Posted On May 12, 2010 by Print This Post

Wayne Wednesday: When Men Cheat, Should They Confess?

Today, Wayne Levine gives his thoughts on how a man should handle confessing (or not) a one-night stand. His answer may surprise you, so feel free to give your opinion in the comments. 

Happy Wednesday, Wayne!

Man’s Question: I am a married man and a musician. Traveling with my band takes me away from home for weeks at a time. Some of the men in the band are single, some married. There are usually girls hanging around after our shows who are more than willing to go back to our rooms with us, or simply “take care of us” in the parking lot. Most of the band members partake occasionally. I have been on the road for a long time. Since getting married, five years ago, I have never been unfaithful. A few weeks ago, I slipped. I allowed a girl to give me a blowjob in my car. I felt like an idiot. Then the guilt started to weigh me down. I felt terrible. I could not sleep. I decided to call my wife to tell her about it and to promise that it would never happen again. I think I made a mistake in calling her. She is so upset. We have not spoken in days. She refuses to answer the phone. I am over a thousand miles away with two more weeks on the road. I am going out of my mind. What can I do to repair this?

Wayne’s Answer: This is why we have men in our lives. There are times when we need to talk things through to discover the best course of action. Left to our own counsel, our guilt, fears and doubt will usually send us down the wrong path. And, I’m afraid, that’s what happened in this case.

You’re right, you made a mistake by calling your wife from the road. If you had talked it through before, you would have realized that no good could have possibly come out of talking with her over the phone about your indiscretion. This is a classic case of allowing your ego to come before your commitment…twice.

First, you engaged with your groupie (ego) without thinking about your commitment to your wife. Then, you were so focused on how badly you felt (ego) you again neglected to fully consider your commitment to your wife.

If you had put your commitment (marriage, relationship) before your ego (what I want, how I feel) you would have spared your wife the anguish of having to hear—long distance— that her husband has cheated on her. You might have said something like, “But all that happened was a blowjob, honey.” But it doesn’t matter. She’ll think what she thinks, imagine what she’ll imagine, and feel how she’ll feel. Once that genie is out of the bottle, you can’t put it back.

First, let’s have a short discussion about screwing around and telling our women about it. Then we’ll get back to cleaning up your mess.

There are some things she doesn’t need to know. For instance, if you had an encounter like you described, or even a more involved affair with a woman, but have decided that it was a mistake and that you would never do it again, what possible benefit would there be in telling the woman you love, hurting her, and damaging the trust between you?

Now, some would argue that you’re no longer trustworthy and that she has a right to know “what kind of man she’s married to.” Well, you might have been a jerk. You’re not perfect. But are you not trustworthy? That’s something for you to decide. I believe that if you’re involved with something that is lacking in integrity, you ought to seek out some help and guidance to understand what was behind your actions. Otherwise, you’re likely to repeat them.

If you stray and then come to your senses, your primary concern will likely be for your woman and relationship. You may think, “it’s better for me to tell her rather than allowing her to find out from someone else.” This is where it gets interesting.

So, is this a case of only tell her if you think you’re gonna get caught?

If you’re on the road, let it stay on the road. Why hurt her? If it’s close to home, and you were stupid enough to get involved with someone in your social circle (and I can’t tell you how many of those men I’ve spoken with), then you have a tough choice to make. This same difficult decision faces men who have had affairs with women who are likely to contact the missus simply out of revenge.

In these cases, I think it’s absolutely necessary, first, to seek out some help. Get crystal clear about your intentions and your commitment to your wife and family. If you have a reasonable fear that she will be made aware of your actions, it’s best to let her know. But how to do that will depend on the two of you, and the strength of your relationship. That’s why you have to seek the guidance of a counselor or men you trust.

Once you tell her, you’ll have to be committed to seeing the process through. And you really have no idea what that will look like ahead of time. Wounds take various amounts of time to heal. But if you love her, you’ll want to do whatever is necessary. But it’s critical that you do so without compromising your terms.

For instance, one man I worked with was convinced by his wife that the only way she would trust him again was if he eliminated all private email addresses. She wanted full access to his communications. That also meant full access to all work-related communications. He agreed to it. I told him that he was setting himself up for failure.

I suggested that it wouldn’t be long before he resented her for agreeing to that condition. He wanted to earn back her trust. But he had to find a way to do so without compromising what was important to him, i.e., like a little privacy. Furthermore, if he allowed her to dictate how he would behave as a man—because he’s guilt-ridden and she’s furious— not only would she not learn to trust him again, she would never again respect him.

So, back to repairing your marriage. What’s done is done. She’ll trust you again when she’s ready. Here’s what I would suggest. Send her a card. Tell her again that you’re committed to her, that you’ve learned a valuable lesson, and that you never intend to betray your relationship or her trust again. Then, make no more calls home. Wait until you see her.

When you see her, she’ll dictate what happens next. The most important thing for you to remember is to not go home with your tail between your legs. You have to be the rock. You have to be strong. She has to receive the message that you are there for her and that’s it! You’ve already apologized on the phone and in your note. No more apologies are necessary. I repeat, no more apologies. This is where most men fail because many women will continuously bring up the subject, and the men think that the way to make it disappear is to apologize, yet again. It doesn’t work.

You owe it to her to listen to her when she’s telling you about her pain. You can assure her that your philandering days are over. But no more apologies. This doesn’t mean you’re insensitive. But if you want to rebuild your relationship, you can’t crawl back as the man you want to be. You’ll have to stand tall. A man takes full responsibility for his actions, and then focuses on solutions. In this case, part of the solution is listening, the other part is learning.

If she wants to go to couples counseling, go. But make sure you do your work elsewhere, with a circle of men or a competent male counselor. Eventually, if your relationship is strong, you’ll move on and find ways to grow closer. If this incident destroys the relationship, you’ll have learned a great deal that you can take with you into your next relationship.

***

Okay, RUers…what do you think about Wayne’s advice to this man? Do you think his answer would/should be different if he were addressing a woman? Chime in!

Be sure to join us Friday when aspiring author Sally Bayless kicks off a series of lectures on how she’s tackling her writing.

Wayne’s Bio:

Wayne M. Levine, M.A. is the director of the West Coast Men’s Center in Agoura Hills, CA, where he coaches and mentors men, and facilitates men’s groups. He also created the BetterMen Retreats for men, and for fathers and sons. In addition, Wayne is the founder of BetterMen.org, a life coaching and mentoring resource for men.

Wayne’s interest in men’s issues began in the early ‘90s with his participation in men’s work activities. His experiences with men’s groups, as a participant, leader and program developer, taught Wayne to “father” men and to support them in making difficult and important changes in their lives.

He earned his Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University/Los Angeles. Wayne also received his BA in journalism and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Southern California.

Wayne’s been married to his first and only wife, Ria, for over 25 years and is the proud daddy of Emma, Austin and the family’s menagerie of animals.  Wayne strives to be a better man, husband and father each day in Oak Park, CA.

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30 Responses to “Wayne Wednesday: When Men Cheat, Should They Confess?”

  1. Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for the insightful post. I do have to disagree with you on one account. I think the guy’s going to have to apologize one more time in person. An apology on the phone and/or in note isn’t quite the same as a face-to-face. She’s going to want to SEE his apology. She needs to make sure he means it. I know someone will argue that it’s not possible, but we’re talking NEED here. I can’t help but think guys might need the same.

    From a guy’s perspective, do you think an individual who cheats really still loves their spouse, etc.?

    Thanks!
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | May 12, 2010, 5:37 am
    • Hi Tracey. Well, I think she’s going to have to see that he means “it” over and over again. The trust will take whatever time it needs to rebuild. As for cheating and love…(and I’m only representing the man’s pov) I think the love can be there, though the commitment might be in doubt. When a man cheats, there’s definitely less of him available for her, less intimacy, etc. But that also goes for any energy toward porn, flirting and all of the other ways men keep the back door open.

      Posted by Wayne Levine | May 12, 2010, 10:13 am
      • Okay, since you brought it up (and I know we could spend years on this topic), what is the deal with men and porn? Although, to keep things fair, I did see a clip recently that there’s been a spike in the number of women who watch porn.

        Posted by AdrienneGiordano | May 12, 2010, 10:17 am
  2. Morning Wayne!

    I would really like to see groveling. =) But I’m mean that way..lol….j/k

    I have to ask, if it was a woman who’d had the quickie affair in a parking lot somewhere, cheating on her husband, would you offer her the same advice? Or would it be different?

    Great post!!!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie | May 12, 2010, 8:21 am
  3. Wayne –

    This post really intrigued me as I’ve had at least two couple-friends deal with infidelity. Neither marriage made it – BTW. Interestingly enough, one of the guys who cheated confessed not to his wife, but to MY husband. I really do think he did it to make himself feel better and to seek understanding. Well, there was no understanding and it eventually ruined the friendship. What are your thoughts on confessing infidelity to friends?

    Also – I agree with Tracey. If I were the spouse/girlfriend who had been cheated on, I would want a face-to-face apology.

    Again – excellent post!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 12, 2010, 8:45 am
  4. I too am curious how the advice would differ if it were the woman who had cheated.

    I also agree that he’s got to apologize again. At least once, and maybe more than once. Doing so is not about her ego, I believe, but about reassuring her. There’s a way to apologize that is about strength yet humility, not groveling or begging and certainly not with tail between legs.

    If he’s not going to tell, he’d better be darn sure he doesn’t grow a conscious…ever. It won’t soften the blow to tell her years after the fact. It will just increase the level of distrust.

    Ultimately, I believe men and women remain married when they remain committed to being married and working through the issues, even infidelity. Definitely not easy and not always possible. Each person has to decide how much is too much. Is it one incident? Maybe, maybe not.

    Posted by PatriciaW | May 12, 2010, 8:54 am
    • Wise woman. She will have the need to be reassured and it’s job to honor that…without apologizing. It’s simply a weak position and it doesn’t help him to move forward, or the relationship. It’s all very difficult and it all rsts on the commitment.

      I think the reasons for infidelity can differ for the genders. Perhaps a topic for a future post.

      Posted by Wayne Levine | May 12, 2010, 10:18 am
  5. I’m a firm believer in truth. I would rather have my feelings torn to shreds than participate in a marriage where my husband would withhold something as important as a breach of our marital contract — be it on the phone or in person. Withholding an infidelity would do infinitely more damage to me than would confessing it immediately.

    Posted by Taylor | May 12, 2010, 9:22 am
    • Hi Taylor. I hear you. But if it’s one-time deal, and he’s committed not to do it again, what possible purpose would shredding feelings have? I think a lot of this talk is hypothetical until it actually happens to you.

      Posted by Wayne Levine | May 12, 2010, 10:21 am
      • And it has.
        Truth is an end in and of itself and, for me, the foundation of a relationship. Infidelity damages a relationship whether or not the opposite party is privy to it. Even if the man is committed to change, I don’t think his commitment would be true if he was withholding the information. That is itself an ego-centric action meant to avoid consequences. I still prefer full disclosure. 🙂

        Posted by Taylor | May 12, 2010, 11:33 am
        • You sound like a really solid person. I like how you disagree. That’s why I’m coming back for more. 🙂 I wonder if you can truly anticipate how you would react to such a scenario until it actually happens to you. I’ve been witness to some women falling into an abyss of self-doubt, pain and paranoia after learning of their men’s actions. That’s the primary reason why I counsel men to think long and hard before disclosing. From my perspective, the most important thing is that he is committed to understanding why he did what he did and that he’s wanting to be held accountable to getting healthy.

          Posted by Wayne Levine | May 12, 2010, 1:12 pm
  6. Wow, I think Patricia nailed it! I’m going to agree with the ladies here and say if he (or she) is going to tell the spouse he/she needs to apologize in person. I do agree with Wayne’s advice though. If it’s a one-time thing and will never happen again, why put the spouse through that kind of turmoil? If it happens again the next weekend, all bets are off.

    In my opinion, whether it’s a man or a woman, the advice should be the same.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 12, 2010, 9:27 am
  7. From a guys perspective – I’m curious here – I’ve seen many people say “It’s a one time thing…” My big question is how do you know. Kinda like crack – I’ll only do it this one time – next thing you know, everything is gone because you’ve needed it so much.

    If she means that much to him and he messed up, at least don’t use the tour as an excuse – get on a plane or drive for hours to show that you respect her enough to tell her face-to-face and that you really messed up. The phone is a chicken-shit out to provide a way for him to feel better without making the real effort and showing the commitment.

    Is it easy – no way. Being accountable for your actions isn’t always easy. It’s being accountable that really makes one realize their mistakes and grow as a person. Marriage is a commitment – good times and bad – it’s really important to remember that.

    msl

    Posted by msl | May 12, 2010, 12:28 pm
    • Nothing to disagree with here. I think my larger point here is that it’s important for men to have other men to turn to in times of need, crisis and confusion. There are many ways to handle a situation. But do you have a better chance of discovering the best option by reaching out for help?

      Posted by Wayne Levine | May 12, 2010, 1:04 pm
  8. I agree to a point – having another man to talk to is important when you need a friend. Having another man to confess to is not right. Do not expect to talk to a friend and tell him the situation and expect things to be better with your significant other.

    Reaching out for help is very important – it shows that you have put enough thought and realization into the situation to know that you need help. I again go back to accountability – it’s very important to be able to step up, own your mistake and be able to move forward – knowing and expecting that it is part of a process to make things better – one way or another – for both you and your significant other.

    That being said, I’ve been on the “confession” side and it’s put me in a bad situation that I had to make a decision that I knew would hurt someone.

    The bottom line is that each of us will work through our situations differently. There will always be ageement and disagreement on right and wrong. Understand that everything isn’t easy and change can be good for both people. It does take a lot of self evaluation and criticism to realize our mistakes and make our lives better.

    msl

    Posted by msl | May 12, 2010, 1:23 pm
  9. I agree with msl. How does this man know it’s a one time thing? And if he doesn’t confess/apologize and see how truly hurtful his actions were, what (other than conscience) is to keep him from doing it again?

    Re: Having another man to talk to. Yes, this is important. But more important is who that man is. If it’s one of his free-love band members advising “what the little woman doesn’t know won’t hurt her” I envision continued infidelity.

    And I would caution men about not coming clean. Secrets have a way of being exposed at the most inopportune times. And as much as maybe I don’t want to know if my husband’s been unfaithful, he’s got a much better chance of survival if he tells me before I find out he’s been unfaithful AND lied about it!

    Posted by Wendy Marcus | May 12, 2010, 1:51 pm
  10. Not telling and lying are two very different things, not just semantics. When I refer to having men to go to, I’m talking about men who will hold you accountable, not co-sign your idiocy. To know more about what I mean when I refer to masculine relationships, you’ve got to read my book.

    Posted by Wayne Levine | May 12, 2010, 1:57 pm
    • http://www.choice101.com/19-lies.html#LiesOfOmission

      The Biggest Lie About Lies — A Lie of Omission Is Not a Lie!

      A lie of omission is the most insidious, most pervasive, and most common lie on the entire planet. Commonly, those who use this type of lie, have conned themselves into believing that to intentionally remain silent when ethical behavior calls for one to speak up is not a lie at all. In spite of overwhelming evidence that their silence deceives, misleads, and often causes untold grief and misery, they refuse to speak the truth.

      The Inevitable Consequences: There is also the common misconception that intentional deception by silence has no consequences. Lies of commission (telling a lie) and lies of omission (withholding the truth) are both acts of intention deception. Both reap the same consequences.

      Posted by Wendy Marcus | May 12, 2010, 3:28 pm
  11. Hot topics like this are very interesting. We all project our own experiences onto them and see the situations from unique perspectives. I encourage each man to be the man he wants to be. I also encourage men to pay attention and be sensitive to their women’s needs. Each man has to figure out what’s best for his relationship, especially when he’s acted out inappropriately. Having initiated men to lean on helps men get clear. These sorts of relationships are rare. They take time and energy to build and maintain. They’re so valuable. They can help save lives and relationships. And my final word on this “lie” issue. I’ll go down swinging on this: there are some things you ladies DO NOT want to know. You may think you want to know everything about us, what we do and what we think. But men know differently. Men and women are different. they think differently, process differently, act differently. We’re not the same, it’s not all even steven. Another great future topic. I appreciate your thoughts and participation in today’s lively discussion.

    Posted by Wayne Levine | May 12, 2010, 4:19 pm
  12. Wayne –

    Thanks so much for the great topic and discussion today. Perhaps we can consider a lecture on why women don’t always want to know what men are thinking. I know I’m interested.

    As always, thanks for spending time with RU and our readers!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 12, 2010, 11:26 pm
  13. I’ve been married a very long time, and there have been times when my husband traveled. He’s good-looking, too. If he has cheated, I don’t know about it. He has the right of privacy, as do I.

    What nobody has mentioned–and I’m astonished–is STDs. Look, fellas, if you’ve done something that could kill your wife, like picked up AIDS somewhere, you’ve got to tell the truth. It might end the relationship–but did it mean that much to you, anyway? Better to break her heart (they mend, you know) than to keep her ignorant while she incubates a fatal disease.

    Posted by Lyn | June 4, 2010, 11:09 pm
  14. Good points, Lyn.

    “but did it mean that much to you, anyway?”
    I wondered the same thing too.

    Thanks for stopping by.
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 5, 2010, 6:51 am
  15. As a woman who is finding her way through a newly discovered infidelity, I am more than a little shocked at the bad advice given to this husband. Of course he should tell his wife–preferably in person. How do you think she will feel if she finds out some other way (through a fellow band member or after contracting an unexplainable STD)? What his wife doesn’t know now can and probably will hurt her. Being honest about the transgression early may in the end safe their relationship.

    Posted by CThomas | March 6, 2011, 9:14 pm
  16. ok, what about this dilemma… a man cheats and decides its just a one time thing, feels awful and tries to make it up to his gf/wife with caring actions, extra “i love you’s”, etc, but never confesses. maybe he is scared she will leave, or maybe he just doesnt want to hurt her, either way he never tells. however, he has a photo of the incident on his phone, time stamped, and she accidently see’s it. so now he’s caught, but he doesn’t know it. reading your advice here makes me want to believe he is sorry and has been trying to relieve his guilt without me knowing through his actions, and yet he keeps the picture in a place I will easily stumble upon it… would you say hes really sorry, or is he trying to get caught rather than confess (which doesnt make any sense!). on a bigger note, how the heck does the woman CONFRONT the man over that?

    Posted by Abby | February 1, 2012, 10:23 am
    • Well, the cat’s out of the bag. You know. It’s time to bring it to him. Perhaps he’s had the time he needs to be able to own it and have a healthy dialogue with you. It’s not confrontation, it’s coming from an honest place with care for you, him, and the relationship.

      Posted by Wayne | February 1, 2012, 2:17 pm
  17. Having been in relationship with 2 habitual cheaters I will say this. They don’t change and once they’ve gotten away with it (ie non disclosure, not caught) it makes it EASIER To do it again, not harder. If you are a cheater you are a schmuck, no two ways about it. If you are with a cheater LEAVE. They will not change. Porn is cheating. So is flirting or leading women on. So is acting single. Of course, sex is. So are lap dances. I will never ever be with someone engaged in any of these things ever again.

    Posted by Theresa | March 14, 2013, 8:05 pm

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