Are you idealizing your affair?
There’s a scene in the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack is explaining the difference between the reality of being in a relationship with someone and fantasizing about someone new. He says to his girlfriend, “You have great lingerie. But you also have cotton underwear that’s been washed a thousand times…. and other girls have it too, it's just that I don't have to see it, because it's not in the fantasy.”
If you’re having an affair and sneaking around, that relationship doesn’t exist in the real world. You’re not living together, you don’t have commitments together, and the newness of it all is completely seductive. “Affairs can feel wonderful because they take place outside of the stresses of everyday life,” says Kristina Gordon. Your long-term relationship can’t compete with your affair because your affair is the fantasy and your relationship is real life. But if that affair was ever to turn into a long-term relationship, the cotton underwear would be there too. And in Dr. Gordon’s experience when women do end up with men they’ve cheated with (which is rare) those relationships have all sorts of trust issues because of the way it started.
Should you tell?
Honesty, we’re told, is always the best policy. But when it comes to affairs that may not always be true. Dr. Gordon says, “As I’ve worked with more people I’ve moved away from thinking telling the truth about cheating is always the right course of action because I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I just wish I didn’t know.’” If you decide to get out of the relationship you’re currently in, then does your spouse really have to know? And if you decide to stay, will telling make the relationship stronger, or just relieve your own guilt?
Are you putting your partner at risk?
While there may be some moral grey area about telling your partner the truth about an affair, there is no grey area about putting your partner at risk for STDs and HIV. If you are engaging in risky sex acts and then coming home and having unprotected sex with your partner, you are threatening their physical health. You have to think about the health consequences of your affair as well as the emotional consequences.
The reality is, cheating is just a temporary solution to a much bigger problem. If your relationship is broken beyond repair, get out. If you’re not able to commit yourself to someone else, jumping right into another guy’s arms isn’t going to change that. And if there are serious—yet fixable—problems in your relationship, “don’t turn to someone else” says Barbara Feld, “turn to each other. The way out isn’t to have an affair, the way out is to think, talk with your husband or boyfriend about what’s wrong, and if you can’t fix it yourselves get counseling.”