Should I Tell My Spouse That I Cheated Before We Were Married?

By: Katie Lersch: I sometimes hear from people who are riddled with guilt about a previous infidelity that has long been over.  On the one hand, they are grateful that their spouse doesn’t know about it because this means that their spouse is being spared the pain.  But on the other hand, they hate lying and the guilt is beginning to get to them.

I heard from a wife who said: “about three months before my husband and I were married, my ex boyfriend came back into town and looked me up.  I only intended to have a few drinks with him for closure.  But we ended up sleeping together, partly because we were both intoxicated.  I rarely drink and I guess the few drinks that I had were too much.  The next day, I told my ex that the whole thing was a mistake, that I was getting married, and that we both just had to move on and not see one another any more.  And this is what happened.  My husband and I have been happily married for three years.  I haven’t talked to my ex since that night.  However, I feel such horrible guilt.  I feel awful for not telling him.  But we are happy.  We have a good marriage.  And this is just going to hurt him.  What should I do?” While I certainly couldn’t make this decision for this woman, I could offer some things to consider, which I’ll do below.

Is The Guilt Affecting Your Marriage?:  Often, I feel that one strong indication that the truth needs to come out is if the guilt and the deception is negatively affecting your marriage.  Sometimes, having something this huge between the spouses begins to chip away at their marriage.  The cheating spouse might put up some walls around themselves or they may act out because they don’t feel worthy.  Or, the faithful spouse might suspect that something is wrong and may begin to get suspicious.  Or they might notice their spouse distancing themselves and make faulty assumptions that further deteriorates things.

So it can help to take a long, hard look at your marriage and ask yourself if this secret is so big that it is having negative effects.  If so, then it might be time to come clean.  But if the marriage is a happy and healthy one, then that is another matter.  Because then you have to ask yourself if it’s worth disrupting the healthy relationship that’s present with the truth that could devastate it.

Do You Want To Tell More For Yourself Than For Your Spouse?:  There are many people who will tell you that confessing infidelity that has long been over is selfish on the part of the confessor.  Many will tell you that you’re only doing this to alleviate your own guilt knowing full well that the truth is only going to hurt your spouse and your marriage. In this way, the theory goes, you are putting your own needs above theirs, especially if  you have no real plans for rehabilitation and you only want to unload.  I’m not sure that I completely agree with this assessment.  Many people admit to the cheating because they feel that their spouse has the right to know.  Yes, sometimes they feel some relief from the guilt.  But sometimes, they are thinking of their spouse rather than themselves because they feel strongly that telling the truth is the only right thing to do. With all of this said, it can help to take a very honest look at your motivations and ask yourself if you’re doing this for them or for yourself.

How To Tell If You Decide To Do So:  I believe that how you tell the truth is as important as whether you tell the truth.  It’s so very important that your true motivation and intentions are apparent.  This is going to be painful enough, so you don’t want to give your spouse the idea that you don’t love them or that the other person is still in the picture.  A suggested script would be something like: “can we talk because there is something that is heavily on my mind?  What I’m about to tell you is going to be very difficult and I am more sorry than I can say.  But I want to make it very clear that I am telling you this because of my love for you. It would be much easier for me to continue on in silence and to spare you pain.  But you are the most important person in the world to me and our marriage will always be my top priority. Therefore, my commitment to you dictates that I tell you the truth.  I don’t want this truth to minimize my love for you or end our marriage, but I don’t want this secret between us any longer.  Right before our marriage, I got drunk and had sex with my ex.  It was only that one time and afterward I made it clear that it would never happen again.  And I have never seen or spoken to him again.  And I never will.  You and our marriage is our priority.  Which is why I’m telling you the truth now.”

If these words make you cringe because you know that it won’t go well, take some time to take an honest inventory as to your motivations before you act.  Because once this is out, it can’t be undone.  However, if the secret is affecting your marriage, that can’t be undone either. Also, expect that even though the infidelity is in the past, your spouse might want rehabilitation almost as if it happened yesterday.

The good news is that restoring your marriage after infidelity is absolutely possible.  For some, this process even strengthens their marriage.  I can’t tell you what to do in this situation.  But, I can tell you that the truth doesn’t need to end your marriage.  I was the cheated on and not the cheater in my marriage.  But, if it helps you to get perspective, you can read about my recovery process on my blog at

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