Q: If a person commits adultery and then goes to confession, does that person have to ask forgiveness from his or her spouse?
A: Sacramental confession does not require doing this. If any confessor made such disclosure a condition for receiving absolution, he would be acting improperly.
Whether or not a married person who has committed adultery should ask forgiveness of his or her spouse is a separate question. One reason for doing so is the possibility that the adultery may be discovered anyway, and the guilty person would have that much more difficulty in dealing with the ongoing deception, besides the initial betrayal. The person who committed adultery may have exposed his or her spouse to a sexually transmitted disease.
One argument against such a disclosure is that this revelation could lead the innocent spouse to file for divorce. But what kind of a relationship can be nurtured if it is so dependent on one spouse’s ignorance about the other spouse’s actions?
On the other hand, this is a very delicate situation calling urgently for outside help, whether from a priest or from a professional marriage counselor. The question of disclosure is best handled in that context.
At the very least, the person who committed adultery should be prepared for a lengthy healing process if he or she makes such a disclosure. Even then, there is no guarantee that enough healing will occur to make this marriage workable.
Marital infidelity is one of many betrayals that married couples sometimes bring to (rediscovery) weekends for spouses in troubled marriages. More information is available at retrouvaille.org or 800-470-2230 in the United States. The weekend experience is followed by six to 12 more sessions over three months.
Such a weekend or working exclusively with a marriage counselor could be the start of a healing process; the outcome depends on both spouses.