When Your Best Friend is Having an Affair

consoling_friend
I’ve had this question several times by email — “What should I do? My best friend is having an affair.  Should I tell his/her spouse?”  Or maybe your sister or brother. Or sister-in-law.  Etc.  Someone you’re very close to.    I’ve also seen this question in variations in the search engine requests that lead people to my blog. It’s a tough one.  I DO think it’s situational to some extent — there is no one answer — but I think I’d still like to weigh in on it.

And let’s be clear — we’re talking about someone very very close to you. Not an acquaintance or a minor friend.  Or a distant relative. No, we are talking about someone you have a close, trusting relationship with.

And you have certainty on the subject.  This does NOT mean that you have simply heard your close friend has committed adultery, or that you know about their situation because a random person told you.  Or you have a gut instinct.   You know this for a fact. Directly.  They’ve told you, or you’ve absolutely witnessed it in some way.  You know there’s an affair going on. Not one that’s dead and in the past.  The affair is still going on and you are sure of it.

Of course, the number one question most people is this — should I inform their spouse?   A tough one. It’s very situational in some ways.  And yes, it carries a lot of risks too.  If you rat your friend out, chances are you that you will lose this relationship in your life permanently.  Nobody wants someone close to them to rat them out, throw them under the bus, and be the instrument of their marriage going up in smoke.  Who would look at that as anything but a betrayal of the close friendship?

I guess part of evaluating whether to tattle or not is this — how close are you to the spouse? Are they also a friend?  Are there children involved?  What is your evaluation of the situation in terms of the spouse’s life and future?  Would telling them save the marriage or protect someone you also care about?  Again, it’s a tough call.  Affairs are wrong, but should you, a trusted friend, be the “morality police” in this case?  I doubt that I could do it.  The consequences of disclosure of an affair are very unpredictable.  Betrayed Spouses have killed cheating spouses when told of the news. And maybe taken children away etc. Are you prepared to live with that? Do you know for sure what will happen if you tell?  No, not really.  For me, I probably would not.

However, I think what you do is kind of what I do on my blog and my private email here — I counsel people as if they were my close friends.  And with current or potential cheaters, I counsel them always to NOT embark on an affair, and if they are in one, to get out NOW and to cut off all contact with their affair partner, learn from what they’ve done, really be honest with themselves as to why they did it, and confront their marriages directly — should I be married? If so, how can I take this tragedy and make something better out of it?  I counsel them to basically repent, make amends, improve, and live a more honest and authentic life and never do anything like this again.  I think it comes down to that.

Here are some suggestions:

Maintain their trust.  You hold a bomb that could undo their life right now.  Don’t blow that trust.  You should be an entirely safe place for your friend to land and they should know that nothing they say to you will leave your lips.  Don’t be too judgmental. If you say things like, “How could you do such a thing? (The reality is that it’s much more complicated than you could imagine), or “I won’t have anything to do with you until you end your affair!” (Not only is this unlikely to be much of a motivator, why would you assume that being associated with someone in an affair means you approve of their actions?), you will push them away. They won’t trust you. They won’t confide in you. And you will lose any chance you have to influence them.

sad-manSupport, yes, but don’t become an affair supporter.  Don’t get caught up in your friend’s justification for having his/her affair.  No matter what their spouse has done, or said, or is, it’s not justified.  They will try and get you on their side on this.  It’s part of their own internal justification. Don’t buy it.   You should tell him/her that it is the wrong solution, ethically and practically, to a bad marriage.

Guide their thinking.   Support them, yes, in terms of your friendship. You have an “in” with them that perhaps nobody else does. You can guide their thinking by showing understanding, and compassion, but insisting to them that what they are doing is wrong and how to get out of this terrible situation they are in.   Guide them.  Most couples or people in sexual crisis need to be pointed in the right direction. They are confused or shell-shocked. They are in a fog.  They may literally be caught up in something they did not expect and are in over their heads.  They may be in love with their affair partner.  They are scared.  They are unsure what to do.  They are in pain and for many, their world has just been upended. There are very few of us equipped to deal with the intricate issues that should and must be addressed in situations like these. But we can be pointers.   Give them suggestions.  Encourage them to get help (such as a therapist).  I would focus more about the consequences to themselves and to others around them than to judge them. If you indicate in any way that you seen them as a “scumbag” or a “Skanky whore” for doing what they are doing, they are going to shut down.  You will lose their confidence by judging them too harshly, no matter what you are thinking.  You can be their Yoda.  Help clarify their thinking and lead them out of this mess. You have some real power here.

Telling them to confess probably won’t work. If you believe the only way to move on is for your friend to come clean with their partner, keep it to yourself. It is not your place to decide that for them no matter what your morals are. You can tell your friend about honesty and try to talk them into confessing, but don’t be too persistent. It will annoy them and may shake the trust they have for you. It may convey the idea that if they don’t tell their partner, you will, even if you have no intention of that.  You want them to trust you. You don’t want to make them shut down and cut you out. Your knowledge of their affair is already a threat to them.

Talk about termination.   Encourage them to stop the affair. Immediately and irrevocably.  They will never get out of the fog and resume clear thinking until they do. Many people involve themselves in affairs with people whom they have no intention of being committed to.  Tell your friend that it will make them the stronger and better person if they initiate terminating the affair.   Acknowledge that your friend will be crushed between ending an affair.  Yes, it’s hard. It’s pain, but it’s the right thing to do. And that you are there to help them.  Even suggest how they do it, such as what they might tell their Affair Partner to cushion the blow as much as possible, but ensure that their decision is final.

friendsTry and remind them of how hard it will be if they leave their spouse for their affair partner.  Remind them of the familial, societal, financial and other consequences of getting divorced.   If your friend wants to take the relationship with the affair partner to the next level, help them see what a mess their life will be if something big is going on while they are emotionally distorted.  If they have kids, tell them how devastated they will be. How this will scar them for life and how it will affect your friend’s relationship with her children forever.  Point out the long odds of a legitimate relationship that results from an affair working out.

In the end, recognize that you yourself are going to feel torn about this, and maybe even resentful. You want to be there for your friend, but you’re probably also disgusted with them and appalled at their choice, and pissed that you have to carry this burden of knowledge and their secret. Perhaps have to keep this secret forever.  Not only might you resent having to shoulder this burden, but you also know that it could explode in your face too, especially if you know your friend’s spouse well. But you have a real opportunity to guide them out of this mess and to a better life. Don’t abandon them.  Help them.

That’s what friends do.

 
 
Advertisements

11 thoughts on “When Your Best Friend is Having an Affair

  1. Two of my wife’s friends knew she was having an affair. Neither of them chose to tell me. They both advised her to tell me. She did not. I can’t stand either one of them today. I stare them down when I see them. I hope they feel bad.

    My advice — if you have a friend that starts to tell you they are having an affair — Stop them dead in their tracks. Tell them that you deserve better than to be put in the middle of their marriage. (Because it does put you right in the middle of someone else’s marriage.). Explain to them, that you do not want them to finish the sentence. That you do not want to know and that IF they were going to confess an affair to you — then you tell them they need to go tell their spouse right away because IF you honestly know then I think you have to tell the spouse. Yes, it will ruin your friendship, but better it do this than have you become a party to ruining the spouse’s life and watching kids that will never be the same and need years of therapy.

    I know that in my case, my wife was so excited about her “crush” that she would never have listened to anyone, but I do not forgive her friends who now say they tried to convince her to end it and tried to have her tell me. It just doesn’t fly. I may chose to stay with my wife and work it out. But someone else who walked around with the knowledge of the deception and pain they were going to eventually cause me (because the spouse will find out. It comes out – – You can’t have an affair in a vacuum!) — and made no attempt other than to try to tell my wife it was not a good idea — can go jump in the lake! They will never ever be forgiven by me or my children and they will never ever have access to my family again. Things will never be the same. And it is a shame that they did not act in an honest and loving way toward my family — instead they kept secrets and only prolonged the damage caused by my wife. I have no use or compassion for them. Just saying!

    • I do understand that any spouse who is being betrayed would like to be told of their spouse’s affair. Anyone would.

      But you should understand the awful position her friends were put in. Yes, perhaps they should never have been PUT in that position, but it happens. The cheater is confused. The cheater needs to confide in someone, so they go to their best friend. Or the best friend finds out some other way. So what then?

      And as you said, they DID try and make her come clean with you. Would you expect any more if it was you and your friends? They were walking a fine line and did not want to destroy their friendship with your wife, even if they believed the affair was wrong. Put yourself in THEIR shoes. I know you’re pissed and in a lot of pain, clearly. But I don’t think they did anything wrong. They were presented with a horrible dilemma. If they tried to get her to stop the affair, then that’s really the most I would expect anyone to do. If they had informed you, their friendship with your wife would’ve been instantly over.

      I’m not suggesting “compassion” here. I’m suggesting understanding. And how to really be a “friend”. You are allowed your opinion of course, but try and step outside of your own situation. What if you were the cheating spouse? What if you were the best friend of a cheating spouse? Would you really rat out your best friend? Would you view your best friend as having done you a favor by ratting you out?

      • I hear you. And I must tell you — that after all I have been through — You don’t deserve to be put in this situation by your friend…. But you were. I actually say shame on my wife for putting them there. But the consequences of my wife’s actions damages the friendship either way. Not tell — friendship over when the spouse finds out your knew… Tell — friendship over because cheating spouse feels betrayed. Either way — the friendship is over. It cannot survive. I think you have to realize that as the friend from the beginning. The friendship is over the minute you are told of the affair. So my point is — for me — I would act in a way that I thought was the best for me. My integrity and my honor and my honesty is at stake. For me, I would rather be known as the person who told than the person who aided in a conspiracy against the spouse and their children. I would rather not be known as the person who knew and kept it from the family who is now devastated from the affair.

        So, if you sit in the get away car and say you did not know your friends were going to rob the bank or had a gun and would kill someone — Are you not guilty?

        Again, either way, your friendship is over — you just do not know it yet. Why not act in a way that no one could say you were a liar or a co-conspirator? I think if you ever think someone is about to confess an affair — you stop them and tell them you do not want to know about it… Sorry, let’s go shopping or have some beers but leave me out of your marriage, thank you very much…

      • Sorry, but I can’t agree. These women were not co-conspirators in your wife’s affair. Them not ratting her out, with all the unknown consequences that follow, is not the same as being a co-conspirator. I’m sorry, I don’t buy that. They would only be co-conspirators if they encouraged the affair and helped her to hide it. Helped her to continue it. But that doesn’t sound like the case.

        These two women owed you nothing. They weren’t your friends. What they DID owe something to was your wife, and based on what you said, they were urging her to end the affair and come clean. That’s the best thing a friend can do. But to expect someone to take it upon themselves to rat out a close friend? I think that’s a foolish expectation. It wasn’t their responsibility to tell you. It was your wife’s. Just as every decision she made to have an affair were. Not her friends’ fault. Not the Other Man. Hers. 100%. Don’t displace your anger. I can understand you being uncomfortable around them, but blaming them in any way for this is inaccurate and a waste of time.

        I very much doubt that you put in the same position would rat your best friend out, even if they vehemently disagreed with what they were doing. We’re not talking about planning a murder here. Or a bank heist. This isn’t a criminal matter where there is a responsibility to report it. It’s an affair. A personal matter. And her two friends were put into an unenviable position — to throw your wife under the bus vs. standing by and watching your wife doing the wrong thing. Few people in this position would rat out their best friend for an affair. Reality.

      • I talked to our family therapist today about this. He agreed with me. Adultery is a criminal act and in many states they can be held civilly liable for their actions. They were friends of the family. Their kids played with our kids. One of their husbands had an affair on one of them. They know exactly what was right from wrong. I disagree with you. If I get divorced both of these women will surely have to spend at least a day or two of their time giving depositions. Their testimony is not privileged. They will be forced to put their words into official court documents, swear to them and sign their testimony. My wife put them in a terrible position — no doubts there. But they are responsible for part of the damage to my family. They in fact could be liable for paying a percentage of the therapy bills for my children. People should think twice about what kind of friends they have and what they are getting involved in. Sorry but I don’t agree with you.

      • I think I would consult with an attorney for legal interpretations, not therapists. No matter what you say, it’s not a CRIME to not report infidelity. Please have your therapist cite the statute in your jurisdiction requiring that it is. Then please go ahead and swear out an arrest warrant for your wife’s 2 friends!

        Of course there is no such statute.

        Infidelity itself is not an enforced crime anywhere anyway. It may remain on the books in some States as an antiquated notion, but show me where people are ARRESTED for it? They’re not. As I read,

        “Only few states in United States have adultery statute in place. Many states on the other hand abolished the statute altogether. Of course the states like Florida are an exception that still considers the adulterer as criminal. Open adultery is still a punishable criminal offence in Florida. But there is no modern example of this outdated statute actually being enforced.”

        Nor is there ANYTHING in a statute that makes it a crime to have knowledge of someone’s affair and not report it. So enough with the arguments about how it’s a crime, ok? And how best friends are required to report you to the spouse or the authorities. It’s silliness.

        You can sue someone in CIVIL court based on infidelity, but that’s not the same as a crime. You can use it as a basis for divorce, but it’s not a crime. In my State, and many, we are a “no fault” divorce State. The courts don’t really care why you are getting divorced or who is initiating it. Adultery would not even be discussed in a divorce proceeding here. It’s simply irrelevant to the outcome.

        So basically this notion that because its a crime, therefore you should rat out your best friend is silly on the face of it. Unrealistic.

        Some people want to hold everyone responsible for their cheating spouse’s actions but themselves. I get it. You’re angry. Ok. You have a right to be.

        But to expect a close friend to rat out a best friend to a spouse is simply unrealistic. Few people would do it. I certainly wouldn’t. Instead, as I suggest in the article, I would use my influence with them to do the right thing. End the affair. Maybe confess. Maybe not. But certainly to fix things in their marriage or get out. Affairs are never the answer.

        But I would NEVER expect my wife’s closest friend to rat her out. Or hold this friend therefore responsible in any way for the affair for not ratting her out. It’s silly and simply unrealistic. It’s a diversion of anger, nothing more.

    • You probably have a lot of unanswered questions & a lot of issues with your wife that aren’t getting addressed, and that’s causing some of the hostility toward these women & whatever role you feel they played in deceiving you. I’m not saying it isn’t valid. Just that it’s fruitless to direct it that way. It’s easier for them to just duck & cover when they see you coming – they don’t have to live with you. Your wife is the one who needs to own this mess, and address your feelings toward them. They’re her friends, and she’s the one who dragged them into it. It’s difficult & awkward when a friend or relative decides to confide in you that they’re having an affair. Of course you know it’s wrong – everyone does – but nobody can help feeling torn between loyalty & affection for their friend, and taking a moral stand that includes being the whistle blower. You say the friendships are going to end either way, but does your wife want to end them? I would think twice about forcing that issue. Not that you should welcome them into your home or around your kids, but if you have told her that she cannot see them either, or else, she will probably opt for the or else.

      And not because she thinks she was right to share her little secret with them, not because she thinks they are the most wonderful, upstanding people in the world, not because they are more dear to her than you, but because she will feel like you are being controlling and she will most likely resist that. I will not even attempt to tell my husband that he may no longer spend time with his friends. I have simply told him how I expect him to behave when he is with them – whether I am around or not. If he behaves in ways that make me uncomfortable or unhappy – which I can’t say he has since our D-day – I will let him know about it, in no uncertain terms. And privately, because now more than ever, I don’t think what goes on in our marriage is any of their business, and I will boil in oil before I allow them to see me taking him to task for anything. He knows that I feel awkward around them now, and he is careful to be supportive of me and my feelings at all times. We are a united front. And he doesn’t do that because I refused to be around them, or threatened him or them with anything, but because I try to be strong and deal with those awkward situations as gracefully as I can. Which he respects. Threats & drama would have the exact opposite effect.

  2. You never go to the spouse! Absolutely not…If they are the close friend you are talking about herel, no!! absolutely not! Deal with it in private with your “close” friend. I don’t even second guess this for a minute!

  3. My husband’s friends from his hobby social group knew – he told them. When her mother passed away last February, they picked up the tab for the flowers he sent on behalf of the club. There were wives & girlfriends in this club who I thought of as my friends, and one of them was directly involved in the decision to do that. He took his OW to their annual cabin weekend the week of Valentine’s Day to meet them. He was deep in the fog & expecting a different outcome for us, but still, I guess he expected them to keep his secret & they didn’t disappoint him. I know that most of them care for me, but when it came down to it, they chose to support him. There are reasons why I wasn’t as close to them as he was, and I should have been there with him, participating in those activities as a couple – I know that. There are good reasons for that too, but it’s too late to change it. Now I just have this awkwardness & resentment toward them, not so much because nobody ever said anything to me, but because nobody ever pulled him aside & asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. Never said that he was putting them in a difficult position, never said that him bringing her to the weekend was inappropriate or uncomfortable – but not everyone knew in advance that he was doing it either. But still, I went to the annual picnic, welcomed them into my home, even cooked for them, and they all looked me in the eye & acted like everything was normal. That’s a hard thing to get over. I wouldn’t advocate snitching to the BS either. But if I put myself in their shoes, I know I’d have pinned his ears to the floor for putting me in that position.

  4. And despite a couple of silly comments, no adultery is NOT a criminal offense that is enforced ANYWHERE in the Western world. It may remain on the books in some States, but show me where people are ARRESTED for it? They’re not. As I read,

    “Only few states in United States have adultery statute in place. Many states on the other hand abolished the statute altogether. Of course the states like Florida are an exception that still considers the adulterer as criminal. Open adultery is still a punishable criminal offence in Florida. But there is no modern cases of this outdated statute actually being enforced.”

    Nor is there ANYTHING in a statute that makes it a crime to have knowledge of someone’s affair and not report it. So enough with the arguments about how it’s a crime, ok? And how best friends are required to report you to the spouse or the authorities. It’s stupidity.

    You can sue someone in CIVIL court based on infidelity, but that’s not the same as a crime. You can use it as a basis for divorce, but it’s not a crime. In my State, and many, we are a “no fault” State. The courts don’t really care why you are getting divorced or who is initiating it. Adultery would not even be discussed in a divorce proceeding here. It’s simply irrelevant.

    So basically this notion that because its a crime, therefore you should rat out your best friend is silly on the face of it. Unrealistic.

    Some people want to hold everyone responsible for their cheating spouse’s actions but themselves. I get it.

    But to expect a close friend to rat out a best friend to a spouse is simply unrealistic. Few people would do it. I certainly wouldn’t. Instead, as I suggest in the article, I would use my influence with them to do the right thing. End the affair. Maybe confess. Maybe not. But certainly to fix things in their marriage or get out. Affairs are never the answer.

    But I would NEVER expect my wife’s closest friend to rat her out. Or hold this friend therefore responsible in any way for the affair for not ratting her out. It’s silly and simply unrealistic. It’s a diversion of anger, nothing more.

Comments are closed.