When Your Friend is Having an Affair

by | Dec 6, 2018 | Resolving Conflict, Uncategorized | 34 comments

How to confront a friend when they are having an affair. Being a good friend is hard, but will you support a friend in inappropriate behaviour or support her marriage?
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What do you do if you discover your best friend is having an affair?

We’re talking about boundaries this month, and how to figure out when to make something your problem, and when it just can’t be your problem. A while ago I answered this question about discovering your friend is having an affair, and I thought it was worth running again, because unfortunately it’s a big problem. A reader wrote:

Reader Question

I really appreciated your post about When you catch your husband texting another woman but I’m wondering if you have ever written or would be able to address the topic of when you have friend, who is the wife in this situation, engaging in the affair. She recently told her husband, so it’s out now. I’ve confronted her before about what I saw because I was concerned that she may be headed down this path, but she denied that it was an issue. But now I know it was an issue before I even talked with her. So I’m just looking for advice on how to walk through this with her and respond lovingly and Christ-like. She is a believer.
That’s a tough situation, isn’t it? Few of us like confrontation, but when a friend is having an affair, confrontation is pretty much required of you.
Before I give a framework for this situation, let’s just lay out a few “givens”, that I hope we all agree with. Affairs are horrible things. They should never be justified. If a marriage is abusive, or if there is adultery on the other person’s part, then it could be that the marriage needs to be ended. But that is still not an excuse for an affair. You deal with the marriage you are in before you look elsewhere. The vast majority of affairs, however, do not occur in marriages where divorce is the best option. They occur in unhappy marriages, or in marriages where the couple has just grown distant lately. That is NEVER an excuse for an affair.
An affair blows apart the marriage and it blows apart the family, and people need to understand the gravity of what they’re doing. So if you have a friend who is having an affair, here are some thoughts:
How to confront a friend when they are having an affair. Being a good friend is hard, but will you support a friend in inappropriate behaviour or support her marriage?

1. Affairs are Fantasies that Exist in the Dark. Bring it to Light

Why do people have affairs and continue in affairs? Because it feels so intoxicating! They’re unhappy or bored with their “real life”, and the affair makes them feel alive again. Someone loves them. Someone appreciates their thoughts and their feelings.
But it’s all just an illusion. The reason that person is able to act like they love them unconditionally and that their thoughts and feelings are so important is that they’re not living in real life. They don’t have to pay bills, make meals, take kids to the doctor, dealing with extended family crises, and all those other things that marriage brings.
When you’re in the middle of an affair, too, you start to fantasize about what would happen if this continued. You can see yourself married to this person, and see how that marriage would be wonderful. You don’t take into account how angry and hurt and bewildered your children will be. You don’t take into account how long the legal battle will be to end the marriage and establish custody. You don’t think about that; you fantasize as if all the obstacles just float away.
Nothing ends an affair like a good dose of reality. Now I’m going to recommend something here that is drastic, and some people may disagree with me. Perhaps my advice isn’t the right course of action in all circumstances. But I still firmly believe that secrets are dangerous, and that when we bring things to light, God can start to work.

If you know a friend is having an affair, I highly recommend sitting down with her and telling her in no uncertain terms, “End this right now or I will tell your spouse and the spouse of your lover.”

Don’t get into a conversation with her about how unhappy her marriage is. Don’t get sucked into discussing how great the guy is. Just be firm.

What you are doing is wrong, and it needs to stop. If you are going to go on with this person, your spouse still deserves to know now so they can prepare. I am not going to be a party to something like this, and so I will tell if you don’t end it.

How do you tell? I’d go as a couple, you and your husband, and sit the spouses down and let them know.
What if, like in this letter writer’s situation, you have a suspicion, but the friend hasn’t admitted it? You can say to your friend, “What I’m seeing is inappropriate, whether it’s a full blown affair or not. And I fear for your marriage, and I think your husband needs to know so that you can work on this together. I’d be happy to be there with you when you tell him.”
Will your friend hate you and be angry at you? Probably. But ultimately what is more important? Keeping that friendship, or giving that marriage the chance to survive? That marriage won’t survive if the affair is ongoing. Telling the spouse, though, does two things:
1. It stops this fantasy life where the affair appears so easy
2. It gives the other spouse a chance to fight for the marriage

2. Help Your Friend See the Long Term Repercussions for the Children

If your friend has kids, she needs to understand what will happen with those kids. Ask her these sorts of questions:
1. Are you prepared to only see your children 50% of the time?
2. Are you prepared to spend half of your Christmases away from your kids, and half of their birthdays away from them? When they are grown up, are you prepared to see them and your grandchildren significantly less? (People need to be aware that when they divorce, they end up seeing grandchildren only about 40% as often as if they had stayed married. It becomes too stressful for young couples to juggle two sets of parents, and so they tend to withdraw more.)
3. Are you prepared for your children to understand that it was you who broke up the marriage?
That last one is vitally important. People need to know that they will not get off scot-free. I have extended family members who have had affairs and ended marriages, and their children have all been made aware of the fact (not by me) that one of their parents broke up the marriage over an affair. Even if that affair happened when the kids were young, they do find out. It doesn’t stay a secret. And you should tell your friend, “This will NOT stay a secret from your kids. They WILL know that it was you who ended the marriage. They’ll know that you chose your lover over them.”
Is this harsh? You betcha. But people in the middle of affairs need a good dose of reality.

3. Help Your Friend Understand the Ramifications for Her Social Circle

You may want to stay her friend; this letter writer does want to try to still model Christ to this woman, and I do understand the sentiment. After all, James writes (5:19-20):

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

We want to be that person who rescues our friend, and so our instinct is often to be compassionate rather than confrontational. We want to listen to her and talk with her and pray with her and say, “I understand that you’re hurting, but there is a way out.” Perhaps there is room for that.
However, I’m not sure that rescuing a friend from wandering always involves being nice. I think it often involves a cold, hard telling of the truth. And the truth is that if this friend leaves her spouse for her lover, you likely won’t be her friend in the same way ever again, nor should you. She has broken faith with her husband, her kids, God, and her church community. Someone who has done that deserves to know that there are repercussions.
You will not socialize with this other person. You will not go to a second wedding. You will not support her; you will, instead, support her husband, providing baby-sitting and whatever else he needs to get set up as a single parent. And you’re pretty sure that everyone else you know will take a similar stance.
And then be sure to tell her: If you do not end this affair, I will tell the pastor and have you removed from any leadership activities. And people will find out.
If your friend is not a Christian, and that isn’t a good threat, then you can still let her know that your mutual friends will eventually find out what she did.

4. Be There When Her World Falls Apart

Most affairs don’t end well. There is no marriage to the lover; there is only destruction in the wake. When the destruction occurs, and if she is truly repentant, be there to help restore her. Once she’s repented, there is no need to ostracize or punish her. Now is the time to restore her.
Help her and her husband find a good counselor. Baby-sit as much as you can so they can work on this. Pray a ton with her. This is when she’s going to need you.
Many of us are awful at confrontation, and we likely don’t appreciate most of these suggestions. And doesn’t talking about all of this to pastors or others in leadership sound like gossip? I don’t think so. I think affairs are so dangerous that they need to be brought to the light, and so basically, you have no choice. Standing by your friend means helping your friend. You don’t help her by letting her continue her fantasy.
You may need to have another friend pray with you or talk you through this before you confront her, and that’s okay. Talking to one or two other people so you can pray and prepare may very well be a good idea. I think sometimes we’re so scared of gossip that we don’t take the proper steps we need to when something serious is at stake. Do what you must.
Now, what do you think? Have you ever had to confront a friend over an affair? What happened? Let me know in the comments!

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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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34 Comments

  1. J. Parker

    I agree with you entirely. Yes, it’s a tough task to confront someone, but you didn’t make that situation happen—they did. I have, sadly, lost friendships over confronting people about their ongoing, unrepentant sin. But I have never regretted speaking up in truth and love. Indeed, a couple of those friendships were restored later when the person realized the foolishness of their choices, recognized that I had been in their corner all along, and changed tracks. I was, of course, eager to reestablish contact and love on them some more.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I wonder why we’re so afraid to confront? I’ve wondered that about myself a lot. I’m a relatively strong person, with strong opinions. But when it comes to telling someone, “You’re doing something wrong/stupid”, I often shy away. I wish I understood better the dynamic, because I’m definitely not a people pleaser. But sometimes it just has to be done. And that’s exactly it–we didn’t cause the problem. SHE did. So we shouldn’t feel badly for it!

      Reply
      • Molly

        This is general than confronting a cheating friend, but i think we don’t like confronting because of people verses like “judge not lest ye be judged yourself” and “take care of the plank in your own eye.”
        I feel like, for me, I’ve been wrapped up so much in the idea that I’m a sinner. My old church reality damaged me, but i do think it’s across the board with Christians. We don’t learn how to lovingly confront.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s a really good point, too. I think that stance has been overused to allow abusive behaviour to continue, and we need to see it for what it is: manipulation. That’s true when it’s preached too much from the pulpit, too, since it’s often an attempt to make sure that no one ever criticizes leaders. We need to see it in context.

          Reply
  2. Melissa

    My old friend was engaged to my other friend, who I was briefly dated. The female friend was out with me and a much younger friend and they kept making jokes about her having sex with an old flame, then her brother even joined in. Her whole family, who are Christian, knew about it and I told her it was so disrespectful and wrong and told him. They ended up breaking up and I lost her as a friend because she blamed me. I still miss her but I’m still very close with the male friend so I guess it’s ok.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Sometimes you’ve just got to do what’s right! That’s very weird, making jokes about her having sex. very weird.

      Reply
  3. Phil

    I swallowed hard at the idea of confronting the friend in such a harsh manner aka I will tell. When I was maybe 14 or 15ish I confronted a good family friend who was cheating on his wife. They were a huge part of or life and I have known them for close to 40 years. The woman was at our house crying as she had found out and he was openly cheating at that point. It was awful. So I confronted him. I told him hey if you don’t want to be with her thats fine then make a decision and leave her so you stop hurting her. The guy basically told me it was none of my business when I told him that and of course I was too young to call him out on it. Well the story did come out and the marriage ended about 4 years ago after the 5th time he cheated. One thing that J eluded to and I concur is that if you tell on a friend LOVE will prevail if that friendship is worth anything. Today our relationship with that family is mostly limited. The daughters are grown and on their own and the parents are divorced and their new life doesn’t really conform to ours. At any given moment we could jump back in to those relationships. We choose not. I still love them with all my heart. They were like pseudo parents to me. Just sad. The damage. With my story – It could be me. Grace’s Love prevailed. Sigh.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think it’s wrong of adults to say, “you’re too young to say anything.” If anything, young people bear much greater repercussions of adults’ bad choices than other adults do. Maybe we should start listening to kids more!

      Reply
      • sheep

        If he is too young to say anything, wouldn’t that make the other person old enough to know he should be committing adultery?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Exactly!

          Reply
  4. Eliza

    I would just like to reiterate the last point. Working to rebuild a marriage after an affair, when it was your fault, takes incredible courage, persistence, and commitment. If your friend is trying to walk that road, honor them for it. Having someone who can be there, not condemning, someone who can take and speak the truth, helping and supporting, is huge.

    Reply
  5. DLVZ

    I agree you need to confront. Unfortunately it was done in my home a few weeks ago. Our pastor and 2 friends confronted my husband AFTER my 14 year old caught him. He had the audacity to deny it at first. He has moved out and I am broken, but done. He cheated 17 years ago while I was on bed rest and pregnant. Each pregnancy I caught him doing porn and each health scare I had he was off doing porn. He has never been there for me and never defended me each time his family walked all over me. (something he vowed to do during counselling last time). I am now left with 2 special needs kids (which I stayed home with full time) and 1 healthy devastated boy. Kids ages 16,14 and 9. Our friends are trying to keep him accountable but he is not sorry. This will end in divorce as I can not take his verbal abuse and narcissistic behavior anymore. We have been married for 23 years and I am scared. But, I do have the utmost respect for the friends who confronted him

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m so sorry! So very sorry. But I’m glad you have a good community that stood up for you, and that validated your son as well. Stick close to them and don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what they’re there for.

      Reply
    • Ashley

      I’m sooooo sorry for your pain! You should check out the Separated & Divorced Christians Support Group on Facebook. Really encouraging group of people, and a ton of them have gone through similar things.

      Reply
  6. Christine

    The points of your article are well made. I’m interested to read the responses as I found myself having to confront my husband about his affair to someone I considered a friend. They both claim to be Christians. That was over 6 years ago. After I confronted him, he left, we divorced and they married a couple of years later. They are still married, and neither of them have one ounce of remorse and have felt completely justified in their actions. No one in our circle of friends wanted to talk about it or address it. I guess it made them uncomfortable? I think that most people, in general, would rather not get involved. It’s too messy. I was incredibly hurt that none of our “friends” wanted to get involved and help either of us. It was a sad and unfortunate set of circumstances. It seems that Christians just want to look the other way and not get involved. Based on what I experienced, there is no doubt I would confront a friend about an affair. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I kept it quiet.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you commented, because I think we need to hear that perspective. To every one reading–are you seeing this? Here’s a woman who said, “I wanted my friends to stand up for me!” I think that’s what we forget. When we fail to confront, we’re essentially throwing the wounded spouse under the bus. Seeing it in that way may help us be more courageous.

      Reply
  7. Curious

    This was very good and I think it’s very important to confront. I have thankfully never had to do that. My mother did confronted a woman in our churchewho was part of one of the worship teams. She wasn’t married but was having an affair with a married man. She got so angry when my mother confronted her and actually left the church and moved from the town. It took a couple of years but she repented and actually came back and apologized to my mother. So even if it may seem like we lose someone in the church it may be that we are saving that persons soul.
    I would like to ask. How is one going to treat someone who cheats on their spouse and marries the one they are cheating with? When does one stop judging?
    Personally , in my flesh, I wish them both hell and an awful life full of pain and destruction( this is in my flesh, I really hate cheating, thankfully my wife has never cheated) but I know that God also forgives. I just wonder how one is going to act around a couple like that. I mean if they now are married, what can one do?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great question. I think it depends on whether there has been acknowledgment of the wrong they did and some repentance. If they have tried to make amends for it with kids/former spouses, then that’s one thing. If they have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the harm they caused, then I think it’s a matter of standing up for those who have been wronged. Does that make sense?

      Reply
      • Curious

        Yeah that makes sense. I wonder how those amends would look like?
        I would have a hard time being around a couple like that. I know one shouldn’t judge but I just think about the pain they have caused to the other person. It happened to one of my friends before they got married. He cheated and left my friend a couple of months before their wedding. He is now married to the person he cheated with and her life was a mess for a long time and although we have lost touch I think she still struggles. It feels so unfair.
        So accepting a couple like that and knowing that there ir or may be another person suffering and trying to get their life’s back feels so wrong. But I guess I would need to look at my own sin to learn to not condemn.
        I know that there is a woman and a man at my job who are cheating on their spouses. They are not Christian and bately I know them or their spouses but ona office dinner I had to sit close to them(while they were sittin together). I felt so uncomfortable. I avoided talking to them because it felt like Being nice would mean I thought it was ok. I know it wasn’t maybe the best as a Christian. I wasn’t rude or anything but it felt ao uncomfortable. So to meet w couple who met through cheating would be hard but again, I am not sinfree so I can’t throw the first stone altough I would probable really like to do it if I knew about a coupe like that.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          It’s true that we shouldn’t throw the first stone–but at the same time, when someone is in unrepentant sin, especially if they are supposedly Christian, we are to confront them.
          I think if they are repentant, they would apologize to the first spouse, apologize to the kids, bend over backwards to make fair monetary and custody arrangements, and listen to the ex-spouse’s needs. They would not be advocating for their own interests, or telling people that they should accept them regardless. That, for me, is the main thing.

          Reply
      • sheep

        I agree. Repentance is key. It seems that Christians want to just ignore sin because that is the path of least resistance. It is uncomfortable to confront a sinner about their sin. But when this happens, the adulterer is getting what they want… Acceptance. They want to be accepted without having to deal with the consequences of their sin. Unfortunately this also has the unintended side effect of unconsciously letting the victims know that they just don’t matter enough for others to stand against what has happened to them.
        Refusing to take a stand against unrepentant sin is in essence, standing for it. At least the adultery and the victim will both see it this way…

        Reply
        • Em

          My grandmother and step grandfather have been married almost 30 years but it started as an affair. She had divorced my grandfather several years earlier and he was in a miserable marriage. They were both believers but obviously not in a strong place in their faith. My mom and her brothers would not let any of us kids be around them together while he was still married.
          He did divorce his wife and marry my grandmother. My uncle’s pastor counseled him that the best thing to do at that point was to just love his mom. Nearly thirty years later
          I love that man like flesh and blood. He is the kindest, gentlest man and he has been so incredibly good to her and to all of us. It was way harder for his family because he had initiated divorce, but after about 20 years there was finally forgiveness and both women can be at holidays together and there are no hard feelings.
          After they got married they became really involved in their church, mentoring younger folks and serving. And I have seen a huge change in my grandma as she became closer to the Lord. She used to be rather critical and she had become more and more loving.
          So that’s just one perspective. Of course I wish they had both been able to work out their first marriages, but they both married young and chose really incompatible spouses. If we as a family had chosen not to accept him it would have caused a lot more heartache and we would have missed out on getting to know a great man and share in their happiness.

          Reply
  8. sheep

    Adultery absolutely has to be confronted. Our society has indoctrinated us to believe that it’s just an “affair” or a little dalliance. They have taught us that it is fun and cute or romantic and exciting. They maximize the “positives” and totally minimizes the absolute devastation that adultery creates in everyone that it touches. God certainly doesn’t minimize adultery.
    I confronted my wife 2 years ago about her long term adultery. I have done everything possible since then to save my marriage. Unfortunately she is not repentant, won’t admit fault, won’t be accountable, and won’t promise to be faithful. So, we are now divorcing.
    I would encourage anyone that knows about adultery to not only confront that person, but you also need to inform their spouse and the spouse of the one they are cheating with.
    Over the last two years I have felt a lot of guilt because I didn’t tell the spouse of the person she was committing adultery with. (I didn’t know the couple) In the beginning it was because I wanted to save my own marriage, after that wasn’t an issue, it was because I didn’t want to upset her marriage. But really it was cowardice.
    Well, 2 weeks ago the other spouse contacted me asking if something had happened that she needed to know about. So I told her what had happened. She had been living all this time with this feeling in the pit of her stomach that something had happened and something was wrong but she could never prove anything. Yes, what I told her hurt but in some ways she was relieved that she finally had the truth. Now she has the chance to address the cancer in her own marriage even if he will not deal with it.
    Adultery has to be exposed to the light of day, otherwise it will fester and grow unchecked. Adulterers need friends that love them enough to tell them they are living in sin and there is NO excuse for it. They need friends that are willing to risk their wrath to do what is right.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very well said, Sheep. And I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through. It always makes me sad to hear about people who throw away what is right to run after what is wrong. What a waste! And what destruction they wreak. Again, I’m sorry.

      Reply
    • Wynd

      It is easy to believe the lie that an affair is private, and the resulting fallout, if any, will be small. Our culture trivializes it often; Love (defined by whoever I fancy at the moment) is the most important thing, God wants me to be happy above all else, this is just between us, people will get over it and move on…
      Yet the resulting devastation is often immense. My grandfather’s affair was the catalyst that shuttered the church he attended. People walked away from the faith because of his sin. All of his children’s marriages, and the marriages of his younger brothers, were severely impacted resulting in quite a few additional divorces and strained marriages and broken families. Thirty+ years after the fact, decades after his own passing, we are still cleaning up debris and dealing with the damage.
      It is a pattern I see repeated again and again – the cascade of damage from an affair affects a much, much wider radius than just the two people involved.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        VERY well said. I’m actually going to write a post about this next week: “Our culture trivializes it often; Love (defined by whoever I fancy at the moment) is the most important thing, God wants me to be happy above all else, this is just between us, people will get over it and move on…”

        Reply
  9. Megan J

    When I was trying to figure out how to escape from the entanglement of an affair, the first person I confessed to was a couple who I was CERTAIN would have told my husband if I chickened out. I needed the encouragement to have the hardest conversation ever and know there was no going back. Having their firm but loving support and knowing I couldn’t back out once I’d told them kept me moving towards taking the next right steps towards reconciliation and healing. Bringing things into the light and knowing that I couldn’t get away with hiding them again was so important to the future of our marriage. I’m grateful that my friends had the guts to push me towards repentance and confession.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s wonderful! Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply
    • Sheep

      Megan J,
      Thank you! That is repentance.

      Reply
  10. Nichole | Wildly Alive

    A successful friendships need honesty. And indeed, honesty is the best policy. We need to be honest and not tolerating the wrong doings of our friend, And a real friend will always love that friend even if they make mistakes. As long as they are willing to do what is right.

    Reply
  11. Bolivar

    I googled “friends having affairs” not due to my friends having affairs, but because my husband had and currently is involved with his affair partner. I can tell you that one of the things, and there are many, that I deal with is the fact that his friends and family have buried their heads in the sand. I found out about the affair as I was 8/9 months pregnant with our youngest daughter, when vulgar texts showed up on his iPod one afternoon. Since then, he continued to spiral with drugs and alcohol, kicked myself and out 2 young daughters out of our home and lost custody of his older children due to a drug and alcohol incident. He immediately continued his affair and even has this woman living in our home, despite the fact that we are not officially divorced. He doesn’t help financially and sees nothing wrong with any of his actions. It’s been a lot to deal with, but it feels more gut wrenching when I know that no one has called him out on his horrific actions. He rarely tells the truth but these are pretty blatant things.
    My point in my story is, sometimes, you do it for the person mourning. You do it for the children. You do it to say “this isn’t ok and I’m not only going to say that in the privacy of my own home, I’m going to say it to you.” I feel no matter your faith, human moral decency shouldn’t be buried away for fear that the person in the wrong may be offended. I often wonder, if people knew those closest to them would shun/speak up/etc to them for these actions….would it make them think twice? I don’t know. I do know the pain on the other end is something I can’t even describe.

    Reply
  12. jdprn04

    I am really struggling right now with a dear friend who has been having an affair for over 7 months. Her husband found out about an affair from the year prior with another person, but he has no idea about this one. They are going to Christian counseling, but she hasn’t even told them about this current affair. All her friends know but her husband does not!! I have confronted her, I have been firm. She has 2 young children and is in complete denial about what this is doing to them. I have never threatened to tell her spouse, but I have been tempted to send him an anonymous text. I have been afraid to lose our friendship and it seems that all her other friends say that they still love her and don’t want to lose their friendship with her. What are your thoughts on anonymously telling her spouse. I’m sick about what she is doing and morally want know connection to it!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry! That’s awful. I don’t think you owe her any secrecy. And it’s likely best that she understands that if she continues, she is no longer your friend. Does she have any family that you could talk to?

      Reply
  13. Cari Marquez

    Thank you so much for saying these things. When one’s spouse is having an affair and even the leadership of the church says to keep it a secret, there is exponentially more trauma for everyone. These kinds of things should never ever be covered up!

    Reply

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