Priest response to spousal infidelity in marriage

Hello all,

I was troubled by a response that I was given by not one but two priests at the same parish concerning a question I had about spousal infidelity. Here’s the summary. I had a friend who sadly was involved in a sexual relationship with another person who was married. I was shocked when I heard the news, and I admit, with my passionate stance on fidelity, I had questioned whether this was a friendship I wanted to continue…hence, my reasoning for going and talking with a priest. I had posed the question to both of them, “Don’t you think it’s appropriate for the cheating partner to tell his spouse about the infidelity?”

His response…started with "typically, we counsel these person (s)…etc.etc.’

The use of “typically” almost made me lose faith in today’s climate on marriage (not the Priest’s fault), but what he and another priest said is that if the cheating partner is putting at risk the unity of the family or the wife, then, no, he should not tell his wife.

I had a REALLY hard time with this response. 1) so the cheating partner is not really responsible for his actions? 2), he is putting at risk the health of his wife if he gets any STD, 3) omitting the Truth is lying is it not? Did the Church just say it’s ok to lie?

If someone could kindly give me feedback on these responses, I would greatly appreciate, because I have been considering talking again to these Priests and telling them that I think this is bad counsel!

Just from similar threads I’ve read on here, it seems the response from priests is to not tell the spouse of the infidelity.

Now this is just me…my opinion and my opinion only…but I really don’t understand how one could keep such a thing a secret. Especially when, as you said, the health of the non-cheating spouse would be put at risk due to possible STD’s and such. You can get into a huge debate about whether or not keeping it a secret constitutes a lie, but either way, I think it’s just too big of a secret to keep.

Does the cheater know that you know? Have you broached the subject (aka quit it!) with him/her?

First, adultery is gravely sinful and simply should not happen in the first place.

If it has, does an adulterer have an absolute obligation to tell his spouse? Most family counselors will say no; that it often does more damage than good. Your assertion that failure to tell the spouse is “not being responsible” or “lying” is not something that professional counselors would support.

Many want to see (other) sinners shamed and exposed; but that may not be the best thing for their spouse and children. Leave vengeance to God.

My general opinion is that a couple ought to each know what the other thinks about these cases. Should spouses who commit an infidelity always tell? If only sometimes, then when? If they sometimes shouldn’t, then when?

This is the typical response alright. The logic is fairly simple I would think. The cheating spouse is in confession and want’s to be forgiven. The priest knows that telling the other spouse would probably cause a lot more trouble in the marriage. It’s not lying to just go on and try to be a better spouse in the future. It does depend on the situation. If the cheater has conceived a child, for example, the priest would probably counsel to tell the spouse. Generally though, I think it’s fairly easy to understand this approach. What exactly would telling the spouse achieve?

There are so many variables in this situation that it’s not always as simple as a one size fits all answer.

True, but I do think in most cases the priest would actually recommend that the cheater make up for it in some way and not bother telling their spouse. I can’t see how it would make anything better in most cases.

The Church is against lying but yes Withholding information is still an option. Is a priest lying to authorities by withholding what he hears in the confessional?

I think, personal life (non-public) life of another person is a matter between God and that person only. We should not get involved into that.

On the points raised by You:

  1. He is responsible. Before God. If he makes sincere penance, he is forgiven. There is no need to tell the spouse about that.
  2. That’s an issue for him and his conscience. If he gets an STD, that’s a hell of a punishment.
  3. No, omitting truth is not necessarily lying.

I agree. The priest needs to have the discernment that the penitent who confesses such sins is truly repentant. The penitent should also carefully follow the advice of the priest. It can very easily cause great pain to the spouse.

And then, again, there may be situations, that I do not understand about, where it should be discussed with the spouse.

OP, sadly yes, it seems that many priests tell adulterers not to tell the hurt spouse. I say “sadly” because that is contrary to the best knowledge that experts in helping couple in affair recovery know.

The damage done to the marriage is due to the affair, not due to confessing. As long as the involved spouse is keeping secrets with the affair partner from the hurt spouse, intimacy is lacking. Oftentimes the truth comes out and the damage is even greater when there has been a huge time lapse and the hurt spouse finally finds out. (Usually after suspecting and been lied to about it.)

Every time one of these threads come up, you can read the same things. And every time, I hear the involved spouse not even recognizing that s/he is still trying to control everything. They chose to leave the marriage for the affair and they get to force the hurt spouse to stay by withholding information. This is self preservation, not showing care for the hurt spouse.

I strongly recommend you get your friend to reach out to the people at


To JurisPrudens
2) That’s an issue for him and his conscience. If he gets an STD, that’s a hell of a punishment.

Yes, it is. But, it’s a hell of a punishment to his wife who would be at risk for an STD. Sadly, I knew another person who’s Father cheated. The Father ended up contracting AIDS, and the wife ended up contracting the disease and both ended up dying a couple years later. I hardly call these situations ‘protecting the marriage.’ …and if true intimacy needs to be built then what a better opportunity by confessing our sins to one another…in this case the spouses.

In my humble opinion, I think that the devil’s work needs to come to the light. One does so by confession no? But, then there has to be true repentance and acts of the will to doing better. How does a Priest know if someone is truly repentant? Unless the Priest has special graces to read souls, only a person knows their inner life. I also think that many spouses do know if their spouse has cheated…I think it’s the "two become one’ spiritual bond, where one knows intuitively when something is going wrong in the marriage. So, again, the ‘damage’ is already occurring at a subconscious level. This can be so unhealthy for any relationship when someone knows another has lied. It has the momentum to build resentment. I could speak so much more on this…but I will start with this…

Well said.

This is really none of the OP’s concern.
It’s become all the rage for people to doubt priests in the confessional, to question their advice…etc.
That, to me, is far more shocking.

We’re not to seek vengeance. Especially when there can be collateral damage.
No bueno.

Thank you for your excellent insights.

I’m thankful to say that I’ve never been cheated on by my husband, nor have I cheated on him. Therefore what I am about to say is strictly hypothetical (and hopefully will stay that way):

1.) If my husband cheated on me, I would want him to tell me. Whether I would want to stay in the marriage or not is something I don’t think I could attest to unless I were actually in the situation. But if he kept it a secret, I would feel lied to (I’m not making statements about whether withholding the information constitutes a lie or not, just saying how I would feel).

2.) If I cheated on my husband, I would feel a very strong need to tell him. I wouldn’t blame him for divorcing me or any anger or resentment he would have towards me, and honestly I wouldn’t necessarily expect him even to forgive me. But I would feel that withholding the information would be a lie (once again, I’m not making statements about whether withholding the information constitutes a lie or not, just saying how I would feel), and I wouldn’t want to stay in a marriage that harbored such a huge lie.

Some secondary thoughts…
It seems that a common idea I am seeing on this thread is the idea that asking the cheating partner to reveal his sins to his spouse (i.e. the cheating) is somehow ‘seeking vengeance.’ What about the idea that revealing our sins to the spouse is actually a sharpening of virtue?..and as many know, sharpening virtue can be painful! I actually think more damage is done psychologically to a person when the ‘cheater’ does not confess his/her wrongdoing to his/her spouse and that in turn has an affect on the marriage. TWO BECOME ONE!

UM…no. It seems someone wants him to suffer more humiliation, and give the wife ammo in the future.

True forgiveness is like Christ forgives. He forgets. He doesn’t ask us to revisit our crimes over and over.
People can’t do that for the most part.

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