Should you confront a cheating spouse?
Even those with opposing answers to that question can agree that -- at the very least -- it's complicated. And the verdict becomes even more muddled when the realities of life are factored in.
Take, for example, last Tuesday's "Dear Prudence" advice column on Slate. A 32-year-old woman discovers that her husband has been having an affair and wonders whether to confront him. The catch? She's dying of a terminal illness -- she has six to eight months to live -- and her husband has been a tremendous source of support to her. She writes:
My husband has been amazingly supportive of me during this time...A few weeks ago while using his iPad to watch a movie, an email came in and I discovered he has been having an affair (emotional and sexual) with a co-worker for a few months now. For several days I cried, heartbroken at the betrayal, but now I feel like my husband deserves to have someone help him and support HIM through this emotional time...Do I confront my husband and tell him I understand? That although I am hurt, I forgive him and I don't want him to feel guilty? Or do I just keep quiet and let him continue? If our families find out after I'm gone, I'm worried they will think ill of him, and I don't want that either.
Emily Yoffe -- or "Prudence" -- advised the woman to consider hiring a therapist to help her work through the trauma. She also suggested that the woman confront her husband in a compassionate, loving way (click over to Slate for the full exchange). She writes:
This will be a hard, tearful discussion, but it will also probably be relief of a terrible, guilt-ridden burden for him. As for your family, you are very thoughtful to consider that if after your death it ever comes out there was someone else in his life, he will turn from angel to devil. You don't have to tell anyone else about this. But as you say your farewells to those closest to you, you can allude to it. Perhaps you can tell your family that you want them to know that life can be so difficult and complicated and that through all of it your husband has been everything you wanted.
Not all professionals agree. Attorney Laurie Israel suggested that the woman proceed without confronting her husband.
"It would be a great gift to the husband, who is giving his wife his attention and loving care through her illness," Israel wrote in an e-mail to HuffPost Divorce. "Mutual marital processing of this affair under this unusual situation would lead to nothing positive, and it will be to the detriment of the quality of whatever time they have left. It would show great compassion and restraint for the wife to keep silent, and it would be a great gift to the husband who was faithful in the important ways during her illness. Without the pain brought about by disclosure, he would have a much greater chance to repartner with his lover after his wife’s death. That’s a wonderful gift she can give him, this faithful man who is her husband."
Tammy Nelson, a relationship therapist and author of "The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity," acknowledged that the choice is a difficult one, but that the husband's affair may indeed be his way of coping with the illness. To get clarity about this decision, she suggests writing a letter to the husband as if he is reading it after the woman is gone.
"Tell him that you knew about the affair and that you were hurt but you understood. And that you forgive him," she said via e-mail. "Perhaps writing the letter will release the feelings that are weighing you down, and will put your fears to rest about his future and any possible repercussions. Or it may make it clear to you that you don't want to wait until you are gone to talk with him. Either way, no matter what you decide, your husband's love is not diminished by his affair. Don't let yourself rewrite the history of your marriage because of his indiscretion. People do things when they are grieving and frightened that they might not do under normal circumstances."