When Friends Cheat: Here’s What You SHOULD (NOT) Do

By E.J. Gordon

I received two letters recently that shared a theme —  CHEATING — so I thought I’d share them with you.

Dear EJ:

My friend has just been through hell with her husband. He cheated on her and everyone knows about it. After a lot of work in therapy and some very long months, she’s decided to continue in the marriage. She told me it’s because of her kids — she doesn’t want to break up her family. I am having a hard time with this. I think he’s a narcissistic slime-ball who will just do it again. I think she owes it to herself to leave him and move on. Do I tell her what I think? Or do I stand by idly and watch her hurt over and over again?
– Bystander

Dear Bystander:

If you value your friendship with this woman, you have one option: Keep your mouth shut.

I’ll tell you a story: A few years ago, a couple on my son’s team, “The Goldmans”, were going through something very similar. John Goldman had been busted cheating, and then he and Jane Goldman tried to work it out. Recently, I ran into a woman who is much closer to the Goldmans than I am. I mentioned I’d noticed that Jane and her best friend Leta weren’t sitting together at games and seemed to not be friends anymore — what happened? I was told, “Well, you know how the Goldmans had some trouble with their marriage and now are trying to work it out?

Leta kept telling Jane that she was an idiot for taking John back. So now their friendship is done.”

So basically, right at one of the worst moments of Jane’s life, her best friend decided to be an unsupportive friend. I’m sure Leta doesn’t think of it like that. She probably thinks she was being a good friend. She probably thinks that a good friend gives her honest opinion about the mistakes her friend is making. She’s wrong. If you think back to your friendships in your life, aside from something life-threatening — like a friend confronting you about your eating disorder, your drug habit, or your drunk driving — has a friend’s unsolicited opinion ever truly changed your behavior?

When you think back to your friends — the ones that you trust the most, the ones you can count on — you’ll find that it is the moments of non-judgment, of true support that really demonstrate the quality of a friendship.

And furthermore … what do you really know anyway? If a friend has an eating disorder, you know that’s dangerous. If a friend is abusing painkillers, you know that’s life-threatening. If your friend has a husband who hits her, that is clearly bad and not going to get better. But adultery, while it sucks and is hurtful to a relationship, is just not as black and white as abuse. You don’t know that he’s going to keep cheating. You don’t know that sending him packing, putting her in a position of possibly having to move her family, putting her in a situation where she’s got to find a way to make more money or get her kids covered when her husband used to watch them — that breaking up her home is in her best interest.

Most importantly, you DON’T live in their marriage. You have no idea what the true details are.

What if, when they are home alone, she is a raging bitch to him? What if she demeans him at every turn? What if she never lets him touch her? You don’t know her part in her husband’s downfall or the  culture of their closed curtained life. And it’s none of your business.

It is possible that they can have a completely normal, happy family life WITHOUT changing their family structure. And for all you know, she might be happy that now he has to kiss her ass for the next five years and let her go on as many “girls’ trips” as she wants out of his guilt. So while you may have your judgments (your “I would nevers” on the tip of your tongue) — the way to be a good friend is to be supportive of her. That way she’ll feel comfortable continuing the friendship; you won’t be a threat to her family. Her (hopefully) rehabilitating husband will welcome you into his wife’s life. And then, if one day she does want to leave, she’ll still have you to run to.

Dear EJ:

My friend Dana had an affair. She hurt her husband very badly, and frankly, I’m really upset with her. I don’t know if I can get past this, and I’m not sure what to do about this friendship. Opinions would be helpful here.

Dear Disappointed:

Let start with this: she didn’t cheat on YOU. Assuming it wasn’t your partner she was with, she didn’t betray YOU. You also don’t know what circumstances, marital or psychological, ignited her behavior. I knew a woman who fell in love with someone else. She carried on an affair.

She told me that she could stand in front of her husband naked doing the can-can, and he wouldn’t notice her. That certainly helps explain her behavior. Why is HER cheating worse than him making her feel invisible?

If we all lived in turn-of-the-century England, Puritanical times in America, or in some theocratic country, it wouldn’t matter what the mitigating circumstances were leading to adultery. It wouldn’t matter if the husband verbally abused his wife or ignored her … if she cheated, SHE was at fault. She might even be killed for it. But that’s certainly neither the culture nor the times we live in. Sometimes we get married for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we get married for the right ones, but then things go terribly wrong.

We live in a time when people are allowed to change drastically, to grow quickly, to have a second act, or even a third. And we live in a time and place where we have the freedom to decide for ourselves our own marital fate.

And while it would be lovely for everyone to go to therapy before they cheat, or divorce before they carry on with someone new, sometimes life is just more complicated than that. And only the people involved know what those many complications are.

We all struggle with something. Everyone of us has secrets, has vices. Some of what we struggle with is very, very public. And that sucks for the affected families, because on top of the actual transgressions, they have to deal with everyone’s opinion about it.

So consider this: What if the very thing you don’t want anyone to know about you became the very thing that everyone was talking about?

Imagine, then, that the people you thought were your very good friends left you.

The very last thing your friend deserves is your judgment or abandonment. Most of all, she is going to need your friendship to help her wade through the mess she is going to face.


Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: E.J. Gordon is a freelance writer, a regular contributor to GIRLillaWarfare,  and “Sexpert”. Have any questions or topics that you would like her to address? Remember: No subject is taboo, and Anonymity is accepted. Contact E.J. at: EJGordon529@gmail.com.

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