Should I tell my husband about the one-time sexual encounter I had with his brother? It happened over a year ago in a moment of weakness. Both of us immediately acknowledged that this was wrong and nothing further has happened since. Our families see each other regularly and are very close. Neither of us has told our spouses. Should we?
No doubt about it: you're on the horns of an agonizing dilemma, and there are no easy or straightforward answers to the question you've raised. In a very important sense, this is the kind of problem that can only be effectively evaluated and dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Without knowing a great deal more about you and the other players in this complicated drama we can't possibly provide you with the specific, directive advice you appear to be seeking. But perhaps we can suggest a few basic considerations to keep in mind as you struggle toward a solution of your own.
The first thing you need to look at is motives. Before telling your spouse what has happened, it's critical to ask yourself why you want (or need) to tell. Do you have your family's best interests at heart? Or are you thinking primarily of yourself? Is guilt the driving factor? Are you hoping to find release from a burdened conscience? If so, do you expect to be able to do it by shifting the load onto someone else's shoulders? Looking at it from another angle, could you possibly have a secret desire - hidden even from yourself - to use this incident to manipulate or hurt your spouse in some way? Do you have reasons for wishing to punish him? Confession may come as a great relief to you in a situation like this, but it's almost certain to have a devastating impact on your partner (and your children, if you have any).
That last thought leads us to a second area of concern. If upon honest reflection you decide that punishment, revenge or manipulation do figure into this equation somehow, then this (from our perspective) would seem to indicate that there are other, deeper problems in your marriage - problems that may have had something to do with causing the illicit affair in the first place. In that case, you'd be wise to address those problems before bringing up the subject of the sexual encounter. If you and your husband can get to the heart of your marital "issues" with the help of a skilled marriage counselor, it's possible that an appropriate confession will emerge in the process.
Third, if and when you do tell, you need to think very carefully about whom you should tell and how much you should say. If you really believe that it is in your spouse's best interests and the best interests of your marriage to bring this dark secret to light, you will want to tailor your confession with great care so as to include only those elements that will bring the maximum benefit to everyone concerned. Graphic details are not necessary. Remember, too, that once the cat is out of the bag, you will no longer be able to control the story.
Fourth - and this point is closely related to the last - consider the broader consequences of telling. Pray earnestly, seek the Lord's wisdom, and think very carefully about the potential for harm to other people that could arise out of a decision to confess your sin. Bear in mind that you can't tell your spouse unless your brother-in-law also tells his. Picture the ever-widening circle of individuals - children, parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews - who will be impacted by the ripple effect of your revelation. Ask yourself how each one of them is likely to react. If we knew that each and every member of your family could be counted on to respond in a mature, responsible, compassionate, Christian manner, it would be easy to say, "Go ahead - tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may." Unfortunately, we don't know that; and it's a sad fact that, in a fallen world like ours, affairs of this kind often end in heartbreak, broken families, and even violence.
The bottom line, then, is that we can't tell you what to do. This is a decision that you and your brother-in-law need to make for yourselves, and you're going to have to make it in the context of humility, fervent prayer, and heartfelt repentance before the Lord. We do believe, however, that a series of intensive one-on-one sessions with a trained Christian counselor could be an invaluable aid to you in your current circumstances. Our advice to you, then, is to seek professional counseling. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified therapists in your area who specialize in marital difficulties and related issues. You can contact our Counseling Department Monday through at this number.
Unfaithful: Hope and Healing After Infidelity (book)
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