Updated: Nov 17, 2021
As I write this article, I am aware that I will probably sound like an alarmist, but I write this as a cautionary prelude to you sharing your pain with someone. Talking with someone during the days after discovering your partner’s affair is important. I am sure that on many occasions in the past you have found it helpful to talk about other stressful events with a close friend, family member or someone close at work. Your partner’s infidelity can be a very different matter. I have worked with many couples that have selected “supportive” friends and family to talk to without ever considering if it is a wise choice in who they choose to confide in or if it is the appropriate timing.
Discovering your partner’s affair can be an isolating, lonely experience and it is certainly important to seek support, but careful selection of the supportive person is important. I thought it might be helpful to consider possible dangers in the people that you may choose for support.
First, let’s consider the timing of talking to someone. One immediate impact of infidelity is instability for your relationship, particularly right after discovery. There is such a sense of confusion and uncertainty about what to believe or what to do. What you thought was reality, is not. The shock has left you feeling alone and isolated. You are embarrassed that you did not know this affair was going on and embarrassed that others might find out. You can’t share your hurt and fears with your primary person of support because they are the person who has just cheated on you.
The early instability in the relationship means that all of your options are on the table; including anger, aggression, retribution, divorce, understanding, empathy and reconciliation. Your early-response choices may to be to lash out or to make threats of divorce, but later your decision may be to work for reconciliation and forgiveness with your partner. Because of this instability, telling anyone about your partner’s infidelity should be carefully weighed against their flexibility in accepting your changing decisions.
Secondly, let’s consider the people in your life and the potential challenges that you may experience in discussing your partner’s infidelity with them.
Consider Melanie and Dave. Dave had the affair and when Melanie discovered it she talked with her mother, Joan, for support. Melanie confided that she likely planned to leave Dave and file for divorce. Joan supported her and helped her find an attorney. A few days later, Melanie and Dave had a long conversation and the couple decided to stay together, attend counseling and work to save their marriage. Joan was less than enthusiastic. She immediately began to doubt if her daughter was being rational and challenged Melanie to reconsider her decision, creating considerable conflict between mother and daughter. Melanie and Dave did the hard work of therapy and Melanie was able to forgive Dave. The couple developed a strong relationship with one another and the couple stayed together. After some time, Joan and Melanie were also able to repair their relationship but Joan was unable to forgive Dave and had little trust for him in the future.
1. Your decisions about the relationship may change over time. Your family may not be as flexible with your changing decisions.
2. Your capacity to forgive may be greater than your family’s; your family may never be able to forgive.
Your Partner’s Family
You may have a great relationship with someone in your partner’s family, yet confiding in them could lead to outright denials by family members who can’t fathom that their (brother, sister, daughter, son) could do such a thing. They may insist that you are misreading your partner’s intent or exaggerating things. This will add insult to injury and you may learn to resent his or her family because they chose to stick up for your partner instead of supporting you.
1. The affair behaviors you are describing of your partner do not match how family members have historically perceived your partner, so they may outright reject your perceptions.
2. The alliances in your partner’s family to your partner may leave you hurt and resentful.
Your Best Friend
Other than your partner, your best friend is probably the person that you confide in the most. With many of the couples that I work with, it was the best friend who should have been considered a suspect all along. The cheating best friend has insider information to your relationship, listens and knows your suspicions and can be very effective at helping keep the infidelity a secret from you. A young man I worked with suspected that his golf buddy was having an affair with his girlfriend because the friend was sleeping around with other women and this friend also had a close relationship with his girlfriend. He never told his friend he suspected him, but talked frequently about his fears that his girlfriend was having an affair with someone. The friend would tell him he was being paranoid and then shared the information with the girlfriend. I know this sounds terrible, but make absolutely sure that your best friend is not the affair partner.
1. Your best friend may be keeping their own secret.
Your Partner’s Best Friend
Your partner’s best friend is not your best friend. Some people may lie to protect your partner, and even if they stop the lying and protection, it can complicate things more. An initial lie to you will make it difficult for you to trust this person ever again.
1. This person’s alliance is with your partner, not you.
One of Your Partner’s Friends
One of your partner’s friends may have been waiting in the wings to connect with you. Now that your relationship is in trouble, they may take advantage of your vulnerability by cloaking their true motive behind expressions of support for your troubled relationship.
1. What may seem like support may actually be a play on your vulnerability.
I do not support telling the children that one partner had an affair. Your relationship with your partner is private to the two of you. You may not always have a relationship with your partner, but the two of you will always be their mother and father. Telling the children that your relationship is ending or in trouble is hard enough, telling the kids that your partner had an affair adds an additional layer of complexity, that may be very difficult to overcome and forgive.
Dr. Butch Losey is a counselor educator and therapist in Cincinnati, Ohio.
He can be reached at 513-688-0092