Relationship Friendship — 09 January 2011
Should you tell a friend that his/her spouse is having an affair?

Does becoming aware of information suggesting that a friend’s spouse is being unfaithful obligates you to divulge this knowledge to your friend?

The answer requires a soul-searching analysis of several major issues, among them are: The basis of this information, the motives for disclosure, the costs and benefits of revealing it to the friend.

Most commonly, secret information is transmitted by hearsay, “I heard that he/she is having an affair.” By definition, this is an unreliable rumor spread as gossip and by legal terms is considered second hand information inadmissible in court.

Even an eyewitness’ report is not necessarily what it is presumed to be. A woman told her close friend that she saw her husband entering a hotel with another woman in broad daylight. It turned out to be a business meeting and the husband opened the door to a woman he didn’t even know.

One’s motivation in reporting even suspicions of infidelity must be thoroughly explored. Some say that their main intent in informing the betrayed party is because he/she “needs to know”. Who is making this assessment and on what basis? Is this the revealer’s own wish to know if he/she were to be betrayed?

Could the obligation to inform the friend be based on a belief that friendship requires complete openness? Or, is being the first to tell is prompted by the desire to manifest loyalty? Perhaps the secret needs to be uttered to relieve the holder of the information?

Dr. William Rawlins, author of “The Compass of Friendship,” found that both expressiveness and protectiveness are parameters of friendships.

Sandra Petronio, in “Balancing the Secrets of Private Disclosures,” provides another reason for withholding information. “We have found social inappropriateness (conceptualized as a perception that the disclosure would be socially unacceptable) to be a reason that is a particularly good predictor of avoiding certain topics.”

Another consideration about whether or not to reveal information regarding the intimate life of another is the anticipated emotional impact on the receiver and his/her family in response to the revelation of assumed or real infidelity.

If you learn of another’s indiscretions:

• Question the motivation of the person reporting it to you and consider it as rumors, not facts.
• Ask yourself, “Is this my information to tell?”
• Avoid spreading gossip. Unless you know it for a fact, which is rarely the case, consider withholding this from your friend.
• Make sure that your motivation for telling the friend is not about your need to demonstrate loyalty or release your own tension and fears.
• If you believe that your friend deserves to know the rumors, label them as such, talk in person and support him/her in receiving the devastating news.
• Remember that true friendship requires acting in the best interest of the friend, even at your own discomfort, curiosity or ease. Withholding may be as loyal as divulging information in preserving friendship bonding.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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