If you are in a relationship where your spouse or partner has cheated on you, you no doubt have a lot you are dealing with.
Infidelity in a relationship can cause tremendous pain and conflict between partners. You are probably feeling sad, angry, confused, shocked, and more.
One area of significant confusion for betrayed partners is whether to tell their parents or siblings about what’s happened. On the one hand, if you’re close with your family members, it seems crazy to withhold from them such a major event in your life. On the other hand, how will they look at your partner if you do tell them? How will they look at you?
These are real questions, and there is no clear answer. Here are some considerations you should take into account as you try to make a decision.
Why are you telling your family about the infidelity?
This is an important question to get clear for yourself.
Some people believe that their partner has done wrong and thus deserves to be exposed for what they are. If you are hoping to save and restore this relationship, then this approach will certainly take you in the opposite direction.
You of course have every right to feel angry about what’s happened. However, trying to even the score, take revenge, or establish justice does not follow from that. This kind of reaction will deepen the wounds in the relationship and make it harder to heal for both of you. Being hurt by your partner does not give you the right to hurt them back, nor does it leave you feeling good in the long term.
Note that even if you are not hoping to reconcile with your partner, seeking revenge is generally not a good way to get over things and move on. It may be sensible to tell your family why the relationship has ended rather then try to cover it up, but vengefulness generally does not lead to happiness.
There are, however, other more compelling reasons to share with your family what’s happened – for example, if you are looking for support or advice. If you need help getting through this difficult time, it certainly makes sense to want to reach out to the people closest to you.
It’s kind of like I tell my kids about telling on others: if you’re telling to get someone else in trouble, don’t do it. If you’re telling to get someone out of trouble, then you should do it. And what if you’ll get one person in trouble and one person out of trouble? You still tell. You need to protect the one who’s been hurt – and in this case, it’s you.
Considerations on whether and whom to tell
There are a number of pitfalls to be aware of when thinking about whether you can share this information and with whom.
First, will this person have your best interests at heart? If your mother has always been the controlling type who tries to get you to follow her wishes, you may be on the receiving end of a lot of pressure if you choose to tell her. Consider whether the person you want to tell is really on your side.
Likewise, ask yourself if this person is objective, or might they have some agenda? If your relative believes that divorce is a sin, you are probably not going to get objective advice from that relative. (However, if you also believe divorce is a sin and want counsel from that perspective, that may a fine person to discuss the issue with.) If they have a past history of infidelity themselves (whether as betrayer or betrayed), that may also impact how objective they can be with your situation.
Is this person trustworthy? If you decide to open up to your sister about it, will your mom, cousin, and hairdresser also hear about it? Make sure you can trust your confidant before you talk about the affair with them.
Does this person trust you? Will they respect whatever decisions you make in the end? You may ultimately choose to stay with your partner or to leave them. You need someone who will support you the way you need, not the way they need. If you want to work things out, you need a listening ear from someone who won’t pressure you to leave or put you down for wanting to stay. Likewise, if you decide to leave, you don’t want to feel pushback from someone who thinks divorce is out of the question or that it means failure.
Finally, consider the long-term effect of sharing this information with a loved one. Will your parents ever be able to look at your spouse the same way in the future? You may succeed in going through a reconciliation process with your partner, but your relative may not. It takes a person with a lot of maturity and emotional awareness to be able to support you through this and then love and treat your partner the same as before when it’s all through. You don’t want your relative looking down on your partner for the rest of your lives once you’ve moved past this if they cannot.
What do you need?
If you do have someone in your life you believe you can turn to with this problem, I encourage you to be clear with them about what you need. If you are looking for moral support but not advice, state this clearly. Everyone will have their own opinion about what you should do. You may or may not want to hear those opinions. If you don’t say what you need, you will probably have those opinions foisted upon you.
It is okay to want emotional support without advice. You are not obligated to listen to someone’s ideas about how to solve this problem just because you share the problem with them. It is best to be clear about that up front if that feels right for you.
For example, here’s a way you can present this: “Mom, I have something important to share with you. I am looking for some support here, and I am really not looking for advice right now. Would you be able to hear me out for a bit without giving me your opinion?”
It can be incredibly frustrating and deflating to get unsolicited advice from someone who thinks they have the answer to what is inevitably a more complex situation than they can possibly understand from the outside. Being clear about what you’re looking for can help lower the possibility that that’s what you’ll hear.
At the end of the day, whether to talk about your partner’s infidelity with your family is not a simple decision to make. Talking to an objective, confidential third party can be helpful when family is not an option for you. Or, if you’d like some help thinking through whether to share with your family, that’s a question a counselor can help you work out as well.
Contact us if we can be of any help to you or your loved ones during what is certainly a difficult time.