40 year old Jane asks ‘Should I confess my affair?’ After having an illicit fling with a younger man, she’s wondering whether to tell her husband – our therapist’s answer might surprise you
I’m a 40 year old woman and work in PR. Until about a year ago I thought I was happily married. My husband and I have been together 15 years this year – he’s kind and supportive and makes me laugh more than anyone I now. We still have sex but I don’t fancy him like I used to and have to make myself ‘get started’ before really getting into it.
At the end of 2014 I did a meditation course and a few days after it finished someone on there that I met emailed me to confess he fancied me. I was surprised and had no idea, didn’t think of him that way but it made me wonder about him – he was gorgeous and quite a bit younger than me. We became friends and some six months later it progressed further than it should have – and I really wanted it to.
We ended up having an illicit affair which only lasted an intense few days before I ended it point blank and completely cut off all contact with him, racked with guilt and terrified that I would get found out and lose everything or fall for this guy and god knows where that would have led. I’ve managed to maintain no contact now nearly six months and he is too. It was intensely emotional and sexual and I guess I felt crazy about this guy at the time.
At the time my marriage was in the dog house and we were fighting a lot – but we have since really sorted things out and been to counselling which has really helped. Now strangely enough, I still feel like I love my husband and really want to try to make it work and don’t want to lose him, even though I do think about this guy a lot.
The whole experience has changed me though. It’s made me realise I am still attractive to men and that I really need the intensity and those romantic feelings of someone really wanting me. My husband and I have better sex now because we’ve sorted a lot of our issues but obviously our relationship doesn’t have the intensity and excitement I felt with my lover.
Anyway, my question is this – should I tell my husband? My therapist says ‘no’ point blank but I wonder whether he needs to know so he can make a decision whether to stay with me or leave me based on real honesty. Please help me as the guilt is killing me but I think confessing will ruin my marriage and break my husband’s heart.
Jane, 40 Epsom
‘Door knob revelation’ is the name that therapists give to the often revealing comments made by a client at the very end of a session, often as they’ve got their hand on the doorknob to leave.
Nearly a fifth of people (19 per cent) in the UK have been unfaithful at some point in their lives..
It came to mind because I think the last line of your email is the most important of everything you say: ‘The guilt is killing me but I think confessing will ruin my marriage and break my husband’s heart.’
You’ve clearly done a lot of thinking about why you had the affair and made the decision that your marriage is worth saving. But you are finding the guilt so difficult to live with that you are considering doing anything to rid yourself of it, including destroying the marriage that you have worked so hard to save.
We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, I want to put your experience into context. You seem to have cast yourself in the role of ‘morally depraved hussy’, but what happened in your marriage is very common.
Surveys show nearly a fifth of people (19 per cent) in the UK have been unfaithful at some point in their lives, while others put the number as high as 55 per cent. A relationship is most at risk from infidelity in midlife – a recent study found the most common age that women have an affair is 45, and for men it’s 55.
We imagine the shock of an affair only affecting the ‘injured’ party..
According to recent Related research, the most common reason given for having an affair is ‘feeling neglected or in need of more attention’ (51 per cent); communication problems (32 per cent) and sexual problems (20 per cent). Most affairs are short-lived – 40 per cent last less than six months, and 10 per cent last only a few weeks.
When you say you ‘hadn’t thought of him that way,’ until he told you about his attraction, it sounds like this was less about your lover as a person and more about those feelings of desire and being desired
The two most common types of affair are a ‘cry for help’ – a way of communicating what is lacking in your relationship, and ‘exploratory’ – a way of exploring a different side of your personality or your sex life. Exploratory affairs tend to be short-term and sexual in nature. Your affair seems to sit between the two.
But as commonplace as it may be, infidelity is still shocking when it happens to us. Relationships therapist Andrew G Marshall has compared the emotional upheaval experienced after an affair to post-traumatic shock syndrome.
We imagine the shock of an affair only affecting the ‘injured’ party (should they find out), but as you’re experiencing, it can be just as traumatic for the person who has been unfaithful.
Your affair has left you questioning who you are. You sound shocked at your own behaviour, like another side of your personality emerged and took over.
I am struck by the fact that you say you ‘hadn’t thought of him that way,’ until he emailed and confessed his attraction. It sounds like your affair was less about your lover as a person, and more about those intense and all-consuming feelings of desire and being desired.
You didn’t realise how much you missed the feeling of ‘being wanted’ until you had it again. And now you’re dealing with an internal struggle between missing the intense sexual and emotional connection that you had with your lover, and feeling wracked with guilt and terrified at how close you came to losing your husband.
From what you’ve told me, you have dealt with what happened in an emotionally intelligent and responsible way, by looking at what was missing in your marriage, going to counselling and committing to rebuilding your relationship.
So far, so positive. But it’s left you with two lingering dilemmas – what to do with the burden of guilt that you carry around, and how to fulfill your need to feel sexually desired within your marriage. Let’s look at the guilt first.
Having ‘no secrets’ from each other has somehow become the benchmark of a successful marriage
There is a chance you would feel better if you confessed. For around five minutes, max. Telling your husband is the emotional equivalent of throwing a hand-grenade into your marriage. It will cause both of you untold pain and distress.
Of course, we’ve all been brought up to ‘tell the truth’ especially in our closest relationships – having ‘no secrets’ from each other has somehow become the benchmark of a successful marriage. But sometimes, we need to be selective about what we tell the ones we love, for their own good. I can’t think of one single positive outcome of telling your husband.
Yes, it will become a shared trauma rather than just your own to carry round, but it’s unlikely that will dilute your pain. You say that you have come to realise that you do truly love your husband. If that is the case, then think of not confessing as your gift to him, one that protects him from pain and allows him to love you without question.
I also wonder if it’s occurred to you that your husband may already know, at some level, that something significant has happened to you. You describe your affair as ‘intensely emotional and sexual’. No doubt you worked hard to seem ‘normal’ at home throughout the short period you’re your affair lasted, but your husband may well have picked up on changes in your body language, mood and energy levels.
has it occurred to you that your husband may already know, at some level?
And then shortly afterwards, he witnesses another massive change in you, a drive to go to counselling, and a sudden re-commitment to making your marriage work. If you experienced those changes in your husband, what would you think?
But he has chosen to focus his attention on the future and the renewed closeness and happiness between you. That is a decision you need to respect.
Your next step is to forgive yourself, 100 per cent. You made a mistake, but you did it for a reason. Women in particular are quick to assume all the blame for their infidelity (and often for their partner’s).
But what happened was a consequence of the problems in your marriage, not your personal failings as a human being. You have done everything you can to learn from your mistake and create a positive outcome out of a negative one. You have punished yourself enough.
40 can be a tricky time, especially if you’re used to turning heads
But that still leaves you with the question of being desired, and of missing the passion and intensity that comes with sleeping with a relative stranger. As committed as you are to your marriage, I suspect that you’re not convinced that you won’t stray again, because you’ve had a taste of ‘being wanted’.
I’m afraid there is no magic wand to make those feelings go away, and you can’t recreate them in a long-term relationship. But what you can do is to try to understand them. You say until last year you were happily married, and this year you hit 40.
The midlife crisis is a cliché, but 40 can be a tricky time, especially if you’re used to turning heads.
I would urge you to soothe your soul by savoring the relationship you have
For some women the prospect of becoming ‘invisible’ to men is liberating, a chance to be evaluated on their personality and contribution to the world rather than their looks (not to mention the relief of no longer being hassled in the street).
For others, it’s devastating, and evokes a mourning process close to grief. I wondered if this affair was part of that grieving process for you? No doubt these are issues you are exploring with your therapist.
It may take some time for you to come to terms with the loss of that feeling of being desired, but in the meantime I would urge you to soothe your soul by savoring the relationship you have, and nurturing the intimacy and sexual connection that you share with the man you love, and who loves you.
She feels lucky to make a living from hearing those stories, and helping people make sense of their lives and reach their true potential.
Registered with the British Association of Counselors and Psychotherapists, which means she has the qualifications and experience to work safely and effectively, she also writes about emotional and psychological health for the national press. Find out more at therapythatworks.co.uk or follow her twitter @SallyBTherapy