Q: I’m recently engaged to a wonderful man that I have spent the last few years with. Since the proposal, something has been weighing on me heavily.
A couple of years ago, I engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a married former professor (who has two small children). We exchanged a few flirty phone calls and emails and were physical once—though no oral/penetrative sex happened. The whole thing lasted a few months.
There’s no excuse for what I did. I was selfish, irresponsible, and insecure. I tried to bury this deep inside of me, but it’s resurfaced and taken over my life. Since then, I’ve worked on loving myself more, and my relationship has never been better. I hope to still spend the rest of my life with my partner, but I’m undecided on whether or not I should confess before we get married. The professor says he’s taking it to his grave, but there’s always a chance this could come out later.
I think my fiancé would ultimately forgive me, but there’s always a possibility he wouldn’t take it well. I couldn’t live with upending a relationship over making out with someone while drunk and some flirty phone calls so long ago. It even feels silly typing it out.
I think the bigger issue is that I thought I was a good person with morals, but I selfishly wanted some fun and excitement in my life, at the expense of someone’s marriage. As I’m approaching my own marriage, that seems like the worst thing a person could ever do. I feel like I don’t deserve forgiveness.
Has anyone been in a similar situation?
—AnXIOUS OTHER WOMAN
Sure they have. And I think those folks would agree with me when I say: tell him.
Don’t tell him out of some fear that one day he’d find out. Tell him because this is already creating distance in your relationship. You’re worried that telling him will mess things up, but you’re for sure not better off leaving this hanging between the two of you.
When I say this is “creating distance,” what I mean is that typically (I’m assuming) you guys are a team. You tackle all the big stuff together, right? Well this is a big thing that’s weighing on you and you’re not looping him in on it. You’ve been dishonest with him (not cool), but you’re also carrying around all of this guilt and shame, and you’re not giving him the opportunity to ease that load with forgiveness.
Yes, forgiveness. I know you don’t think you deserve it, but that’s kind of the point. Does anyone ever really deserve to be forgiven? Forgiveness is always something you need when you least deserve it. It’s when someone sees that you’ve been terrible, says, “Man you’ve been terrible,” but then also says, “And I’m willing to move past it,” or even, “I still love you.” No one deserves forgiveness, but even still, there’s one thing I want to make perfectly clear. If you ignore absolutely everything else in this post, I want you to know that having done this does not mean you are not a good person. No one is perfect. It’s very easy for anyone to think, “Well I would never!” until they’re in a situation that tests and stretches them. I’m telling you everyone screws up, even if they don’t do it in this exact way. I swear it.
So please tell him, Anonymous. Give him the opportunity to forgive you. Give your relationship the opportunity to heal and grow. Give yourself an opportunity to feel the relief of being forgiven, of letting it go.
He might not react well. He might be really hurt and angry for a stretch. It’s hard to hear that someone’s been dishonest, and it may take him awhile to get over it. Give him the chance to, without assuming it means the end. It’ll be hard, but you can’t really move on to the good stuff without clearing out the bad first. And if it’s really very hard or he starts talking about a breakup, see about popping into some couples counseling. At the absolute bare minimum, surround yourself with some friends who’ll remind you that you’re awesome even though you’re not perfect.
You’re worried that this will end things, I know. If I could talk to your partner, I’d like to tell him that it’s impossible to marry someone who won’t hurt you or even betray you. We all hurt one another, even intentionally sometimes. Marriage isn’t about avoiding that completely. It’s about the whole redemption process after. It’s about hurting each other profoundly, but still committing to loving and forgiving and moving on. It’s not an easy thing—to be honest about selfish spots, to risk someone you deeply care about thinking that you’re awful, and meanwhile to also risk being hurt yourself. But it can be so very powerful to be vulnerable in those ways, and still be wholly accepted.
I’m hopeful for you that you can find that with your partner. Because yes, you do deserve it.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)