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Dear Demetria:

I am the mother of two. I have an amazing husband and father to my children. The last child is not his, and he is unaware. His best friend and I had a one-night stand two years ago when my hubby was out of town. I can’t bring myself to come clean.

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I just started going to therapy about this. The guilt is making me miserable. I feel honesty would break our whole family apart. I'm afraid to find out what my husband may do. —Anonymous

My grandmother had a saying about truth: “What’s done in the dark will always come to the light.” You’ve been carrying some huge secrets, and despite trying to ignore and avoid them, they’ve come to the forefront of your mind nearly three years later with a crippling vengeance that’s making you miserable.

I’m glad you’re in therapy. That’s a good starting point. If you have a good therapist, she or he will help you find the courage to “come clean,” as you put it, and tell your husband the truth about your affair and the child that resulted from it. It’s not the easy thing to do, but it is the right course of action here for everyone involved, including you.  

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Your husband deserves to know the truth, and sooner rather than later. Your child, though too young to understand what’s going on now, also deserves the truth, and the older she or he is when you tell her or him, the more devastated the child will be. Surely you’ve seen that viral video of the trailer for Paternity Court when a grown man discovers that his dad is not his biological father. He was broken, and it’s heartbreaking to watch. You don’t do that to your kid.

Your husband will be devastated, and he will be angry (to put it mildly). And the longer you wait, the more intense those feelings will be. I suggest that you speak with your therapist about bringing your husband into a session sooner rather than later and confessing to him in a controlled environment.

But before you do that, let’s make sure you’re accurate about what you’re confessing to. Have you had a DNA test done on the child to verify who her or his father is? I hope so, but if not, you need to do so immediately, and before you tell your husband anything. There’s no sense in having an unnecessary back-and-forth about who the actual father is, if your husband is actually that person.

If your husband is positively not the father, you need to inform your husband’s best friend that he is, if he’s not aware already. The best friend needs to know right after you tell your husband what you’ve been hiding. (Why after? Because your husband’s been on the back end of secrets long enough.) Your husband is also going to be hurt by and angry with him, too, but that’s not your concern. The men will work that out with each other.

Oh, and even if the child is biologically your husband’s, he still needs to know about the affair. You can leave out the part about spending the last two years thinking the child isn’t his.

You are right to think this is going to break your whole family apart. Three years of deception at this level is a big deal. My guess is that your husband will leave after you tell him the truth.

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I don’t know how he will react in the long run after he’s had time to process your information—if he will want to work things out eventually or if he will ask for a divorce. I do know that the current state of your marriage is wholly unhealthy, and there’s no chance of it getting better as long as you’re wracked with guilt and carrying on with this deception. You have a family that appears intact, but you’re miserable. That’s no way to live.

Let’s also be honest about your marriage, which you want to save now: It’s not going to be broken; it’s already broken, and it’s been that way for a long time. You felt something was missing in your relationship, and you handled it in the worst way possible by having an affair. You got pregnant, and you’ve spent about three years lying and feeling guilty about it. Even if you don’t come clean about that, your marriage still has a huge problem.

Can this marriage be saved? In its current state, it’s not worth saving. But you at least have a (long) shot at a healthy relationship by being honest, and that’s a better bet than what you have currently. You can build a healthy relationship and a solid foundation on truth even when it’s ugly. Lies, as you’ve found over the last three years, destroy everything, even when they haven’t been revealed—yet.

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Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at askdemetria@theroot.com.

Previously in Ask Demetria: “What Can I Do When My Husband Insists That Birth Control Is My Problem