• Thu, Jun 6 - 4:22 pm ET

What Should You Do When Your Friend Is Cheating On His Or Her Significant Other?


Dear Jamie: So I have this friend. I love this friend a lot, but maybe he (let’s call him a he) is a little immature where relationships are concerned. He’s still “figuring things out,” as they say. This friend has been cheating on his girlfriend with other women; it’s happened a few times now. And no, they’re not in an open relationship. What, if anything, should I do?

This is a problem that will probably plague a large percentage of friend-having people at some point in their lives, and I’m still not 100% sure how to deal with it. But just because I’m not omniscient doesn’t mean I have no ideas about what to do. Let’s think through a few options.

First off, are you friends with this dude’s girlfriend? If you are friends with both of them equally, it might be extra hard to decide on a course of action, because you don’t want to betray anyone’s trust. That said, if my boyfriend was cheating on me, and I found out my good friend knew about it all along, I’d be pissed. So maybe your male friend forfeits this one by behaving like a dick. Not a winning strategy for the dividing up of friends that will inevitably ensue.

But let’s say you’re not really friends with the girlfriend. Your primary responsibility is to your friend (let’s call him “Dave”), who is maybe a bit misguided, but still like a brother to you. I’d definitely bring it up with him and have a talk about it, because he probably needs to talk about it, and might not have had the chance to do that with anyone yet, for fear of being judged. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still judge him a little! Bring him back from the land of justifications to the real world, where cheating and dishonesty are concrete acts that hurt a real person.

That said, there’s a fine line between tough love and just being mean to him. Maybe say things like, “how would you feel if she was doing this to you?” “how can I help you figure this out,” or “shit or get off the pot, dum dum.” Some people cheat out of a desire to feel validated; remind him he’s got tons of validation from his buddies. You are there for him! Some people cheat out of confusion. Help bring things into stark relief.

Personally, as someone who does exactly what I want 90% of the time, I find it hard to understand why someone wouldn’t just break up with their bf/gf if there were so many problems that they were going to cheat, or just seek an open relationship if monogamy’s not their bag. But don’t condemn Dave in this initial conversation, because it’s possible he is just an immature person who just needs a little help figuring out what to do. Make his choices clear to him: break up with her or work on the relationship for real (sans cheating). Then give him some time to absorb these lessons.

If, after this heartfelt talk, Dave does not seem to be making any progress, maybe get a little tougher with him. “Dave,” you might say. “I didn’t think you were being that big an asshole before, but I’m starting to now.” Maintain that you are available if he needs to talk some more! But if he still doesn’t listen to you, or does but seems incapable of applying your lessons practically, there’s not a ton else you can do. I guess you could tell his girlfriend, but the way I see it, your primary responsibility is to your friend, and I don’t know how meddling in his affairs is going to have the intended effect of suddenly turning him into a more mature person. It might even have the effect of pushing him away so he can no longer be around your good-example-setting self.

I would also keep his girlfriend at arm’s length, or risk feeling really guilty for the things you know every time you hang out with her. But maybe I’m kind of immature, too.

Got any better ideas? Feel free to put them in the comments!

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  • Eileen

    I was in this situation in college. I won’t go into all the details, but essentially I’d basically become friends with my guy friend’s girlfriend of two years – not close friends, but close enough that I felt guilty knowing he was messing around. I understood why they were unhappy, and thought they should probably break up, but I didn’t want to mess in their relationship. I did tell him once I knew the extent that he was making me uncomfortable and that if he didn’t do something – break up, ‘fess up, stop – I felt an obligation to tell his girlfriend. They broke up. Stayed friends with him, stayed friends with the ex-girlfriend, made friends with the (eventual) new girlfriend.

  • Charmless

    It’s not immature to want to keep the girlfriend at arm’s length. I wish my ex’s friends hadn’t continued to hang out with me and act like everything was fine when I was the only bloody person who didn’t know he was cheating on me. Even though I wasn’t too close with any of his friends, I had spent a fair number of years getting to know them and I still felt betrayed that they could look me in the eye and ignore the fact that their buddy was screwing around on me.

    On the other hand, my best friend was killed as the messenger once. Apparently, some people don’t want to know.

    • anna

      Exactly. I had started dating a friend of my serious, former fiancee ex, and still was finding out all the shit he did. Am still, actually.
      One of my best friends came out and told me about a time when my then fiancee slept with his girlfriend, like we could bond over it.
      My boyfriend was like “oh yeah, i knew that.”
      I honestly didn’t understand how he could be ok with that, someone who he cared enough about to date later, and a friend then, and not tell.

    • anna

      Anyway, that’s convoluted, i apologize. But i agree 100%

  • meteor_echo

    1) Inform your friend’s significant other. At least they might want to know that they should get tested for STDs.
    2) Break the friendship up. I dunno about you guys, but I’m not going to be friends with anyone who hurts and betrays someone they’re supposed to love. I’ve had enough of those in my life, I ain’t got the patience and mental resourses for dealing with that kind of people. Screw them.

  • guest

    If you are indeed friends with his girlfriend, I would suggest giving her a heads up. Like someone else already commented, she may want to get herself tested, and what if she became pregnant by her boyfriend/your guy friend? That would suck!

    As someone who was the girlfriend in this situation before, I strongly encourage you to tell her (if you guys are good friends). When I found out that my ex had been cheating on me for months, and that all of our closest friends knew but “didn’t want to get in the middle”, I felt like I had no choice but to cut all of those liars out of my life completely. That sense of shame at being stupid enough to trust my ex, and also the fact that my friends didn’t give enough of a shit about me to tell me combined for a pretty crippling effect that I wouldn’t wish on anyone..

    Just a thought…

    • meteor_echo

      Yep! Knowing that my friends could keep such a secret from me is what made me cut the jerks off completely (the secret was not cheating, but a major betraying of trust which hurt as much as cheating). Friends aren’t supposed to lie to their friends.

  • Boosker

    In my experience, the homegirl who is being cheated on does not accept the news gracefully. In fact she tends to go after the messenger or the women who is allegedly hooking up with her fellow. It NEVER goes well.