The sorting we do to ourselves and to one another is, at best, unintentional and reflexive. At worst, it is stereotyping that dehumanizes. The paradox is we all love the ready-made filing system, so handy when we want to quickly characterize people, but we resent it when we’re the ones getting filed away.
Braving the Wilderness
Recently, one of my favorite writers, Dawn (Walking the Journey), told the story of how she managed the discovery of a friend’s husband having an affair. She decided to do what she believed was right and out the husband to the wife.
Considering how badly it could have gone, this went well.
The ending isn’t what she expected but as you read Dawn’s post you realize how many assumptions she made, and how one ten minute conversation with the Husband, at the time she saw him kissing another woman in the theater, would have saved a ton of time and energy. Sometimes, because of our own life experiences, we just assume the worse of others.
In Dawn’s post, she asked the question I’ve contemplated for years: if you knew someone’s Partner was cheating, would you tell the man or woman that is being betrayed?
There are nuances of course. How well do I know both Partners? Is it the Affair Partner I know? Do I know only one spouse? Do I only know the cheating Partner?
I’m not sure until I’m in the situation but I’m fairly certain I would not. As such, I’m sticking to my original answer: no I wouldn’t tell the man or woman that was betrayed.
The follow-up question of course is: What would you do?
Ideally, I would like to think I would go to the person that is cheating at a safe time and place and tell them what I saw. Depending on the answer I’d then tell them my story. I would share the story and the consequences. I would tell them who I betrayed and how. I would use my situation for something useful.
I would lead with vulnerability and try to avoid condemning them, judging them or lecturing them.
Regardless of the reasons, they already know what they are doing is unhealthy and often want someone to talk with about this situation – to hear the rationalization even if it is simply emotional and mental gymnastics. At the end of the day, betrayal is about wanting to be seen and heard.
However, if you have a conscious you already know you’ve fucked up. They don’t need me to chastise them. Besides, I have no high ground.
If they were still listening I would encourage them to read Esther Perel’s The State of Affairs and Dr. Caroline Madden’s book, “When a Good Man Cheats.” I would encourage them to read Dolly (The Queen is In), Elle Grant (Betrayed Wives Club and Encyclopedia for the Betrayed, Moisy (Make This Better), Spouse of a Sex Addict (A Couples Journey of Recovery from Sex Addiction), wife and husband team of TigerLily and Mindcraft (Reconcile4Life), SpaghettiSam (Are We Still Having Spaghetti For Dinner) and, of course, Dawn (Walking the Journey).
If they were still talking, I would tell them the three reasons Madden lays out for confessing to the affair, and the four or five reasons not to confess. I would tell them my experience with the reveal. I would then explain why I should have confessed to C first.
I would direct them to a good family counselor and stress that I am not judging them. I know sometimes we make decisions and out of fear and arrogance double down only to lose our way.
If they double down and became defensive (and who wouldn’t), I’d still be very hesitant to blow someone’s life up simply because I have an opinion. I don’t actually know the whole situation.
I might even approach the AP if I knew them. I would explain my story and the depth of my secrets and lies to C and K, my ex-wife. I would share a lot of the same information.
Approaching the betrayed Partner would be the absolutely last action. Absolute last…and even then it would require me witnessing a significant amount of reckless and dangerous behaviors.
If someone is an alcoholic you go them first and offer help. If someone is trapped in a car fire you don’t add gasoline. If someone is drowning you throw them a life preserver, not a brick.
In all cases, I would never take sides, fuel drama, create a triangle, or pick a team. Human beings cheat as a coping mechanism and social shunning only drives behaviors deeper underground. Everyone in this situation hurts. That is just the reality.
I’m not looking to simply do what is “right” based on my arbitrary and subjective experience. I genuinely want to do what is best.
And sometimes what is best is not as obvious as we would like to pretend it is.
SIDEBAR: It is interesting that all the opinions offered in the comments section are from men and women that have been betrayed and me (the man that betrayed people that love him). I’d be curious what an experienced and knowledgeable therapist would suggest because frankly, my best thinking got me here. As such, I went to Twitter and asked a bunch of trained professionals. I’ll let you know what they say.
Read Dawn’s original post by clicking below –>
I worked with Gail for years. We were good friends. I hung out at their house, I knew her husband. His name is John. They had a rough road trying to have children. She had several miscarriages, but they kept trying. They were very protective -obsessive- of each other. They always had each other in […]