HONESTY after an extra-marital affair is not always the best policy and neither is confessing to ease a guilty conscience, clinical psychologist Bruce Stevens has said ahead of a national conference on mental health and relationships.
In his 20 years of experience, Dr Stevens said only about 50 per cent of couples who entered counselling after an affair managed to salvage their relationship.
''Anecdotally, that is what I have seen, but in some cases working through all the issues afterwards can make a relationship stronger,'' he said.
''After an affair is found out, it's like a bomb has been dropped on the relationship and you cannot predict how it will go.
''I don't naively suggest using truth and honesty at all costs - especially is you are trying to repair the relationship.''
Dr Stevens, who is an associate professor at the University of Canberra, will present a talk at the Australian Psychological Society's clinical psychology conference in Sydney next week. He is also the author of a book for clinical psychologists on couple counselling, called Happy ever after?
''We know that disclosing an affair will be pretty explosive but you can't guarantee you will be able to manage the consequences - it's very risky,'' Dr Stevens said.
''I think a lot of people disclose it to get it off their conscience and that is not a good reason.
''The problem is that you are practically playing Russian roulette with at least three bullets in six chambers.
''But if they do get through it and say, 'OK I'm married to a flawed person' and take some responsibility for the emotional poverty of the relationship, they can work on building a relationship which is based on reality and building a life together.''
Dr Stevens said affairs were usually a sign of desperation that started with a honeymoon period that didn't last.
''It's a period of un-reality,'' he said.
''It's like a fairyland because it is protected against seeing your partner in hair rollers and things like that. They are always dressed to go out and in that head space. And if somebody goes into an affair then someone gets hurt and it's hard to pick up the pieces.''