I was talking to a good friend the other day and asked her why her friend Layla was a little chilly toward me. She’s cordial—not rude, not cold—but not as friendly as she could be. I don’t know Layla that well, but I’ve been in her company a few times and I like her. The feeling didn’t seem to be mutual and I didn’t know why. After all, I’m delightful; how could she not want to be friends with me?

My friend’s answer surprised me. She thinks that Layla (obviously not her real name) suspects I may know some things about her husband that she’d prefer I not know. It’s possible that her husband may be a bit of a womanizer and, since I’m friendly with a guy who works (and plays) with him, the assumption is that I may know something about his alleged extracurricular activities.

That made me really uncomfortable, primarily because she’s kinda right. I do know that the scuttlebutt is that her husband “plays around,” but that’s all I know; I don’t know any details.  And then I started to think, “Well, what if I did know some details?  What then?”  I don’t know the answer to that, but my guess is that if I knew her secret, it would change our relationship.

It’s funny. As a committed spinster, a cheating husband of my own is something I’ll never have to grapple with. However, somebody else’s cheating husband is a topic of conversation with friends from time to time. Fortunately, it almost always involves people I know but who are not part of my inner circle. And that’s as it should be. That way, it’s salacious but not actionable.  It’s none of my business, except in a gossipy kind of way.

It would be very different, though, if the people involved were close friends of mine. I’m pretty certain that I’d tell if I ever knew (or even heard the slightest word) that the husband of a dear friend was cheating on her. (I’m assuming lots of gasps here). Except for one person: I have one friend who has made it clear for many years (even before she was married) that she never wants anyone to tell her anything about her man. Perhaps not surprisingly, her husband has had more than a few dalliances throughout their marriage. She has chosen not to know, and I honor that wish.

But  I’d tell everybody else who was near and dear because: 1) I’d feel like a terrible friend keeping a secret like that from a good friend; and 2) I think people should have all the information they can to make the decisions they need to make. What they do with the information is up to them.

I take a pretty hard line against cheating husbands—a luxury I can afford because it’s all in the abstract for me. I’m always confused by and disappointed in women who stay with these guys—again, a luxury I can have, viewing it from afar. And I would tell because I would want to be told. Many years ago, a woman I considered a good friend knew that the guy I was dating was also dating someone else. She didn’t tell me until after the relationship ended, and I was pretty angry with her. I felt betrayed by her, and I hated the fact that she knew things about my relationship that I didn’t. It changed our relationship a bit. So I understand Layla’s response to me.

So, should you tell your good friend about her cheating husband? I think most people say “no.” But I wonder if, by keeping quiet, we’re making it easy for him. Why are we protecting him?

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  • Christie April 23, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I’m nearing 40 so it’s probably my age that attracts married men. The first one didn’t tell me he was married and the second was a muslim who could have two “wives” but never wanted to tell anyone about me. You know what? I have no sympathy – these men are selfish, they hurt their families and end up walking away from their girlfriends (who they always promise the world to and deliver nothing) with no apologies. I sound bitter but I’m not, it’s just simple fact from my experience. I tell now.

  • Dena June 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    My own experiences are something that is a footpath in of itself that lead me to be a lifecoach.
    @Lystra, there are elements of every persons life different than that of my own (if you read carefully and thoroughly)…Therefore most of the anger that comes from negative opinions is something only you can answer.
    @Roz, like most good coaches, I went to college. A lifecoach is someone who “points” people in positives directions. And, having said this, people have to WANT the help in order to heal. And there are never any easy answers when there is a cheating spouse. Male or female, most who come to me want an “opinion” or to vent. As I said previously, most people *know* when their spouses/partners are being unfaithful. I’m simply the “cold pond” in which they dip their toe in before diving into the icey cold truth. The whole idea of a lifecoach is to spark or trigger ideas of self love, independence, and self discovery. My training comes from years of psychology, experience, and being fundamentally tired of watching people self destruct by way of co-dependence.
    We are what we know…. My job is to help people self reveal and learn.

  • roz warren June 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    what’s a life coach anyway? are you some kind of therapist? what kind of training do you have? i’m curious.

  • Lystra March 18, 2012 at 11:00 am

    I do not agree with your stance one the issue. I do not feel that a life coach should tell a person what to do but rather, show them how they can improve their own lives. Your first post om May 19th was actually quite confusing and I think you are using your own experience as a guide to others when you should be looking at the person on an individual basis.

  • dena May 20, 2011 at 11:15 am

    @Chris…I think it’s very much of an individual situation and that there’s no correct way of handling infidelity and friendship…Every situation has a different ingredient list for the recipe of the dynamics being played out. There’s just no way that judgement can call the outcome. In my experiences, pride, ego, love, trust, boundaries, and chemistry are all potentially explosive situations. If you cannot trust your spouse, then you do not know how to trust your friends or the people in social standings/circles.. generally speaking of course.

  • Chris Lombardi May 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I get what all of you are saying. But as a woman who was in the position of that wife, in my first marriage: She probably already suspects, and is tormented by her fears. I might never have married the man in question if a dear friend hadn’t decided NOT to tell me when he tried to get her to “comfort” him physically when I was in the hospital. I know why she stayed quiet, but she waa a good enough friend – I love her still, 26 years later – that we both wish she’d spoken up.

  • Jade Walker May 20, 2011 at 11:04 am

    @dena – I’m heading to the library now and will look for Chesler’s book. Thank you for the suggestion!

  • dena May 20, 2011 at 11:01 am

    @Jade…I can see where you would want to do this…especially if you have a love and bond with your friend. And just like my coaching instance, I had been in a situation with a very good friend I had known for 8 years (before my coaching years). As far as she was concerned, I was lying, and jealous of her marriage. That friendship was killed instantly. Women, I have found, have an underlying smokey film of what the “true trust meter” is when it comes to trust and loyalty issues our own mothers pass down to us…A woman’s journey in her total self, and getting to know who she TRULY is, is a life long path walk and journey. A fascinating read on this subject is “Women’s Inhumanity To Women” by Phyllis Chesler. An eye opening revelation into the women’s internal psyche. You won’t be able to put it down…and you will not believe what you learn about your own self.

  • Jade Walker May 20, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I would tell my friend (assuming I knew for sure that the spouse/mate was cheating). First, it is my responsibility as his/her friend to be honest. I have an obligation to maintain trust between us and keeping such information hidden only serves to worsen the situation. Second, I would not allow my friend to look the fool. Not only would I tell him/her what I know, but I would make damn sure I was there for the fallout. Lastly, and most importantly, if someone is cheating on my friend, he/she is putting my friend at risk for STDs. And that is simply not acceptable.

    If the roles were reversed, I’d want to know the truth. I wouldn’t shoot the messenger, but I would definitely cut off any “friend” who knew and kept the information from me. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

  • Dena May 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    I’m a life coach…And NO – I would not. I recently coached a couple who contacted me for services that would apply to their marriage and the fact that her husband had an affair which produced children. After many attempts of her husbands passes at me, the outright manipulation of me when we were in session alone, and the constant delicate walk I had to do in keeping their issues separate, yet addressing both – I think it’s a very bad idea to try and tell the wife. I made one “light” attempt to convey to her an independence from him, and they both lost their minds while he was in a different state, making his own happy endings with yet another woman. The point is, is that until a woman is ready to hear, feel, and accept that this is in fact a slow death she is living, then all bets are off as to what a persons natural progression will open up to be. I distanced myself from him, cut off all ties which made him extremely angry. She then followed suit one month later…and why? More than likely because HE couldn’t stand communication between her and the person trying to help her heal. It’s sad – however, every woman has to live their life and walk their walk to make them the “artful beauty” they deserve to be in the end.

  • Tina April 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I think I would tell if I considered the person a friend of mine. If I considered her an acquaintance I don’t think I would feel comfortable telling. I might encourage someone else to let the cat out of the bag though because every cheater deserves to be exposed.

  • JL Williams April 19, 2011 at 7:41 am

    I would tell, but only if I practically found the guy in flagrant dilecto. Honestly, a misunderstanding on a topic like this can ruin lives. Tread carefully.

  • Helen April 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    I can understand spouses having a Don’t ask, Don’t tell attitude. But I wonder whether that has to be thrown out because of what we now know about STIs. A wife who doesn’t know her husband is playing around also doesn’t know the HIV or other STI status of the unknown partner/s. Genital warts can lead to cancer and I don’t have to tell you the danger of HIV transmission. It’s time it became the norm for cheating partners to be outed simply in the name of the safety of the betrayed partner.

  • MamaKat April 18, 2011 at 10:19 am

    In your article you speak of gossip as if it is factual. That is not usually the case. If I knew for a fact that a friend’s husband or wife was cheating on them, then I would definitely tell them. I would want to know and if I lost that friend then they would not have really been a friend after all.

    This actually happened to me when I saw a friend’s fiance out on a date with someone else. He pleaded with me not to tell. Frankly, if you are going to cheat, why get engaged or married at all? I told my friend of many years and she did not believe me because she didn’t want to. So, I was out of the wedding party. She married him and had many years of pain while he cheated on her constantly. She finally divorced him and apologized to me for ending our friendship for something she was not ready to face. I would do it again.

  • roz warren April 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Fascinating topic. I always love your essays, Ms. Wells. I’d tell if I knew for sure, if only to protect my friend’s health. And I’d certainly be inclined to tell if I knew that trust and monogamy mattered to her. Thankfully I’ve never been in this position and hope I never will be.

  • Dom April 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I used to be pretty disgusted by philandering husbands. However, I’ve done my share of cheating on boyfriends, so I suppose I’ve been a hypocrite. Marriage is different, though. I get creeped out when married men hit on me and I don’t encourage it. This said, unless I’ve seen a man physically touch another woman than his wife in a clearly romantic way, I would steer clear of assuming anything. Gossip is just gossip. And the couple might have an open marriage. Many people do. So I would feel very uncomfortable disclosing anything. I feel that unless you are directly involved, it’s an unacceptable burden to have put on your shoulders. It shouldn’t be my responsibility. It’s up to the couple to resolve their issues, not up to others to stick their noses in. If the wife asks you directly what you know, I suppose you can tell her in that you are also under no obligation to keep any dirty secrets for her husband. Short of that, no.

  • Millicent April 17, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I’d say unless you know for sure, keep your mouth shut. Unless you actually catch the guy in the act. and, even then, make darn sure he’s not just kissing his sister goodbye or hugging his aunt. Most guys even if caught with their pants down in the bedroom would deny, deny, deny. So, telling what you think you “know” will just damage your friendship. Plenty of situations “look bad” but aren’t.

  • Sharon April 17, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Personally, I would never tell anyone that their significant other is cheating. My reasoning for this is…unless you know that the person will get out of this relationship…then all you are doing is hurting your friend/family member. That person will stay in the relationship and torture themself. Constantly wondering if the other person is cheating etc. So, my thought on this would be you were huring your friend/family member more than helping them.