I sometimes hear from wives who are quite confused as to a confession that has just come from their spouse. He has confessed to cheating, but there’s a catch. The cheating hasn’t just occurred, even though the confession is fresh. There are some people who choose to confess to the cheating years, or even decades, after it occurred. The faithful spouse often wishes that the cheating spouse had just kept quiet, or she wonders why in the world he would wait so long to be honest.
A wife might say: “to say that I am floored is an understatement. Today, out of the clear blue, my husband came home and announced that he had something to tell me. He asked me to sit down. He held my hand and told me that almost twenty years ago (about two years after we first married,) he had a four day affair with someone at his work. He found out recently that the woman had died. But he said that other than that, he hasn’t thought of her in years. However, he stressed that he wanted to go ahead and tell me because he didn’t want to die having not confessed this. (He just had a health scare that turned out fine, but scared him.) He said that he felt that I deserved to know. He said he hadn’t cheated since – not even close. And he felt that he did so early in our marriage simply because he was young and immature. He says he’s very ashamed and he doesn’t want the guilt following him around, although he stressed that he firmly believes that he has been a good husband ever since. I am stunned because in fact, he has been a good husband. If he had not have told me this, I never would have guessed. Frankly, he does not flirt with other women and he gives me his full attention. I am confused. And I am furious. Why bring this up now? Does he want to hurt me? Does he want me to know that someone else found him attractive? I really don’t understand because we really do have a good marriage. I thought we’ve always had a good marriage. But I guess that I was wrong. He said that he didn’t tell me earlier because he didn’t want to lose me. I’m not sure why he doesn’t think that he can lose me now. I guess he thinks that it doesn’t matter since so much time has passed, but it still matters a great deal to me. It’s still cheating, no matter when it happened. I just don’t understand why in the world he would kick this hornet’s nest now.”
I can certainly give you a guess that I base on a similar situation between some friends of mine. Because of my own experience and my articles, I asked the husband in question why he would make a confession so long after the fact. He answered in a similar way to the husband above. He basically said that now that he was older, he was looking at his lifetime accomplishments, his mistakes, and his legacy and he didn’t want to leave anything on the table. He wanted to make things right while he still had the opportunity to do so. The affair wasn’t the only thing he confessed. He basically reached out to everyone to whom he felt that he owed an apology. He tried to heal old wounds and to heal grievances and broken relationships. Yes, the affair was the biggest surprise that came out of this, but he also reached out to old business partners, former friends, or anyone with whom he wanted to gain a sense of closure. He wanted to get everything off of his shoulders and know that he’d done what he needed to do to feel free of past burdens. He honestly did not realize that he was now placing this burden onto his wife. Because she felt the same way that this wife felt – she wondered if he just wanted to hurt her by bringing it up now. All he could say in response was that he never meant to hurt her, but that he wanted to be completely honest now. I’m not here to say whether or not I agree with his reasoning. I’m just trying to share the possible thought process. In his mind, he was trying to do what was right, even if the attempt was very late.
So where does this leave you? Well, at the end of the day, I think you have to decide whether his behavior as your husband for all of these years cancels out the deception not only of the affair, but of not telling you for all this time. You’re right that it is still an affair and you would be well within your rights to demand that he make amends and become rehabilitated (just like he would have if the affair had happened yesterday.) He must have expected that this might be the case when he chose to confess.
You have every right to feel the pain and the shock that you would have felt if the affair was fresh. Time doesn’t negate that. It still happened regardless of the date that it happened. However, in a fresh affair, you are often unsure as to whether or not your spouse will rise to the occasion and become a good and trustworthy spouse again. You have no way of knowing if he’s going to make things right. In your case, there is no mystery about that. Your husband did rise to the occasion. You have had a happy, long-term marriage and that’s quite an accomplishment. You’ll have to decide if you want to just wipe that out over something that happened a while ago.