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‘I had an affair and I’m tormented by the guilt — should I tell my husband?’

Ask Roe: Our sex life suffered after years of trying for a baby. I know he’s in pain and I hate that I did this

Dear Roe,

I am a 46-year-old woman and have been with my husband for 12 years. We wanted children but after years of trying and doctors and disappointments, we accepted that it wasn’t going to happen for us. I was deeply depressed for a long time and both of our sex drives suffered in different ways. We nearly split up after deciding to stop trying, not because we didn’t love each other but because of the weight of it all.

I felt like I couldn’t get back to our carefree days before trying to get pregnant, but I couldn’t move forward either because my husband was this constant reminder of the pain — of course, this wasn’t his fault but it’s how I felt. Covid and lockdown was also really hard for us and for a long time we felt like distant roommates, and we discussed splitting up again but both love each other too much. Earlier this year, a man joined my office and we immediately hit it off. At first, it genuinely was just friendship but then we started confiding in each other about our marriage difficulties and we ended up having an affair that lasted two months before he broke it off because he didn’t want to risk losing his family.

I both understood and was heartbroken, because of losing something that made me feel alive again and because of the guilt. But now I don’t know whether I should tell my husband. I know he’s in pain too and I hate that I did this to him. I know I’ll never do it again, I can’t cope with the guilt, but I don’t know if I should tell him and cause him more pain he doesn’t deserve. Part of me thinks I should just stay quiet, or maybe I should just leave him without telling him why so he can find someone better. I’m tormented and don’t know what to do. Please help.


I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through. You had a vision for a life and a family and went through immense effort and physical and emotional toil to try to see the dream realised, and then have had to mourn that. It’s so much to bear, and with the isolation and trauma of lockdown too, you’ve had no reprieve from the constant reminder of pain. If you’re not already in therapy, I strongly urge you to go, as there is so much here to process and heal from.

I can’t decide for you whether or not to tell your husband, and if you do, I can’t predict what his reaction will be, but I can give you some ways of thinking about your decision, which is not an uncommon one. Many people have affairs or one-night stands and resolve never to cheat on their partner again, and the dilemma becomes whether to tell them, cause them pain and risk the relationship, or to stay quiet and use the experience to fuel your appreciation for them and commitment to them.

The argument against telling a partner about a one-time infidelity is that doing so can mainly be focused on assuaging the cheating partner’s guilt rather than doing it for the other person’s sake, and if the cheating partner is genuinely remorseful, it’s just causing the other person unnecessary pain. The argument for telling them is usually based on the idea of informed consent, where a person has a right to know all pertinent information that could affect their decision to stay in (or enter into) a relationship. When infidelity happens, one person has changed the terms of the relationship, and the other person has a right to know that so they can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to stay in the relationship. When sex is involved, they can also make informed decisions about sex, given that the infidelity may have increased their risks of contracting an STI from you.

I’m always going to be on the side of informed consent, myself. But I think there’s another thing to consider. Cheating or infidelity, as you know, is so rarely a comment on the other partner’s worthiness or even your love for them. Most often, it comes from a desire of the cheating partner to experience or connect with or reconnect with a part of themselves that they feel has been unexplored, repressed or lost. People often cheat in order to try connect with a part of themselves that is more free, more adventurous, more desirable, more exciting, more irresponsible; a younger version of themselves, sometimes, or a version of themselves that never got to explore. In this light, it makes so much sense why this affair appealed to you. After years of deeply painful, traumatic experiences with your husband and the years of isolation and claustrophobia and the boring routine of lockdown, you met someone who made you feel exciting again; who made me feel seen as someone who was interesting and playful and deep instead of a “distant roommate”; who you could have sex with and be reminded not of failed pregnancies and loss, but desire and lust and pleasure. You wanted to be seen as a full person again; you wanted to experience life and romance and sex without the weight of past experiences. That all makes sense, and I think you need to think of all the things you were trying to feel with this affair, acknowledge all the losses and pain of the past few years and where those desires came from, and forgive yourself for wanting an escape.

Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean silence. On the contrary, being honest and starting a conversation with your husband could be utterly transformative. You can tell him about the affair or not, but you need to tell him of all the parts of yourself that you feel disconnected from, and the parts of yourself you need to feel and accept and experience in order to move forward. I’m absolutely certain that he will understand, and that he is experiencing his own version of this. Addressing this openly, honestly, with love and compassion (and an excellent couples’ counsellor), could mark the beginning of a new stage of your relationship, where you grieve what has been lost and think about what you both need to move forward, together. What parts of yourselves do you both need to reconnect with and how could you do that, as individuals and as a couple? What new vision of a life together can you create now, and how can you begin to move towards it? Whether or not you decide to be honest about the affair, you do need to be honest about the emotions, desires and needs that fuelled it, and start there.

If you do decide to tell him and if he decides to end your relationship, I know it will be painful, and a loss, and there will be much grieving to do. But it could also be a new start, a way for you both to acknowledge where you are now, and what you both need. You will survive this, as you have survived so much already. The question is how you will move beyond surviving into living more fully, more honestly, with more joy — and whether you do that separately, or together. I sincerely wish you both the best.