You just found out your friend’s spouse cheated on her. It’s horrible. It’s awkward. Your heart goes out to her. You’re furious with her husband because you love your friend. You want to be helpful, but you don’t know what to say.
Here are a few things you should definitely NOT say.
“You should totally divorce him!” or “I know a good divorce lawyer you should call.”
If you say something like this you are honestly trying to help a betrayed friend through her hurt. You’re trying to help her solve her situation and move past the hurt as quickly as possible. What you don’t understand is that your betrayed friend probably still loves her husband. She’s probably in shock and is experiencing a whole gamut of emotions. She’s not ready to make life-changing drastic decisions at this point, nor should she. Nor should you try to influence her in that direction. (We advise clients not to make major decisions for several months after they learn of an affair. It’s wise to let emotion calm down.)
If the day comes when divorce is inevitable, you can be as helpful as possible. Until then, take your cues from her about what she’s ready to live with. You can’t solve this for her, you can only listen, provide empathy, and give her a shoulder to cry on.
“You’re not going to get a divorce, are you?”
You may respond like this if you are a Christian friend who believes that divorce is the ultimate no-no. Read the Bible already. God makes allowances for divorce and infidelity is one of them, particularly if there is no repentance and desire to reconcile from the unfaithful spouse.
When you first hear of your friend’s damaged marriage it is way too soon to be making any kind of call about the future of her marriage. There are still so many unknowns about how repentant the unfaithful spouse is or will be. Guilting your friend into staying in a marriage is a low blow.
This kind of statement is really thoughtless, hurtful and shows a lack of understanding the situation. In any marriage where there is an affair, the situation is much deeper and more complex than any bystander understands. No need for you to be the moral police here.
“I always knew he would do something like this.”
If you throw this line out there, don’t be shocked when she replies, “Really? You always knew? Thanks for having such a high opinion of the man I love. Let me tell you what I really think about your husband….”
Just because her husband did something that hurt her doesn’t mean she doesn’t love him or has given up on him. She needs a supportive friend, not a judgmental one.
“You deserve better than him.”
This one is closer to being okay. However, it would be better to say, “You don’t deserve to have this happen to you.”
The fact of the matter is that most people who have affairs aren’t horrible people. They are normal people who made a mistake for any number of reasons. (reasons that may take some time to get to the bottom of) They are people you’d have dinner with, you work in the cubicle next to, and you sit next to you on the bleachers at your children’s baseball games. Cheaters are normal, responsible, good citizen-type people who mess up. The appropriate response is to reach out and offer support without judgment to both the betrayed and the unfaithful spouse. They are both in a rough place.
“You’re going to kick him out, right?”
No, she’s not necessarily going to kick him out. Your advice may be prompted by your indignation and wanting your friend’s husband to suffer some consequences. But your friend may be thinking things like:
If I kick him out, he will just be more likely to go move in with the other woman.
If I kick him out, it would hurt the kids tremendously.
If I kick him out, there’s no guarantee he will ever move back in…and I’m not done with this marriage.
If I kick him out, we will have far fewer opportunities to discuss the things we obviously need to discuss.
Remember that your friend is approaching this situation from a much different place than you are. It’s completely normal and completely her call if she wants to let him live at home while they work through this, especially if her spouse is remorseful.
Did you hear what so-and-so said about [you/your husband/your situation]?
You may be used to sharing every little bit of juicy gossip you hear with your friend, but now that she is the topic of conversation, you must have some self-restraint. You might think she would want to know what people are saying about her or her husband, but is that really going to help her? Doesn’t she have enough emotional turmoil to work though right now? Does she really need to know what every Jane, Jill, and Jessica is saying about her husband’s affair?
Good friends protect each other. Protect your friend from the gossip of others.
Friends are there for each other in the good times and bad. Learning about an affair is about as bad as it gets. Your friend needs you to keep your head and offer empathy and comfort, not judgment, morality, opinions or gossip.
Be the kind of friend you would want to have around if the roles were reversed. The challenging times of life are actually a huge opportunity for your friendship to prove itself and grow even stronger. Make the most of it.