What To Do When You Think A Friend Is Being Cheated On

What To Do When You Think A Friend Is Being Cheated On

Knowing about the infidelity of a friend’s significant other can be the most awkward situation ever. You want to inform and console your friend, but you don’t want to damage your relationship with them and end up being the dead messenger. If you think (or know) your friend is being cheated on, here are some things to consider.

Binoculars picture from Shutterstock

Should you be saying anything at all?

You might be wondering why this section is even here, but many people believe it isn’t their place to tell. There are a lot of things to consider before you say or do anything. This event, depending on how it’s handled, could potentially ruin your friendship. Your friend might decide to ‘shoot the messenger’ and get angry with you for telling them or for waiting too long to tell them, or just assume you had some part in covering it up. Even if you’re fortunate and they don’t outwardly show any anger toward you, they might always think of you as a starting point for the whole painful incident. In their minds, everything was hunky dory until you told them, and they may want to distance themselves from anything that reminds them of the pain.

As Mark D. White, Ph.D, at Psychology Today explains, you’re going to feel caught between wanting to do the “best” thing (like finding a way to help your friend and protect your friendship), and the “right” thing (like telling them straight away). The problem is, doing the “right” thing can be handled poorly. And doing the “best” thing might mitigate some of the damage, but it can also cause problems of its own since it requires a little more time and thought. Keep in mind that you’re not a bad friend for carefully weighing all of your options here. In fact, taking the time to find the ideal way to approach (or not approach) this particular situation makes you a better friend.

The first thing you want to consider is how close you are to the person that was cheated on. Lifehacker’s Vanessa Marin, a licensed marriage therapist currently at the helm of Lifehacker: After Hours, suggests that it’s not worth putting yourself in such an uncomfortable situation if you’re not that close to the person. They may be your ‘friend,’ but what does that really mean? Are they a co-worker, a gym acquaintance, a friend of a friend? How often are you around them in a social or personal way? Don’t inject yourself into a situation that you don’t belong in. You might not be worried about ruining a friendship that isn’t very close, but there is a lot more at stake than that. You could destroy a relationship, cause other people to draw lines and destroy other friendships, and maybe even make some enemies of your own along the way.

The second thing you need to do is make sure you are absolutely positive that someone is actually getting cheated on. Do not share suspicions, rumours, or gut feelings with your friend or other members of your friend group. Dr. Nerdlove, relationship expert and blogger, explains:

Telling your friend that you think their partner is cheating on them is introducing a drama landmine into the relationship. If you’re going to tell them that you think they’re being cheated on, then you had better be 100% sure — and by which I mean someone confesses to you that they’re cheating on their partner or you see said cheating happen.

You might want to consider the inner workings of their relationship as well. You may think you know what their romantic situation is like, but it’s quite possible even a close friend won’t tell you every nuance of their love life. Marin explains:

Don’t make any assumptions about your friend’s relationship. Lots of people have arrangements with their partners that they don’t choose to share with other people.

Remember, you aren’t a part of their relationship. You may feel like you know everything because you share things with your friend, but there is bound to be plenty you don’t know. You can try to do some digging, but it’s a hard topic to bring up in conversation without sounding off any alarms. As you decide what you should do, definitely consider the possibility that everyone already knows what’s going on.

Lastly, you have to take the humiliation factor into account. When you get cheated on, you feel foolish for having put so much trust in someone. It’s incredibly painful, and knowing that others are aware of it all is even more painful. As Nerdlove points out, there are plenty of times you’d rather not have witnesses to the darker times in your own relationships, so it’s safe to assume that your friend feels the same way. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not worth telling them still, but it should definitely be something you think about when you make your decision.

If you’re still struggling to decide what you should do after you’ve taken everything here into consideration, White suggests you ask yourself “What would my friend want me to do?”

It might seem like there is an obvious answer to that question, but really think about it. How do they react to bad news normally? Do they prefer to have the bandage ripped off or peeled away? Imagine how they’re going to react and consider your approach accordingly. With all that considered, you now have a few different options:

Option 1: Don’t tell them

This is the safest option if you’re not that close with the person being cheated on. It’s also the safest option if you are not 110% positive that anything actually happened. There’s no denying that choosing not to say anything can feel awkward, and maybe even a little wrong, but you’re probably avoiding a slew of other problems by staying out of it.

Nerdlove notes that whatever happened, whether you’re certain of it or not, may have been a one-time mistake that won’t ever happen again. If you blow the whistle, you could be ending a relationship that might have otherwise survived. Keeping quiet doesn’t put the cheater in the right by any means, but it does give the couple a chance to adjust to things on their own terms.

Option 2: Tell them (and support them)

If you’re certain that your close friend was cheated on, it might be time to face the music. The last thing you want is for your friend to shoot the messenger, however, so you need to approach them with caution. Marin recommends you decide quickly and tell them as soon as possible:

The more time you spend mulling over your decision, the more uncomfortable it can get. Your friend is inevitably going to ask “when did this happen” or “how long have you known?” If it comes out that you sat on this information for months, it can feel really awful for your friend.

Things will not go well for anyone if you wait too long, so it pays to be quick. Still, the way you actually say it is important too. Even if you witnessed the act first hand (or heard it from the horse’s mouth), you need to remember that it’s possible their relationship works differently than you thought. Bring attention to what happened, but try not to sound judgemental.

For example, you could say something like: “Listen, I found out about this and wanted to let you know. I don’t know what your arrangement is, and I’m not looking to judge, but I felt like I should tell you in case you didn’t know.” They may surprise you with a “yeah, I know,” and they may not. Either way, in that scenario, you’re avoiding inflammatory, judgemental language, name calling, and avoiding blaming words like cheating, cheated, cheater, etc.

If they were unaware of what happened, they will probably be a little shocked and upset. In fact, they may not even believe you, and they might get mad at you. Nerdlove explains:

As much as people swear they’d want to know, the knee-jerk response I see from people being told that their partner is cheating on them is to call bullshit and — frequently — get mad at the person telling them. This gets even more complicated if you have (or are believed to have) feelings for the person being cheated on. I’ve gotten letters from dudes who’ll swear up and down that they saw Boy J cheating on Girl K and are eager to inform K about said infidelity. Of course, there’s the fact that they have a not-so-secret crush on K complicating the matters. It almost always ends with K being pissed at the letter writer for trying to break the two of them up.

Think about how the situation might look to them before you tell them. Do you have a past with your friend’s significant other, even if it was just a crush or casual thing? Do you have any feelings at all for them? It’s a good idea to take a third-person view of all the puzzle pieces before you jump in.

It’s also important to empathise with your friend when you tell them. You might not believe it either if it happened to you; and you might be just as angry. If they want your support, give it to them (even if they’re being a little mean). Show that you support them no matter what they decide. Relationships are complicated and it’s not your place to tell them how to live their life, but you can still be a good friend and back them up on whatever they do.

Option 3: Confront the cheater

Confronting the cheater themselves might be the safest option if you feel the need to address things, but are afraid of damaging your friendship. Just as if you were to tell your friend, this is only something you should consider if you’re certain of what’s going on, so don’t accuse people of things without the facts to back it up. Nerdlove suggests that confronting the cheater gives them a chance to stop and come clean with your friend on their own or you will tell them.

This comes with its own dangers, of course, because a malicious significant other could potentially throw you under the bus and tell your friend that you knew the whole time. That being said, if it seems like the cheater made a mistake and knows it was wrong, this option can allow the couple to work things out on their own and keep you out of the fray. You can help your friend and avoid becoming a casualty of love.


  • You always tell them. No ifs, ands, or buts.
    Sitting on info like that is the ultimate in disrespect for your friendship with the person.

    Option 1, seriously, what the fuck? “You could be ending a relationship that might have otherwise survived.” Right. Because its even SLIGHTLY appropriate for someone to be kept in the dark about their partner’s true motives, the cheater using time, energy and money to fund their deceptive crap, and making a choice about their (faithful) partner’s mental, physical and sexual health. Way to go – condoning someone playing Russian roulette with STDs, squirrelling away money on their whores, or further nutjobbery.

    And Option 3 just drives the cheater further underground. Do NOT EVER do this.

    Option 2 is, and should be the ONLY appropriate action. How would you like it, if someone was withholding a very important fact about your life?

    • Are you 12 or something ?
      Grow up and act like an adult.

      Here’s what to do when you see something that looks like it could be cheating:
      Mind your own bloody business.

      1. Seriously, it’s none of your business.
      2. You have no knowledge of how their relationship works. It may be an open relationship. She may have a man she sees for particular reasons. He may have a mistress that understands his needs. Both may love each other very much, but have this arrangement. By confronting either the partner or your friend, you force them to either reveal this personal secret to you, or go through the charade of being angry/defensive.
      3. You are not as important in this scenario as you’d like to think. These are two people who have pledged their love to each other – let them work it out. No one needs you to jump in, it’s not a fucking tag team effort.
      4. If it is an affair, and your friend is devastated, that is when you become the true friend and console and support them. Keep your mouth shut about what you thought you saw, if you place any value on this friendship.
      5. It’s not being disrespectful. It’s being courteous. Going and blabbing your mouth off is being disrespectful, because you immediately confront and humiliate your friend. You’re her friend, not her mother.
      6. Your friend may already know and has chosen to ignore/accept it. Again, why do you need to be involved ?
      7. Read 1 again. Still none of your business. Accept that as a fact. You don’t live, eat or sleep with them, so stop placing yourself in between them with your self righteous sense of justice.

      I’ve come across pretty strong on these points, but quite frankly what you advocate is nothing more than a misguided reason for gossip.

      • If someone is being a spiteful cunt, the other person has the right to know, whether or not their relationship is ‘open’. If its truly ‘open’ – they will say “Thats fine” and leave it at that.
        If its not, you’re lying by omission, and that friend will find out eventually that you knew something and couldn’t be arsed telling them – your friend will resent you for not saying anything. You have no idea about the word ‘courteous’ if you condone lying by omission.
        ‘Gossip’ would be making stuff up and plastering it all over the place. Having a private conversation with the person and telling them their partner is a deceitful piece of shit, with proof, and sticking to the facts – is not ‘gossip’.
        Thank fuck no-one like you is in my life – you’re the one who needs to put your big pants on and grow up – if you think that lying is appropriate.

        • First of all, you’ve made a judgement call on what you have seen. This is plainly evidenced by the words ‘spiteful’ ‘cunt’ and ‘deceitful’.
          Not only does that tell us that you’ve not actually read the original article or my rebuttal, but somehow you feel that your assessment of the situation is the correct one, and have added additional emotional amplitude.
          What you tell your friend has zero chance of being a plain concise statement of facts, and as such is gossip.
          There is an old adage that says “Believe nothing that you hear, and only half of what you see” and this scenario is a perfect fit for that adage.

          Despite what popular rom-coms might have you believe, going up and challenging the ‘cheating’ partner is not going to resolve itself into a mildly amusing misunderstood situation where you’re invited to sit down with him and his sister, or more popularly, writhing in his shame, he begs you to not tell his wife whilst you and his companion eviscerate him with sharp words and looks.
          Both those scenarios are fantasies, which why they are popular in films.

          I also share your appreciation that we’re not friends – if you kept running up to me with every little thing you thought my partner was doing wrong, by your judgement, it’s highly likely I’m going to tell you go far, far away, or at least grow up.
          I’m an adult. I don’t need my friends to coddle me, and vice versa, They are my friends, not my children, but like any good parent would, I allow them the freedom to make their own mistakes, and ergo, learn from them.

          Evidently, you believe otherwise, and you are certainly entitled to your opinion, and prefer to leap to the defence of those you love. It’s admirable, if misguided, and you stand a good chance of being a victim of your own friendly fire.

          Given the sharp words you’ve used, it leads me to conclude you’ve been deeply affected by such a scenario. Whilst I cannot heal that pain for you, maybe the following saying will help you heal yourself.

          Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional

          • Once again, you miss the point. You can use your words of non-comprehension to refer to yourself.
            I suggest you look up what the word ‘cheating’ actually means, and you would see that ‘deceit’ is an accurate way to describe it.
            If you read a word I actually said – you’d see that I said that ‘challenging the ‘cheating’ partner’ (in your words) is exactly what NOT to do. Funny how you use passive-aggressive language and projection, to twist my words though. Nice try. Also, your final line is the crux of the issue – that suffering by not being told and finding out later – rather than pain which, while heinous, means you know the truth.
            If you want to live your life being lied to by omission, then realising that the rug has been pulled out from under you – when it could very easily have been prevented by fore-knowledge, thats your problem. I’m sure you wouldn’t be saying the same thing if you were given an STD, your finances were decimated, and being smeared by someone who was supposed to have your back. Being informed about this is a right, not a choice.

          • Fair enough, I did use an example you had said not to do – but your reasoning was insane – because they’ll go underground.
            What are they moles or secret agents ? Who are these well connected cheaters with an underground network that can suddenly disappear ?
            The idea is laughable, because they’re simply going to go home. Underground – lol

            We’re going circles, because you can’t or won’t understand that their relationship is none of your business. That’s all I’ve been stating from the start. You insist on being a busybody and blabbing your mouth.
            Oh, and omitting to tell someone is not the same as lying. It is a fundamental right you have whether you choose to divulge that information, not an obligation.
            If we’re talking about twisting words -pot meet kettle

            I’m not going to respond any further to this thread, because it serves no purpose, but I’ll leave you with the reason why I am so vehement against the gossip-mongering you proudly champion for.

            A friend of mine, whom we’ll call Dave was caught in an intimate situation with someone that was not his wife.
            The person who witnessed this, wasted no time in driving round to the wife, (they literally ran to the car) to breathlessly announce that Dave was cheating on her.
            The trouble was, Daves wife knew about this, because Dave had confided in her some years ago, and between them, they had come to a tacit agreement to continue on as man and wife, because it would cause a lot of trouble for the family otherwise.
            Now, she had a ‘friend’ loudly announcing exactly what she wanted to keep quiet, so she asked her ‘friend’ to say nothing and leave it to her to sort out.
            Apparently that wasn’t the answer the friend was wanting to hear, and decided that Dave wasn’t going to get away that lightly, and needed to be punished.

            This is where is gets complicated.
            Dave was gay, and had tried to keep it suppressed for many years. Whilst he loved his wife, he desired other men and needed that to be fulfilled.
            Dave was also an upstanding citizen and proud church member, as well as being pretty handy with a set of tools (no pun intended)
            The ‘friend’ accidentally (oops) told the entire church that Dave was both adulterous and horror, gay, and Dave’s life went from going downhill into a terminal nose dive.
            His wife, under the glare of intense peer pressure, distanced herself from the growing moral outrage, (and thus Dave) and took away the children.
            He lost his standing within both the church community and the outside community.
            He was asked to leave the church.
            His business, largely dependent on church members, failed and left him in huge debt.
            His children were teased, shamed and bullied at school for having a gay dad.
            A lot of his gay friends avoided him, because ironically, they were in the church too.

            I wasn’t there to see the decline of Dave’s life, as I was deployed overseas, but I was there to witness the summary of it.
            As one of the few people there, (I think it was me, the priest and two others), because the church still discouraged anyone supporting Dave, even in death. The fact he had committed suicide only cemented their judgement that he was a deviant, an aberration.
            Even the priest had to be brought in from another church.

            The words, ‘cunt’ or ‘spiteful’, were never used but the same self righteous toxic thinking was certainly there. I’m pretty sure they all smugly thought “He got what he deserved” as they solemnly tut tutted over tea and scones.
            He was witty, intelligent and his wife told us later that she had still loved him, despite his sexuality, because he was such a good man and a great father. Chances are, they’d still be together today -20 years later.

            But all that transpired because one person could not keep their fucking mouth shut about something that was none of their business in the first place.

            Say what you want from here, I’m done with your self righteous moral crusading shit

          • You missed my entire point. Again. Once again, as I stated before – I said that it must be a private conversation between yourself and the other party. Not going and telling everybody. Shall I repeat it again? A private conversation. If the other party chooses not to do anything, or has an ‘agreement’ that they are non-monogamous, etc – then yes, that is their business and it should be left at that. However, the non-cheater is able to make a decision with all the facts.

            And yes, if someone is aware of the fact that someone could blow the entire rabbit warren sky high – they WILL go underground (in other words, given you clearly didn’t understand what I meant – that they will hide their tracks better) – because they know damn well they have a lot to lose and that something has slipped for someone to notice. Its why they don’t do it out in the open, after all!

            The example you give, is actually not cheating at all. You are speaking of a non-monogamous partnership which was acceptable to both parties. And I personally don’t have a problem with people who are non-monogamous – provided that all parties in the relationship are in agreeance to it. Its when someone is deceitful – thats when its cheating. So yes, that person was in the wrong to engage in a smear campaign against ‘Dave’, especially given that Dave’s wife stated that she was well aware of the fact. But, they were not wrong to confide in their friend regarding the cheating.

            Probably gonna get a response to this, even despite your “I’m not responding to your self righteous bullshit” stance. In fact, I’m waiting for more ad-hominem from you.

          • Thank you Lani for injecting some reason into mandroid’s inane comments. I can’t even begin to imagine how much pain I would have avoided if only someone had told me the truth, rather than trying to understand why nothing my (nearly ex) wife was saying or doing made any sense. The worst months of my life, by far, all because I was kept in the dark while she was running wild on Ashley Madison.

  • imo the best thing to do is let your friend know what you saw. You shouldn’t be providing your “interpretation” of what went down

  • Interesting to see both polar opposite dramatic reactions above… personally… I think it comes down to the situation, but it’s either 1 or 2.

    3 comes with such a high level of associated risk that it’s not worth considering – even moreso if they are married!

  • I have known a few cheaters when I was younger and constantly hearing that partners would want to know. I have approached close friends to tell them what I knew. Each friendship ended after that talk. This was also with friends I saw daily. Friendship ended overnight. In every situation as the messenger I had been shot. I actually got thanks in the end like a decade later but they want nothing to do with me as I remind them of worse times. My experience is people say they want to know but they don’t really, if they want to know they need to find out for themselves and if you get accosted it is better to ask for forgiveness as people seem to forgive that easy than if you do the right thing in the first place.

  • From experience, my best friend told me that an ex of many years ago was seeing people behind my back. I think he told me however as it was becoming obvious something wasn’t right, but I didnt want to face it.

    It was the best thing he ever did in telling me, if only to confirm my suspicions.

    At the end of the day it’s the weight of the persons actions that I took into consideration, that and on hindsight I dodged a major bullet should I have stuck with her. Considering I had already arranged an engagement ring (which I later sold, brought a motorbike and travelled overseas :p) it was what we call now my “phew that was close” moment.

    That best friend later went on to be my best man to my now wife, and we’re best mates still to this day.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!