Help! Should I Tell My Friend that Her Husband is Cheating on Her?

I’m adding to my Friendship Break-up Series with a real life example sent to me by a reader of this blog.  I don’t know her or the situation so this is by no means advice to her specifically, as much as it is an opportunity to talk about a taboo subject that affects our friendships even though it’s primarily about our marriages– that subject is of adultery.

Help! Should I Tell My Friend that Her Husband is Cheating on Her?

While we don’t have to deal directly with our friends cheating on us, we’d probably be aghast to see the numbers of how many friendships have ended over the subject as it’s played out in our romantic relationships. It’s appropriate that in talking about friendship break-ups– we get right down to the nitty, gritty, and painfully real truth that has ended many a happy friendship.

This post is about when you have knowledge about your friend’s significant other cheating on her.  I think it’s also worth my time to do a separate post about what to do when you find out it’s your friend who is doing the cheating.  Way too many friendships end over both scenarios.

You might expect a friendship advocate to champion “Always tell your girlfriend the truth! Our loyalty is to each other!” And while I agree with that second sentence– I don’t think the first sentence always leads to that result.

How we tell that truth is often what matters most.

Principles To Consider Before Confessing News that Could Ruin Her Life

Do you tell a girlfriend when her husband is cheating on her? Most women say they want to know… but how we do it can determine whether the friendship is protected.

Every friendship is different, every marriage is different, and every affair is different. There is no one answer to the question that will fit everyone, all the time. Some of us will have added complications if we also feel loyal to the person we know is cheating, if we all hang out together regularly as couples or families, if we know she’s had painful history with this subject, if she thinks her relationship is perfectly fine, if she’s pregnant or has young kids, or any other number of variations to why this is a very difficult question and answer.

Here are some things to consider before you tell her what you know about her husband or boyfriend that could devastate her.

  1. First, Know that Your Burden Isn’t The Priority. Yes, it feels like the worst secret ever.  And you’re sick to your stomach with what you know. Unfortunately, that is not our biggest concern here. What you are feeling is nothing compared to what she will feel. Your feelings are big and scary, but if you’re thinking of confessing the truth so that you feel better– that is the worst reason to do so. Even if it is causing fights in your own marriage or keeping you up at night– that is not her fault. Vomiting the truth so that she hurts and you feel better is not friendship. Maturity means we learn to find our peace in the midst of painful situations. So if you do tell her, don’t breathe a word about how it’s impacting you, what you would do in this situation, or how mad at him you are.  As much pain as you are in– don’t make this about you. This is her nightmare.
  2. Women Know When They’re Ready to Know, Usually. I’ve talked to many women after they have found out that he was cheating on them and almost all of them had warning signs and red flags when they look back. We might act like we don’t know, for a while, because we’re not ready to face the truth, or because we’re not ready to have it called into question. So think long and hard about whether you think your friend doesn’t already know.  In the coaching world we say,”Don’t have their ah-ha for them.” It’s usually more life changing for her to come to her own truth, than for us for force feed it to her. So if you do tell her, I’d start with the least amount of information you need to give.  Being loyal to her doesn’t mean telling her everything you know, it means telling her enough so that she can try it on and make her best decisions. It’s usually best to tell her what you know with a little bit of doubt… allowing her to save face if she chooses denial a little longer. Don’t force some long conversation or some intervention now, just move on.  You can know she’ll undoubtedly keep thinking about it.
  3. You Need to Know that Most Women Stay. I think it’s worth reminding you that most women stay in marriages even after an affair.  And unless you’ve been there– you can’t judge it. Sometimes there are higher values at stake, other needs being met, and alternative priorities that she chooses.  That is not a choice of weakness; to stay is hard and it takes tremendous strength.  But you need to know this because it’s not a given that she’s going to thank you for the information and leave him tomorrow. Supporting her means supporting her relationships, choices, decisions, and timing. Supporting her means accepting her no matter whether you approve. So if you do tell her, then be sure you tell her that it’s okay if she stays, wants to try to work it out, and that you can still understand what she loves about him. You should feel no invested stake in what choice she makes (even if it affects your ability to go out on double-dates or something– that is not the highest priority right now!), when she makes it, or how– that you will fully support her and journey with her any direction. And you’ll support her if she changes her mind down the road, too.  Life is a journey, let her take hers.
  4. Women Don’t Want to Have to Defend Their Family. Even when we know our mom is impossible– we don’t want someone else to say it.  Even when we know our children are trouble-makers– we don’t want everyone else to think less of them.  Even when our spouse makes us madder than mad– we don’t want our friends to not admire him.  In fact it’s common that most women will blame the “other woman” more than they will their own spouse– its how we react to people we love. Like a mama bear with her cubs, chances are high that she will defend him– it’s partly how she defends herself.  So if you do tell her, be very, very careful to still speak highly of him, to only share the bare minimum, and never speak poorly of him or their marriage.  Even if she reacts with anger toward him– tell her you understand the feelings, but don’t agree with her or express your own opinion. What he did was a hurtful thing, but he is not a bad man.  Even if she leaves him eventually, she will heal better if people around her aren’t devaluing him or feeding her anger.
  5. The Messenger Can Become the Threat. If she’s defending him (or herself since we all want to believe that we chose the perfect person, are worthy of their love, and have a great marriage!), that risks you being seen as the threat.  At her very healthiest she would be able to separate you from the message, but when we’re scared, we don’t always react rationally.  She may accuse you of lying, see it as evidence that you’ve never really supported her relationship with him, or simply be so ashamed she can’t face you anymore for what you come to represent to her.  If it comes out later she may not want to face you and feel the embarrassment of an “I told you so,” and if she decides to stay, she may feel like she can never talk about it with you. So if you do tell her, know this distance is normal and a likely consequence of telling the truth. The best way to minimize this is by never placing yourself against him; rather just keep expressing how much you love her and will stick by her no matter what.
    Express deep regret for having to tell her, but simply tell her you would regret it more if she someday found out you knew and didn’t tell her.
  6. Be Ready and Willing to Handle The Grief.  If you’re not close enough to her to be someone who is ready to go through the grief cycle with her, you may not be close enough to her to tell her this news. She will likely need to grieve whether it ends her relationship or not; there is still some loss. The stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, and depression– all of which she may take out on you. All of which are healthy and normal stages. Pray for the courage and tenacity to not take things personally.  So if you tell her,  you need to be committed to showing up in all those stages, reminding her how much you love her and support her. That might mean doing all the initiating for a while.  That might mean being her place to vent or her person to ignore.  No matter what she does– you just keep saying to her, “You have a right to be mad. I would be to.  That’s okay.  But I’m going to still be here no matter what.  You can yell at me, but I still love you.”  It means being ready to clean up the vomit that was spewed. Because that’s real loyalty.

You’ve been put in a tough place knowing this information.  But you can handle this choice.

Loyalty may mean protecting her from this news for now if you feel that’s the best option.   Loyalty can also mean helping her face her feelings, no matter how reactionary they are.

Either way, you can love her and help her see her best self so that when she goes through phases when she can’t see it herself– she can see herself through your eyes.


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30 Responses to Help! Should I Tell My Friend that Her Husband is Cheating on Her?

  1. amanda a says:

    If it was me, I’d want to be told. I don’t stay with someone who cheats. If my friend knew and didn’t tell, I’d question her friendship. If I tell a friend and she hates me for it, then oh well.

    • Tara says:

      I’ve Been in a situation like this where I have told my friend that her boyfriend had hit on me when she went to bed and of course I turned him down and said I was going to say something to her. I told her n she didn’t care. I thought that was odd. I have another friend and if you told her that her boyfriend was cheating she would not be friends with me and still stay with the guy….makes you think…how good of a friend she ever was.

      • Erica says:

        I am in the same situation as you, my friend husband has been stalking me and Message me. For the past several months/years Do not what to do. I do not like it Should I tell her or not

      • Lost says:

        Tara, my story is a little different. A married man took advantage of me. I requested a blood test. he wouldnot take. 20 months later he threatened me. I told his wife. 7 week later a police called. 2 question later I was arrested for harassment but later dismissed. do I regret telling his wife? NO…I kept my mouth shut for 20 months. When he threatened me,,,i started talking to my neighbors…half knew he cheats on his wife for years…the wife is still with him…knowing he cheats…they don’t have children…but stay…love is blind….I never trust a man again….

  2. Melissa A. says:

    My best friend’s hubby had cheated on her for years, I didn’t know about any of it at all. They went to counseling & decided to work things out. But one Sunday, I saw him cozying up to another woman on the way to Sunday church services! I couldn’t dial my girl fast enough! My friend tells me repeatedly that this was her pivotal moment in the relationship- Someone she trusted witnessed him cheating! Now divorced from that loser, my friend married her best guy friend (a caring, honest, devoted family man) 2 weeks ago in a small, beautiful ceremony that I has honored and blessed to have attended.
    My advice: Trust your instincts. When friendship is genuine, (and not about saving face) you should be able to tell your bestie anything without reproach and vice versa. HOWEVER, I would NOT have gotten involved in this for an acquaintance, co-worker or neighbor. Only a strong, honest, respectful friendship will survive.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. I always find out when people are around me are cheating. As a result I frequently face the question of “Should I tell or should I not”. I have found that if it’s anything but a true friend I’m telling it will blow up in your face

  3. Robin says:

    I found out from a mutual friend that our friend in common, who was married to my husband’s residential dorm mate from college, slept with another man in lieu of paying rent while she went to a cooking school. I was so torn! I spoke to my husband about it, and he thought he should tell his friend as ‘he’s closer’ than I am…. and we decided in the end to not say a thing. I have a sneaking suspicion that he knows what went on and is either ignoring it or … I don’t know. If they should ever break-up over it, I know which side I will be on.

  4. Carissa says:

    If you have decided you are going to tell your friend, one option is to talk to the husband/cheater first, tell him you know, and give him the opportunity to be honest with his partner. Discuss with him a deadline so you’re not left hanging for months or years. It’s not an ultimatum, it’s a heads up that you know and will tell your friend if he chooses not to.

  5. I also think it depends on how long you’ve been friends with this person, as that will factor in to the (already) challenging decision whether to tell her or not.

  6. Sylvia Calderwood says:

    I had this situation and I went to the cheating spouse and told them that I would give them a week to tell their mate, my friend, and put any spin on it that they wanted. But, after that week, I would tell them if they hadn’t. I didn’t have to be the bad guy and was able to support my friend.

  7. karen says:

    i really need your advice, last week a saw the mistress and confront about the affair, and then my husband came and said she choose the mistress than be, I’m so devastated and so hurt. but he continues to txt me and last Saturday we have celebrate our wedding anniv. weird but he miss me and he want to have a child with me again in January. my question is why he choose the girl but he wanted too see me and spend time with me. he wanted to continue, in so confuse about this.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Karen– I am so sorry! This is so painful and scary and confusing…. It’s not my place to give advice to people I barely know in situations that are so specific but I will say this: less important in this situation than what your husband wants is being clear what you want. He doesn’t get to pick your future for you (he can pick his and it may impact you, but he doesn’t get to pick when you will see him, carry his child, or get texts from you). I’d really encourage you to invest in a therapist so you can feel stronger, clearer, and more confident in your choices– there is such value in having a support system around you in a time like this! Love is confusing… sometimes we have to say good-bye to people we love, sometimes like in his case he may love more than one person, or he may not love either and simply gets different needs met with different people. I don’t know him, nor you. I can only encourage you to work on yourself right now…. build up your core, remember how worthy and capable you are, try to grieve what has been lost so far, and commit to healing from this in the way that is best for you. Courage!!!!!

  8. linz says:

    Well….I told my best friend today (we are both married with young children) that her husband has came on to me twice. I waited a few wks to tell her simply bc I wanted to protect her feelings as well as our friendship. Of course her husband completely denies it and it has backfired back at me completely. She totally believes him and has now made it clear we can’t be friends. I understand she has a right to be angry but she is directing the anger at me when it should be at HIM!! All I can say is your will be a good friend for telling her but it will jepordize your friendship.

    • Jennifer says:

      That really sucks! I can’t be certain because I don’t know the situation but if he hit on you twice, I’d be curious of what it was you were doing that made him hit on you. You could have made it clear to him that you did not want to engage him in a sexual relationship. It’s also possible you misread his intentions. I think there is so much more to this story…

    • Lost says:

      Linz, read my comment above…to Tara….ur lucky. I told my neighbor/friend. and she and her husband had me arrested. But later dismissed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret at all. men are cheater period…

  9. Tina Barnhill says:

    I would love to see your article on how to deal with finding out your friend is having the affair. My best friend, who is single, is having an affair with a married man. I’m struggling between supporting her and being at odds internally with our very different values. I almost feel like I don’t know her at all now; the person I know and love would not do this.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Tina– I definitely need to write that one still! It’s in my head– I just have to get it on paper. Maybe after my book launch in Feb? I’ll try to get it done in the next month. Check back or subscribe and we can make sure you get it. Thanks for encouraging me on! I’m so sorry for the struggle you feel right now with your friend… the fact that she could tell you says a lot about how much she trusts you. I think the best thing you could say for now is “I love you and want to support you through this. That’s not the same for me as saying I agree with what you’re doing or feel good about it, but I love you and want to try to support you. What do you feel like you need from me right now?” That way you’re staying honest but also recognizing that we can’t just end friendships every time people do things that we don’t agree with. Courage to you! Hugs!

  10. Cuppy says:

    I had a horrible situation a little more than a year ago. My husband was acting more distant, and I had suspected him of cheating. I asked him to be up front with me, and he simply said he wasn’t in love with me anymore and wanted a divorce. Last summer, a friend (not close but reliable) informed me that she felt she needed to tell me what she heard, as she said everyone knew except me. Word was that he was sleeping with my friend L. and maybe also my friend S. However, it was more likely he was with L. I confronted him (not divorced yet) about L. and he denied it. All of a sudden he wanted to work things out, but I could tell he didn’t. He remained distant and even gave up on counseling after one session. Shortly after the divorce (I was in the process of moving out), L. contacted me to say she had been involved with him in a rather graphic manner (I had found evidence on FB that she referred to him as her soulmate) and that WE were victims because he was cheating on HER with S. Needless to say I went off on Whore #1 (L.) and let Whore #2 know I knew. At least Whore #1 acknowledged the mistake, although she felt more sorry for herself and is clearly mentally ill. Whore #2 (who WAS BFs with Whore #1) blamed me for the marriage falling apart and felt it was perfectly okay with sleeping with him while we were still married. I have to say I am very grateful for the bravery of my friend who did the right thing in alerting me to the immature madness that was going on around me. I had a sturdy, fairly normal 11-year marriage, so this completely blindsided me, especially at how it all went down. It is disgusting, the lack of morals people have in today’s age. I am grateful I didn’t have children with my now ex-husband, as I wouldn’t want his lack of morals to infect any children we could have had. There are too many cowards and whores in the world, and I can only hope I can start over without ever having to deal with that Jerry Springer crap ever again.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Cuppy… It is so sad how much all of us do in this world to get certain needs met that end up hurting others. I am so sorry that these women chose damaging and non-ideal ways of pursuing the feeling of being loved and chosen. What they craved was a normal human experience, but the paths they chose would inevitably hurt everyone, including themselves. With that said, they are real human beings who have made mistakes (as we all have) and I’d hesitate to want to put a label or belittling title to them that implies they can’t be anything but that. They are not their mistake, they will hopefully grow and learn from this. And my prayer for you is that you continue to be fueled by the knowledge that you are a courageous person who was willing to move forward, not staying in a situation that ended up being so deceptive. You are a brave person who is willing to hear her own voice– I trust that will serve you well. And may you find the ability to forgive all people involved, knowing it will make room in your life for more love. Thank you for sharing your story… Hugs.

  11. Ann says:

    Glad I read this – needed to hear the part about not telling just to let go of the burden of “knowing”. A close friend & mother of 2 teenage girls who has recently been diagnosed with cancer is married to an ER dr in our small town. I found out today that he was caught having sex with a young nurse ( married mother of 2 little ones) in a car in the hospital parking lot! I am beyond sickened at his selfish egotistical behavior. I am considering sending him a letter threatening to “out” him to her sister. I would also like to contact the nurse and give her a piece of my mind. Both would have to be done anonymously to preserve my friendship to my friend & her girls. I so want to kick him between the legs & shame his sorry butt – I also know it would totally destroy her if she found out, let alone cause stress she can not afford to have while dealing with fighting cancer.Odds are she won’t find out through normal small town venue due to the fact that they are fairly new here and she doesn’t know that many people. The sad part is that it’s out & I hate that she is going to be the last to know. Guess there isn’t much to do huh?

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  13. Suzanne says:

    “A real friend would tell you if your fly is down, a real friend would tell you if you had spinach in your teeth, and yes, a real friend would tell you if your husband’s cheating on you,” she said. “And I think the best thing is to give the guy a chance to make things right. Let him know you’re going to be spilling the beans and give him an opportunity to really make amends.”

    I had a ‘friend’ for 8 yrs. Saw her socially without my husband most of the time because he couldn’t stand her! So I am out of town, caring for my Mom who suffered from Alzheimer and spending time with my grandkids, and husband is out one night. My ‘friend’ turns up at the same restaurant, sees him playing pool with a younger woman and tells him “Don’t worry, I won’t tell S. Wouldn’t blame you if you had an affair anyway, she’s basically abandoned you!” Nice huh?

    When I come back to town, my husband tells me PART of the story, doesn’t mention that she she had basically encouraged him, just the part that she had seen him with this woman. Of course, I am angry. I feel humiliated that my husband has put himself and me in this position. I was pretty sure he’d been cheating on me for a while, but we’d been married 40 years, so I dealt with it in my own way.

    We discussed it and I dropped it. Then a few weeks later we run into this woman and he
    wants me to meet her– I refuse and leave the restaurant without making a scene. When he gets home we have a horrible fight and I end up with a black eye and a twisted arm.

    After a few days, I decide I must confide in someone, and go to my ‘friend’s’ house. She is shocked and supportive and goes on and on about how what he did is unforgivable! So SAD that I am thinking of leaving my husband!

    Later, when I tell my husband that I have not covered up his abuse, (this wasn’t the first time) he just laughs. “You confided in her??” he says?? Then he tells me that she ENCOURAGED him to cheat on me, and promised to keep his secret!

    A week later, this ‘friend’ is passing on private text messages to my husband from ANOTHER WOMAN. He shows me these, laughing at her hypocrisy because all the while, she is still pretending to be a friend to me! Really! Before my bruises are healed or my bags packed, she is setting up my husband with a friend of hers. She is setting up her ‘friend’ with a man she KNOWS is an abuser! ( This is why men get away with abuse, BTW, because they know other women usually blame the woman)

    If your friend’s husband is cheating, TELL HER. When she finds out that YOU are betraying her too, it’s devastating. I have spent a couple of years writing a blog about my experience, my feelings and my road forward, learning to trust again.

    My husband and I are not divorced but we live in different countries. I don’t care what he does, but the betrayal he engaged in with someone who behaved as a ‘friend’ hurts more than the cheating. He lives in a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, where he can get all the Viagra he wants w/o a prescription and there are many Mexican women hoping to catch themselves a rich Gringo. Lots of old white women there too, looking for a man, any man, even another woman’s man!

    One of his Mexican women contacted me recently, crying about a nasty little STD he had given her, the permanent kind, I realized how lucky I was to be away from him. I don’t have to worry about his promiscuity anymore. BUT, make no mistake, the betrayal of the women involved, one of which was a ‘friend’ is what has caused me the most damage.

    I am proud that have taken the high road, bidding my time …. if we ever get a divorce, I will be free to publish my blog, in all it’s gory detail. I am stronger now, patiently awaiting KARMA.


    Aside from the emotional pain, you might be saving her from a nasty STD!

  14. kira says:

    I have 2 ex girlfriends and they are sisters. One of them happens to be my best friend. So I found out my ex girlfriends husband was sexting her little sister. The little sister who just so happens to be my bff. I wished that I never found out about this because it has been bothering me ever since. I went ahead and told my friend that her husband is trying to hook up with her sister “my best friend” and now my bestie is upset with me and doesn’t want to ever forgive me. I care for both of these girls especially since I have an intimate history with both of them. Was it the right thing to do? I mean if I ever was in a situation like that I’d expect my friend to tell me if she knew something.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      More important than whether it was the “right” thing to do (and every case feels so different) is the fact that you 1) meant it in love and 2) and miss them so now you do what you can to repair the friendships. The first step that strikes me is to not take her anger personally… they’re mad at a lot of things… you were only a messenger. So don’t make this about you, even if they try to. Second, I would apologize: not because you were wrong but because they’re hurting. If it were me, I’d keep trying to say “I am so sorry my actions hurt you… I love you and miss you a ton…. I was trying to do what felt like the right thing and it was hard to know… but what I know no is that repairing my friendship with you is definitely the right thing…. what can I do to support you in meaningful ways right now?” And keep trying to stay as warm and loving as possible… this is their crisis… it will take some time on their parts for life to come back to balance… be patient and loving…. You have a good heart. xoxo

  15. Donna says:

    I had a sexual affair with a married man 12 years. He told me before we started seeing each other that I did not want to be a home wrecker. It was ok for him to do what he wanted.
    He had a relationship with a married woman about 2 years before me. Now he is seeing another woman and will not tell me. I know he is having an affair with her but his wife doesn’t.
    He keeps secrets, lies where he is and denies what he is doing. He is bicycling with this other woman alone. The took off on a Thursday morning to ride hills out of town. The snuck upstate to ride alone and meet up on group rides. His wife does not know about this and he does not tell her anything about his riding with another woman alone. His wife has no idea what he is doing. Should she be told? I would be so pissed at him? I would kick his ass out! He lies so much to her. He has been screwing around on his wife 14 years.

  16. Marjorie says:

    You absolutely nailed this article! I have a friend who is being cheated on and I truly believe she is not ready to now. I was cheated on and so much of what you say is completely true. Sometimes we can only handle bits of the truth until we’re ready to face the entire mess. Thank you for such a thoughtful and informative piece.

  17. weng says:

    My best friend knows her husband is cheating on her but acting as if it is not true. She asked me to stop entertaining those unknown people who prove that her husband is having another woman. Pictures with that woman and their kids were sent to me as a proof but my friend is still not believing that after i sent her those pictures of her husband and the other woman along with their kids. As my friend is not doing anything about it, I have this desire to discuss this to her sister and to her mother but i am so confuse. She will never forgive me for sure and it will hurt her relationship with her mother and with her sister. Please advice me of what should i do.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      It’s not your responsibility to make her believe it! Everyone’s marriage is different and clearly she’s either okay with how it is now or not ready to believe otherwise. I definitely wouldn’t talk to her family! Just be her friend…. The same way we would with someone who knows they need to lose weight or quit their job but isn’t yet acting on it! We all have reasons for our own timelines! Xoxo