An ethical question packed with a punch: if you knew someone was cheating on their spouse would you tell that person? Truth can be painful to hear, but it is brutal to deliver to a friend, your boss’ spouse, a neighbor, a family member, to anyone.
A thankless position to be in, but I wish someone had told me. Dozens of people had first-hand knowledge for years about my ex’s chronic infidelity. Some knew me, others didn’t. But they sure knew of me. Any one of them could have used facts and sent me an anonymous note or made a call. Family members actually knew and could have told me, which is especially sad. It would have been a gift, jolting me out of the state of denial that I’d apparently taken up residence in almost from the day I married. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who chose not to tell me walked away from the scene of a wreck and that wreck, unbeknownst to me, was my life.
The very act of denial is self-victimization. But it’s only after you have the information that you can stop whoever is doing it to you and what you are doing to yourself as a consequence. (My ex worked 300 miles away, so it was denial by distance in my case. But only up to a point.) Nothing was worth the years that I allowed him to convince me I was crazy for questioning him while I raised our children, washed his underwear, and sent his mother letters praising him for being such a wonderful husband and father. Someone stepping out of their comfort zone, providing some key facts would have been all I needed to confirm what I was hesitate to face up to.
There is an etiquette in these situations that I recommend. If you know the person being cheated on well enough, you should tell them in person, providing the details you know. Keep reminding them you are only telling them the truth because you honestly care and respect them; as sorry as you feel having to tell them, you would feel extremely sorry if their future was compromised by allowing the deception to continue. Also, as I know first hand, extra marital sex is unsafe, exposing people to potential health risk, if not affecting their mental well-being. (Don’t even get me started on what cheating can do to family finances, job security, and other key areas of one’s life, all of which I am now well aware of.)
In situations where you don’t personally know the person, but have strong, first-hand knowledge, I encourage you to drop them a note, give them the details you do know. Tell them that you hope the information might explain suspicions they may already have and assure them that your only agenda is being honest. If they choose to ignore the information, at least you’ve done your due diligence.
My ex and the co-worker he was a having an affair with caused a scandal in their workplace. But in spite of the fact that a whole department went to HR to complain, no one thought to mention it to me. I had to read it on the Internet four years and a million tears later.
In either scenario ask them, “Down the road, five, 10, 20 years from now, wouldn’t you be more upset, mad, even furious you’d wasted all these years in a deceptive relationship, especially knowing someone could have told you the truth?” Based on what I experienced, as well as some of my friends, the turmoil of living your life in a environment with a cheater is crippling.
Many feel that telling someone to be aware that their spouse/partner is betraying them makes the messenger complicit in shattering the marriage. Who wants to tell someone that the love of their life is sharing their time, heart, mind, and body, probably family income, if not intimate facts about the unaware spouse, with another person? (The person my husband was having the last affair with loved telling people about their relationship, what a loser I was and all their plans for a future together. I think I was nursing our youngest from a broken back at the time.)
What if you’re wrong? It’s not likely you’ve actually seen them having sex. But even an emotional affair, an office flirtation, is going too far and is just as hurtful as extra marital sexual encounters, as surveys have confirmed (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2007). And frankly, where it’s smokey, there is surely a fire in someone’s crotch.
I can understand the fear; I was put in this position a few months after I filed for divorce. One of my best friends complained about her husband’s total change in personality, picking fights for no reason. I asked her if she suspected he was having an affair. I explained that based on what I’d just experienced with my husband, I now knew one of the signs that a husband is cheating is acting hostile towards his wife for no apparent reason, as if he is attempting to justify his wandering penis (“See how unhappy you make me?”).
My friend was certain there was no other woman, “His first wife did that, he never would,” she stated. The next day she called crying. It turned out he was cheating with a co-worker. He also lied about his first marriage; he’d been the cheater that time as well. When someone lies about extra marital sex, they lie about a lot of things: drugs, alcohol, money, their education, the list goes on. When I told someone I was divorcing and what the circumstances were, she was a prophet, telling me that as much as I think I knew, just wait, there’s bound to be more. Holy cow, was there ever, years and years of more!
A business associate told me when he caught his wife cheating, he told the guy’s wife. She was furious, absolutely certain he would never do that. A few weeks later she called my associate, apologized and thanked him. She had confirmed what he already knew, giving her the opportunity to head off her cheating husband from moving assets out of the country, as well as get the jump on a divorce she had more control over.
If anyone wants to know if someone is cheating, start with the phone bill. (Cheaters are incredibly lazy about tell-tale signs, like texting their lovers morning, noon, and night.) I could have saved myself years of feeling demolished by my ex if I had checked the phone bill that I paid each month. After I filed for divorce, I went back and found hundreds and hundreds of calls/texts messages between my husband and his partner in stupidity. Apparently they couldn’t go to the bathroom without discussing it before, during, as well as after with each other.
Ultimately, not allowing the cheater to lie one more time, take one more year, month, or minute of someone’s life is the best reason to tell them. Living with a cheater is damaging to the soul and the regret is overwhelming. Being a knowledgeable party, or even bystander to a cheating situation is inexcusable.
FAQs about Cheating:
Is etra-marital sex safe?
Extra-marital sex is not safe as it can expose your partner(s) and you to health risks. The health risks range from contracting sexually transmitted diseases to falling prey to psychological problems.
How to tell someone that they are being cheated on?
Be polite and show respect when you tell someone they are being cheated on. If you know the person being cheated on, tell them in person about the details you know. Tell them you are revealing all this because you care about what happens to them in case the betrayal continues.
Can an emotional affair be termed as cheating?
According to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2007, an emotional affair or an office flirtation does count as cheating. An emotional affair is just as hurtful for people as a physical affair.
Do husbands turn hostile if they are cheating?
People say it from their personal experiences that a husband will act hostile towards his wife when he is cheating.
Are cheaters generally liars?
Cheating involves deception, which cannot be mastered without practicing the art of lying. Liars are generally cheaters too because they have made this habit as part of their life.
How to spot a cheater?
The first place you should look is the phone bill, where you may find dozens of texts every day between your spouse and his cheating partner.
JK Honeycutt says
I caught a relatives spouse cheating and didn’t hesitate to tell. The result was a nasty divorce with a custody battle. The cheater lost custody because of much worse behavior than cheating, that a private investigator uncovered. I’ve never regreted telling.
Darcie Johnston says
I have been torn by this very thing. My boyfriend cheated on me with a married woman, who he had a relationship with some 20 years earlier. I don’t know this woman or her husband. In the conversations I had with her after I found out she was very callous and rude. I have debated telling her husband. I have made a committment to working it out with my boyfriend and at times I feel guilty because the husband may not know. I do have physical proof of the affair and could provide him with concrete evidence. But I still hesitate in telling him…..I don’t know why. I guess it is because I don’t want to cause any one else’s pain and suffering.
I wish someone had told me. He cheated and left me for the other woman before we’d even been married a year and I was dumb enough to take him back. The rest of our marriage, I ended up with was suspicion and nothing to prove until after the divorce and he spent money to move a woman he’d been “friends” with online for 15 years across the country so she could live with him.
Thank you for sharing your perspective. I briefly dated a guy who had cheated with a woman married to one of my coworkers. When I uncovered that he was secretly wanting her to leave her husband to be with him. I lost it. At first I questioned my need to tell the husband, but my soul was going crazy with this terrible secret. I decided right or wrong that I wanted to tell him. I’m in the process of reaching out now. I’m not concerned with his reaction just that he will now know the man who posed as his friend and would spend the night at his home is a cheat
john b says
is it too late? i caught my wife having an affair with her boss. this was 20 years ago. i actually met the boss 3 months prior to finding out at their company xmas party. i also met his wife and two new born kids at the time. after i found out, i divorced my wife. however, to this day, the cheating boss’s family never knew. i went back and forth in my head whether i should tell his wife. at the time, i didnt want to feel responsible for the two newborn kids and the wife to go through all that. now i feel i may have made a mistake not to say anything to her.. she’s been living a lie for 20 years. although i dont know her, i know what i went through and got out of that relationship. had i let her known, she wouldnt have been living a lie all this time. is it too late to tell her now?