Reader Question: Do I Tell if I Find Out My Friend Had an Affair?

by | Jun 12, 2017 | Marriage, Sex | 30 comments

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Reader Question: Do you tell on a friend if she had an affair?Do you tell on a friend if you find out she had an affair?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question, and today’s is a biggie: so a friend had an affair, and it’s gotten really complicated. Do you tell her family?

I’m honestly not sure how to answer this one, so I’m going to post it, leave a few thoughts, and then let you all have a go at it in the comments!

A reader writes:

I have a friend who recently confessed that she had been in an affair  years ago. Some relatives suspect this and occasionally (like whenever they get mad at her) accuse her of being unfaithful. So at times she has had to blatantly lie and say she’s never done anything of the sort. Her kids suspect too. They even suspect who it is. Correctly. If it comes up around her husband, his response is “I don’t want to think about it.” That tells me he suspects too… Then I found out that the last time was only four years ago. And that he still texts her and when she doesn’t text or call back, he will call the business.

I feel like she should just come clean with her husband. She says that if the ex wants to call and tell everything she’s willing to deal with that and so she has stopped responding to him, come what may. But I still feel like he’s got power over her as long as she’s trying to hide. To further complicate things, she is not sure who the father of one of her children is. And the ex thinks it’s his, and has recently started communicating with the now teen boy. I guess the ex is a relative of a relative so not totally strange that he might communicate, but given  the circumstances it seems dangerous. She says she and her husband are very sexually active, but she still struggles with a negative body image so won’t let him see all of her…the ex really did a number on telling her how “dirty” she is. So, how do you help a friend who has had an affair years ago, called it quits and done nothing since then and has a happy marriage now. Leave it alone? Or dredge up the past for the sake of honesty?

Okay, that’s just one big huge mess.

Let’s go over the important features here:

  • The friend had an affair that lasted many years–two years after her wedding until four years ago (and she now has a teenage child).
  • The friend’s family, including the husband, suspect the affair happened.
  • While the affair is over, the ex-lover still does attempt contact.
  • One of her children may actually be the son of the ex-lover rather than the son of the husband.
  • The ex-lover has been pursuing a relationship with the teenager.

So what would I suggest?

Should you Tell on a Friend If She Had An Affair? How to decide when to tell and when not to tell.

Honestly, if we were only looking at the first three things, I’d say leave it. I don’t like secrets, but in this case it seems as if the husband already knows, or at least strongly suspects, and is willingly being blind about it. That’s his choice. If he suspects but doesn’t want to pursue it, then blowing everything out in the open can hurt everyone tremendously. 

If the husband had no clue, then my answer may be different. I may suggest seriously counselling the friend to confess, but perhaps in the presence of a counsellor or other third party who could help weather the inevitable anger.

Now, if the affair was ongoing, then I do believe that you have a responsibility to tell the husband, even if your friend won’t. But if it’s in the past, I don’t feel the same way.

HOWEVER–and this is where it gets tricky.

When an affair affects the children, it’s a whole new ball game.

In this case, the ex-lover thinks the boy is his son–and the boy may honestly be his son.

I believe that every child has a right to know where they came from.

Secrets hurt children, even secrets that are not even known to exist (for instance, the boy may not know that his mother had an affair, but because everyone is keeping that secret, it affects how they relate to the boy, and that in turn hurts him.)

Kids pick up on secrets. They just do.

And if this man continues to insinuate his way into her son’s life, that can be very dangerous.

What would I do? I think I’d help your friend surreptitiously get a DNA test. It’s not that hard to do. Find out if the boy is the husband’s or not. If it’s the husband’s, then tell the ex to get lost.

If it turns out that the boy is the ex-lover’s, then I think the secret has to come out in the open, and you may have to work on your friend to help her get ready to confess.

But it won’t be pretty. I know a young woman who found out at 16 that her father was not her biological father, because her mother had had an affair. She went through a lot over the next few years as she tried to process that. It was terrible.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Our sins affect our children, sometimes in very profound ways.

If there is a secret that needs to be told, then again, I’d seek counselling first and I’d try to tell that secret with the counsellor’s help. I’d also advise your friend to let the parents of the son’s best friends know about the situation so that they can be there for him, even if it were humiliating the wife. I’d let any mentors that the son had in on the secret, too, so that they can counsel the son well and so that he saw that his mother was taking this seriously and was not trying to protect her reputation, but was honestly only concerned about her son.

And what about the husband’s devastation? Well, that’s a big mess, too. And it could get really ugly.

But I still think a child has the right to know.

I think in these situations that we try to find the least messy option, because it looks like if it all blows up, it will be terrible.

But isn’t that what sin does? Isn’t that what affairs do? And children have a right to their parents.

So that would be my answer:

  1. If the affair is ongoing, tell the spouse.
  2. If the affair is in the past and no child is involved, counsel the friend to tell the spouse, but beyond that, maybe do nothing?
  3. If there is a child involved, advise your friend to determine parentage and then help her find a way to tell everyone, and be there for the huge mess that’s about to unfold.

So, please, people, think twice before you have an affair. It’s always messy. Always.

Now, what would be your answer? Would you tell on a friend who had an affair? Have you ever had to go through this? What was the fall out? 

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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30 Comments

  1. Mel

    I agree with most of what you said, until you got to the teenager part.

    Since no one knows who this child’s father is, and the wife knows what she did, and hubs suspects, and the kids suspect…why is it anyone’s business OUTSIDE of this family?! If they want to keep their heads buried and ignore it, that’s on them.

    Furthermore, what if she knows who the father is and the ex is doing more “dirty” tricks trying to get to her?

    This is completely NOT the letter writer’s business. Back away from this topic and stop putting your nose where it doesnt belong. If you cant be hee friend without judging her and feeling like it is your place to speak up, you need to remove yourself as a friend.

    Not your circus, not your monkeys.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I’m not sure I agree. I think that a true friend sees warning signs like this, sees how their friend is running towards destruction or pain, and gets in the way and intervenes.

      If I were having an affair or even just was flirting with another guy who wasn’t my husband, you can bet that I’d want my friend to smack some sense into me!

      I think that all of us have a responsibility to each other–and especially to children. If this son’s mom is refusing to deal with the fact that she’s hiding who the kid’s father is, I think it’s a responsibility of others involved who also love the children to help avoid psychological pain when you can. Kids deserve to know who their parents are, even if it’s not a pretty picture. And if his parents aren’t dealing with it, I think that the friend (who sounds like a close family friend) SHOULD step in to help protect the kid.

      Reply
      • OKRickety

        “If I were having an affair or even just was flirting with another guy who wasn’t my husband, you can bet that I’d want my friend to smack some sense into me! ”

        That may be true from your current perspective, but I have my doubts you would really want that if you were in that situation. But a true friend should do what’s best for you, and I think that would be intervening, even if the friendship was terminated as a result.

        Reply
    • OKRickety

      I strongly disagree with your concept of friendship. Friends should help you through both good and bad. Moving to the idea of “who’s business” this is, I suspect you would have a completely different approach if you know of a situation involving previous child abuse by one parent with the other parent knowing but never acting, and any other children strongly suspecting the abuse. Wouldn’t you be taking action immediately? Or would you just be non-judgmental and hope it didn’t resume?

      Reply
  2. K J

    I’d go to the Word here: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

    Because the question came from a friend, it’s not obvious whether the woman being talked about is feeling guilty or anything, but we know that people who hold secrets (lies) get eaten at by those same secrets (lies).

    I’m not saying the woman needs to confess everything to her husband and family, but I do think she should start with the Lord. And the friend (questioner) should suggest that to her (and probably even pray with her). And then from there, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

    Honestly I don’t think it’s the questioner’s responsibility to tell the woman’s family–it’s not the questioner’s secret to share. If she’s asked by the family what she knows, she could respond with something like, “That’s something that you need to ask NNN directly.” But she should definitely encourage her friend to tell the truth!

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      Yes, she definitely should! Apply as much pressure as possible. Keeping things secret is just poison.

      Reply
  3. Lolo

    Is the letter writer asking from a Christian perspective what she should do? Does the woman involved in the affair claim to know Christ?

    Because this affair has been ongoing for many years, that even her child’s paternity is in question, I wonder if this not wanting to tell the truth know less about shame and regret and is more about saving face. I think it should come out. There is a real chance that her ex will find a way to drop truth bombs all over the life of that woman if she is unwilling to face the truth herself. She and her husband need serious therapy if they are to make it and dig out from the hurt and lies. I think a very important, though missing piece of information, is who ended the affair. What were the circumstances? Why did she cheat, and for so long? What is to prevent this from happening again? I do feel that even though the affair was in the past, that the husband should be told, and the paternity figured out. I would caution on telling a child too early because it can have devestating effects on a kid who is already developmentally searching for identity. The kid should be told, but maybe later when the searching is mostly done.

    This womans life is a mess now, but it is important for her soul that she is able to really process, repent, come to know the Lord, and figure out what caused the affair. Otherwise she will continue to hurt herself and hurt others as well.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      I think the letter writer was a Christian, yes. I’m not sure about the friend, though.

      I do agree–definitely no evidence of repentance. Just a whole big mess, and I’m definitely not a big believer in keeping secrets.

      Reply
      • Lolo

        If the letter writer is asking if she has a Christian responsibility to inform the husband, I would think not. This does not seem to be a case where the husband is wholly ignorant and trusting, but one where the husband is trying very hard to ignore reality. I’m not sure there would be a moral imperative when someone is choosing very purposefully to remain in the dark about infidelity. It could be because he knows that kid is not his, loves the child anyway. It could be financial loss that divorce would bring. It could be that he wants his kids to not have to deal with divorce, and it could be that the husband is also cheating and doesn’t want his family life interfered with. The poor man could just really love her and cannot deal with the betrayal any other way. How many lies and excuses could accumulate after so many years of hiding and having an affair?

        I wish you had an edit option because my early morning comments never work out so well for me. My brain works, my fingers, not so much.

        Reply
    • sunny-dee

      Re telling the child too early: this may not be in her hands. The ex is reaching out (over her objections, presumably) and could tell the son just to spite her.

      Reply
      • Sheila Gregoire

        Yes, that’s why I think it’s better to get ahead of the situation, really.

        Reply
  4. Rachelle

    People often don’t think about the consequences of NOT informing the cheated-on spouse.

    First of all, he is now at risk for serious sexually transmitted diseases that could kill him if left untreated. Some STI’s don’t show up symptom-wise for years, especially in men. It doesn’t matter if she’s no longer sleeping around; her husband is still at risk and may not realize he is at risk. I wouldn’t trust anybody who commits adultery to actually wear condoms, no matter what they say about it.

    Second of all, if he doesn’t know for sure that his kids are his, then that puts him at financial risk. She’s already demonstrated a lack of commitment to her marriage, so it would be unsurprising if she decided she eventually wanted a divorce. If that situation happened, then he would be financially responsible for children that might not even be his!

    Third, adultery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are often other lies that get stacked around the adultery to protect the adulterer. There’s no telling what else she has lied about (finances, the kids, her spare time etc) during her adultery that could also affect him negatively.

    Fourth, there are medical considerations for a child who might have a parent that they don’t know. All sorts of medical history will be missing for this kid if their father is not actually their father. That’s something they deserve to have access to IF it is available.

    Last, and most importantly; there is no evidence of repentance here. She hasn’t confessed to her husband, she hasn’t cut the guy off. Just because she isn’t currently sleeping with him doesn’t mean anything. Her marriage is not “ok”, despite her claims. A refusal to let her husband see her naked isn’t healthy or “ok”. It’s just more evidence that her sin is still poisoning her marriage.

    Would I personally confront the husband? I don’t know. It does sound like he’s decided he won’t hear the accusations of other people, so it might not even be worth it. But I would be confronting HER very seriously. “You must come clean to your husband. Yes, the consequences are severe. Yes, he might decide he wants a divorce. That’s a consequence of sin. Humble yourself in front of your husband and be honest.”

    Her marriage is not going to improve on the track that it’s on. And she’s putting several people at risk here, even though she’s no longer having sex.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      GREAT thoughts, Rachelle! Thank you.

      Reply
  5. J. Parker

    I think I’d say pretty much what you said (though probably not as well 😉 ). One thing I did think about was that the questioner really can’t do anything without the cooperation of her friend. She can make suggestions and be there for her, but this child is a minor and in the care of his parents. However, once that child is an adult, maybe it is time for someone else to bring up the possibility of a different parent, because as one commenter said, there could be medical issues involved. But the questioner should understand that once you get involved in that family mess, you need to remain available to help clean it up, as much as their willingness and your own life demands allow.

    Saying a prayer for all those involved.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      Yes, I’d agree. But I’d definitely be encouraging my friend to try to figure out the paternity now. That’s just such a huge issue, and the secret is terrible.

      I do know a family like I said who have been through something very similar. It was HORRIBLE for a few years. But then the dust settled, and people create new kinds of relationships with each other, and it can honestly be okay. It is very disruptive, but I do believe that the truth is always better.

      “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. ” Luke 8:17

      Eventually things come out. Better that they come out in a controlled way than that it’s a huge bombshell dropped by someone else (like the ex-lover in this case).

      Reply
  6. Mike S

    Some very insightful points have been made here regarding this horrible situation, but as a minor point, it isn’t necessary to know who your parents are to be analyzed and treated for medical conditions linked to genetics. You can have a DNA test done independently that will reveal what you need to know.
    And, this woman needs to be led to true repentance, and it doesn’t seem like that has happened yet.

    Reply
    • OKRickety

      Would a DNA test reveal that the father’s family has a history of heart attacks, diabetes, arthritis, mental illness, etc.? As far as I know, those are all genetically linked, but I have doubts that a DNA test is equivalent to actual family history.

      Reply
  7. Jessica

    It’s none of the “friend’s” business, if you can even call her a friend. She needs to stay out of it and let the family handle it the way they want to. It’s not her place to judge someone else.

    Reply
    • Jessie

      I have to disagree. I have seen what these type a secrets do to a family. Its devastating to a person to find out the person they though was a parent and loved like a parent is not there’s. If she tells out of a desire to cause drama or hurt than yes it is wrong. If she is doing this out of love and genuinely cares for this family, than I know she needs to help this friend. Allowing someone to remain in this kind of pain out of a social manners is wrong. This women need to be forgiven. She needs to feel the grace God has for her and as a friend who is a Christian that is what we are supposed to do. Healing will only come when she is honest. Her body image is most likely an outward manifestation of her inward gilt. She can not be truly intimate until this is out and known. Praying that God will bless this friend with wisdom, forgiveness and grace to this women and give peace to this family.

      Reply
      • Sheila Gregoire

        That’s lovely, and I think is quite in tune with the Bible’s idea of grace and repentance and healing.

        Reply
  8. Anonymous

    I don’t agree that it *always* needs to be disclosed.
    I researched this a bit due to a friend having an affair.
    Of course the difference is she had repented and was extremely remorseful. Sick with regret and grief over her actions. Also, there were no children involved.
    Spoke to a pastor about it and was referred to Psalm 51.
    Most spouses “know” IMO. There are so many signs. I’m not placing any responsibility on the innocent spouse AT ALL.
    One thing to consider is that if the affair is TRULY over and there is not even a temptation to return to it, should a spouse confess only to ease his or her conscience at the risk of destroying the innocent spouse?
    Sorry that was a bit disjointed but I think *sometimes* it needs to be disclosed and sometimes it just really needs to be left
    In the past.

    Reply
  9. Mb

    As a woman whose husband has had an affair (right in front of me but I hadn’t totally realized it had gotten to that point in their “friendship”), we had a mutual friend approach me and ask me how I felt about my husbands relationship with this woman and that was the most helpful thing anyone did for me during that time was acknowledge my discomfort with their relationship and give me a chance to say I didn’t like it when my husband wasn’t giving me that option.

    I feel like if there’s a male friend who could talk to the husband and ask how his marriage is going and approach it from that end, that may be more helpful than anything. It also sounds like the woman having had the affair is willing to deal with it if it comes out but doesn’t realize that honesty is always the best policy and that doesn’t just mean honesty after someone tells on you but initiating telling the truth. Paternity is something she should figure out and then approach the husband with her story for accountability and repentance. Marriages like this destroy the kids whether the secret has been told or not. I lived that with my parents and we were so relieved when they finally divorced so we didn’t have to deal with the secrets anymore.

    Reply
  10. sunny-dee

    I need to read all the comments, but one side story. My mother found out that she had a different father than her three siblings (one older, two younger), but she didn’t find out until she was 23 and she was trying to get her birth certificate for a driver’s license. (Funny enough, she entered school, college, and got married without using her BC or, it turned out, her legal name.) My grandparents had gotten divorced and later remarried, and in that 3 year separation, my grandmother had had a relationship with another man.

    Everyone in the extended family treated my mom differently — but they treated her better. They were kind, loving, and to this day her cousins in her “dad’s” family forget that she isn’t blood. My grandfather was abusive (the reason for their divorce) and his family largely sided with my grandmother and treated my mom wonderfully. Looking back, she thinks they were trying to offset my grandfather’s cruelty and make sure if she ever found out, that she still knew she was loved.

    *Sometimes* that kind of knowledge can be very negative on extended relationships, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes people step up and make family what it is.

    Reply
  11. Amelia

    I love what is said here about supporting the son, as the child in this situation almost 20 years ago, I fully support giving this boy plenty of support. My dad knew from the beginning, however, there was never any question. Apparently I look a lot like my biological father. My dad was the parent opposed to telling me the truth. I was a perceptive, inquisitive child & figured out that I wasn’t my daddy’s on my own. I persisted with questions to my parents for months, to the point of getting myself in trouble before they finally told me. Then it was like, “OK now you have your truth, let’s shove this info back into the dark corner in which it belongs & leave it alone.” It left me struggling for years with trust & trying to determine where I fit. However, like I said, I’m persistent & tracked down my birth father on my own when I was in college. This caused a big rift between my parents & I for awhile.
    So, in short, yes the son in question deserves to be surrounded with love & support.

    Reply
  12. The Baby Mama

    Whatever you decide, I think your friendship will be significantly different. So, expect that to happen. If you leave it, the guilt is still there and your friend is aware that you know. If you intervene, the guilt is still there and you’re directly involved. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but just expect your friendship to be radically altered.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      Yes, I think that’s a big problem. Often we’re trying to find a solution that WON’T affect the friendship. But sometimes that just isn’t possible. I was counselling my youngest about something similar recently. She’s trying to figure out how to have a heart-to-heart with her friend about something, but doesn’t know how to do it without wrecking the friendship. But I told her, “you both have your perspectives. And you both have the right to them. And if you both decide to keep those perspectives, it will affect the friendship. And that needs to be okay.”

      Reply
  13. Pink

    I believe she shouldn’t tell on her friend. She was invited into the friend’s heart for support & comfort, not for solving this problem on her behalf without her permission, invitation, request, willingness or opinion. I don’t think she should take it out of her hand and solve it without her permission. It will be doing the right thing on HER behalf at the wrong time in the wrong way.

    Yes the child and the family may suffer more if left this way, however we can’t say they will for sure appreciate that they heard from the outsider. What if they were not ready to hear the truth yet. I mean who can be? Wouldn’t they have mixed feelings? “I wanted to know to be free from this confusion. But I wish I never knew it!”

    Out of the hurt, the family might start accusing her for betrayal, although that’s slightly misguided but I think they have a point here. There will be resentment toward her much more than appreciation.
    I’m not saying she shouldn’t tell on her friend out of fear of this resentment, but out of respect.

    What if the child needs to mature more to handle the already difficult truth.

    Only God knows the timing of when the restoration should start for them. It’s better the willingness for the start comes from within the family than the outsider forcing it to happen in the name of “for their sake”

    If I were her, I would encourage the friend to confess, but if she refuses, then I would have to respect her choice even though I wouldn’t agree with it, I will just pray for them. Otherwise it’s like I’m pouring the gasoline on the fire even though I meant well to put it out.

    People who don’t want to be helped wouldn’t appreciate our help. And we should respect that boundary.
    That’s what I think.

    Reply
  14. KellyK

    My husband cheated on me with an old high school crush who befriended me as well..seriously..this woman was my BFF!

    I would’ve loved for someone to tell me about the deceit. After I found out by discovering emails my husband left open on our computer, the other woman STILL tried to play it off as if nothing had happened. It took a few days but finally my husband confessed. To say I was devastated would be an understatement….and this happened 5 days before Christmas 2011 🙁

    I would encourage my friend to at least get DNA testing done. I agree w/Sheila that the child has a right to know who his father really is.

    I would also highly recommend marriage counseling. And cutting off ALL communication with the affair partner.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      Oh, Kelly, I remember you telling me about this! Thanks for sharing your story.

      I guess the Lysa Terkeurst news must have hit close to home. I feel so badly for her!

      Reply
  15. Valeria

    What a mess!
    I don’t believe that the friend should tell anything to the husband. It appears that the husband knows about the affair but even if he didn’t I believe that it is not her place to tell him.
    Speaking to the wife might be appropriate but it depends on their level of confidence: it is a really delicate matter, if they are very good friends speaking about it might be useful, if they are a little bit more than aquaintances it is better not to tell anything.

    Reply

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