What's the best way to handle the revelation of an affair when one guilty spouse has come clean or been exposed, but the husband or wife of the other unfaithful party is still in the dark? My wife and a man from our church were involved with one another for over four years until I discovered their relationship three months ago. My wife has since cut off the relationship and we've moved to another church. We're working through the painful aftermath, but most people are unaware of what's been going on. That includes the other man's wife. Is there any good reason to bring all this to light and share the situation with her? My understanding is that this is not her husband's first affair, and it's possible that exposing this latest round of unfaithfulness could spell doom for their marriage. I'm also wondering how this added dynamic might affect our own attempts to reconcile. What do you suggest?
Our initial reaction is that it's not your responsibility to inform this woman of her husband's infidelity. That's his job. Ideally, the guilty spouse should be the one to confess his sin and ask forgiveness of his mate. He needs to be in the driver's seat. If he's not willing to assume that role, there isn't much you can do about it.
Your task at present is to get your own relationship back on a healthy footing, and that's going to require all the time, energy, and determination you can drum up. This means that it's in your best interests to cut off all ties with the "other man" and his wife. To keep up any kind of communication with them is to increase the chance of repeating the affair.
There can be exceptions to this rule, of course. A great deal depends upon the circumstances. If, for example, you live in a relatively small community, and if tongues have been wagging around town, it would be tragic to let the victim be the last one to know. Relationships and motives make a big difference, too. If these people are old friends of yours, and if your goal is to protect the wife, help save her marriage, or enable her to establish healthy boundaries for the future, it might be a good idea to speak up if you think you can offer some practical assistance. Since this isn't the husband's first affair, the possibility also exists that he has exposed his wife - and yours - to some kind of sexually transmitted disease. In that case, everyone concerned needs to be informed of the facts as soon as possible so that they can arrange to be tested by a physician.
In short, we're willing to concede that, under certain conditions, you may have a good reason for enlightening the spouse who is still "in the dark." But on the whole, we'd suggest that if there's anyone else in the picture who can possibly assume this responsibility on your behalf - perhaps a pastor, a counselor, or a good female friend of the betrayed spouse - you'd do well to leave it in their hands. As we've already hinted, it's highly likely that if you stay involved to the point of telling this woman about the affair, you could end up compromising your own boundaries and placing your own marriage at risk.
Focus on the Family has a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you over the phone. They can refer you to reputable and qualified marriage and family counselors working in your area. They'd also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you person-to-person. If you'd like to talk with one of them, you can reach them for a free consultation at this number.
Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair (book)
Moving Beyond Ordinary in Your Marriage (broadcast)
Practical Advice for Protecting Your Marriage (broadcast)
Hope Restored® marriage intensives - Focus on the Family offers marriage intensive programs in a retreat setting, designed to rebuild and restore marriages experiencing significant distress.
Love and Respect - This ministry offers materials, articles, and conferences designed to help those already married to enrich their relationship and for those considering marriage to prepare for the journey together.
Marriage Alive - The Web site of Dave and Claudia Arp, a husband and wife team who strive to help couples build better marriages and families.
Affairs and Adultery