Marriage & Life Partners

Dangerous Knowledge:
A Friend’s Husband is Cheating

There are a few areas in marriage when less is more. For example, I don’t think it is a good idea for partners to share all the intimate details of past relationships. Having too detailed a mental picture of your beloved’s past loves can be painful, even in retrospect. If you are prone to moments of insecurity—and who isn’t?—thoughts about these liaisons can be distressing, needlessly so. From time to time, we indulge in minor indiscretions (“don’t tell your father”…) that are best left unmentioned. Obviously, in general it is best to feel you can be open about everything, but you must consider you motives for doing so.

As a therapist, there are times when I am aware of something about a patient but judge that it is not a good thing to share. Timing is very important. People have defenses against knowing some things, and often they are there for a good reason. If you share too much before the person is ready, they may shut down and be unable to “hear” it.

Early in the AIDS epidemic, a young woman came to see me, grieving the loss of her fiancé who had died from it. She was perplexed by his diagnosis, but it did not occur to her that he might have been bisexual, though I wondered about it. In those days, there was a very high correlation between the HIV virus and transmission from unprotected homosexual activity, shared needles, or blood transfusions. But I did not inquire about it, since her belief that he had loved her honestly and exclusively was adamant, even precious, to her. Nevertheless, I thought some of the pain she was feeling stemmed not only from the loss, but also from the confusion about it.

As I listened, I became of aware of certain things that indicated I might be on the right track, but continued to hold back. It was necessary to provide her with a safe space in which to explore her own feelings and doubts at a comfortable pace. After a few months, cracks in her denial began to open up, and gently we explored them until she herself began to wonder, and then confirm, that he had indeed been bisexual. Painful as it was, clearing up the mystery helped her work through her feelings and cope with her grief, about both the loss and the betrayal.

So while knowing the truth can be vitally important, I suggest you help your friend understand her marriage at her own pace. If she seems worried about it, help her by listening and taking her feelings seriously, but do not offer too much feedback at first. Try to hold back on your feelings in order for hers to emerge. Hard as it is for you, this knowledge is likely to be much more painful to her, and you should proceed with care and caution.

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  • lordhack242 atgmail June 26, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    Let her see it for herself, get in touch for help

  • mickey monroe May 30, 2019 at 11:43 am

    I have thought about this question so very much. Thank you for going through all its manifestations. Ah, yes, I, too, have had the knowledge. Well, actually, my dear friend’s husband, who is an alcoholic, ‘hit’ on me while she was away. I was horrified. Later, she said some things that sounded like she knew he was like that when he drank. Thank you, God, he is alcohol free right now. He’s respectful and kind toward me. I appreciate that. I think of him first as my friend’s husband with all that implies. First and foremost, I am not interested in married men; second, or would this be first? I am not interested, I am horrified at the thought of cheating with a friend’s husband or significant other. I won’t ever, ever, tell her. That he was drinking, very drunk, at the time, is not an excuse. It was that his normal social context was diminished and I am glad I’ve matured enough to avoid this type of situation. And, having written all that, thank you again and again for exploring this issue. Yes, the knowledge is so dangerous; wouldn’t you want to know? Yes, but….. Many years ago in the months after I had split with a boyfriend, over and over women told me he had, well, it was long ago and I wondered then, why would you do that to me, your friend? Okay, not that close but still… Anyway, more thanks. Wow. What a profound subject.