Sometimes the choices we make hurt the people we love, even in marriage. Having an affair is one of those choices. While many conditions may exist in a marriage that lead to an affair, and may even make an affair look attractive, the fact is having an affair is hurtful to a spouse.

Many couples choose to participate in marriage counseling to recover from an affair, but often the admission of the affair comes before the couple begins counseling. The following points can aid in beginning this difficult conversation.

Why Have the Conversationwall

You are confused, angry, and feel guilt or shame over your actions. You are afraid telling your spouse will cause more harm and heartache than if you keep the affair to yourself. The problem is secrets function as invisible walls in a marriage. Not only is the affair a secret wall, but the lies surrounding an affair are a betrayal all their own. If you are hoping to recover from the affair and repair the marriage, then you will have to establish a foundation of transparency, vulnerability, and honesty with your spouse. This involves disclosing past betrayals and breeches of trust, including extramarital affairs.

How to Tell the Story

DoorWhen approaching the issue with your spouse, be direct and to the point. Disclose the affair without making excuses or trying to assign blame. Share your feelings. Are you regretful of your decision? Say it.  Do you feel guilt or shame for your actions? Share it. Are you sad about the turmoil you have caused in your marriage? Speak it. Consider the reaction your spouse is having. Is he or she hurt? Angry? Confused? All of these are completely normal reactions. Acknowledge the reaction of your partner as valid and completely justified. This information is likely a major blow, and every person reacts differently to trauma.

How to Talk About the Future

Finally, state your intentions for your marriage. Are you disclosing the affair because you hope to open a chapter of honesty? Say so. Are you wanting to make the marriage better? Share this intent with your partner. If you want to participate in marriage counseling, say that as well. Recognize that your spouse is most likely not in a place where they can make the same decision at this moment, but they will be able to after some of the shock of your admission has worn off. Make an active decision to maintain as much patience as possible, and be prepared to answer your spouse’s questions about the affair.

Resources to Help

There are many great resources to help you have this conversation, one of which is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. This book challenges you to examine your own assumptions and helps you manage emotions in a beneficial manner. For more information about affairs, check out Not “Just Friends” by Shirley Glass and Jean Coppock Staelheli.

Marriage counseling can be instrumental in mediating difficult conversations such as affair disclosure. Counseling can be a great step for you and your spouse to process what comes next in your marriage. Contact a therapist or read further on how affair recovery works.