You're in a tough spot: You know your bestie’s boo is being unfaithful, but you don’t exactly want to be the bearer of devastating news. If you catch your friend’s partner cheating, it might be tempting to heed the adage, “honesty is the best policy.” But experts say that deciding how to handle this scenario is a little more complicated than that.
On the one hand, you feel your friend has a right to know, but on the other, you fear that getting involved could potentially jeopardize your friendship. Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, notes that harboring such a secret can be a massive psychological burden. But before you unload that burden, it's crucial to make sure you have real proof of the infidelity. Did you observe the cheating firsthand? Or is it hearsay from someone else? If it's secondhand knowledge, Dr. Brown advises evaluating whether your source is reliable and whether anyone else can back up their accusation, before figuring out how to proceed.
"Suspecting an affair is one thing — actually knowing is quite something else," he tells Elite Daily. "You have to have the facts. If you don't and you are basing your actions on rumors, then this could pose a major problem for all concerned."
Once you’ve confirmed that you know your friend’s SO is cheating — and it’s not just a hunch or a rumor — experts agree that you’ll need to consider how close you are before deciding whether to tell them or not. Dr. Brown advises taking a few factors into account, including how long you’ve been friends, and whether you know them well or not to understand their values.
“If you are tangentially friends, it may be best to avoid the situation,” says Melanie Shapiro, a licensed clinical social worker. “Cheating is usually a symptom of another problem in the relationship and it will come out at some point or another. If you are not close friends, there is no need to insert yourself.”
However, Dr. Brown asserts that if you consider this person one of your closest friends, and you know for a fact that their SO is cheating, then you’re likely doing them a favor by sharing what you know.
Dr. Susan Edelman, a board-certified psychiatrist, notes that it can be helpful to put yourself in your friend’s shoes. Would you want to know if your partner was being unfaithful to you? How would you want to hear the news? And if you’re leaning toward staying silent, what will you tell your friend if and when they eventually find out about the cheating? These are all questions she recommends posing to yourself.
Still, Shapiro cautions against assuming that just because you’d appreciate honesty in this situation, that your friend would, too.
“Some people need blinders because the reality that their partner is cheating on them is something that they just cannot handle,” she explains.
Figuring out how to handle things gets even more challenging if you’re friends with the cheating partner. Should you give them a heads up that you know about their unfaithful ways? Or would that put you in an even more awkward position?
“I think this goes back to loyalty,” says Dr. Brown. “Talking to your cheating friend first is one way to go, but you have to be prepared for them to deny it, and that they may very well ask you not to share it for fear of losing their partner. One thing to consider is: was this a one-time occurrence, or is it a pattern of disloyalty?”
Shapiro agrees that this can be an effective approach, not only does it mean that you might potentially be off the hook from telling your friend such hurtful news, but it also gives the cheater an opportunity to take responsibility for their actions in their own way.
“You want the dialogue to be between the two partners in the relationship,” adds Shapiro. “Having them work it out and rebuild trust is going to be more helpful than having you involved.”
If you do decide to tell your friend directly about their partner’s infidelity, however, it’s crucial to be prepared for any possible reaction.
“Sometimes the price of sharing a painful truth like this, is that you can be viewed negatively as the messenger,” says Dr. Brown.
Certainly, your friend might be grateful that you came forward — but their reaction to this hurtful news may also mean deflecting anger, blame, or other painful feelings onto you.
“There may be lots of emotions around the cheating — shame, sadness, fear, and denial, to name a few — and your friend may not want to delve into those,” explains Shapiro. “If they are not ready to deal with the situation they may want to avoid (or possibly even get mad at) the person who is shedding light on the vulnerabilities of their relationship.”
If, after evaluating the nature of your friendship, getting your facts straight, and acknowledging the risks involved, you’re still unsure as to whether you should share your knowledge with your friend, Dr. Brown suggests casually asking your friend if they would want to know something like that. Of course, he notes that merely asking this question may raise suspicions that you know something, but it could be reassuring to hear their stance before you break the news.
Here’s the thing. There’s no right or wrong way to handle this situation because every friendship and every romantic relationship is different. Also, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that your friend will react one way or the other when you tell them their partner has been cheating on them. All you can do is make sure you have your story straight, try to practice empathy, and trust your gut instincts. Most importantly, make it a point to remind your friend that you’re there for them while they cope with the emotional fallout of the infidelity. Regardless of whether they’re able to express their appreciation for your honesty, they’ll likely be super grateful to have a loving, supportive person to lean on during such a vulnerable time.
Dr. Gary Brown, couples therapist and relationship expert
Melanie Shapiro, licensed clinical social worker
Dr. Susan Edelman, board-certified psychiatrist