Reading a recent Dear Chump Lady brought an old question to mind. In your article on 11/8, Thomas’s wife suddenly fessed up (sort of), out of the blue, to a years-long affair. It reminded me of one of my lying exes when I was younger, and of stories I’ve heard from other people. What do you think of ‘spontaneous’ cheater confessions? Personally, I detect a strong whiff of horseshit, and I think there must be something else going on that prompted these confessions. A sudden attack of conscience seems, well, out of character.
After a horrible long-term relationship, I briefly dated a guy I met at work who seemed compatible. Things didn’t progress beyond second base before I found out that he wasn’t single, he lived with his long-term girlfriend. I told him to go to hell and that if he didn’t tell her, I would. He found it in his heart to “spontaneously” inform her of the affair and blamed it on him being stressed out by her having cancer (I wish I were kidding). I found out the crap he was spewing when she called me to tell me to step off her man. I heard a few months later that he’d been doing a hell of a lot more than cuddling and sharing a milkshake with OTHER girls. She married him anyway.
The other “spontaneous” cheater confession I’ve heard much detail about comes from a high school friend who married her college sweetheart. He went away for the weekend with friends and when he came home, spontaneously confessed that he’d had a “one time” sexual encounter a year ago with a coworker. He even helpfully provided the contact info for his affair partner. My friend screamed at the supposed OW for hours, and this woman just took it and apologized profusely. Meanwhile, they’d had a VERY rough year for money… no explanation, her husband just brought home less money suddenly. If it was really only one time, what explains that? I guess it could all be coincidence, but I doubt it. They’ve got children together and she accepted his first explanation, so they’re still together.
So really, what’s up with these “spontaneous” confessions? Are they all crap like Pete’s (the jerk I dated)? Do these people sometimes feel sudden, genuine remorse, or is my bullshit detector calibrated okay? I think it’s something they whip out to manage impressions when they think the shit’s about to hit the fan.
Like you, I am skeptical about spontaneous confessions.
If you work from the premise that cheating comes from a sense of entitlement and narcissism, it does beggar belief that the weight of the cheater’s conscience suddenly eclipses their need for kibbles.
Think about it, if you were a cheater and you were screwing around for a couple months and you were getting an icky feeling that this was Wrong, your decision tree is Tell or Do Not Tell. Dear Abby used to tell cheaters to be better spouses and carry this to the grave, and of course Never Do It Again. (I’m not weighing in on that advice now, but consider how tempting that would sound if you were a cheater.) Telling would be the braver choice, or so it would appear, because then the spouse can make an honest decision about the marriage and you can reconcile with the whole ugly truth. RIC encourages this, and stories abound about how much better the cheater feels for unburdening his or her soul.
But I don’t really buy it. I think it’s far more tempting to a cheater to keep it on the down low. I think this would be the preferred choice if you were one of those remorseful cheaters. Why hurt my spouse unnecessarily? I’ll vow never again! And I think this would be the preferred choice if you were NOT remorseful. Not telling keeps the door open for future cake.
Cheaters who tell have a host of reasons for telling that have absolutely NOTHING to do with their burdened souls. So why would they tell?
1) They want to get to the narrative first. As you pointed out, cheaters may “confess” because someone is threatening to confess for them, and so they rush to get to the narrative first and do damage control. Most likely, it’s the affair partner who is threatened to tell if they don’t. Or it could be some other person with knowledge of the affair. The most advantageous thing to do is tell, because then you can minimize and control the flow of “trickle truth” (otherwise known as lies of omission).
2) They’re grooming you for future cheating. I think cheaters telling chumps about their exploits is a really disordered way of goading chumps into doing the pick me dance. The tell to see what you’ll do, and being narcissists, they’re pretty certain you’ll dance pretty to keep the wonderfulness that is them. They’ll notice how hard you try, they’ll put up with your anger and grief (excuse me while I step over your sobbing body to go make a Hot Pocket), and they’ll just go on the down low. Perhaps if they’re really good, they’ll go through the motions of reconciliation to keep you off base. But mostly what they gain by telling is the knowledge that you’ll still be there, anxious to keep them. Poor broken, sausage them, who might need help through a relapse or two…
So yeah, Siobhan — I’m skeptical.