Should you tell your friend that her partner is cheating?

Two friends having a conversation
Two friends having a conversation

There is little worse involving friendships than discovering that your bestie’s bae has a side chick. The unspoken rule is to always stay out of someone else’s business, but it’s a rule that’s hard to ignore when your closest friends or family are affected and are the ones getting hurt.

So what do you do?

Do you risk your relationship with your friend and tell them what you saw? Or do you hope that they find out all on their own?

When we discussed this during an editorial meeting, it was clear that the responses basically amounted to “it’s complicated.” 

I mean, personally I would prefer it if my friends flat out told me. For me a friendship should be based on honesty – even if that honesty means sometimes telling me things that are hurtful. 

And I’d rather be saved from a relationship that isn’t good for me, than be left completely oblivious to the situation at hand.

READ MORE: Are we looking at a future without marriage?

While I get that some people who choose not tell their friends because they believe a) it’s not their business to get involved in someone else’s affairs, or b) they’re protecting their friends from being hurt, the fact is that there will be consequences when they find out.

I’ve always thought that it would be way more humiliating to be the last person to know about being cheated on.

My colleagues argue that it’s not that simple.

What if the cheating is second-hand information, asks my editor, Zanele? Do you tell your friend based on what you’ve heard which may not be true? Do you need to see it happen to share the info?

What happens when that info ends up being completely wrong and you then end up being seen as a troublemaker trying to break up the happy couple?

My other colleague, Carmen is also ambivalent about it.

She confesses that if she's the bae getting cheated on, she’s scared that she might resent her friend for telling her and potentially ruining her happiness. But on the other hand, she agrees that it would be a betrayal of the worst kind if she found out that this information was withheld from her.

Frankly, I feel like the only person ruining any happiness here is the cheater.

I suppose it also becomes a lot trickier when you take into consideration the type of relationship you have with the people involved. Are you closer to the person who was cheated on or the cheater? And what if your friend was the one doing the cheating?

We asked some readers to share their experiences and some had refused to get involved, while others did say something and it ended up being a boatload of messiness.

Another anonymous reader added that the situation became messy when she confronted her own friend.

"I confronted her in front of him. She denied it, but it came out a few weeks later. She was my friend and he was my colleague. It was rough afterwards. They both apologised to me. He did for not believing me and making my life hell, and she said sorry for lying and that she needed a friend like me to call her out on her shit. I get uncomfortable with covering up lies. I literally just blurted it out."

I’d love to say that even though I’m a loyal friend, I’m a stickler for doing the right thing.  

For me, the best case scenario would be telling the guilty party to come clean before someone else airs their dirty laundry. That way you throw the ball in their court. 

Of course, it's not guaranteed to always work, but it's perhaps a safe way to look out for a friend if you really want to avoid getting involved directly.

In fact, we decided to reach out to Paula Quinsee: relationship xxpert, Tedx speaker and author of Embracing Conflict, and asked her what advice she’d have for someone if they decided to take the risk and tell their friend.

She says that if you have hard facts that can back up your claim you need to “decide whether you are prepared to face the consequences of speaking up as it could go either way – your friend could thank you or turn on you.”

Paula adds that a solid friendship is based on mutual trust and respect and if those have always formed the backbone of your bond, then there’s a good chance that your friend may see that you have good intentions and are coming from a good place.

Bear the following in mind:

  • Understand that they will be going through a range of emotions as they deal with the reality of the situation and may lash out at you the messenger as a result thereof.
  • Try and remain impartial and don’t add fuel to the fire by getting caught up in the middle or taking sides
  • It is not your issue to resolve - it is theirs even if your loyalties lie with your friend. 

Remember, if you’re unsure of your facts and don’t have direct evidence, you could consider approaching the partner in question directly with what your observations are to get their side of the story and whether there really is any validity to your claims.

If things go wrong, can a friendship ever recover if the friend chooses to take their partner's side, especially if the bond of friendship is years old in comparison to the relationship?

This one could be tricky, but Paula says the honesty and open discussions around this are key steps to rebuild a friendship.

“If a couple manages to work through the infidelity and rebuild their relationship, there may be a settling in phase for everyone involved as trust has been broken and parties are feeling raw and emotionally vulnerable around each other. The general rule of thumb is that it can take up to 2 years to rebuild trust in a relationship.”

Friendships take effort and we all go through ups and downs with our friends, even those we consider closest to us.  It’s therefore important to talk about the situation instead of burying it and  trying to move on, hoping the situation will fix itself.

“If your friendship has been a witness to this type of situation it will potentially be strained or awkward as a result and will also require some effort on both parts to rebuild it. The best approach is having an open and honest discussion about what happened, the value of your friendship and how everyone is going to contribute to moving forward.” 

Have you been in a situation where telling someone about their cheating partner went horribly wrong? Share your stories with us.

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