Confessing a Past Affair

london

Banned
Your affair wasn't over though. The guy was still living in your house. You have no idea if ending it completely with the person you were cheating with, working on your marriage and maybe working towards legitimate polyamory would have caused less harm. Instead, the complications from your termination meant you had to confess and rip everyone's lives apart.

If that hadn't have happened and you did the right thing and stopped cheating, even if that meant leaving your husband, it may have caused less heartache and distress for everyone. You'll never know, though. Your situation is in no way proof that always confessing is the optimal solution. Quite the opposite, in fact.
 

SchrodingersCat

Active member
I'm going to answer before reading the replies.

Gralson and I discussed this kind of thing early in our relationship. i.e., am I the type of person who wants to know these deep secrets if they don't affect the future, or am I the type of person who prefers you just live with your guilt and not burden me with it too?

There is no right or wrong answer here, no such thing as "should." There's only what works for the people involved, what they prefer.

There are plenty of people out there who prefer a head-in-the-sand approach. They turn their eyes when they see people starving, close their minds when they hear of suffering, and they certainly don't want to be told that everything isn't peachy in their perfect appearance world. I personally could never live like that, but it's the strategy they've chosen to avoid feeling pain.
 

bella123456

New member
Whilst there is no right or wrong, because it does come down to individual values.

However...it's also quite simple.

It's either ok to lie or it is not ok. In my view if you start down the slippery slope of defining certain circumstances where it may be ok to lie... Everybody in the equation has lost.

It's not complicated. Is it ok to lie or is it not ?

If you enter life with a premise that's it's not ok to lie... Life is really simple, and you will never get anywhere near such horrible crap as this scenario. We are not robots or animals, we are fully capable of designing a moral code based on simple things like right or wrong.
And we are also capable of listening to our inner voice, we are not exempt from that.

I was married (monogamous) and I became aware that my feelings for a friend were more. Sure, I sat on that for a week or two (there had been one kiss)... But I spoke out before it became an affair. I lost the marriage which was actually ok for me.... It had been rocky.

But really.... In that whirlwind of stuff... The only thing I had control of was who I was. Was I an honest person or not ?

I was not prepared to give away that part of myself for anyone..

I would never flush my honesty away to help someone else out. I would never wish to be with someone who thought of honesty as optional, or depending on circumstances.

Fuck that shit, I'm too old for such crap.
 

copperhead

New member
But really.... In that whirlwind of stuff... The only thing I had control of was who I was. Was I an honest person or not ?


You are right. But for someone like Richard, who has already made a mistake before starting to think about these things… how to help them, how to advice them? It's not really easy, when the situation is one where you (or I) would never be. But say Richard is a friend… I wouldn't want to seem judgmental. I might have an opinion on what he should or should not have done (I'd most definitely have an opinion), but would it serve anything to lecture him? How could one help someone like Richard change and become a person to whom honesty is a major value? He's clearly ready to think about a change.
 

london

Banned
Would you tell the Nazis where Anne Frank was hiding in order to be honest? Probably not, right?

So as noble as it is to absolutely swear honesty is always the best policy, it doesn't quite translate in real life.
 

GalaGirl

Well-known member
How could one help someone like Richard change and become a person to whom honesty is a major value? He's clearly ready to think about a change.

Could encourage him to think it out for himself, and offer practical support if he decides to tell. For example, offer to babysit their kids so he can have a few hours of private, undisturbed time so he and Barbara can talk without interruption.

Would you tell the Nazis where Anne Frank was hiding in order to be honest? Probably not, right?

Not exactly a comparable situation. (Widespread persecution of people where death is a risk) vs (one family's private life where life is not in danger.)

Richard is the one doing the action. (Affair with Madison). He has asked us what we would do in that situation to help him formulate his next steps. He is married to Barbara. Should he come clean to Barbara? We are free to tell him what we would do in those shoes. In the end, Richard is wearing the shoes. HE has to decide what to do for himself regardless of other people's opinions.

Those helping to hide Anne Frank and family are doing the action. They are NOT asking us if we think they should keep hiding her or come clean to the Nazi's. They are not married to the Nazi's.

Barbara is not out there persecuting any groups. Unless Barbara is a disturbed person, the likelihood of her shooting Richard and Madison is low. The odds of her sending them off to prison camps is low. It could be some emotional upset, but unlikely to be death. Whereas for Anne Frank and her folks, it is certain death to be exposed. Many others had already been rounded up in the persecution.

They were exposed in real life. Off to concentration camps. Anne Frank died of illness there.

I do not believe total honesty is the always best policy. I believe that when faced with "uncertain outcome" type situations, it usually serves people better to think and go for their highest value out of the core values that apply to the situation.

Galagirl
 
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london

Banned
The Nazi situation is a common philosophical scenario given to highlight that honesty isn't always the best policy and honesty can cause harm.
 
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kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
SchrodingersCat, I take it your "official vote" is neither particularly "yea" nor "nay," so I'll file it under "uncertain" as it depends on what works for the particular people involved.

Re (from bella123456):
"It's either okay to lie or it is not okay."

Ahh ... no gray areas when it comes to lying.

Re:
"The only thing I had control of was who I was. Was I an honest person or not?"

Reminds me of one of my favorite movies, "Clear and Present Danger" (1994), where Jim Greer (James Earl Jones) tells Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford), "Your word is who you are."

Re: the Nazis and Anne Frank ... always my classic standby when debating the "absolute value of telling the truth." Don't know where we draw the line, but most of us draw it somewhere.

Re (from GalaGirl):
"Not exactly a comparable situation: {widespread persecution of people where death is a risk} versus {one family's private life where life is not in danger}."

I mostly agree -- although the fact remains that the traumatic splintering of one's tranquil family is a pretty heavy-duty risk even if it doesn't rise to the level of physical life-and-death.

I highly value honesty, especially telling the truth under tough circumstances. Yet I also appreciate the concept of "exceptions to every rule." I always think it's a judgment call, to be made on the merits of each individual situation.

In "Clear and Present Danger," Jack Ryan and Bob Ritter have a fundamental disagreement about how to approach ethical dilemmas. To Ryan, the world is white and black, or as he says, "Right and wrong." To Ritter, "The world is gray." It's an interesting disagreement that comes out during their key confrontation in the movie, and although I find myself mostly agreeing with Ryan, I still think Ritter is partly right. The world is mostly black and white, but it has some gray in it. The tough part, of course, is being strong enough to call it black and white when it's not gray, as well as perhaps the wisdom to know when to call it when it (infrequently) is gray.
 
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GalaGirl

Well-known member
I mostly agree -- although the fact remains that the traumatic splintering of one's tranquil family is a pretty heavy-duty risk even if it doesn't rise to the level of physical life-and-death.

Is that only your feeling? Or also Richard's?

I find myself mostly agreeing with Ryan, I still think Ritter is partly right. The world is mostly black and white, but it has some gray in it. The tough part, of course, is being strong enough to call it black and white when it's not gray, as well as perhaps the wisdom to know when to call it when it (infrequently) is gray

I tend to think in shades of grey. :)

I also think the skill of discernment is a valuable one to grow.

In the end I do agree that it's going to have to be Richard's call for himself. He's the one who must sort and discern.

But I've enjoyed hearing your thoughts. That was interesting!

Galagirl
 
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london

Banned
I think anyone would agree that the break up of a family causes trauma in the short term, at least.

Even when there is an acute situation which means the break up is for the immediate benefit of everyone even remotely involved, that sort of drastic change is stressful.
 

GalaGirl

Well-known member
I agree that it is a risk. What I meant more was the evaluation words chosen in the phrasing. Would Richard also evaluate it as a "heavy duty risk?" Or would Richard rank it as "acceptable risk?" Or "low risk?" Or something else? (More for my curiosity than anything else. In the end, Richard decides what Richard will do.)

GG
 
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kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
kdt26417 said:
I mostly agree -- although the fact remains that the traumatic splintering of one's tranquil family is a pretty heavy-duty risk even if it doesn't rise to the level of physical life-and-death.

GalaGirl asked:
"Is that only your feeling? or also Richard's?"

kdt26417 replies:
Yeah both mine and his, I have to admit.

In this context, heavy-duty = it's probably going to be mega-painful for the kids and the adults unless we're all reeeally lucky.

But I don't want to be misunderstood: By calling a risk heavy-duty, I don't necessarily mean that the risk isn't worth taking. Sometimes it is.

Re:
"I've enjoyed hearing your thoughts. That was interesting!"

Thanks. :)

Now we just need to locate Richard so we can tell him to read this thread. ;)
 
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nycindie

Active member
All I want to say is... if Barbara is an awake, observant, and alive person, she already knows! On some level. A spouse would have to be sleepwalking and avoiding reality if they didn't notice certain changes, both subtle and not so subtle, in the partner they have lived with for years.

If she doesn't know, she suspects. Oh yes. In both scenarios. So my question is, does she keep the blinders on and continue pretending to herself that her suspicions are imaginary, or does she confront Richard?
 
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SchrodingersCat

Active member
SchrodingersCat, I take it your "official vote" is neither particularly "yea" nor "nay," so I'll file it under "uncertain" as it depends on what works for the particular people involved.

Probably I would phrase it more as "it depends." I'm actually quite certain about my answer: If Richard values honesty above harmony, then telling her meets those need priorities. If Richard values harmony above honesty, then keeping the secret meets those need priorities. It's only uncertain insofar as I don't know Richard and what his value system is.

I guess I would assume that if he valued honesty that much, he wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. He would have pulled the plug the moment he realized things had gone too far, and fessed up then and there. So under that assumption, I would advise him not to tell her, because his previous actions imply that he values harmony above honesty. But that's not the same as saying "I wouldn't tell her if I was Richard" or "People who cheat on their spouses should never confess." I'm basically saying "Given what little I know about Richard and his past behaviour as an indicator of his value system, it seems like keeping the secret would be more consistent with his values."

You imagined that his values have since changed. But realistically, I would propose that his values themselves haven't changed. He values honesty as much as he ever has, but the guilt of living with his actions is driving him towards wanting to tell her in order to relieve the guilt. Not that he's telling her out of an honouring of honesty, but just because he feels like crap and wants to unload the weight from his shoulders. Guilt is not a result of not telling, it's a result of doing in the first place.

I suspect the guilt would be fuelled by an underlying value of authenticity. He broke that value when he cheated, choosing behaviour that was not true to himself. Now he's feeling regret over that choice, and hoping to recover his authenticity through honesty. Under this paradigm shift, honesty becomes a strategy for achieving authenticity, and not an absolute value in and of itself.
 

SchrodingersCat

Active member
Whilst there is no right or wrong, because it does come down to individual values.

However...it's also quite simple.

It's either ok to lie or it is not ok.

Either there is no objective "right or wrong," or there is. If "it's not ok to lie" then it doesn't matter what my personal values are, lying is wrong. People who disagree are simply "bad people" because they have the "wrong individual values." If you actually allow their values to have equal weight as your own, then all you can say is "it's not ok for me to lie" and "it's ok for Richard to lie if and only if Richard thinks it's ok."

I personally don't believe in absolute morals, but your post implies that you do, at least insofar as lying is concerned. You might hold that it depends on the situation (lying about cheating = wrong, lying about jews hiding = right, lying about beggar stealing a loaf of bread = grey area), not the values of the people. I respect that view as your opinion, but go ahead and own it!

All I want to say is... if Barbara is an awake, observant, and alive person, she already knows! On some level. A spouse would have to be sleepwalking and avoiding reality if they didn't notice certain changes, both subtle and not so subtle, in the partner they have lived with for years.

I agree with this. Basically, if he feels any guilt whatsoever, he's going to be quiet, withdrawn, and probably not as affectionate as he once was. Because cheating is one of the most common secrets that spouses keep from one another (credit card debt seeming to be another big one), she's going to have an inkling. She'll either assume it's something he did, or something she did, depending on her self-esteem and their relationship dynamic.

If he doesn't feel any guilt, to the point that he can completely hide it without any effect at all on his behaviour within their relationship, then we wouldn't be having this conversation. He'd know what he was going to do.
 
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kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
Re (from SchrodingersCat):
"It's only uncertain insofar as I don't know Richard and what his value system is."

Ah but you see, Richard himself doesn't know what his value system is right at this "present" moment. He's trying to figure that out. I mean sure, for awhile there he was chickening out on confessing, but now (at the end of the narrative) he's not so sure of whether he wants to continue chickening out.

Have his values changed? Maybe. It's possible they're in the process of changing. On the other hand, it's also possible they could just be in the process of reasserting themselves.

To clarify what I intended to convey in the OP, Richard's hesitation in the past was mostly due to cowardice. However, by the time the narrative ends, any remaining hesitation is mostly due to a difficulty in weighing the likely trauma to the family and its structure against the importance of allowing Barbara to make a true decision about whether she really consents.

We didn't originally dig much into the particulars of Barbara's characteristics. It's possible she's the very passive type who'd rather *not* know, and might bury her suspicions deep within her subconscious. A strong, observant woman would quickly divine what was going on and call Richard on it. He wouldn't have gotten away with a year of infidelity.

We could vote on what Barbara ought to do, but at the moment we wouldn't have many votes to work with.

And now for a late confession of my own: I cross-posted this ethical dilemma on two other poly forums. But I only got one response from the both of them combined. Still it makes the totals slightly different, and hopefully no one will mind if I include the votes from that one response ...

Dilemma #1:
  • Confess: 10 votes ... bella123456, FullofLove1052, GalaGirl, InfinitePossibility, InsaneMystic, Kernow, LovingRadiance, Marcus, mmkeekah, Phy
  • It depends: 2 votes ... bookbug, SchrodingersCat
  • Don't confess: 7 votes ... copperhead, graviton, Inyourendo, JaneQSmythe, kdt26417, london, SNeacail
Dilemma #2:
  • Confess: 11 votes ... bella123456, copperhead, FullofLove1052, GalaGirl, InfinitePossibility, InsaneMystic, Kernow, LovingRadiance, Marcus, mmkeekah, Phy
  • It depends: 3 votes ... bookbug, SchrodingersCat, SNeacail
  • Don't confess: 5 votes ... graviton, Inyourendo, JaneQSmythe, kdt26417, london
... giving "don't confess" slightly less weight than before. And I should add that "confess" gets slightly more weight in Dilemma #2 than it does in Dilemma #1. Don't know if anything needs to be read into that.
 

Marcus

Well-known member
Ah but you see, Richard himself doesn't know what his value system is right at this "present" moment. He's trying to figure that out. I mean sure, for awhile there he was chickening out on confessing, but now (at the end of the narrative) he's not so sure of whether he wants to continue chickening out.

Have his values changed? Maybe. It's possible they're in the process of changing. On the other hand, it's also possible they could just be in the process of reasserting themselves.

I don't see that his values are in question. He obviously considers honesty to be positive and an important value to uphold... if he didn't there would be no dilemma. Having a value and living that value are two completely different things. When living our values comes without consequences it's very easy, but he has potentially heavy duty consequences and has to weigh that... 1) live his values, or 2) not deal with life upheaval.
 

kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
I suppose it's a question of whether "not rocking the boat" counts as a value (or alternatively, just an inclination). If a value, then Richard must decide which value gets higher priority (at least in this case): "not rocking the boat" or "honesty." If not a value (just an inclination), then he has to decide whether he can muster the courage to uphold his value of honesty.

And I definitely agree that honesty matters to him. The OP narrative (and the fact that he has a dilemma) demonstrates that.
 

willowstar

New member
Thank you for starting such a lively discussion!

I have been in this situation (well, similar, not exact, but close enough...). I have been cheated on, and been the other woman too. I have found myself making decisions that I never thought I would make because I thought I was clear on my own values when it turns out I wasnt. Or, I was just selfish to want what I wanted at the time.

It is a very subjective place, to be where Richard is. So many things come into play. We all have some sense on this forum that people are often not aware of their poly nature or poly potential until they suddenly come across that one "deal breaker" person. People who were monogamous (happily or unhappily perhaps doesnt matter) for many many years, until they werent...

To say that lying is always wrong and people should never lie, well.... Im not sure that's really possible. Do you ever call in sick when you're not? Fake a party to get out of another social invite? Do any of us lie to our parents about our polyness or our relationships? Yes? Well then....

The question then comes up as, WHO are you willing to lie to??? And why???
Dont lie to your spouse? Dont lie to your doctor? Who else do you make the choice to not lie to? And, again, why? When I give blood I dont always tell them that I had a tattoo 6 months ago. Or that I have multiple partners. Why? Because then someone who might desperately need my blood wont get it. When I know that I am tested, go to a reputable shop, am not having risky casual sex without protection. Some people would say that is a terrible thing, Im sure. However, I also know that they test the blood, just in case I didnt know I was sick. They are just lowering the risk of exposure, not eliminating it.

I also dont understand the whole "I tell my spouse the minute I think something is happening with someone else". I mean, why would I subject my spouse (who struggles a great deal with my polyness) that there is a possibility of a relationship unless I have scoped it out first?? One could argue that it is about being up front and honest up front. I see it as unnecessarily setting him up for stress, anxiety, and heartbreak when there is no reason to.
I have never cheated on my current husband. Always told him when I had met someone and thought there was potential, but always once I had explored whether this other person also had feelings for me and it was "worth" having that talk.

Being the Other Woman, in a word, sucks... Especially knowing what poly can be, having open, honest relationships where everyone is involved in decision making when needed (like getting time together, agreements about limits, etc.). When you are the Other Woman, you get none of that. You get only what your partner can offer you, when his wife isnt looking. And, you do start to feel that if he can lie to her, he can lie to you.

I think in these scenarios I would say that in #1 I would say dont tell, and move on. Telling probably just hurts her feelings and sets up a trust issue for the rest of the marriage. If he is committed to no more cheating then he can live with his own knowledge of what he was capable of. Not everyone will just think "Whew, I got away with it!"

In #2, I think they should have confessed, together to her. If their intention was to stay together, then they could approach it as, this happened for us, and it was unexpected, and we want you to know and have a choice. I agree that not telling her seems like manipulation, getting her to stay when she doesnt know what she is staying in. Yes he runs the risk of losing Barbara, but he ran that risk when he entered the affair in the first place. Did he decide he was keeping Madison in his life, regardless of the outcome with Barbara? If so, then she was a deal breaker and he eventually will need to let the chips fall where they may...

One thing to think about: Sometimes people are NOT in relationships that are safe, and NOT able to just get out gracefully. People dont always have the "luxury" of being able to be up front and honest, because their personal safety can be at stake. I dont think this is the case in Richards theoretical scenario, but I wanted to say it anyway.

Willow
 
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