Dear Gail: I have been involved in a secret relationship with a married man for 30 years. I've been married 35 years and he's been married for 25. Now he is dying of inoperable cancer and he has made his "confession" to his wife. After he did this, I felt our relationship was validated, although I would not do the same (reveal the relationship) to my spouse. But his confession adds a burden both to his spouse and to me, after he is gone. Why would he feel the need to confess? What could he possibly gain now by revealing his secret? — A Miffed Mistress
Dear Miffed: Clearly, your cancer-stricken paramour felt burdened by the deceit he imposed upon his wife. It is common for people who know their time is running out to own up to a lifelong lie before their demise. This strong need to atone and seek forgiveness provides a sense of closure. This way, people have the relief of getting it off their chest, so to speak. They will not take their secret with them to their grave.In some cases, this is almost a religious feeling. Even if they don’t believe in heaven and hell, people who know they have done something wrong sometimes feel they are heading for purgatory, if they don’t admit to it. So this explains why he confessed now — for his own peace of mind.
Of course, because he is on his deathbed, he won’t be around for the aftermath. You and his wife are the ones who must now deal with the consequences of your secret being suddenly and surprisingly revealed. He wasn’t thinking about burdening you or about devastating his wife. In fact, he wasn’t thinking about anyone else’s feelings at all. This is right in keeping with 25 years of living a lie with you as his mistress. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but a man who cheats for 25 years — he was conducting this affair during their courtship — is not someone who places concern for others above concern for himself.
Whether or not his wife already knew about, or even suspected, your affair, she might well be hurt and angry at you. And your husband could easily find out about this secret, if he doesn’t already know. You must evaluate whether to tell him yourself and handle the consequences, or to continue keeping this secret from him and take the risk that he won’t find out about it from somebody else (possibly the wronged wife).
As compelling as a love affair might seem, even if you believe nobody else will ever know, keeping a secret of such a great magnitude inevitably means there will be a high price to pay.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It is not necessarily best to wait until you are on your deathbed to be honest, with yourself and also with others.