When Infidelity Strikes…

Infidelity is front and center these days. Ahnold has made sure of that.

It seems that every six months or so, another story like this hits the news. Eliot. Tiger. John. Arnold.

At book club last night, the question came up of whether Maria could have known about this love-child. And if she didn’t (and for what it’s worth, I’m guessing she didn’t), someone must have, right? There were probably people in the inner circle who knew and didn’t tell her, don’t you think?

What about her friends? Did any of them know? Did they keep it from her? We’ll probably never have an answer, but it’s a question I always find myself pondering in the wake of these scandals.

One of the hardest lessons in friendship I ever learned came some years ago, when I found out my friend’s boyfriend was cheating on her. The boyfriends was a classmate and friend, too, though not as dear to me as my pal. But I was young and stupid. I didn’t want to rock the boat, or upset the guy. I didn’t want to be involved, period. So I kept my mouth shut, just as all my classmates did. It seemed most everyone knew, except my friend.

And when she found out (and all these years later I can’t remember how she found out), she said to me: “I know you must not have known, because you would have told me.”

Ouch.

Never have I felt like a worse friend than in that moment. Two years later, when I was led to believe another’s friend boyfriend was cheating, I told her. Turns out I was wrong—or so he claimed—but I earned that friend’s unending trust and loyalty in the moment I shared that difficult news.

I will never forget my friend telling me that she knew I would have been honest with her. That I was such a good friend I wouldn’t have let her suffer the pain and humiliation that she did. And I do regret not telling her. But I also know that I was young and stupid and scared of the wrath of those I would be outing.

My friend was not Maria Shriver and her boyfriend was no Arnold SchwarzeneggerBut I bet the fear of being the whistle-blower was the same in the former first couple’s circle as it was with my friends, if only on a grander scale. It’s hard to deliver bad, life-changing news. Especially when being the honest one could come back to bite you in the ass.

From what I’ve heard from readers, the ethics of this issue are a gray area. I once wrote that telling a friend when a significant other is cheating is a must, but you didn’t all agree. I thought it was black and white, you all thought not. There’s always the concern that she won’t believe you or think you are spreading  “lies” for selfish reasons. If she finds out and decides to stay with him anyway, she may be too humiliated around you to maintain the friendship. There are circumstances to consider.

So I ask now, if you know a friend is getting cheated on, do you tell? Always? Sometimes? Never? Discuss.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “When Infidelity Strikes…

  1. Suzannah

    The longer I am married, and my friends are mostly married..the more often this EXACT issue rears it head. I have discussed this back and forth with other married ladies, opinions range from “mind your business to expose the dirtbag”. I used to see this as a circumstancal issue. No more.
    For myself, I have decided to follow the rule, that I apply everywhere else in life. Do unto others as you would have done to you. If the girlfriend was angry with me afterwards, I would accept that as her reaction, out of my control. Few years back I did not tell a friend about her husband,the secret was too much for me. Without realizing I was doing it, I pulled away.
    So now, I would say, “do what you will with this information but I feel obliged to give you the option.”
    The cheating spouse counts on secretsy.

  2. Melinda

    I’d like to say that yes, I’d tell my friend of any infidelity because I know I would want to know if my husband was cheating but it’s a double edge sword. I’ve been the bearer of bad news and the cheated upon who wasn’t told. When I’ve told, I became the bad person. Women tend to believe the man or forgive him and the one who tells gets the shaft. I guess it would really depend on the friend. I have some friends I might not tell because I don’t know how they would react. If it was my BFF, I know I could tell her and our friendship would never change – The BF would be gone though

    • Anonymous

      I agree – there is fallout, no matter which side you choose. I have not found out that someone was having an affair on one of my friends; I found out (after the fact) that one of my married friends was having affairs with other of my married friends….

      Had I known about it when it was happening, my go-to plan would have been: tell the spouse you know is having the affair that it’s wrong, and that they need to stop it.

      I also would tell them that they need to tell their spouse – and if they don’t, I will. Otherwise, the friend hates you for not having told them. Even if you tell, if they are able to work things out, both of them hate you… It has the potential to be either a lose-lose or a win-win.

      The big thing, though, is the person you think of as your friend – if she really is a good friend, she should at least cut you enough slack to know that you had her back. If she doesn’t, give her time. That is a very painful situation no matter how it goes down, and some people are more resilient than others.

  3. gg

    If it was a very good friend and I knew for sure I would tell her- I would find a way….and I hope I could be a good friend to her through the journey of recovery-whatever path she chose. I was cheated on and the results were similar to Maria/Arnold and my husband hid it for 10 years! All this is a little too close to home for me. I wish someone had told me sooner. But also- I had friends pull away from me when I needed them through my recovery- mostly because I chose to repair my marriage of 30 years. They also did not keep my problems confidential and that hurt- dealing with all the other ramifications – My sympathies go out to Maria- she will need her friends!

  4. I would have to be pretty confident in my knowledge before I told.

    I’ve also been friends with the one doing the cheating. The marriage was a mess and I didn’t know the husband well, but my friend was in the process of her divorce and found someone else. That’s hard too, because the guy she was seeing was a friend of ours and a fabulous guy. She was in a happier relationship but her soon to be ex had no idea. I told her I’d never lie for her or be an alibi, but that she knew I loved her and was still her friend. Cause I do, she’s one of the best people I’ve ever met.

    I find it shocking how many affairs happen in relationships. Maybe I’m super naive, but I would say the number of couples (married or living together) who’ve had to deal with infidelity is ridiculous–and those are people I actually know, not just celebrities!!

  5. Megan

    I would want to know, so I would tell. Always. Not incurring the wrath of others seems a somewhat selfish motive to me (not that I haven’t kept secrets from people to avoid them getting mad at me, but I was being selfish).

  6. LizC

    When I was in college my friend’s first major boyfriend cheated on her. I was not, thankfully, the one who found out. That thankless task fell to another friend of ours. The details are murky nearly 10 years later but that person discussed it with the rest of us first and we all decided it would be best if she told our friend what she knew. The unfortunate side effect is that because we’d also been friends with her boyfriend sides were taken and while some of us forgave him eventually (after my friend herself forgave him and stayed friends with him it seemed pointless to continue shunning him) some never did. So his cheating didn’t just ruin one relationship, it ruined several. I still think we did the right thing by telling her but I regret the way it all went down. Everyone could’ve handled it much more maturely than we did. But we were 18 & 19 & dumb.

    More recently a friend of mine decided to engage in a mostly emotional affair with another guy. She told him she and her husband were separated and he’d moved out which was a loose interpretation of reality as they were certainly fighting a lot but they were still married and living together. I got stuck in the middle of not only having to lie to this guy about the fact that she was still married but I had to lie to her husband about this guy. In this case I never once thought of telling her husband. She was my friend and while I like her husband I wasn’t going to tell him. All I felt I could do in that situation was try to make her see reason and be honest with both of them.

    Thankfully I haven’t been in the position too often and everything as always turned out for the best but I think even if I wasn’t sure how my friend would react I’d tell her. Although if it’s a married friend I think I’d think a lot harder about how I went about it.

  7. Julie

    Awhile back I had two friends that had been a couple for about three years (they’ve since broken up and she’s moved out of state). They had a lot of issues, and whenever she wasn’t around he would hit on other girls or even proposition friends. No one ever said a word about it – it was this weird thing that no one wanted to talk about. I talked to him about it once and he acted like I was just imagining things. I felt torn about saying anything to her – she deserved to know, but on the other hand, I felt like it would put me in the middle of their situation and I didn’t want to be responsible for them breaking up. It’s an incredibly awkward position to be in, but now looking back, I would’ve handled it much differently. She deserved much better!

  8. Beth

    I checked in to the comments specifically to see what others said because this is such a thorny issue. I still don’t know what I would do and am grateful that this has never presented itself. I will say though, the closer the friend the higher likelihood that I would say something.

  9. San

    I agree with Beth, the closer the friend the higher the likelihood that I would say something… but it would really depend on the circumstances and everyone involved.

  10. Lorrie Paige

    I would answer that by asking my cheated on friend: “If my boyfriend was cheating on me, would you tell me?” Then ask, “If your boyfriend was cheating on you, would you want me to tell you?” If she says “No” to both it’s a given not to tell her. If she says “No” to either question, I wouldn’t tell her. Because no to the second question, I’m following her wishes. No to the first, would be well, since she wouldn’t tell me, why should I tell her? Yes to both, of course then I’ll spill the beans.

    Very important note: After we’ve become very good friends, I would bring this subject up BEFORE I suspect anything, as a hypothetical question, so I know in advance should it become a reality. This is becuase most likely she would say to me, “Why do you ask? Is my boyfriend cheating on me?” I can in good conscience say it was a hypothetical question and not clueing her if she didn’t want to know.

    By the way, I totally believe Maria knew Arnold was cheating. She’s playing the “I’m shocked” thing for the public, to save face, among other things…. She may not have known of this love child, but I suspect she’s not surprised about that either. I think they may have even had an “arrangement agreement” in their marriage regarding infidelities. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maria cheated too during their marriage. Anyway, it definitely takes two to ruin a marriage.

  11. Laurie Lee

    It’s a no win situation. Even if your friend leaves her guy she might associate you with the whole mess and not want to be friends anymore. I agree that it depends how well you know the person. I’ve never been aware of that situation with a close friend. I wouldn’t know what I’d do until it actually happened.

  12. I’ve never been in this situation, but I feel like if I had any sort of relationship at all with the boyfriend, I’d talk to him first. And say, look, this is what I saw/heard, I’m not keeping this to myself, but I want you to tell my friend what’s been going on. If you don’t tell her I’m going to tell her. I think that’s what I’d do.

  13. Layla

    I’ve never been in this situation… but I agree with what Anonymous said (before telling your friend, talk to the cheater and ask them to confess to the cheat-ee.) That’s what I’d want a friend to do to me if I were in that situation – initially I’d feel anger towards that friend, but after a day or so I’d be thankful.

    Emotional infidelity – that would definitely be more tricky. First of all emotional cheating seems worse than normal cheating, and it’s not so cut and dried. Ideally, I would find a way to approach the problem to my friend and mention what I think is happening, and help her if she doesn’t know how to approach the problem with her husband. Unfortunately, in reality I might not be able to figure out what to say to her or how to approach it… so I’d do nothing and feel a nagging guilt…

  14. Sounds like a tough situation to be put in, at least it was a learning experience for you so you’ll tell your friends in the future! Though it is complicated in whether or not your tip will affect your friendship in a good way or a bad way, depending on the friend.

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