Q. After our second child was born, my husband and I were having some difficulties that caused us to separate for a few months. Well, now he's back, but I feel sick with guilt because I slept with another man during the time we were apart and haven't told him.
I do love my husband, but I feel like I'm not really in the marriage anymore because this big lie is like a wedge between us. Will the guilt go away? I'm afraid my husband will leave me again if I tell him the truth.
It's tempting to come clean about every misstep you might have taken during your separation, but what would you accomplish?
Yes, technically you were unfaithful to your marriage, since you weren't divorced when you had the affair. However, you slept with another man only during a time when you and your husband were living apart, and you were feeling hurt and confused about the future of your relationship. The fact that you're feeling guilty about your actions is actually a good sign, since that emotion is most likely rooted in a lasting connection with your husband.
However, telling him about the affair would almost surely backfire; a confession at this point might make him feel betrayed and cause him to withdraw again emotionally. Silently shouldering the guilt of being unfaithful won't be easy, "but telling your husband would probably only make things worse," say Drs. Paul and Evelyn Moschetta, a husband-and-wife counseling team and authors of The Marriage Spirit (Fireside).
You can ease some of the burden of this heavy secret by talking about it with a therapist, minister, or someone else who you trust to keep your private life absolutely confidential -- i.e., don't blab about your dalliance to your sister, best friend, or anyone else who might let something slip in conversation with your husband. Share your feelings in a safe setting, try to understand the events that led you into the arms of another man, "then let the guilt serve as a catalyst for self-reflection," say the Moschettas, "rather than act as another bomb to drop on your struggling marriage."
Holly Robinson, a mother of three, is a writer who lives outside of Boston.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2005.