Thursday 23 January 2020

Dear Mary: My husband wants forgiveness after affair but should I tell our kids?

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Mary O’Conor

I would really value your advice on how best to handle my situation, with the interest of my children foremost in mind.

I married my husband 30 years ago and we have four children ranging from mid teens to mid 20s. My husband has always engaged very poorly with our children. He seemed to have little interest in their lives, friends or pursuits. He always put his own activities and social life ahead of family life. I recognised this but I didn't protest much as it was very easy to aggravate him. It became very uncomfortable for everyone at home if he was ever challenged in any way. So really I covered up that problem.

In recent years my husband had some medical difficulties. Thankfully these were righted. This was followed by my son having medical problems. This was stressful. I was very preoccupied and neglected to see things around me, one of which was that my husband began having an affair about two years ago. I found this out by accident a few months ago. When I confronted him he denied all and tried his best to belittle the relationship he had with this woman.

Now he is remorseful and doesn't see her and pleads for reconciliation. I find it difficult to see myself trusting him or ever loving him again but I am trying to be open-minded.

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My problem is regarding our children. They are not aware of what happened, although they are perceptive and are aware that there is some difficulty. We are both seeing separate counsellors in order to work out where we are regarding this crisis. I have met with his counsellor as requested to help give some perspective. Our counsellors' advice differs. His advises that telling the children will emotionally scar them for life and cause huge anger and resentment. Mine advises that we face the facts of what has happened, tell the truth, tell it as it is and not add more lies.

I am in a terrible dilemma. I am asking myself do I want to tell on him to expose him out of resentment? But I don't think so. Whether my children resent or forgive him is not in my control, so I should not be carrying this burden. I can't really seek advice from friends as they are all family friends and I cannot afford this to leak if it is not the right thing to do. I feel anxious and weighed down under with this emotional turmoil. I have seen my GP.

Please give me advice. Thank you.

Mary replies: As you probably realise nobody is going to tell you what to do - you will have to make that decision yourself. But I can give some observations which may help you make up your mind.

Your husband doesn't seem to have tried very hard to establish a good relationship with your children. Instead he concentrated on his own social life ahead of family life and you didn't raise any objections because you wanted to keep the peace and not annoy him by being critical.

It would be very interesting to hear your children's views as to what sort of a father they perceived him to be. They had no other father to measure him by after all. And now they are seeing him through more or less adult eyes.

You will have to be guided by what you intend doing concerning the relationship with your husband. He has asked for forgiveness and reconciliation and you have attended separate counselling sessions. It is somehow indicative of the state of the relationship that you both went down separate paths, and so now would be the time to attend couples' counselling. The counselling would have the focus on the relationship and what you need to do in going forward. The counsellor would be quite neutral and unbiased, and your story would be quite new to them, so it would be like having a fresh start.

If you decide to stay together and give him another chance - even though at the moment you doubt if you will ever love him again - then do you really want your children to know what happened? Once the information is shared with your children they will most certainly take sides, and my guess is that they will be on your side. So the atmosphere in the house would be even more difficult than it is right now.

If on the other hand you decide that you cannot remain in the marriage your children will obviously ask for a reason. In that case then I suggest that you direct them to your husband, having informed him that this is what you intend doing, and tell them that he will have to give them the details as to why you are leaving. In that way you cannot be accused of telling them through resentment, or any other emotion, and they will hear the story directly from him.

Reading between the lines it seems to me that you intend staying, and that your question is whether or not to tell your children about your husband's affair.

I understand why you are feeling so burdened with all this, when you were not the one that had the affair. You are also anxious that anybody outside the family may find out what happened. If you tell your children then you can be pretty sure that the 'secret' will get out, because once somebody else knows then it will no longer be a secret and word is sure to spread.

All in all I think that if you seek guidance through couples' counselling a lot will become clearer to you.


You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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