Honesty and Openness (Part 1)
Dear Dr. Harley,
I read your book, His Needs, Her Needs, and find your analysis of how people have affairs
to be very accurate. It seemed like you were describing the affair I had several years ago.
But, in my case, the affair is now over, and I no longer have any interest in the woman.
You seem to suggest that I tell my wife about it, even though it's over. I can't imagine
doing such a thing to her. Since my affair is over, why torment her with unpleasant
The fact that you were unfaithful to your wife is an extremely important thing for someone
to know about you. In fact, your affair is one of your most memorable events of your life,
however upsetting it may be to your wife were she to know about it. But it is more than
an important event: it is also evidence that you can't be trusted, and
your wife should know that about you. Of course, once you tell her, your wife may not trust you about anything. You will need to
reestablish her trust in you.
Honesty is a form of protection -- to others! The more people know about you, the better
able they are to protect themselves from your destructive predispositions. If you want
your wife protected, as you indicate in your letter, she needs to know the most about ways
that you could hurt her. If she knows about your weaknesses, you can both make
adjustments that make your failures less likely. On the other hand, if she is ignorant of
them, she will be left defenseless.
You may be afraid that she will leave you if she knows what you did. Are lies the only
things keeping you together? If she knew you better would she hate you and want
nothing to do with you? She has the right to the truth and then she has a right to leave
you, but it's very unlikely that she will. As painful as it is to discover an affair, very few
ever divorce because of it. In most cases, both spouses make adjustments that help avoid
a repeat. But without the truth, there is little assurance that it will not happen again.
Most people have affairs because of unmet emotional needs, and unless that need has now
been met by your wife, you will be tempted to be unfaithful again. When you had the
affair, you knew that there was a chance that your wife would discover it, and yet you
went ahead anyway. In other words, you didn't care how painful it would be to your wife,
all you cared about at the time was your own pleasure. The reason that the affair is over
is that the woman didn't work out as well as you thought she would, luckily for you. But
how do you or your wife know that the next woman you meet won't be better suited to
You and your wife need to work together to guarantee that 1) you are both meeting each
other's emotional needs and 2) you will never be unfaithful to her again. You may need
to set rules for yourself that prevent you from developing friendships and spending time
alone with women that could meet your unmet emotional needs. You need to spend most
of your free time with your wife -- she needs to be your best friend.
After you reveal this indiscretion to her, don't keep anything from her again -- be as honest
with her as you could ever be. You'll find that honesty will not only help you create a very
intimate relationship, but it will also help prevent you from hurting her in the future.