Dear LetterBalm: Five years ago, during a bad time in our marriage, I had an affair. It lasted only a few weeks – it’s the only time I’ve cheated on my wife. In a moment of weakness, I told her close friend, a guy she went to college with and somebody who had become my good friend, too. Over the years, he hasn’t told my wife about my cheating, but he’s dropped a few big hints when we’re all together. He’s always been in love with my wife, and he’s said some things that make me think he’s jealous of our marriage. During that rough time, my wife and I went to couples counseling, and we’ve been good ever since, but I didn’t disclose the affair. In hindsight, I should have because now I don’t know what to do. Tell her? Talk with her friend? Let things stay as they are?
–In a Tight Spot
You’re in a tight spot, all right. Any way you squirm out of it doesn’t leave you looking good. You have a man in longstanding love with your wife, jealous of your marriage, in possession of a secret that could wreck it – and, showing signs he will use the information in good time. He’s out of the running as an ally; you don’t dare approach him and expect any reasonableness. You know you should have owned up to your indiscretion during your therapy five years ago and thrown yourself on the mercy of your wife. If you confess now, she may feel doubly betrayed because you waited five years and because you told her friend. What to do, what to do? You can hunker down and live with it. Or, as Ms. L.B. believes, you can come clean and neutralize the situation, knowing you may jeopardize your marriage. Reflect long and hard on what you’ll say – and, you cannot demonize the friend, as much as he deserves it. (If your wife asks whether her friend knows, tell her but omit the gory details; she probably won’t believe them.) Practice in private, and when you are ready, take a deep breath and take your wife’s hands in yours. Remain calm and contrite because she doubtless will rage. Say something like this:
Jean, I have something to tell you, but before I do, I want you to believe that I love you now more than ever and I hope you can understand. This isn’t easy for me to say. Five years ago, when we were going through the rough time in our marriage, I had a short affair. The woman was someone I knew through a co-worker, and I ended it after five weeks. I’ve never seen her or spoken to her since, and I’ve never done anything like this again. I won’t insult you by making excuses. This has been eating at me for all this time, especially since I know I should have come clean during our therapy. But I was scared and stupid then. I am so, so sorry. You are my whole world, and you don’t deserve to be hurt and betrayed by someone who is supposed to love and protect you – especially since our relationship has been really good these past years. Can you believe me when I tell you that this is the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone, and nobody can possibly hate me as much as I do myself? This is a lot to take in, and I promise I’ll answer all your questions and never keep a secret from you again.
[If she asks whether her friend knows] You asked me if Iago knows. He does. I was feeling guilty and I confided in him at the time. I know I shouldn’t have told him because I betrayed you even more.