This is undoubtedly one of the most awkward positions to be in as a friend. It’s a horrible and difficult position to be in because you are always caught between what is the “right” and the “good” thing to do. And unsurprisingly there’s no straightforward answer. Whatever you do, it’s likely to have consequences and you could be made a scapegoat for any outcome in the aftermath of the fallout. That’s true even if you say nothing.
Suppose your friend finds out about the infidelity and then realizes that you knew all along? “You mean you knew and you didn’t tell me?”, they will say. “How could a friend do that?”
On the other hand, should you opt to tell them, they could be in denial especially if you don’t have your facts straight. Cooperating with their cheating partner, you could end up being a villain whose intentions were always to break them up because you never liked them together anyway.
Even if you have your facts straight, there is no telling how the outcome will be, and what consequent effect will it all have on your friendship.
The best place to start is how sure are you that the partner is cheating? If you were to be asked to produce concrete evidence, other than, “I saw them kissing”, would you be able to do so?
Most cheaters will lie and gaslight you unless you catch them red-handed. Even then, they usually only admit to what they think you already know. If anyone confronts them before gathering any tangible evidence and hard questions that demand hard facts, there’s a good chance you’ll look like the crazy jealous friend. Furthermore, they’re likely to continue with their cheating ways, and take the affair more underground. Before you take any action, we always recommend that you gather more than one piece of concrete evidence first.
Secondly you need to ask yourself, as a guide, how you think you’d feel in your friend’s situation. Would you want to know?
You’ll no doubt be worried about hurting your friend. Telling them may seem like the “right” thing to do, but is it the “good” thing to do? One of the reasons this is such a hard decision to make is that it depends on your overall moral outlook. How important is your value system compared to the possibility of being rejected as a friend and given all sorts of unwanted labels by the two of them? Although your values shouldn’t be changed based on circumstances, it may also be worth considering how close a friend is your friend to you. Would they appreciate these news coming from you if you’re not that really close together? On the other hand, how hurt would they be that you kept it quiet if you usually share everything with one another?
Even if you saw them kissing, is it possible that they have an open type relationship, or a “don’t ask – don’t tell” type of a set-up? What if your friend has a suspicion of his cheating but is in denial, and doesn’t want to confront it for whatever reason? Be the harbinger of this bombshell and it may stick to you.
Thirdly, avoid telling other mutual friends about the situation. One of the hardest things about discovering an affair can be the humiliation your friend may feel when they find out they’re the only one that didn’t know. With this said, you must also think of your own mental wellbeing. This is likely to cause you stress and anxiety. It might therefore, be worth finding somebody safe to offload to. Just make sure it’s a person who doesn’t know your friend, and be careful not to reveal any names.
Fourthly, depending on how well you’re acquainted with each other, talk to the partner. Don’t threaten or emotionally blackmail them. But instead, point out you have your friend’s interests at heart and have some concerns about what you’ve discovered. How you then deal with it will depend on the response you receive.
When you speak to the cheating partner, you could suggest that they end the affair as soon as possible. Or if they want to move on with their life separately, then it’s not fair to string your friend along. Perhaps you’ll then leave it up to them at this point to take things forward, knowing that you’ve intervened in the best interests of your friend but haven’t interfered.
But if the cheater shows no remorse or sign of ending the affair but still wants to also continue with the relationship with your friend, then you’re left with no option but to talk to your friend.
One the other hand, you may opt not to talk to the cheating partner. Besides, they’re in no relationship with you and therefore owe you no accountability. If you do, the cheater might prep themselves for a good excuse or denial once you tell your friend. It may be best that they’re left in ignorant bliss, thinking they got away with being a cheater while your friend prepares to surprise them with a serious talk.
Moral decisions are not always easy, even when we know all the ethical schools, rules, and perspectives. In the end, it always comes down to judgment, and believing that you found the “right answer” that maintains the integrity of your moral character.