the beginning by having an affair so chose NOW to be righteous and trust God for your marriage! If you are repented then God can help salvage your marriage!

  • Foster

    June 7th, 2016 at 8:43 AM

    I don’t believe in extramarital sex, but if its an isolated incident that the other spouse will never know about, then better left unsaid. Nothing but pain and heartache can come of it. Not to draw a line, but on the other hand if there is infidelity that is drawn out (into an affair or emotional attachment) then the truth must be told. Sooner than later. The nature of an affair will reveal itself in some form and when the other spouse becomes suspicious and questions the cheating spouse, then the truth must be told, or the marriage is over. My wife deemed our marriage of 16 years to be over (but didn’t tell me about it or legally end it) and became attracted to a doctor who occasionally worked at her workplace. She pursued him which led to her physically cheating on me 2-3 times. If it had gone her way it would have turned into a full blown affair, but the OM was involved with someone else and didn’t want to become involved with a MW. The change in her behavior was obvious and when I questioned her with much evidence in hand she fully denied, attacked me for being paranoid and crazy and lied on an epic scale for 6+ years. During this time her words and lies gradually revealed the truth in bits and pieces, mostly because she had forgotten what she lied about. Or I would tell her she already admitted to certain things. She didn’t know if she did or didn’t, so would just go along with it. To this day she still won’t admit that they had sex, but admits to everything up to it including the epic lying. The mistrust this has caused has left our marriage empty, shallow and broken. There is not a single day in the last 8 years where this hasn’t weighed on me. Had she told me the truth up front when I specifically asked for it, I at least could have had the opportunity to leave or work on the marriage. There are white lies and embellishments, but when a soul or life partner asks the other to be honest, then they should expect nothing but the truth without a second thought. There are those that will ask, “Why the hell are you still with her?” I don’t know. She’s a bit of a narcissist and that’s a whole other issue (trap). And she was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago so I had to put everything else aside to focus on her, as I would never abandon anyone in that kind of situation.

  • Jon

    January 28th, 2017 at 2:09 PM

    I would really like someone to respond with truthfully what they think I should do. Four years ago I started dating my girlfriend she was recently divorced we are having a pretty good time I was over there every weekend stay with her doing stuff with her but would never give her a verbal commitment. The reason is because her ex-husband kept coming over at all different times which made me feel very uncomfortable. I know how the ex-husband and ex-wife things go. He was also running around with a friend of hers met a guy that she claimed was just a friend, One small thing that happened is I want over there one night him and a couple other guys were there she said they just stop by. We did Argue because I felt she was being unfaithful she promised and guaranteed she was not. Come to find out about a week ago I did run into one of the guys that were there and he told me that she had spent the night with him twice at his place. So I asked him to please call Brian and ask him for the truth he said he would and he did. Brian would not mess up anything other than a slap together a handful of times. I did confront her on this at first he denied it and then when I told her I heard it come right out of his mouth she would never fess up to it. I know it sounds stupid but I feel more relaxed knowing that I was correct. But the bad part is when I ask her about it she turns her head to me and says it was four years ago I don’t want to talk about it. I feel to keep the relationship going I need to know the truth about everything. I feel if she tells me the truth I will definitely stay with her but she needs to build that trust back with me my question is is it too much to ask from me for the truth? There is a little bit more I’m trying to make this short

  • Jay

    February 14th, 2017 at 9:47 AM

    I don’t need to know all the details but I do need to know that if I ask I will get the truth. After my wife told be about her ‘relationship’ (her words) during an argument she proceeded to lie. She deleted emails; Deleted facebook messages and accounts. She continued to lie about everything. I spent a year and a half continually catching her in one lie after another. There is no longer any trust. How can I forgive when I don’t know what I am forgiving. The sad thing is is my imagination is worse than the truth. I know this but it is all I have. Total disclosure may not be the best but total honesty is.

  • A S C

    June 2nd, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    Misleading article!
    This article talks about people who confess to their affair without getting caught. These are people who are geiunely sorry for the affair. These kind of people are a small minority. The vast majority of cheaters are caught. They are sorry for being caught, and lie, deny and give false justifications.
    Truth is powerful. No affair can happen without lies and deception. The person made a mess of the marriage by lying and to suggest they continue to lie to save the marriage is a terrible idea.
    Some Marriages break up after affairs and some continue. The difference is how the cheater behaves after being caught. If the cheater still wants to lie, deny, justify or cover up, the SO other has no choice but to walk out of the marriage.
    Caught wife cheating, she kept lying, am divorcing her. Good riddance!!

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