What To Do If You Know Your Friend Is Being Cheated On, According To A Psychologist
"My friend is in law school and is dating a shady guy. He lies to her and tells her he's not shady, and he cheats on her with multiple women. She won't believe us when we tell her he's cheating because he says we are lying and jealous. What do I do to help her? Please keep me anonymous."
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news.
Romance movies and countless clichés have taught us how to mend our own hearts, but no one tells you how to break a friend's.
Finding out your partner is cheating is a gut punch, and not everyone is going to experience that trauma in the same way, which is something to keep in mind if you plan on breaking the news to a friend.
One person may thank you for your honesty, and another could redirect those hurt feelings onto you and kick you to the curb for bursting their happy bubble.
It sounds like your friend may not be ready to face the truth, and according to sex therapist and psychologist Lauren Fogel Mersy that could be a form of self-preservation.
"There's a lot of reasons why we might sort of protect ourselves from taking in that information because to really believe that is true could be a really hard reality to face," said Lauren
Lauren explained that facing that reality could mean accepting that you're in a relationship with someone you can't trust or accepting the end of a relationship.
This situation has an extra level of complexity, with her boyfriend deflecting the accusations and blaming you (her friends) for being jealous.
Unfortunately, we can't crawl inside this guy's head and figure out why he's deflecting and denying the truth, but Lauren has some pretty interesting possible insights.
"When someone is cheating in a relationship, and they're confronted about it, most of the time, the initial reaction is to deny it," said Lauren.
She explained that the cheater may go through a similar experience as the person finding out and want to protect themselves and their partner from that hurt.
"The fear is, what if I tell my person that it's true?' If [they] want to maintain or protect the relationship or be able to stay in the relationship, these things then become at odds with one another. To be honest, might mean losing the relationship."
Friendships are built on trust, and having your friend not take your word at face value can be hurtful, and you're allowed to make space for those feelings. But before you take it too hard, Lauren said that it may not be that your friend doesn't trust you but that they just don't want to face that hard truth.
A partner cheating usually means your relationship isn't going swimmingly, and accepting that means facing a future of uncertainty likely filled with emotional turmoil and hard conversations.
Having this information puts you in a tight spot as a friend, but gentle honesty is usually the best policy.
Whether or not you should tell someone their partner is cheating comes down to the context of your relationship with them and your own moral code.
If it's a close friend and you'd want them to tell you if the roles were reversed, then you have your answer. But if this is a neighbour or an acquaintance you see once and a while, it's a different ball game.
You also need to consider where you're getting your facts. Is it a rumour? Or do you know for certain that their partner is fooling around?
If you decide morally that telling them is the best choice, which Lauren would lean towards in most situations, you need to do it gently and understand that they may still stay with that person.
"Our role as a good friend may be, 'I want to share something with you that's hard, and my reason for doing it is to be an honest and truthful friend with you,' and then it's up to them to take that information and do with it what they will," said Lauren.
In this case, you've been honest with your friend, and there's not much else you can do.
Taking in Laurens' sage advice on the topic, I'd take a three-step approach and sit her down once more for some gentle honesty if you feel strongly.
I'd calmly revisit the topic and stress that you just want her to be informed in order to make the best decision for herself because you care about her.
If she's not receptive to it and still doesn't believe you, you may need to take a step back and just hold space and support her while the relationship plays out.
There may come a time when she accepts the truth on her own, and the relationship ends, or they could end up staying together, and neither of those outcomes is within your control.
If you find that this drives a wedge in your friendship and the friendship becomes distant or damaging to your own mental health, you may need to take a step back from the relationship for a while or permanently, depending on how the situation pans out, and that's okay.
At the end of the day, all you can do is be there for your friend and realize that some things are out of your control because, at the end of the day, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Cheaper Than Therapy is a spicy new column and video series hosted by Brooke Houghton where readers can share their own anonymous questions and get expert advice for free. Brooke speaks from her own experiences as a single 20-something woman in Toronto and brings on expert guests from therapists to celebrities to help solve your relationship, sex and love issues. So if you can’t afford therapy from an actual professional, ask her a question here and tune in next month for another episode of Cheaper Than Therapy.