Love & Sex

Should I Tell? What Would You Do?

When I discovered that the man I’d loved and trusted for 20 years had a secret girlfriend on the side for the last 10, I knew what I had to do. I threw Mike out, changed the locks, got a good therapist and, with the support of my amazing friends and family, I’m doing my best to move on.

But I’m left with a question. It’s a big one. And I want to get it right.

Should I tell Maggie’s husband?

Although Mike cheated on me with Maggie for 10 years, I learned, when he finally came clean about the affair, that the two of them actually go back 30 years. They see themselves as star-crossed soul mates, meant to be together but kept apart by circumstance.

They originally met in grad school. They saw each other across a crowded conference room. The attraction was immediate. “She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen,” Mike told me.

Sparks flew! Love blossomed.

But Mike, alas, was married. And he and his wife Jill had a young child.

So? They carried on behind Jill’s back.

When Jill (inevitably) found out, she told Mike that if he wanted to stay married, he had to stop seeing Maggie. So he did. Eventually. After Maggie graduated and moved to New Jersey.

By the time Jill finally divorced Mike years later, Maggie was married, and she and her husband had a young child.

So Mike took up with me. I wasn’t perfect passionate beautiful Maggie, but I’m pretty cool in my own quiet way. And I wasn’t married and living in New Jersey.

Ten years into our relationship, he phoned Maggie and they picked up where they’d left off.

I never had a clue. They kept what they were up to well hidden. She knew all about me, but I had no idea she existed.

Their secret relationship flourished until I stumbled upon evidence of their passionate, intense and decades-long union.

That’s an experience I don’t recommend to anyone. You’ve been with a guy for decades. You think you know him. You definitely love him. You have no doubt that he loves you. Then you discover that for years he’s been in love with somebody you’ve never even heard of.

Learning about Maggie was one of the worst moments of my life.

So — do I tell Maggie’s husband? Do I give him his own cruelly illuminating emotionally devastating very-worst-moment?

Why would I want to do that?

Because the only thing I know for absolute certain is that if he’d discovered the affair first, I would have wanted him to tell me.

It was devastating to learn about Maggie. I was shocked. Horrified. It felt as if the Universe had gut-punched me.

But I’m so glad that I know the truth.

It makes me sick to think that this could have gone on for years. I could have continued to be a trusting chump in love with a liar with a secret girlfriend for the rest of my life!

Thank God that’s over.

Wouldn’t Maggie’s husband feel the same?

If it were just a stupid little fling, two people who met and maybe had too much to drink and fell into bed together, and then repented and fessed up and said it would never happen again? I wouldn’t tell. A strong relationship can recover from that.

But if your wife has been phoning and texting and meeting for furtive sex in hotel rooms with another man for a decade, wouldn’t you want to know?

I imagine phoning him out of the blue. “You don’t know me,” I say, “but you and I have something in common. Your wife is in love with my boyfriend.”

The one thing that stops me is that fact that he and Maggie have a 15-year-old son.

Do I really want to do something that could break up his parents’ marriage?

I’m an honest person. I was raised to believe that telling the truth is the best thing to do. But, as every grown-up knows, sometimes it’s necessary, even ethical, to lie. To spare somebody’s feelings. To save a life. To preserve and protect something valuable.

As a lawyer I know once put it, “Honestly is usually the best policy.”

Is keeping mum the best policy for me?

Maggie’s husband continues to live, as I once lived, in a fool’s paradise, believing that he’s in a good marriage.

If I tell him the truth and he leaves Maggie, it will hurt Maggie (Yay! Hurrah!) But it could also hurt their son.

Being 15 is tough enough without your parents marriage imploding because of a long-term secret love affair.

Of course, telling the truth might finally, after 30 years, leave Mike and Maggie free to become the couple they’ve always longed to be.

And there’s no question in my mind that these two richly deserve each other.

Now that I’ve cut Mike loose, I’m free to find a partner who is honest and trustworthy and who loves me truly and well.

Don’t you think that Maggie’s husband deserves that too?

Roz Warren

Also: Your Cheating Heart – How Did I Find Out?

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  • Fern Richards

    Dearest Roz, I so enjoy your columns. You are a wise and wonderful woman and it is the other person’s loss more so than yours. I’m sure the other person is sorry for what took place and would fix it in a heartbeat if it was possible. But, that ship has sailed. However, I do not think that you should ever get involved with her or her husband or their family in any way. I think it would come to no good end and could possibly hurt you in the long run. Karma comes around my lady.

  • Barbara

    This story really hit home. When I was 17 my mother and I were sitting on our front porch when a strange man walked up. He asked to speak to my mother privately. She said, “Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of my daughter.” He introduced himself and said that my father was now living with his former girlfriend and that they were both living in the house that he bought and furnished for her. My mother of course knew that my father had moved out of our home after one of their many arguments but thought he was living with his mother which was near where he worked. Long story short, my mother hired a private investigator and divorced my father. They had been married for 25 years and had five children. Things would have been tough but I wish they could have been honest with each other and had divorced years earlier. Children know when their parents are not getting along. I think you should tell the husband. He probably already knows.

  • Julia

    Roz, the only thing I know for sure is, you didn’t deserve him. Cheaters deserve to be with cheaters and constantly wonder what the other is up to when absent.
    You deserve better! Much, much better! Don’t look back. Onward and upward!

  • Jim Sullivan

    My short answer, given no other information? No. Do not tell.

    He’s living in a fool’s paradise? Good for him. He may remain perfectly happy unless YOU make it otherwise. No. Do NOT tell him. Just my two cents.

  • Leanne

    wow Roz I don’t even know where to start with this one – except to say that I am so sorry you were left hung out to dry like this. I think it’s every woman’s worst nightmare and you lived it and you are surviving it – so high five to you! I also think the truth will come out on its own in the not too distant future so I’d keep my hands clean and let karma sort them out.

  • Estelle

    I can’t imagine what one should do in that situation. I guess it depends on how much you want to bust up her family like she busted up yours. So sorry it happened to you.

  • Lois Alter Mark

    Oh, Roz, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this and that you have to even consider this question. Yes, I think the right thing to do is tell him – especially since you would have wanted him to tell you. Or do you have a mutual friend who could make the news easier for him? Please know I’m sending you a virtual hug and support you whatever you decide.

  • Angel Stew & Devil's Brew

    I would absolutely tell. I would want to know. You have already suffered the initial shock and heartache. Nothing that will come of telling Maggie’s husband will ever compare to that. You’ve already survived the worst.

  • Sue

    A very tough situation but I would not become involved. Sure you feel hurt but could you live with yourself. If you decide to tell him, can you live with the consequences?

  • Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski

    I would say leave it alone and move on. It won’t fix either of them. He will go on to cheat on Jill if she leaves her husband and they get together. It’s a pattern I know this for a fact.

  • Stephanie Weaver, MPH, CWHC

    Wow, so tough. I would go deep within yourself and imagine telling him. And then, how do you feel about being the one who does that? Does it make you feel a little sick inside, a little wrong, a little bit like you are at fault? Or does it make you feel clean, and honest, and loving?

  • Donna

    That is a tough one. In answer to the end question, do her husband deserve to know, the answer is yes. However I am not sure it is your place to tell him. I agree you would hurt the one, that perhaps you feel deserve hurt as you have been hurt, but innocent people will also be hurt. It is a no win situation. I also say that I would want to know. But I also know that in my situation of having to deal with the new wife of my cheating ex, and feeling that she should know he also cheats on her, it is not my place to tell her. No matter how I could manage to do it, it would come off as the bitter ex wife. SO for now we cover them in prayer and hope we live to see karma at work 🙂

  • Susan Bonifant

    You really shouldn’t, I don’t think. You’ve speculated that he would react as you did, and deserves the chance for a better future that’s been offered you via discovery.

    But you don’t know anything about him, or them, or how he would view it at all. You can really only answer for your own reaction and feelings in a reversed situation, but not necessarily his. And even if you wish the relief of discovery upon him, you’ll still be assuming you have more in common than you may.

    What does your therapist say?

  • Laurie

    That’s a tough one. I can argue for both sides. Its tricky getting involved in someone else’s marriage, no matter how tempting. Plus Maggie’s husband may already know. Then again, there’s something satisfying in spilling the beans. A tough question and not sure which way I’d ultimately go.

  • Sheryl

    What a dilemma and a heartbreak for you. I’m not sure I know what to do…it’s fraught with problems all around, no matter what you do. I suppose if it were me, I’d want to get it off my chest and relieve myself of the burden of holding onto a secret. I wish you luck in whatever you decide to do and am so sorry this is happening to you. A very tough situation, indeed.

  • David

    At the moment, Maggie and your ex can carry on. If you tell Maggie’s husband, (assuming he doesn’t know already) that will change. Maybe they will continue, but it won’t be behind someone’s back. I don’t know what feelings you have but how much do you need that change in their lives to happen? Is it eating you? Can you let it go? Will it give you satisfaction to even the score? Do you need to be bad to get any sense of being a victim out of your system?

  • Lauren Malamala

    I’d 100% tell Maggie’s husband. Maybe it’s because I’m merciless when it comes to “evening the score” (LOL), but I’d also want to know the truth no matter how hard it is. Not a fan of being the clueless fool. Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power.

      • Leslie

        I said tell, but for the right reasons. Not for revenge, spite, hate, but for the kindness to the one who is being cheated on. He may already know, but if not, you may save a lot of grief in the long run. Remember, you’re not the one breaking up a marriage. you committed no acts of adultry.

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