I am 67 and often felt old and tired, but suddenly I felt youthful and happy and like I had something to look forward to. When guilty thoughts came up, I told him that this couldn’t go on, and that he had to get divorced if we were to continue. He has agreed to get a divorce, and we feel that we are in love and would like to spend the remainder of our lives together. But I’m worried about what the children will think, and how honest to be with all six of them. And what will I say to his wife? We were never close friends, but we worked together for years in PTA leadership positions and respected each other.
I feel incredibly guilty and am worried that if we come clean, we will lose the respect of our children and become pariahs in our community.
Can you offer any guidance?
Taking responsibility for something that has caused other people pain is hard, so I understand your concern about how much to tell your children. You’re right that telling the truth has consequences, and you may well upset your adult children and be judged by them and others in your community. But here’s the thing: Telling the truth is also the path to gaining their trust and respect in the long run.
This is because one problem with not telling the truth, or sharing only part of it, is that it will likely come out anyway, even if you and your partner do your best to spin the timing of his divorce and your subsequent relationship so that it does not appear to be what it was. This lie will become a family secret in not just one but two families, and family secrets have a way of being felt even if unspoken. What makes many family secrets so damaging is that there can be a sense that something is not quite as it seems, which creates a feeling of unease. Generally, the secret eventually comes out—something is found on a phone, an offhand comment reveals a different timeline, someone in the running group strongly suspected or even saw evidence of the affair—and when it does, people feel angry and betrayed.
The point is that no matter how your adult children feel when you tell them about the affair—and each of them may have lots of feelings about it, especially your partner’s children—they need to be able to trust you and your partner going forward.
So the question is not whether but how do you tell the children? You do it family by family, and let’s start with yours. For your part, you—without your partner present—gather your three children together, preferably in person, but if that’s not possible, video chat will do. Then you share the facts—you say that for the past three months, you’ve been having an affair with so-and-so’s dad. You tell them that you felt terribly guilty—this wasn’t consistent with your values—so you decided that you would both come clean so as to continue your relationship. You say that you realize that this will cause his wife much pain, and that you take responsibility for that and will have to find a way to come to terms with it. Then you explain that as hard as it is to share this with them, you wanted to be honest about what’s happening, because you know from this experience how destructive hiding the truth can be.