If you have cheated on your spouse, should you tell them, or stay silent?

Here’s what Quora had to say

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

Yesterday I read Marie Murphy, Ph.D.’s article on whether you should tell your partner you cheated, or not, and it got me thinking. Should someone tell their spouse they’d cheated? I tend to say no, don’t bother, because it will only hurt them.

When you realize if they found out you were cheating, it would be as bad as if you told them, so not telling them doesn’t seem like it will make it hurt more. As an added bonus, if you don’t tell them, they may never find out. And if they don’t find out, it won’t hurt them at all.

So, not telling them seems like the safest bet, unless you want to blow up your life, in which case, a confession is in order.

This seems obvious, so I wondered what the common man or woman’s opinion would be. Turning to Quora, I asked the question —

If you have cheated on your spouse, should you tell them, or stay silent?

As expected, I got the usual mixed bag of good, bad, goofy, stupid, and nonsensical answers and non-answers, anyone would expect to find on that platform.

In all, twenty-one people, nine men and twelve women, responded as follows:

  • Don’t tell them — 62%, or 13 people (nine women and four men).
  • Tell them — 19%, or four people (three men and one woman).
  • Didn’t answer —19%, or four people (two men and two women).

What is interesting is this:

  • 75% of the women said don’t tell them, while only 44% of the men did.
  • 8% of the women said to tell them, while 33% of the men did.
  • 17% of the women didn’t answer, while it was 22% for the men.

Don’t tell — the peacekeepers

What does this tell us? My first thought is that women understand that there is an inherent risk in telling a husband that they cheated. None of the respondents said they feared their husband, but many talked about not wanting to hurt him. I understand that, but something is nagging at me here. It seems like the women simply understand it is more dangerous for them to admit to cheating. Is it because they have more to lose?

When you look at the 29% point spread between men and women, it seems men are far less worried about their spouse’s emotional wellbeing than women are. Is it also possible that men have less to fear in telling a wife? Do men have less to lose? I think we can all see that is the case.

Men don’t lose social status, families, or livelihoods in the same way women do, when women cheat.

Tell — the believers

When you look at those who advocated telling, only 8% of the women did. It was only one woman, and when you read her comment, you’ll see she is one of those holier than thou types who stopped reading the bible where the New Testament started. The interesting thing about this woman is that she didn’t answer what she would do but instead said what everyone else should do. A person like that assumes she’ll never cheat, so she finds it unnecessary to consider herself in her answer. My only question is, what happens when she does cheat?

A third of the men thought people should tell. Like the lady above, these are the men who don’t think the question applies to them. That makes it easier to answer, but it also shows how many men expect cheaters to fess up and face the consequences.

Gender divide

I’m not surprised by this straw-poll survey demonstrating the gender divide in cheating as it does. This, in turn, reveals which end of the stick women are holding culturally, and it isn’t the clean one. Women are more inclined to hide their sexuality because to show it is dangerous on the best of days. And I’m certain shining a light on herself and her affair wouldn’t be one of those best of days.

The answers

The answers are interesting, but there was a theme here. People seemed to think I asked this question to help me resolve some personal torment. Well, I’m sorry to say, but that’s not the case. I asked because I was curious about Marie’s advice and wondered if people would agree with her that sometimes keeping an affair to yourself is a good idea; and it seems 75% of women and 44% of men agree.

I didn’t edit their responses much so you could hear their voice and gain an understanding of where the answer was coming from. I did that for two reasons. The first was some of them are laughable and I wanted you to see that. The second was the majority of them got their thoughts across just fine.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the data my observations were based on the following. I’ve summarized their answers as YES/NO/NO ANSWER up front, then used their initials, listed sex, provided their answer, and finally, left my comment.

The data

NO — S.B. Female — Well I had to make that decision myself at a point in my marriage.

My husband cheated on me and our marriage and when I found out it destroyed me. The hurt was so bad and I had no tools to deal with it plus I found out that just about everyone we knew had known about it also so add a whole lot of humiliation to the mix. I got through it but the marriage was never the same and I couldn’t trust him or just about anything in my life.


My life changed and my needs were no longer been met. Yes we had sex but not the bond anymore. I felt like a shell of who I once was.

Then a man came into my life. Someone I worked with and we had the “office affair“ and it went on for a long time and the day my husband died he never knew as I made sure he would never know .Why…because I knew how badly a hurt that is and I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever want anybody let alone someone I did love to ever have to feel and live through that pain that I felt.

So it is your call, but if you think that you will get rid of guilt you won’t and you might just get a lot more. Plus what do you think that your confession is going to do for your relationship?

All good points S.B.! What I like is that she new the hurt and didn’t want to feel it. In a short exchange with me afterwards she also revealed she took care of him for his last five years as he suffered from dementia.

NO — M.K. Male — Good luck, think everything through before you throw yourself on that sword. If you wish to be in marriage or relationship, stay silent and to the extent possible stay safe

Ok M.K.! I’ve thought it through and decided to stay silent from the start.

NO ANSWER — A.M. Female — So you need to get yourself checked out unless your 100% certain you have no std’s you be surprised how many are caught this way because now the wife/husband also now has as well, but they know they haven’t cheated on you so now they know for certain that you have and me personally your ass would be on doorstep for that to happen would be a big NO. NO I don’t care how much I loved that person it’s a divorce nothing less xx

People obviously get triggered by this question, but for the love of god, if you are going to hurt my eyes with the way you write, could you at least answer the goddamned question? I asked A.M. if you needed to have sex with someone in order to get an STI. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the way I’m going to get caught.

NO — L.S. Female — Different people will give you different answers. There’s the side where they say what your spouse doesn’t know won’t hurt them mentality. Meaning why hurt someone who doesn’t deserve to be hurt if you have gotten past the cheating and your recommitting to the relationship then leave it alone.

Then there’s the other side who believe you’re only protecting yourself and that honesty is always the best policy. The person deserves to know who they are with and they deserve to have a fully committed person. People who cheat tend to be eaten up sometimes with guilt and they feel telling the person might ease their own guilt. What you have to decide is is that worth destroying the other human. You may have to live with your guilt they don’t have to live with your deceit.

I’m going to call this one a no, because I agree, they don’t have to live with my deceit.

NO — T.P. Female — Stay Silent to avoid problems and arguments in your own marriage. Really Work on yourself though and Repent with your creator.

I was good right up until that second sentence. Pah-raise Jeepus!

YES — D.N. Male — I will answer this as best I can. Yes I do think if you cheated on your spouse they should be told. But I do not know why this never happens these shit stains would rather tell half truths and never the full story and just ruin lives and destroy lives . Its like noose around your neck I Know I sas destroyed back in 2008 for no rhyme or reason and I have looked for answers as to what was going on and I have never been told .

I do feel the cheated-on partner should be told that way they get some closure and they just might be able to move on. And if your spouse wants to cheat why can they not be honest and finish the relationship rather than destroy lives including kids lives .

I think the reason why they will not tell you they want a relationship to end is because they want the best of both worlds they know if it goes pear shaped with the affair partner they all ways have the mug of a spouse to fall back on. And they just do not want to slay the goose that is laying the Golden egg especially if they have a nice life. This is only my opinion I could be wrong.

But I do feel the cheated-on Partner has a right to know the relationship is over than when any form of cheating starts so why not be honest it’s the least that should be done but I do not think these shit stains cheaters that is do honesty in fact i do not think they know the meaning of the word Have a nice day

There seems like a bit of anger here. And by the way D.N., I’m the goose that lays the golden fucking egg around here.

NO — R.R. Female — If you want to stay happily married you should stay silent. If you want out of your marriage then you tell them.

Sound advice R.R.!

NO — F.L. Female — I haven’t. But if I did and it was a mistake then no I wouldn’t say anything. This is if I really totally fucked up and I didn’t definitely mean to do it and I loved my partner so much I would never ever do it again.

However if I knew this was something that I knew I was going to continue, I think I still wouldn’t confess it, because it would really hurt the other person. But I would end it. There and then. And allow me to keep doing what I was doing and allow them to not get hurt.

I agree F.L! There’s nothing wrong with taking the odd mulligan. Not sure with what you’d end though. You sort of lost me with that last bit.

NO — G.D. Male — Not approving adult in any shape or form…believe once a cheater always a cheater…telling the best half instantly eleminate trust..ouch

Sounds like a no, although I sense some heavy disapproval.

NO — S.S. Female — You should stay silent because he may fight divorce.

I agree with S.S. She’s from India and I only say that because a lot of women are killed there because they are accused of adultery by their husbands. It’s sad, really, because it’s often only the suspicion that kills them because the men often don’t wait for the facts.

YES — I.C. Male — I would personally suggest and encourage a cheater to tell the truth to their spouse (at the appropriate moment, as soon as possible), so he/she will not be in the dark, and both can work towards rebuilding a relationship. I’m not saying that every other relationship will desire to rebuild, but the guilt you carry of the act you did will eat you up alive. And, there’ll be a time when you’ll no longer feel a thing to continue to act in that way — cheat more frequently.

Yeah, let’s assume the guilt is nibbling on the odd cracker rather than trying to take my arm off. Would that change your mind about it I.C.?

NO ANSWER — K.S. Male — Here’s a really far out wild idea, DON’T CHEAT! You made the choice, at some point you pay the price.

I responded to K.S. with — here’s a really far out wild idea, TRY ANSWERING THE QUESTION. For the love of dog, Quora is and ask/answer site, not an ask/judge site.

NO — J.W. Male — If I needed to cheat, then I do not need to be with her. Trying to have your cake and eat it to never works out, secondly it is complicated, and cumbersome. I am not interested in lying, I did not mean to imply I am above it, it is just a pain trying to keep up with it. Would I tell them, no ! But women are not stupid, they know something is up, and some figure it out then get someone on the side for themselves, why should you have all the fun.

J.W., I agree, it is a pain, but jesus man, the orgasms! The orgasms are so worth it!

NO — M.J. Female — I’m no expert at all. My opinion is if you tell them , you will destroy their heart and they will never recover because it’s the most hurtful ang human being can do … I would not want to ever cause pain to someone else .. but if you stay silent .. you could just leave for other reasons and not hurt them , or hurt them with a more mild reason or stay and make it up without them knowing. it’s never easy for any party. i’m not condoning it but i am a firm believer that sometimes internal feelings don’t always last , if someones hormones are at a high level and they don’t feel sexually compatible but didn’t know it due to whatever lack of in the relationship , it just happens. the energy sometimes isn’t there.

I was married before and this man was handsome but we never were intimate. i found out years later i needed the whole package and that he went looking to be with someone else while we were separated and i wasn’t happy either. it hurt like hell. my intestines and rib cage of the intense crying was horrifying but in the end i left. we both were not happy. i was wrong. i was wrong because i demanded him to tell me if he was with another woman and no one should have to hear that. i should have not asked and gone with my gut and he should have been firm and just lied to me but also ended it.

This is a tough one. I really can’t call having sex while separated cheating though. This poor lady got a bum ride.

NO ANSWER — S.W. Female — Why don’t you tell us?

This peach turned her comments off so I couldn’t have a go at her. Like seriously honey, just answer the fucking question, I’m trying to write an article here.

NO — C.S. Female — Having been the one cheated on, and trying to look at it with kindness and objectivity, keep silent.

First of all, I’m assuming you want to keep the relationship you’re in. You have trust with your partner, if you tell them, the trust is broken. Break off that relationship with the one you cheated with completely, no phone calls, no texts, absolutely nothing. And then never ever cheat again.

Or, if you really want to break your relationship, and never have it be the same, go ahead and tell them, that way they will never see you the same way again, be suspicious of you, doubt you and eventually hate you and break up with you.

So yes, you feel guilty. Go talk to a therapist. Don’t tell your partner, unless you want your little world, you’re living in to have a very bad ending.

I’m leaning toward the bad ending bit. If it comes, it comes, but why force it?

NO, then YES — D.P. Female — yes after he cheated on me I told him what I did then handed him divorce papers

I like D.P.’s style LOL. She was a no then yes once she learned of his cheating. A cold-hearted operator indeed. Impressive D.P., impressive.

YES — I.P. Male — you cheated …you don’t want to be there… so tell them, tell them you want to split and do so… you’re going to do it again anyways… just leave

Always with the leave crowd. It’s almost like they think divorce is something you get at the corner shop. Come on I.P., where’s your sense of adventure?

NO ANSWER — C.F. Male — I have not, so there is nothing to tell or keep secret.

Thanks for stopping in C.F. Are your meds still working? I didn’t ask you if you’d done it, I asked what you would do. Anyway, have a nap and try not to forget the answer next time.

YES — V.B. Female — If you wronged a spouse or partner in this way, fess up. Don’t take the other person’s right to their choice. Accept the consequences of your choice.

The MAGA is strong with V.B. But I wonder what she would do if the shoe was on the other foot? Would she be so Republican then?

NO — J.S. Male — Mums the word

Alas, the perfect answer J.S.! I agree. No need to cause alarm.

The takeaway

Is there a takeaway? Yes, but I already mentioned it up top. Many people would agree that you should keep your affair quiet, and I’m one of them. The male/female gender divide between accepting sexual risks is evident here as it is everywhere. The other funny thing is a lot of people seem to think the guilt will get you in the end. I suppose it will get some people, but you don’t need to be a sociopath to live with a bit of guilt. Seriously.

What do they think anti-depressants are for?

Here’s Marie’s article again —You Cheated on Your Partner… Should You Tell Them?
Well, you don’t HAVE to do anythingmedium.com

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© Teresa J. Conway, 2021

By Teresa J Conway on .

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Exported from Medium on April 8, 2021.

Author of How to Cheat: Field Notes from an Adulteress, several short stories, I'm active on Medium @teresajconway where I sometimes share my blog posts.

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