When You Catch Your Best Friend’s Husband Cheating

Dear Dr. Hurd,

My long-time friend from high school has been married for about ten years. I’m also good friends with the husband. Several weeks ago I saw her husband in a restaurant with another woman. It was obviously an intimate moment. I’ve been trying to rationalize it away, and then I saw her husband again last weekend—with the same woman—holding hands on the beach.

I know my friend will be heartbroken, and could end up mad at me for telling her, but I feel like I just have to say something.

Dr. Hurd replies,

Ask yourself this question: What would you want done if your spouse were cheating on you? This will help you act with integrity, in that you’ll know that whatever you do, you believed it was the right thing.

Most people go wrong with moral dilemmas because they try to figure out what the other person would want them to do. That’s not possible, since you’re not the other person. The only way you’ll know for sure is when everything finally comes out in the open.

If it were me, I’d want to be told. Knowledge is power, and it’s better to know than not to know. I have found this to be a surprisingly controversial idea, i.e., the idea that knowledge is power. Also, many people subscribe to the idea intellectually, but not in practice.

Also, there’s the problem of ‘shoot the messenger.’ That phrase dates back, if I’m not mistaken, to the actions of dictatorial kings who lacked empathy for the poor sap delivering the bad news about the latest war of the empire. You expect more from a friend. If a friend ‘shoots’ you for merely delivering the message, displaying no empathy towards you for being in such an awful spot you didn’t ask for, then that friend was no friend at all. Like I said: Knowledge is power, and you’ll have learned something new about a friend.

If it were me, I’d appreciate your actions as those of a good friend, and I wouldn’t ‘shoot the messenger’ by confusing my hurt or anger toward my cheating spouse with my feelings toward you.

Will your friend react this way? There’s no way to predict that. So, as I said, do what you think is right and what you would want done if you were her.

But be careful! If you decide to tell her what you know, tell her only what you know. Don’t editorialize. Let her draw her own conclusions. Phrasing is everything. How you word things matters.

Instead of saying, ‘Your husband is having an affair,’ say, ‘I saw your husband with someone else, and this is what I saw them doing.’ Respect her by reporting the facts, and only the facts, in a gentle and sensitive way.

It’s her job to draw the conclusions, not yours. Though it does seem obvious that something is going on (the psychological term would be ‘hanky-panky’), your friend will need the space to accept it in her own way.

By the way, if you do decide to tell her, your friendship with her cheating husband will most likely end. In my opinion, that’s no great loss.


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