The Lover’s Monologue

I could have written all those fucking 7,8,9 or 100 ways to save your marriage articles. I tried everything I read for decades.

How many relationship “experts”, writers and doctors preach honesty and openness? How many times in 20 years have I opened my heart to her, told her my hopes and dreams, listened to hers, answered her most probing questions about what turned me on or off, what she needed in bed…I tried. It was so hard to be honest, despite her insisting. I didn’t want to hurt her. I knew my words would hurt her. The truth hurts.

What she didn’t tell me, probably didn’t know herself was that she couldn’t handle hearing what she wanted to know. Early in our marriage she would ask me about my fantasies, first like it was a game, like she was being cute about it. And when I refused to tell her, she got irritated and moody. 

But I was embarrassed and it was hard to talk about. It was extremely uncomfortable and felt a little dangerous, like exposing my weaknesses. After a while I think she was driven by this thing, this idea of something I was holding back from her, and demanded to know what I fantasized about–she wanted it in the name of honesty. While it was important to be honest, I also knew some things just needed to be kept to myself. I resisted hard.

But she was clearly disturbed about me keeping something from her, so I gave in. When I told her some of the things I got off on masturbating in my younger days…and occasionally afterward, she got quiet, then distant and then hurt. I watched it happen, the changes cross over her face like a quick moving time-lapsed eclipse. 

She wouldn’t talk about it for a long time. And when she did, she tearfully confessed she couldn’t do what I wanted. She didn’t like anything that might be painful and then it got so messy because I told her I didn’t actually want these things from her, which was the right thing to say but she took it wrong like I wanted it from someone else or didn’t think her capable; it broke down from there into silence and brooding anger. 

Just one of the many breakdowns and resentments that collect and heap up over time.

Be open and honest. Right. How much is too much honesty? Not enough? This is the person I chose to share everything with, who I counted on to build me up not tear me down for what I think or say. I always felt she was on my side and wanted what was best for me. I still do. But there is a slow but steady growing crack widening in us we can’t seem to repair. 

There were other misunderstandings that ended in injured feelings, both of us shut down and protective of our own. She casually mentioned one too many times that the company should give me more time off, more pay, more respect, just more of… what?  What SHE wanted? Was she defending me or looking out for her own interest? 

It’s degrading to be reminded you don’t make as much as you should or have as much as you deserve. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t work there. There’s a sense of how things operate, something she couldn’t know. And for someone so sensitive, it’s downright insensitive not to know how that burns. 

Now I sound like her with the mindreading. She should know…I should know…No, I should have told her how that humiliated me. Not angrily but calmly. But then…I’d been burned so many times by that whole honesty thing before.

My head just spins with this shit. No wonder so many of my college buddies weren’t too keen on getting married any time soon, preferring sex, partying and freedom. Funny, how I judged them then as shallow. Maybe they in their blind denial intuited the danger, all the pitfalls of relationships going long, going stale, expecting too much, tolerating too little…I just chalked them up to chickenshits. But maybe they were right.  

And yet I couldn’t imagine life without her. Too painful. The struggles you suffer and overcome, my dad described as the ups and downs of marriage: “it ain’t easy but it ain’t that hard either.” Yeah? Seems pretty damned difficult sometimes. It’s fucking hard! 

Then again, it’s harder to give up…until there’s nothing to give up, like knowing when you’re bested or outdone, checkmated. There’s no point in trying. Until then, you just keep figuring it out.

The House of Mirrors





Windows open the flies get in and buzz around occupant ears
and the neighbors see if anyone’s home to borrow a few eggs.
Prying eyes into unshuttered houses make movement cribbed
self-consciously checking on words, their tone and expression
so no one calls the cops when the screaming sounds so loud
that anxious stares cannot bear the cruel curiosity any longer.

Unlocked doors welcome strangers in along with friendly foes
to sit in the kitchen nook to wait for cold beer and sandwiches,
served in feigned welcome smiles wary of wrong impressions.
When doors swing wide the wind bellows loudly, wild howling
that outsiders mistake for babies neglected and other abuses
a lure for authorities of watchful interrogations lying in waiting.

An open house with glass walls like an atrium of family fronds
is a sociological study of disordered habits of broken subjects
where gourds are lasered open with surgical knives illumined
reflecting wide-eyed grimaced faces of fun house mirror halls
that release shrieks of wailing laughter hysterically unleashed
while witnesses nod in knowing affirmation of suspicious spin.

Confessional containers confine the inhabitants in cool cages
bars silvan with tales and typecasts for the people’s comfort,
the rack to rest their hats on in assurances wide in ever after.
“We always knew she was untrustworthy, her nose in the air,
and look at her children’s friends with the pierced nose rings.”
To lay bare what can be seen is like carelessly losing a home.

Guest Post: Telling Everyone


The week after my husband told me he thought he was in love with someone else, I emailed a
group of close girlfriends with the news. My words must have been hysterical because the very next
night they stopped their busy-lives-kids-husbands-making-dinner-supervising-homework and told me to
meet them at a local café, which I did, where we sat and drank tea and I wept and wept and wept. And
they listened.

After that night, I decided that I simply had to tell people. Everyone. Anyone. My friends, my
family, his family, a few co-workers, the woman in front of me at the supermarket, the moms of my
daughter’s peers. I remember thinking that if I tell enough people, it won’t hurt so much. If I tell enough
people, no one will blame me. If I tell enough people, they will nod knowingly when we get divorced (or
when I kick him out, which I inevitably did, in my rage. He came back though. That’s for another blog

And soon, hearing the news, friends and family began to react in ways that told me more about
them than about me and this infidelity experience. My closest girlfriends started to call, phoning to tell
me they love me, they are here for me, an invisible army out beyond the house where I can’t see them,
rows and rows of people who support me unconditionally, waiting there to hold me in my arms if I
needed holding or walk with me to happiness when I was ready to walk. My mom, in an atypical
expression of outward emotion, told me she would be there for whether we got divorced or stayed
married. A few friends, both male and female, told me they’d happily get in line to kill, maim, or
strangle my husband (one of them sounded uncomfortably serious). A couple of girlfriends admitted
they were so angry
with him that they didn’t know how they were going to work through that (they are
still struggling, I think, because their manner is different around him now). One friend never mentioned
it, not for the entire five months of the affair nor the following two years of marriage recovery; to this
date she does not bring it up or ask me how I am.

I know that my story, and my telling everyone so openly and forcefully, was terrifying to many
of our friends. “If this could happen to her, could it happen to me?” went the unstated refrain. “Would
my husband do this? Is he capable of such a choice?” No one ever spoke those words but I knew they
were there. My experience was a threat, something “other” that loomed on the edge of our nice middle
class world.

And yet. While this support was so beautiful, so unwavering, and so key to my eventual survival,
there was something missing. No one said, “Hey I’ve been there.” No one ventured, “My sister has been
through this.” I felt as if I was the only human on earth whose husband had betrayed her. Of course I’d
heard about infidelity in movies and books, with celebrities and politicians but I did not know
anyone else like me who had been through it. Anyone else like me: educated semi-suburban wife and
mom, married 20+ years, seemingly happy (though the marriage bore cracks) and basically successful.
Feeling so uniquely marked in this way was like a scarlet “I” (for infidelity) worn, invisibly, on my
forehead for an entire year. It was only later, once we began to rebuild our relationship and I started
sharing with people too about that effort, that three girlfriends came to me with their own infidelity
stories. Suddenly I was not alone.

Cross-posted on,, and

Laura S.
Executive Director
Infidelity Counseling Network 

Mistress Gone Ballistic


I have written of the lure and power of confession before, the cost and benefit to confessor and hearer. Clearly some confess to atone, to bring on the flogging. That is what must be going on in this short advice column Q & A in, “Ask E. Jean: The Other Woman Etiquette.”

Surely there is a plea to be judged and condemned by the inquirer and E. Jean the advice columnist is only too happy to do so. Why else would a woman expose herself so when she could have easily kept it to herself or sought less public advice, like the therapist E. Jean suggests? I have to wonder at the authenticity of this piece. If not for self-flagellation, what motivates someone to seek an advice columnist, exposing herself publicly to disdain, being judged as someone so crazed or callous as to have committed the act for which she seeks atonement? Maybe it’s made up.

I am not judging (though it sure seems like it). Crimes of passion happen and are treated differently in the law from murder by reason of just that sort of mindlessness that negates intent to do harm, the lack of premeditative hurt and the acknowledgement that this state of mind is part of being human all too often. Some acts are far too provocative–say, catching your wife in bed with another–so that collateral damage is if not excusable then predictable at least.

But I always pause when I read about passion disasters, ponderous at those reported burns so deep that the blacked out mind ceases to direct the body’s actions any longer. Don’t get me wrong. I have suffered blind rage and mindless ecstasy. Perhaps I have been fortunate not to have utterly destroyed anyone or anything in my wake of near total obliteration, not that I know of anyhow.

Only near total obliteration. Somehow the little cricket conscience has chirped audibly enough for me to catch my breath, effect a re-set. The thought of destroying someone else in rage has no doubt occurred to me, but the gear shift from thought to action is sobering. Because sometimes it is just too late and too tragic to say I am sorry. That is what E. Jean and I believe about this mistress story. I have copied the entire short advice piece below.

Dear E. Jean: I have a question about the etiquette of being “the other woman.” The married man with whom I’d been having an affair told me I was “too needy” and that his “shoulders are not for [my] problems.” I was so angry that I texted his wife and ratted him out. I also called his sister and mother-in-law and told them I was pregnant with his child.

It was a lie. I was not pregnant. But I had reached the end of my rope when he ignored an important text I’d sent him. I was not only furious about being ignored, but I was hurt because he was emotionally unavailable to me. Now I feel terrible about what I’ve done. This is not the kind of person I am. How can I clear my conscience and move on from this? —Wronged Woman

Woman—Please: The man is a scoundrel. He was unfaithful to his wife. But you? What you did was so cruel, so half-witted, so dirty, so over the top, causing so much pain to so many people—and if any children suffer the slightest anguish because of your lie (if the man has kids and you cause a divorce)—I don’t want you to “clear your conscience.” Actually, I want you to go to a therapist.

Ask E. Jean: How Do I Make Peace With His Ex?
The shrink will help you understand that a married man is by definition “unavailable.” (I have the sickening feeling that you’re one of those sparkling Paula Broadwell–esque hotheads for whom “uproar’s your only music,” as Keats said. Hence, I’m not going to yammer all day about therapy. I just want you to give it a whirl and see if you can grok what’s going on and come to a deeper, truer understanding of your life.)

For your own honor, you must now write three letters. The man’s wife, his mother-in-law, and his sister should each receive one—handwritten in ink, on serious cream-colored stationery. Apologize for your heinous lies, take full blame for the affair, and say you led him into it. Yes, we know he’s a bastard. Yes, we know you’re not the Dalai Lama. But make this your one great, selfless act. Your remorse and honesty will restore your dignity, help three people deal with a catastrophe, and show what “kind of person” you are, really.

Oscar Wilde on Confession


There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.

Oscar Wilde

“Confessions of a Former Mistress”


A Warning From a Former Mistress: Confessions of a Former Mistress on the site called is dressed up as an advice piece (anonymous, it seems) to those considering the mistress role. She starts off: “This is a warning from a former mistress to anyone who thinks it’s worth the risk to get involved with a married man.”

Her effort at the start seems genuine and straight forward. She has a case to make. Her claim is clear in the last sentence of the first paragraph. She also establishes her ethos, her credibility, and accurately assesses her targeted audience, who she knows will be critical. Since she knows most people will be wary of her as a former mistress, she anticipates the guarded reaction and attempts to disarm the reader positing herself as a credible (she knows of what she speaks because she has been there) and self-aware source:

I know this isn’t an easy topic for a lot of people to relate to and surely not one that will elicit a lot of sympathy for me and that’s okay. I am who I am because of the decisions I have made in life. I am not proud of all of them but they are still a part of me. I know that despite how you may feel about my decisions you will at least respect my honesty in regards to this topic, I thank you for that. So here it is, a warning from a former mistress.

She borders on defensive when she declares her own satisfaction with her life decisions but equally sensitive to audience sensibility; she preempts vilification with her own tempered version of light self-flagellation. She is also gracious in thanking her reader in advance for appreciating her gift of honesty. So far so good: protocol of moderate tone and first elements of an argument are met, well done.

Our former mistress then goes directly to the advice she has to give, again courteously and with the gravity commensurate to the urgency of her advice:

If you think that you want to get involved with a man in a relationship or a married man PLEASE realize that you’re gong to have to deal with the following:

You often feel like shit about yourself
One or the other will eventually start to feel “more” and somebody’s feelings get hurt
There is no way that it can last forever. In the end somebody decides it doesn’t work for them anymore
The person not in the “serious” relationship is left alone at the end of this tryst and the “committed” person goes back to their “happy” relationship.
You have no right to be angry when they say they want to “try to work things out” with their significant other.
You are left with no leg to stand on and somehow your feelings don’t seem to matter
There is often a heightened sense of emotion and passion that will not last once the “thrill” of the affair ebbs.
Your tears go unshed until they aren’t around because nobody wants a mistress who sobs all over them, we are supposed to be eternally patient, sexually satisfying, fun, and devoid of the stresses of reality. (Read-unfeeling fuck machines)

And then she loses me. So this is not what it is purported to be after all. It was just a guise, a set up, and I, like other readers, fell for it. She isn’t offering advice to everyone, only for those who are exactly like her and her ex-lover. And if I read the title and introduction correctly, this is purporting to be well-meaning advice for someone–anyone–who even thinks about getting involved with a married man.

Some of her list of mistress woes is mere common truths attributable to any relationship: unequal love between lovers, passion that fades over time, and loathsome cry baby acts of finding out the man she loves is not what she created him to be. The other items, her deal. Not much of her list pertains to any old mistress, and so, in argument terms, her argument is a fallacy of hasty generalization.

This is not a warning but a confession. She chose the wrong man to love because, by adding up the complaints in her account, he was a selfish, callused user. She admits she was allured by need, desire, excitement and passion, probably good looks, and ignored the glaringly obvious: he was married–and not to her.

This is a confession of someone who loved and lost, and it’s an age-old story. She offers nothing to the wannabe mistress here, but she does unwittingly offer general advice to anyone about to fall in love: keep your eyes open and clear. Don’t fall in love using only your heart and loins. Beware of your own susceptibility based on your needs and weaknesses, so that you can protect yourself. Isn’t that the advice a parent gives her daughter?

Not all married men go back to their wives, however, unless you consider divorcing the wife to marry the mistress who is just another wife, and remarkably much like the one he divorced. Not all men are heartless and are unconcerned about the suffering of the mistress, only wanting her to be fun and sexy and carefree. We don’t get the picture from his side. Maybe he felt the double guilt of deceiving his wife and depriving his mistress. Maybe that guilt was too much for him and the story of going back to his wife was pre-textual.

In the article, she admits to being reckless about who she falls in love with. She admits to knowing what she was getting into with a married man, but wasn’t careful. Yet she details how bitterly she endured the teary nights alone when she had a bad day and the joyful moments alone, not even able to share by phone, in her times of triumph and happiness. Even as she excuses herself for being foolish or blind, she wants the reader to both condemn and forgive her; she wants to atone and so offers her advice to spare others. That’s the contrition surrounding confession.

So why am I sharing this?
I know I won’t garner a whole lot of sympathy here. After all, I did know what I was getting myself into. I’m the home wrecker, the destroyer of relationships. I deserve to feel like shit…I should feel like shit for what I am doing to these other women. That’s what anyone who has been cheated on is thinking/feeling and you have every right to. I guess I just wanted to say to those women who are on the edge, considering entering into an “other woman” situation…please don’t. Please think long and hard about it.

I don’t buy it. The unburdening confession relieves the confessor at the expense of the hearer or reader. She feels guilty (not about the wife it seems) and stupid because, ironically, she was deceived. She duped herself into believing something other than what was right in front of her eyes, and so is guilty of emotional self-mutilation. Yes, he was guilty of not taking responsibility for she who he knew was in love with him, but she maintained the tryst until it hurt good enough to quit.

This is her confession. I will make one of my own: I sympathize and empathize with her. Likewise a former mistress but also a wife, I understand the stigma attached to that role, one that threatens social order as well as individual injury. It’s not playing by established rules. It’s unethical and immoral in some minds, often in the mind of the mistress herself. I believe I have presented many viewpoints on this blog from the vulnerable parties in a mistress relationship. This author brought one more viewpoint, that of a specific mistress.

If she were not an admitted mistress but confessed to having fallen in love with the wrong man who made her suffer because of her poor choices, sympathy and empathy would be forthcoming. Readers know it’s human nature to be somewhat self-destructively blind in love. However, because there is sin, social stigma, jealousy and deceit associated with her, judgment overrides sympathy for the mistress. Clearly the wife was unaware of the affair and apparently he was not forthright with the mistress or the wife.

However, there are mistress relationships that scaffold marriages, if not in the short run, then in the long run. I would like to believe I was in one of those mistress relationships that helped two people stay married. The need for passion I fulfilled in my married lover was a charge to keep him going, maybe long enough to realize that his wife, the mother of his children, long-time mate, friend, and partner was invaluable. Or maybe he discovered what some people do: there isn’t all that much out there better than what he had. My trade value was unequal to what he had already.

I met Wayne in grad school when he was married with young children. I was married too, but separated, amicably and consensually. My husband needed to explore his sexuality. And indeed I did my own exploring. However, getting involved with a married man was not my intention. We were in the same class together, goofing around gigglers passing silly notes, and were study partners. And then, after a few beers in a pub one night, it happened. I had gotten my ass kicked in class in a mock trial sort of exercise, and he was friend enough to console me, buy me a beer.

It was irresistible passion in an instant that appeared to burst forth spontaneously, uncontrollably from nowhere. Afterwards, we carried on an affair for the six years or more I was separated with my husband. Wayne and I were all about passion, adolescent rediscovery of sex and intrigue. We had the commiseration of struggling students with stressful sabotaging spouses. He complained about his wife not understanding, thwarting his efforts, bored with sex…the usual. He felt like a desired man again. I was in love. He was in love. He struggled, I think, with leaving his wife, but looking back, I seriously doubt he ever could. He adored his kids and loved his wife of 15 or 20 years at that time too.

At first I was jealous of her. I wanted him to myself, to leave his wife, but never dared to demand that. Such a drastic decision had to be his; I never wanted to be blamed for inducing that. He had to live with his conscience and take care of his own. I was open about the affair with my husband, and I knew it hurt him very much. Even though we were separated upon his suggestion and for his needs, he was deeply hurt by my affair with Wayne and I felt guilty for hurting him, though I did not feel as if I were betraying him.

It was complicated. Perhaps I was self-deluded, but I did not feel my part was wrong. Yes, there was a deceived wife, but I felt that was Wayne’s deceit and I had no obligation to be honest to her, only to my husband and me. Until I met his wife.

The first time I met Wayne’s wife and kids, ages 7 and 11, it was in their home. We had been studying in the library until late in the evening, and I honestly cannot remember why he wanted me to go home with him, but I did. There is something strange about that desire on his part: an almost confession or provocation. Did he think his wife would somehow sense the affair palpably and possibly demand a divorce so the decision would have been made for him? Was he tempting fate?

While his daughter was congenial as was his wife–both have that personality–the son, older, was more wary and brooding about my presence. Children have an inarticulable sense about situations that adults do not, generally. They sense something out of place. Dad brought home a young (I am 7 years younger) woman who is his study friend. Hmmmm…And for a boy, there may have been an unconscious defensive reaction to protect his mom. I could have imagined all of this, but I can state undeniably that I was horribly uncomfortable. I felt I oozed the secret, flashed it in neon.

I later saw his wife and kids on a few occasions, and though my presence was more familiar, and I was more inured to being in the presence of my lover’s family, the huge question mark hanging in the air never disappeared for me. Did I feel guilt? Yes. Did I feel shame? A little. Did I feel as if I were betraying her? No. She was not my responsibility in any real sense, only in the abstract sense of one fellow human being’s duty to protect another from injury. I didn’t believe then that she suffered injury since she didn’t know about the affair. In fact, I thought she was getting both the better and worse end of the deal. She had him every night and every morning, except for rare occasions I could count on one hand that I spent the night with him.

Did I suffer as did our confessor mistress? Definitely. I felt hurt, lonely, aching and jealous when I could not sleep with him at night, when I longed to feel his breathing body on mine. I shed tears of disappointment, fear and frustration, although I had then as I do now friends and family to confide in. I soared the heights of ecstasy too and learned so much about my own sexuality, my own body.

The relationship deeply satisfied my sense of adventure and romance, my need to be consumed and desired that was lost over time or was never there with my husband. But after several years, it was just another relationship that was growing fermented like used car love, the settling in kind, dinged up with lots of negotiated curves of disagreements.

He wanted monogamy, even as he knew he had no right to demand it. But we humans do that sort of illogical dance, don’t we? After realizing he was not divorcing his wife any time soon or ever, I wanted to date others during my separation. It was the year–my 30th–I discovered orgasm. Since I married my husband when I was just turning 20, I had some catching up to do. For a precocious girl with early sexual experience, I knew nothing about sex or my body. My formative years may have been in the sixties and seventies, but my parents’ heyday was the fifties.

Wayne and I did eventually break up. Maybe he thought I didn’t withstand the test of time to warrant leaving his wife for me. Maybe he never told me his intentions about us being more or nothing more than an affair. Maybe I kept my options open, impatient for something more concretely promising from him. In any event, we were growing older. I needed to settle in with a partner or a sperm donor or forego having children forever.

When my husband and I moved back in together, I was four months pregnant with our first born. Wayne and I remained good friends and still are today. Our families have spent holidays and other occasions together since we were later colleagues.

The time Wayne and I spent together was medicine. When we dropped the expectation of a future married us–when we opened our eyes to see what we really had and not what we invented–we enjoyed each other until we could no longer. In six years, we each had moments of mismatched expectation, but when we were aligned, it was good: just two people loving each other.

Gathering all of the evidence and speculation, I believe I helped him survive his marriage by providing the escape valve, relief from frustrating and castrating neglect and loneliness that comes with long term marriages with kids. A wife and lover who becomes a mother often becomes temporarily or permanently less of a wife and lover. Her devotion of time, effort and love shifts from mate to children, forgetting that he gave her those gifts. Much of my own physical need for affection was fulfilled by my children when they were little, so I was touched out by the end of the day with little of me left to spare.

Like so many neglected mid-life husbands, Wayne needed to feel loved and appreciated. He also needed a return to the wild of his glory days, to get it out of his system and to re-realize that all relationships are work and look the same with the seasoning of time. I’m guessing. Maybe those are my projections and conclusions. In any event, his kids are grown with kids of their own, and he is still married twenty years later.

So not every mistress story is about falling for the married man who abuses her, exposing her great lack of self esteem. That may be part of the story, but you can be sure that isn’t the whole story. Any relationship is made of distinct parties that bring a mix of genetics and history unique to that constituted whole of a couple or a triangle.

Contrary to our confessor, I neither advocate for nor condemn the role of the mistress; I merely offer an experience for consideration, to be read, evaluated, and/or judged as the reader will. Some may say the mistress always deals in dishonesty. However, honesty is a virtue that is never exercised indiscriminately, and the trust developed in a relationship is one prescribed by the parties, their specific agreement to acceptable parameters. There is no one size fits all formula for living, loving and learning a long life intertwined with others.

Should a Cheater Confess?


Cheating: a lot of people do it, but hardly anyone talks about it.

Now, thanks to Whisper — a free online app where people anonymously share secrets — we have a little more insight into an otherwise private situation.

That is what I read in The Huffington Post the other morning while poking around the Internet. Apparently this anonymous confessing site is not the only one either. This idea has been around for a while on, which asks its participants to send in postcards with secrets–so I learned from my girlfriend.

Now what could be the benefit of an anonymous confessional app or space? I know the power of confession is great, a purging, and the anonymity allows for the confession, but how does that change anything for the confessor, the voyeurs looking on, or the couple? I can understand the voyeur part, as misery loves company is not a cliche for nothing, and perhaps the redeeming factor for such a site is for those who peer into others’ lives not just for vicarious thrills but to shore themselves up to do something about their own cheating or their significant others’ like confront or confess to the real live partner.

But as for the cheater confessing, what does that do other than provide a momentary relief of built up pressure that comes with holding in a really big secret. Does it alleviate the guilt associated with the act by justifying that others have done so too? Does it allow someone to reduce the self-hatred that comes with the act by seeing that he/she is not alone or the only person who has ever cheated? I can see how some would benefit from such a site. But for the serial cheaters and sociopaths, this site may actually be a narcissist’s delight; look at my exploits.

I believe the real need for confession comes in not merely commiseration but in communication and validation. If one carries a dark shameful secret, it works the mind of the carrier into shame and guilt, distorted thoughts of proportions from “I’m a bad person “to “no one has been as evil as I am.” If someone on either end of the scale confesses the secret and the hearer does not run away or burn up in the hearing, or the confessor does not explode, then the test of validation has occurred. He or she thinks in relief, “I said this terrible admission but the other is still looking at me as if I were a human being. Or, maybe, even sympathy or empathy.”

Human beings need continual confirmation that they/we are all together in being human. It’s lonely living in your own skin. There is no perspective, no context sometimes. The human egocentric being will distort the degree of horribleness of his crime or sin commensurate to how he feels about what he risks losing in having done that shameful deed: dignity, moral standing, trust, stature, jobs, friends, lovers, spouse and/or kids. For marital strayers, the need for confession depends upon that experience of projected loss and degree of guilt, whether religiously or secularly framed.

Confession as therapy has a long history from Freud’s “talking cure” and later Jung’s stages of wellness. Jung believed confession was integral to therapy and was one of the specific steps to recovering wellbeing. Others, philosophers like Michel Foucault, saw the confession as an institutionalized demand by society’s officials, the confession recipients. Whether criminal, medical, psychological or religious, confession is an extraction of personal details for the purposes befitting the one with greater power, the confessor’s hearer, i.e., police, doctors, and priests, according to Foucault. By the act of confession, one person is dependent upon the other for the hearing, the pardon, the judgment or non-judgment as the case may be, the punishment. One of the two-party configuration is in a position of power and the other is spotlighted in the gaze of the other, awaiting her fate.

When it comes to ‘straying’ spouses, should the offender confess to his or her partner? The answer to that question will vary according to the agenda or, not so cynically, the orientation of the advisor. Religious advisors may consider the moral character and state of the soul of the offender as paramount, whereas a psychologist may consider the long and short term damage to either or both spouses and the marriage itself.

In the small sampling of articles I perused on the subject from,, and, the answer seems to be: it depends. Only one of the aforementioned seems intransigently prescriptive: in other words, here is what you have to do to make this work, regardless of the circumstances. The other articles weighed the grave injury to the non-offending spouse against the need for honesty and seeking for forgiveness of the offending spouse.

Some argued that it may be best not to tell for the irrevocable injury it would cause to the innocent spouse (I use these terms bluntly and descriptively only) not only in context of the marriage, which may well break up, but future going for the next relationship he or she enters, trusting issues, for example. Others advocate risking the injury and the probable breakup for the power and virtue in honesty and the contrition with which the honesty is given. Most agree that each case is different, which makes sense since each couple is comprised of specific individuals, not a common class of people.

Confession in itself is a rich source of contemplation, its ubiquity (Isn’t all social media confession?), its therapeutical properties and ritualistic sedimentation in cultures throughout the world, as well as its artistic value. One of my favorite poets, Sylvia Plath, harkens from what has been termed the Confessional Poets of the 50s and 60s, along with Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton, characterized by very personal subject matter such as domesticity, relationships and sexuality: novel for its time but pretty old hat now. Who doesn’t write the personal?

To delve in more deeply and expansively, I consulted the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion and found an interesting morsel in an abstract of an article by Morgan Stebbins titled “Confession”:

The act of confession either begins a process of reparation or affirms the subject’s relationship with the transpersonal. That is, one can confess wrongdoing or confess one’s faith. In most religious traditions, the former is accomplished through ritualized admission, absolution, and repair, while psychologically it begins the formation of therapeutic trust and unburdens the subject of poisonous secrets….The word confess is made up of the Latin com (together) and fateri (to acknowledge), indicating that a process of change begins both with another person and by admitting that which is in error.

Getting back to C.G. Jung, in The Journal of Religion and Health, Elizabeth Todd in “The Value of Confession and Forgiveness According to Jung” describes confession according to Freud’s successor, as one of need by virtue of being human:

Man, a naturally religious being, has a need to confess his wrong and to gain forgiveness of one sanctioned to absolve. The curative effect of confession has been known for centuries. Without confession, man remains in moral isolation. Priests, ministers, and rabbis, as well as psychotherapists, attest to the universality of this human phenomenon. Confession is located in that place where psychology and religion meet-guilt. Jung’s views on confession bridge the chasm between psychology and religion.

Confession is relationship by its very nature. One confesses to an other, human or deity/spirit. Implicit in someone unburdening a wrong committed against the hearer is the hearer’s consequent carrying that burden; confession is a complex configuration of moral, ethical, and personal obligations and considerations of fairness, rights and compassion.

Does one who cheats have the right to feel better by unloading the gnawing secret on the one on whom he cheated or is he nobler to suffer quietly the burden of that dark knowledge and guilt so as to keep the other unharmed? If morality and personal integrity is the sole consideration, then isn’t the secret holder/strayer obligated to be honest regardless of the consequences for the ultimately highest purpose of integrity and rebuilding trust, i.e., if I confess the impossibly difficult, I show you I am capable of being honest going forward? What role does the other play as mere listener, forgiver and rebuker? Is honesty always the best policy? Your thoughts?