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Social Graces: Should you tell your friend’s significant other that your friend is cheating on them?

Maya Mokh, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Q: Your friend is cheating on their significant other. Is telling the partner the right thing to do?

A: Your primary relationship is with your best friend. And it’s her decision, not yours, as to whether or not she should tell her significant other that she’s cheating. If you do so on your own, you run the risk of losing your friendship because you’ve betrayed her trust. As an outsider, you are not privy to the nature of the relationship between your friend and her SO. They may have agreed to an open relationship, or the SO may already know of the transgression. There’s also the risk that you might be acting on misinformation. One or both of them may be resentful of you inserting yourself in their relationship, no matter how tenuous the relationship seems to you.

If you don’t agree with your friend’s morals or worry that her judgment is impaired, talk to her about your feelings. Try to understand her point of view and why she’s decided to go this route. What you learn may change the way you feel about her actions.

Alternatively, an honest, nonjudgmental discussion may give your friend reason to rethink her decision. If you think she has been making a series of poor decisions, you might suggest that she speak to a neutral third-party, perhaps a mental health professional.

When two friends have very discrepant values (e.g., about honesty, politics, religion, parenting, drinking, drug use, etc.), it can cause a rift in their relationship. Finding out this information about your friend may cause you to reassess the nature of the friendship. Not all friendships, even between best friends, last forever. People grow and change, as do life circumstances.

— Irene S. Levine Ph.D., psychologist and friendship expert, author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend”

A: I really value privacy and I don’t think people should generally get involved in other people’s business. But a great friend is family.


We’re supposed to protect our family and show up for them. We’re supposed to tell them the truth even when it’s hard. If our friend was getting swindled by a business partner, we wouldn’t think twice about telling them, right? So normally I wouldn’t get involved. But if you’re also close friends with your friend’s significant other, you should take some action.

You should go to your best friend first and give them a chance to do the right thing. Tell them you know what’s happening and you feel their partner deserves to know the reality of the situation. I also think it’s reasonable to tell your friend that if they can’t do this in the coming days, then you’ll have to tell their partner yourself. However you have this conversation, do it in a private location in case emotions run high. Reinforce to whoever you’re talking to that you’re saying this because you care and don’t want anyone to get hurt.

And lastly, make sure you are relatively certain that the cheating is actually happening. You don’t need tangible proof, but it shouldn’t be baseless speculation, either. You shouldn’t listen to random rumors or jump to conclusions because you saw two people interacting somewhere. You should have something a little more concrete: You saw people in the act. You stumbled upon some explicit messages. Or another close friend you deeply trust told you they have firsthand experience that this is happening.

The worst thing you can do is wrongly accuse someone or lead someone astray. That’s a quick route to causing unnecessary problems and blowing up your personal life.

— Nick Notas, dating and confidence coach, founder of Reconnected

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