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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Ellie Muir

Your best friend has told you she’s having an affair. Should you tell her husband?


When Anita* and her husband became friends with another couple, it seemed like the perfect dynamic. They’d go to dinner as a foursome, and even went on holiday together. Then Sadie*, the wife of the other couple, told Anita a secret: she was having an emotional affair with another man, and asked Anita to not tell anyone.

This, Anita tells me, was an enormous weight to carry – and made her feel like an accomplice to Sadie’s infidelity. Sadie’s husband was her friend, too, and now Anita struggled to look him in the eye. “He didn’t deserve to be cheated on,” Anita says. “When I saw him, I felt terrible.” Feeling entirely uncomfortable about the situation, Anita advised Sadie to end her affair and even offered to babysit her children while she and her husband attended couple’s therapy. “I didn’t want to carry that secret anymore,” Anita continues. “It was such a miserable burden.”

This predicament is more common than you might think. Since a YouGov survey found one in five British adults are estimated to have cheated on a partner, it’s only inevitable that other people will experience an affair’s ripple effects: friends, family members, or work colleagues, all dragged into its messy politics. And when a friend confides in you about their indiscretion, it prompts a very specific quandary. Do you turn a blind eye and not get involved – and potentially become complicit in the process? Or do you inform the person being cheated on and possibly betray your friend?

Much to Anita’s relief, Sadie’s emotional affair eventually became public knowledge. “The husband found out a few months later because the guy turned up at her house,” she says. “I was relieved. I didn’t want to carry that secret anymore! I lost all respect for her… and I don’t understand why she put me in that position when she could have confided in someone who wasn’t as close to him.”

Sometimes, though, coming clean about your friends’ actions can land you in murky waters. Olivia*, 38, who lives in Surrey and works in cybersecurity, was put in a difficult position when she saw the husband of her close friend locking lips with another woman in a nightclub. Olivia knew the family because they were all members of the same National Childbirth Trust (NCT) baby group and both couples had toddlers of the same age; the families were good friends by now.

Wracked with anxiety, Olivia spent the following day fretting over whether to tell the wife. “I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t want to destroy someone’s life,” she says. “It was a really difficult thing to insert yourself in. You don’t want to seem like you’re interfering in something that’s none of your business.”

Olivia did decide to tell her married friend. “It’s funny because I think she almost felt relieved,” she remembers. “I was worried she would feel humiliated being told this information or [that she would be] cross with me, but she was grateful – she already had some suspicions that there was something not quite right in the marriage.”

Olivia’s approach to the situation is backed by professionals, too. David N Bruce, a developmental psychologist specialising in relationships, thinks that Olivia handled it well. “Be honest with them and act as a sort of ‘ethical compass,’” he says. If your friend is the one doing the cheating, Bruce recommends being “kind and understanding”, but also encouraging your friend to come clean to their partner. “Ask them how they would feel if their partner was doing this to them and how they would ever try to cope with it. Your friend doesn’t need you to defend their actions or encourage them to keep harming their relationship, they need you to be a friend. If they ask you what you think, be honest but do it in a way that is still empathetic.”

If your friend is the one actually doing the cheating, Bruce recommends being ‘kind and understanding’, but also encouraging your friend to come clean to their partner
— (Getty Images)

When the affair eventually comes out – it usually does – Bruce says that you can’t pick sides if you’re friends with both parties. “You have to treat their marriage as a unit,” he says. “You can’t try to mediate a fight. Instead, you have to simply be there for either of them when they need [you].”

Suzannah Weiss, a relationship coach and sexologist at BedBible, says that these situations are not morally black and white. If, like Anita, you find yourself being confided in by a friend who is having a secret affair, you should listen to them before jumping to conclusions.

“Listen and try to understand what is driving your friend to cheat, and offer advice from that place of understanding,” Weiss explains. “If you say something like ‘You need to stop cheating; it’s not fair to your partner,’ they’ll probably feel judged and shut down. Instead, ask questions like: ‘Do you feel like your needs aren’t being met within your relationship?’ or ‘What would your ideal relationship look like?’”

If your friend seems receptive to it, Weiss says, you can offer up some advice. “But rather than speaking in a condemning tone, focus on what could be available to your friend if they were to stop cheating.”

I didn’t want to carry that secret anymore. It was such a miserable burden
— Anita

Nicole, who is 40 and from Buckinghamshire, has been on the other side of this predicament. Three years ago, she was out with her daughter when she got a call from her friend, who’d just spotted Nicole’s husband with another woman at a private members’ club. Nicole, her best friend and their respective husbands had all been close friends for five years, but her friend didn’t hesitate to tell her about what she had seen.

“She instantly knew she had to tell me,” Nicole recalls. “I was distraught – [so I] called him and was so upset.” After trying to make things work with her partner, Nicole discovered her husband had multiple affairs in the six months that followed. They’ve been separated for two years now, but her friendship with her best friend is stronger than ever.

Looking back, Nicole says she’s grateful to have received that call from her friend. “It broke me into pieces but I would much rather know and rebuild my life and thrive than be betrayed daily,” she says. Now, Nicole says she would absolutely do the same for another person put in that situation. “If anyone is in this predicament… I would always urge them to tell their friend.”

*names have been changed

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