Dear Prudence is an exception, particularly in dealing with an especially messy situation: when the affair produces a child.
The advice-seeker relays a situation in which her father had an affair, which produced a son. The family stayed together, mother knew of the other child but never acknowledged him, and the children were never told a thing.
Bet you can see where this is going...
Years later, the children are adults, the father has developed a relationship with his son, the mother is angry and dad finally 'fesses up to his kids that he "broke his marriage vows." (Interesting how clinical adulterers get when describing what they did!)
The advice-seeker was justifiably confused and questioning whether her whole childhood was a lie.
And therein lies the power of secrets.
I get that some things need to be secret -- such as my PIN number for my bank card. But trying to keep the lid on other secrets inevitably blows up, leaving nothing but pain and destruction in its wake. Just ask John Edwards.
The damage wrought by an affair creates enough to overcome; and dealing with a child -- a constant reminder of the betrayal -- compounds that pain, at least initially. However, there are times -- and this is one -- where we're called upon to be Bigger People. Where the life of an innocent child trumps anyone else's agony.
But, as my grandfather often said, the right thing is rarely the easy thing.
I know of a situation in which the betrayed wife sought custody of the twins her husband had with his affair partner, a drug addict. I have nothing but respect -- and awe -- for such a choice, yet the wife would be the first to tell you her life has been enriched enormously by the children. We can't all be Mother Theresa, but we can be honest with our own children (at an age when it's appropriate) and our families in order to ensure that an innocent child has the best possible chance in life. After all, surely by now, we've figured out that secrets slowly poison the soul.