Should You Confess to Cheating?


I was reading Cosmopolitan the other day, browsing their Love Issue for inspiration, when I was slightly taken aback by an article. Benjamin Anastas was sharing his story of infidelity, how he confessed to his (then) fiancé, and how he regretted it. He had been traveling on business, spent a night with a stranger, and then guilt ate at him until he confessed. They worked through it, married, but then she “revenge cheated” and they divorced. He claimed that telling her was selfish, that she’d have been happier never knowing, and that it was his desire to be forgiven and unload his burden that made him tell her. I was left to wonder, should you confess to cheating?

Wait, Is It Even a Question?

I had never thought of it from that standpoint before. I’ve been witness to cheating before but those men certainly weren’t about to confess. One of two things always happened; they loved their partner, were riddled with guilt, and never cheated again OR they were found out and forced to confess. None of them ever went to their wife or girlfriend and said, “Baby, I slept with someone else and I’m so sorry!” In the first instance they feared confessing would ruin the life they’d made and couldn’t risk it and in the latter they didn’t want to lose the great set up they had created.

As for me I had one minor “cheating” event. I’d been with my boyfriend about two years when I spent the weekend with another man. There was no sex—but there was plenty making out. Honestly there was no point in not having sex but I thought it was less “cheaty” if I didn’t.  Anyway, even though I broke up with him shortly thereafter (for totally unrelated reasons) I never wondered if I should confess to him. In fact, I’d often felt bad about how I didn’t feel bad for doing it.

Can Confessing Be Selfish?

Benjamin contests that disclosing his affair just to free himself of guilt and the burden of knowledge was selfish. I have to wonder if that isn’t true. Now I’m left to ponder if I could disclose my own cheating; would my conscious force me to? What if my partner strayed, would I really want to know or is ignorance bliss? Everything in me says “of course I’d want to know” and that I’d hate to lead a “fake” life of bliss. It’s not fake if I believe it though.

I would never want to be that woman paired with a man who habitually cheated and everyone knew but me. I’ve seen those women and I couldn’t handle the chirping that goes on. You know the talk: “Poor Sally, she has no idea that Bob runs around on her … so naïve.” I would loathe being that pitied woman. If the infidelity was a one time thing though, never to be repeated, I’d just as soon not have my illusions shattered.

Would You Want the Confession?

Knowing wouldn’t make it hurt less. Knowing wouldn’t heal or help. When you air an affair it doesn’t make you any less guilty. Confession hurts your partner and you continue to live with your mistake regardless. You take a happy relationship and tarnish it. You burden your partner, force them to choose, and make them the bad guy if they can’t move past it. Sounds pretty selfish to me.

I almost applaud this man for cheating and coming clean because not many people take that route in my experience. I wish he hadn’t though. Don’t stone me just yet, listen a second. Telling his partner brought her pain, made her feel justified in her own deceit later, and ruined what was a happy relationship. Had he never mentioned it they could have led a potentially long and happy life together without her holding on to resentment and hurt. Had I confessed to my boyfriend he’d have stayed with me and likely married me but he’d have to live with the knowledge of what I’d done.

Shades of Grey

Adult relationships are complex, each unique with different understandings of what constitutes cheating and betrayal. So many people view life as black or white, right or wrong.  Too many people are afraid to look foolish and stay with a cheater so they leave when really things may have been able to be worked out. Anger clouds reason, hurt overshadows love, and pride trumps everything.

I see a world of grey, one of choices and options. Did you ever wish you could unknow something or unsay it? I know I have. What if they never told you, you never asked, or they never got caught? What if everything could go back to before the bad thing happened, if you got a do over? I’m just asking you to consider that maybe, just maybe, it is better not knowing.

Maybe it’s not even cheating. Find out in our poll in our New Years print edition

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Julie Zantopoulos

Julie Zantopoulos

Julie is Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of The Indie Chicks. She's working on publishing her first book, a collection of short stories, and writing a young adult novel series. Other loves include whiskey, the Flyers, and anything LOTR, Harry Potter, or Young Adult Lit. Don't be shy about following her on Instagram or emailing her to discuss contributing to The Indie Chicks.

  1. This is such an interesting article, Jewels. I completely agree that life is filled with grey areas. I think confessing is partially selfish, but not in a terribly negative way. It’s meant to relieve guilt for oneself, but also to make the other party aware of the truth. Sure, ignorance is bliss. I think it depends on the relationship and people involved, too, on whether ignorance is a better route to take. But I also feel that if a relationship continues in ignorance, it’s bound to fall apart. It’s better to head forward with truth, because that’s the sort of foundation that lasts, regardless of what happens.

    I will admit – my now husband cheated on me (no sex) in the first couple of years of our relationship. We had just moved in together in a new city, and our relationship was rocky. He did end up confessing, mostly because I had my suspicions and forced it out of him. I hate secrets, and I wanted the truth. We were already at a deciding point on whether we were going to move forward or go our separate ways. And in order to make an informed decision, I wanted all cards on the table… and that included infidelity. Going forward in ignorance would not have worked for me/us because I already had an inkling. I’d rather know than not know everything, even if it hurt. So after a lot of talking (I mean a lot), and taking a sort of “break”… we slowly pieced back together our relationship. We are both different people from that time in our lives, as we were both incredibly unhappy for various other reasons. Friends that know what happened and know both of us have told us we are like a completely different couple now. And in some ways, that’s true. We are much more solid than ever before. We were made stronger because of all that. It took a while, but I had to rebuild my trust in him. Other difficult things happened in life that showed how much he loved and cared for me, which made his screw-up years ago suddenly unimportant in comparison. He’s my biggest supporter. So as I said before – I think it depends on the relationship. Ours became better because he did confess. I don’t know if we would have had the same outcome if he’d hidden it from me, because I would constantly have distrust in my not knowing, if that makes sense.

    Again, this is a really interesting conversation. One would think the obvious answer is YES, absolutely, s/he should confess. But really, there are many elements involved.

    1. Most amazing and well thought out comment ever! I’ve never been cheated on (to the best of my knowledge) but I always said I would want to know. I just can’t be so sure that is true anymore…again that feeling may change when I find somebody I want to seriously settle down with. I’m glad that things worked out with your hubby and that you were able to work past it.

      Cheating is such a complex topic and always brings up the best conversations but it’s nearly impossible to find a definite answer on. Every relationship has different guidelines and rules. Trust is huge and rebuilding that takes time but maturity and time helps. Thank you SO much for your thoughtful comment and for appreciating the topic. I was afraid I was going to get blasted. 😉

  2. First off ladies I’m not even going to try and live up to Ashley’s comment. It is awesome. I think I’m agreeing with her on this-it depends on your relationship. At the same time, something is already going on in your relationship if you cheat. Cheating is the symptom of a bigger problem.

    I cheated on a college boyfriend. I didn’t tell him. But our relationship was not great and I didn’t have 100% respect for him. I wouldn’t have cheated if I did. On the flip side, I’ve been cheated on and like Spidey sense, I just knew without him saying a word, until like Ashley, I got it out of him.

    1. After Ashley’s comment I feel like I know how men feel about penis size…I’ll just never measure up! haha.

      I agree, there were definitely issues in mine when I cheated. My relationship was safe and passionless and I hated it even if I cared for him. I was fighting what I thought I “should” want with what I really wanted and gave into the heat of the moment with another man and loved ever second of it.

      I don’t ever want to be the ostrich with it’s head in the sand but if I don’t know I’d almost rather not…I think.

  3. I read the article in Cosmo . I agree with Ashley . It really depends on the two people invovled . I am the same as Ashley . I do not like secrets . I prefer honesty . I would want to know that my boyfriend cheated . I do not like if my friends knew and didn’t tell me . I am a honest person . I would expect the same from my partner. Great Article Jewels ! :)

    1. Yeah, getting involved if you know a friend’s partner is cheating is a whole other article. haha. I agree that honesty and trust are huge. BUT…there’s always that but with me. Sometimes what you don’t know can’t hurt you. I don’t know. I’m not sold on the confessing. That’s why each relationship is different though, right? 😀

  4. Although, I don’t condone cheating in the first place, I totally agree that honesty comes with a heavy price that may not be worth tithing. If the cheater has realized the error of their ways and guilt aftershocks rumble him/her to their senses; keep it quiet. A confession to the cheated will cause them to forever doubt and mistrust their partner; some to the point of ending the relationship. All of which is completely unnecessary of the cheater has resolved to never do it again. Fabulous topic, Jewels!

    1. I’m with you. I don’t condone cheating, ever, but… Once trust is shattered it’s so hard to rebuild and if the cheater feels so awful they know they’ll never do it again I’d just as soon not know. If it was a habit they couldn’t (or didn’t want to) stop then I’d want to know but otherwise ignorance is bliss.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for chiming in, Marrie.

  5. Ignorance is bliss, but it won’t sustain a relationship.

    Yes, maybe if Ben had never told his lady, they’d have stayed together… but what’s the point in having a relationship that’s based on a lie? If you want a genuinely successful relationship you can’t have any secrets. That’s hard for some to swallow, but it’s the truth.

    Basically, this guy is saying that it’s okay to cheat if you’re truly sorry afterwards and never do it again. I’m sorry, but to me that kind of logic doesn’t make any sense. I just killed a guy, but I’m really sorry and I’ll never do it again, so I’m not going to tell anyone. Besides, it would just hurt the victim’s family to know that I murdered their son. Aren’t they better off just being in the dark? Yeah, right.

    Ben says it’s selfish to have told her, but what’s truly selfish is lying to your partner. He says “I was selfish because I wanted to come clean and cleanse my guilty conscience, but all I did was ruin our happy relationship and hurt her.” He’s sugar coating this sentence and twisting the situation to make it sound like he’s the victim. Give me a break. Here’s how that sentence really goes: “I did something bad, but I don’t want you to know about it because you’ll dump me, so I’m not telling you about it, which means you’ll still continue to be with me.” If you ask me, THIS is the selfish option.

    Also, he seems to have this crazy idea that it was telling her that ruined the relationship. No, actually it was cheating on her that ruined the relationship. Which seems to be pretty obvious to everyone but him.

    I love your article, Jewels, and I respect your opinion, but guys like this make me sick, and to me, a man who questions telling the truth and thinks hiding a huge secret from someone he claims to love is no man at all.

    1. Thanks for loving the article and taking the time to disagree. I love good discussion. Like I said, I see shades of grey where others see black and white. You are also in a loving marriage and I’m single so it’s really easy for me to say that I’d rather not know when I’m not in a position to really care.

      I agree that the act of cheating it wrong. I also agree that not telling is to avoid responsibility for the action; I never denied that. I think what it really comes down to is that when there is cheating there are already other fundamental cracks in the relationship. I’ve never been tempted to stray when happily in a relationship, I doubt many people have. It was likely a doomed relationship whether he told her or not.

      I see where you are coming from and totally respect your opinion on the matter. Love that you shared it so unabashedly.

  6. As you said, there is no clear cut ‘right’ answer, and every situation is different. For me, personally, I would want to be told, even if it was just a one-time thing, because if I somehow found out some other way, I would be more wounded that he not only did it, but never told me. That would make me think it could happen again anytime. If he confessed on his own, I would be more likely to believe him that he did not intend to do it again and wanted to repair our relationship.

  7. So much grey here! I don’t think I’d want to know. I’d really have trouble forgetting about it. And as for whether or not I’d confess, I can’t imagine cheating. I did it once, when I was very young. At the time, I didn’t get why it was such a big deal. Then a boyfriend cheated on me and I got it. I’ve never cheated since.

  8. “Anger clouds reason, hurt overshadows love, and pride trumps everything.”

    Incredibly powerful line.

    Honesty is important to me. I can tell you that finding out is far worse than being told. With an honest admission, at least the cards are on the table. The cheater has shown that it WAS a mistake. Any other way, the wronged party will always wonder if the cheating has truly stopped or the deception has just gotten better.
    Infidelity breaks trust and lying continues that breaking of trust. With an unforced admission, the trust is not restored, but that pattern is broken. Sure, an out-of-the-blue admission could bring the unrealized broken trust to the light and could hurt someone that was otherwise oblivious to the shattered trust. I can certainly see where a one time mistake in judgement could be a possible reason to withhold that information, but that seems like a slippery slope.

    This is very thought provoking, Jewels!

    1. A slippery slope indeed my friend. I agree that being told is better than having to force a confession or finding out through other people. I am a firm believer in honesty. I’m honest to a fault, sometimes too honest, but I do withhold information at times when telling the other person will only cause them pain.

      Thank you for taking the time to really think out your comment and give the topic it’s due attention…it’s a tricky one for sure.

  9. It’s a strange thing really.. I’m currently at the quickly dwindling end of a 5 1/2 year on off relationship with a guy. He’s never cheated on me (as far as I know) but I’ve found out about 5 other women that he’s liked and told he’s had feelings for during our relationship. I found out about them over time by accident; once because he sent me a message meant for one, one through a friend who decided to tell me because said other girl was mocking me publicly about how she’d managed to get him to like her.. You get the jist. Never through him. I think that’s the hardest part now, I still love him but he’s never once told me anything that he’s done when i’ve asked and now.. I just can’t rebuild the trust..
    Honestly I’ve been far from perfect, at one point things were at a low and I drunkenly slept with my best friend and then told my boyfriend the next morning.. Now he’s using that as his excuse for his behaviour even though it happened after the first 4 girls..
    It’s such a mess, i’ve rapidly changed from a fun loving, bubbly person to a whiny, emotional bitch. I love this blog though btw, it’s lifted my spirits enormously xx

    1. It’s the fine line. If it’s a kiss I don’t want to know…if it’s more I do…but maybe only if it’s not a one and done. I don’t know…I don’t think there is any one answer. It will be different for each couple, each person, and each situation. it’s such a shaky line to walk-it’s better avoided by just-you know-being faithful!

  10. Difficult question. The type who cheats all the time clearly doesn’t feel guilty (at least not enough to stop doing it) and would never tell, but the guilt-ridden type involved in a one-time thing might tell. The former is a doomed relationship where the significant other is being made a fool of and is at best ignorant of the heartbreak that’s coming. The latter is a proven relationship that presumably works and can be saved, yet truth may doom it anyway. Not to mention have other significant repercussions. If the article has all the facts then it sounds like all that was accomplished is instead of one person who can’t look themselves in the mirror, there are now two.

    1. No article ever has ALL the facts. No situation like this ever has a clear cut “If A then do this, if B then do this” answer. It’s always up in the air and that is what makes it such an interesting topic to discuss and such a hard question. I have asked myself a lot what I would want, and truth be told, I’m not sure. Sometimes I really do think that ignorance is bliss if it’s some random one time thing…other times I get angry just imagining having information that involves my relationship kept from me.

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