I believe that confessing adultery to one’s spouse would open up HUGE can of worms. It may even result in divorce, and ultimately, deservedly so. However, if the one committing adultery is truly remorseful and has confessed to a priest, with the intention of not cheating outside of marriage again, would it be prudent to keep such transgression quiet from spouse?
There is no “Catholic” response, nor is there a single right or wrong answer. A person who finds himself in this position should seek counseling, either from the priest or another professional regarding the specifics of the situation.
Perhaps I worded it improperly. My interest lies specifically in whether to tell the spouse. I realize each situation is different, but I imagine there is a foundation of support for what to do. I have seen this in various denominations, but never from a Catholic position. If there is none, that in itself would be a Catholic position. My interest is genuine and for educational purposes. I hope I did not word it offensively.
It might depend on how likely it would be that the wife finds out anyway.
If there is a high chance then it would be better that the husband tells his wife and tries his hardest to keep the marriage together.
If there is little or no chance of the wife finding out then probably better to stay silent and stay faithful.
My inclination is that I think it’s generally a good idea to tell the spouse you committed adultery. If I committed adultery (which I wouldn’t) I would tell them. It is not charitable to protect people from edifying suffering; it is patronizing and belittling, and that kind of counterfeit maternal behavior is often an excuse for our own cowardice. If you tell them, it is going to hurt them, and it is going to hurt them a lot; do it anyway, even with the grave risks involved. Your spouse is your own flesh, and the organs of a body need to be in cooperation with one another, not harboring dark secrets. Let them help you, and in doing so, you can help them also.
If you’re in the situation personally, pray on it and talk to your pastor. There is no textbook answer to this question.
I believe the spouse needs to be told.
They have a right to know, the guilt needs to be removed from the transgressor and this is part of their healing. Yes, it does open up a WHOLE can of worms…but sin is something that needs to be purged away and it can sometimes be painful. We can’t “hide” a sin in the hopes of “saving” a marriage…the marriage is already obviously crippled and needs serious help…and both need to work on something ALWAYS.
Sin needs to be brought into the light…it’s part of the reason we go to confession…you see lots of disorders and sins that people are told by hell to keep in the dark…this only perpetuates and crippling effect, doesn’t allow a soul to grow, only permits more sin because “well, I’m already dirty and did it once” and may at some time cause scandal…lies have a tendancy to come to the light. The devil always “comes to collect”…if you will.
If you don’t speak to your spouse…look what other sins pile up.
You are living a perpetual lie of fidelity to your spouse
and a lie to the church and public… and being obstinate in it until death.
You are putting your spouse at risk for contracting a disease!
You are possibly setting yourself up to causing scandal to your family, marriage etc.
You are not living what marriage symbolizes or calls you to do for your spouse (by your mistrust in God’s grace and providence ).
The priest doesn’t just wipe everything under the rug for you… whenever I go to confession, the priest usually asks me to undo what I have done. Confession clears things up between you and the church and God and begins your healing and strengthening…but we still have to make amends and ALWAYS have a clear understanding of who we are.
Of course, there MUST be prudential judgement in this matter in how to handle speaking with your spouse about this (may need to be in front of priest or councilor etc etc). But it is a sin I believe MUST be brought to light. Can you imagine the weight of a soul who continued to live a marriage without bringing it out ? How could that soul progress?
Insofar as there’s an official “Catholic response,” I think it would refer to the moral obligation to do so.
As I understand it there is no such obligation. Certainly a priest would not require a penitent to do this as a condition for absolution. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a good idea for the health of one’s marriage. I tend to think that it would–that the harm done to marriage is done by the adultery in the first place, and that confession to the spouse is an important part of the healing of that harm. But that’s a prudential point on which one can disagree within the bounds of Catholic doctrine.
Bear in mind that at one time in the past a woman’s life would have been in danger (and less often a man’s as well–if, for instance, his wife told the other woman’s husband or something of that sort) if she confessed something like this. In that kind of social context I think it would definitely not be morally obligatory to confess your adultery.
In a contemporary social context, where the friendship aspect of marriage is crucial and people are no longer likely to be physically harmed if they confess adultery, I think it’s more likely to be a good idea to tell the spouse, because there would always (at least on your side) be a shadow over your relationship with your spouse if you knew you had been unfaithful and the spouse didn’t.
That being said, I’m not sure I’d have the courage to do this. I hope and pray that I will never be in the situation of having to put this to the test.
I see some problems with this line of thinking. I think we must be very careful not to confuse what is “nice” with what is loving.
It seems like you are implying here that “carrying a burden alone” is a good and noble sacrifice in marriage, and that “sharing the burden” with one’s spouse (esp. one that he/she has a right to know) is a weakness or the “easy way out,” while in reality, it is usually the opposite.
“Carrying the burden alone” can tempt us to feel self-righteous and see ourselves as a martyr for the marriage (“If only my spouse knew what a sacrifice I’m making for this marriage…”) rather than truly sorrowful. It can also become deceitful if not handled very, very carefully (which many people probably couldn’t do).
Remember that adultery is a transgression against one’s spouse (See CCC 2381). By hiding what has been done from the person sinned against, the adulterer could be showing distrust in God and in their spouse, and may be denying the spouse the opportunity to forgive and the marriage the opportunity to heal (even if forgiveness and healing take time).
The reason for hiding it (when we dig a bit deeper) is generally not because it is better for the spouse not to know (though we use that excuse), but that the adulterer feels it is better for themselves for their spouse not to know. Usually, the adulterer is attempting to avoid the natural consequences of their actions, with the idea that they are avoiding “hurting my spouse.” (And remember that the pain comes from the act of adultery itself; the damage has already been done.) But the reality is usually that they don’t want to hurt their spouse because it would be painful for themselves, as well–dealing with the hurt spouse’s feelings, owning up to the damage they have done to the relationship, and facing the issues that led to the adultery in the first place.
This is not to say that I think adultery should always and in all cases be confessed to the spouse, but that it generally should not be withheld, and when it is, ideally under the recommendation of a spiritual director and/or priest. The question is usually not whether this is going to hurt the spouse (of course it is!), but rather… what is truly best and most loving (in the long run) for my spouse and our marriage?
You know what else it does? It gives the spouse the Truth. It allows both spouses to be on the same page so that neither has to live a lie or hide a big dark secret from the other.
If you think that it is always wrong to tell the injured spouse because of some idea that it would be better for the injured spouse not to know you are dead wrong. There are plenty of people, I am one, who would far rather know the truth. The idea of my husband hiding an affair from me is sickening to me. If he ever had an affair, I want him to tell me so that we can work through it together, I don’t want him to hide it from me, either out of fear of the consequences of his actions or out of a misguided idea that he is somehow helping me. He would not be. If my spouse ever cheated on me I really believe I could forgive him and move on. It would take time, and work, but I could do it. If my spouse ever cheated on me and hid that fact from me and I found out? That I really do not think I could possibly forgive. And I’ve told him that, that if the unthinkable were to ever happen I need and want him to tell me, I don’t want to be forced to live a lie and I want our marriage to be able to truly heal ( which it never can if this stays in the dark).
Maybe next time before you give out such advice as though it is always better, “for the sake of the injured spouse” to keep it a secret, there are some people who would prefer that, but there are also people who do not, who feel that such an action would be another act of betrayal on the part of their adulterous spouse. It is very wrong for an adulterer to hide an affair from his spouse if they are like me and think hiding this it is a terrible offense against them and a terrible betrayal. It is just not true that it is always better for the spouse to hide it. Instead the adulterer should carefully, and honestly determine what his spouse in particular would want. If his spouse is one of those who would rather know or not, and then act accordingly because if his spouse would want to know and the adulterer hides it from them all the adulterer is doing is adding offense upon offense against the injured spouse. It is wrong to advise people to do this.
I’m sorry if I came across as being sanctimonious. I am not claiming that every spouse should know, in fact, if you reread my post I am very careful to show that there are some people who would prefer to know and that it is fine to hide it from them. If you intended to make the same distinction I did then I am glad to know we are in agreement. The problem I had with your post was that you simply stated that it harms the injured spouse to tell them and that therefore the adulterer must keep quiet. Because you had no modifications that sounded as though you were making a universal claim that it is always better to hide the truth from the injured spouse. But, as I said, if that is not what you meant it seems we are in agreement.
You might quite clearly not want to know, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know, both for your spouses sake, and even for your own sake.
The problem with ‘wanting’ is that people are really pretty poor at knowing what they really do or don’t want. We are not ideal thinkers and we do not always follow thoughts and endeavors to their ultimate conclusion. You might not want to know because you would fear that it would sour the marriage for literally the rest of your life, and that you would never be able to have the kind of camaraderie that you once had, so you suppose that it is better to have solace in ignorance. It’s like how a person thinks whenever they lose somebody dear to them: “I will never be happy again”. And yet, very often, they do indeed find happiness again. The fact is, marriages rise and fall just like people do: some of the worst marriages can be salvaged into ultimately extremely vibrant ones. If a spouse is hiding something as severe as adultery from another spouse, then it is improbable for any real healing or growth to come out of it. ‘Bearing a cross alone’ is a foreign concept to Christianity, especially between two spouses. When Jesus fell, and Simon took up the cross with him, Jesus did not push him away. Jesus, because of his holiness, acknowledged, “Yes. I am weak. I am wounded. I am exhausted. You may help me.” And do you suppose that Simon was worse off from the experience? Very doubtful. It would turn out to be exceedingly the most glorious moment in his life.