Should I tell the Other Man's Wife?
January 27, 2010 10:27 PM   Subscribe

I recently discovered that my partner of 9 years has been having an emotionally and sexually intimate affair with a man for the last 2+ years. The man is married with two teenage children. Though devastated, I'm glad I now know the truth, and I feel very betrayed by two of our close friends who knew of my partner's infidelity and didn't tell me. Given that, should I tell this guy's wife?

The Golden Rule would suggest that I do.
But I don't know whether she would want to know, and I hate to think of having the power to cause such pain to another person. For myself, I know that before this happened I would've said I didn't want to know, but I now see that infidelity and deception causes a ton of damage to a relationship even before the affair is discovered.
What's the right thing to do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (73 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would say yes, once you've gotten over the urge to do so out of revenge, and a desire to wreck the betraying relationship. You should tell her because she should know, not because it offers you some kind of vengeance.

Then again, I presume that divorce is the likely outcome of your situation, in which case the man will be named and his wife will find out anyway. if it's likely to come out that way anyway, save yourself the heartache of a conflicted decision.
posted by fatbird at 10:37 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should take some time to think it out. There are tons of infidelity resources out there. They can give you guidance.

But if anyone is going to do the telling, why should it be you? Shouldn't the persons responsible be the one's who are doing the telling?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:38 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

No you shouldn't tell her. I can't tell from your question if you have ever even met the wife (if you haven't then it's a more emphatic 'no' from me), but unless she's a really close friend it's not your place to tell.

Focus on your own well-being and your relationships, and really good luck getting through this.
posted by brighton at 11:07 PM on January 27, 2010

I don't know that I have enough information to advise you of anything other than "your friends are not your friends, and that is a shitty thing to go through." I would almost definitely discuss the ethics of your situation with someone who has a background in that sort of thing-- a therapist, a religious personage of whatever flavor you may subscribe to (if you do at all), your bartender, what have you. Your non-friends are obviously not to be trusted advice-wise.

(If your doctor is sufficiently of the sympathetic persuasion, you may be able to discuss your emotional position with him or her when you get your STD tests done, for that matter.)

Also, how much information do you have about this guy's situation? I don't really want to know one way or the other, but if your partner is also male, this guy may have a deal with his wife where he seeks out sex with men outside the marriage and she doesn't want to know about it, or knows he's doing it but doesn't know the adulterous details. That doesn't let Mr. Other Guy off the hook for being a sleaze about it, and your partner's still 100% liable for cheating on you, but the wife's situation may be more complicated than simple adultery.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:09 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to side with the "don't tell" camp also. Those are very murky waters to tread in which a lot of people have found that out the hard way. That reason is probably why your friends didn't clue you in on the infidelity. Just write your partner off, learn from this experience and move on with your life knowing that a stronger person has emerged from such a crappy situation.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:11 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh I forgot to add, please go get tested for STDs. If he cheated on you with one person, it could have been other people also.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:14 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh shit, yes - tell her. You'd be a callous ass not to. Certainly, it's in your power to cause pain here, but it's also within your power to prevent further pain by giving potentially interested parties the scoop. That is not gossip in this situation; it's disclosure.
posted by Pecinpah at 11:22 PM on January 27, 2010 [16 favorites]

When we are hurting, it is in our basic nature, I think, to place our focus elsewhere. It displaces what we're feeling about the situation and allows us to gain imagined distance from what we are actually experiencing. Telling this man's wife does that. It allows you to not deal with your own affairs (for a little bit) and delve into someone else's problem to avoid the very painful knowledge that your partner cheated on you. The focus needs to be on your relationship with your partner I think. In terms of the friends who knew and didn't tell, well....I think that's a hard call. I don't know the nature of your relationship with them but I can say, from previous experience, that it is a hard place for friends to be to observe from the outside. Unfortunately, your partner put them in that funky situation. I think focusing on what is going on between the two of you is the first place to start.

The "right" thing to do is to handle YOUR business before you bring anybody else into the mix(the wife) Good luck and (((hugs))) to you.
posted by Hydrofiend at 11:27 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm with Pecinpah AND fairytale of los angeles. Maybe the wife already knows? And if not, she probably should know - but how do you know that you, specifically, is the one that needs to tell her?

Anyway. I sorta think if this is for you to disclose, you'll know if/when the opportunity presents itself.

It will be interesting to see what other mefites who've been in the other wife's shoes have to say about your dilemma. If I were you, I'd listen to them.

posted by jbenben at 11:41 PM on January 27, 2010

"are the one" I had it right, then changed it. arrrgh.
posted by jbenben at 11:46 PM on January 27, 2010

Do tell her if you test positive for anything. Otherwise, I don't know, I don't think so.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:46 PM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would make a condition that he comes clean to his wife or you will. I would want to be told if it was me.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:23 AM on January 28, 2010 [33 favorites]

I'm with crabintheocean
posted by ouke at 12:34 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

She needs to know. She's making plans with her life and their lives together. She needs facts. She needs to know who and what's she's really married to.
posted by sageleaf at 1:12 AM on January 28, 2010 [9 favorites]

Tell her. Not out of revenge, but because she deserves to know she's married to a cheater.
Just like your friends should have told you your SO was having an affair.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:36 AM on January 28, 2010 [13 favorites]

I think psycho-alchemy has a good idea, though I don't exactly know how you'd enforce it, especially if you don't know the other person well. So without that option, I think you should tell her, no one deserves to be treated that way.

Personally, I think I'd find it very hard to be you in this situation and not tell her. To know that her husband is treating her the way your partner treated you, I don't think you're doing her any favours by keeping her in the dark.
posted by dnesan at 2:06 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she isn't aware of her husband's lifestyle, it's definitely in your best interest. I'd want to know, and I can imagine the only person I'd want to hear it from was the one that was in your shoes. Having that empathetical shoulder to cry on, should she need it, might be all she has before she feels comfortable enough to talk to family and friends. Being as you've said you've come to terms with it and are better off knowing the truth, it sounds like you may be in a good position to do this. Make sure that is truly the case before you make the big decision.

If my health were at risk and no one said anything, I'd be even more livid than if my husband didn't come to me himself. Having the children involved makes it infinitely worse.

I'm sorry, and I hope all ends as well as it can.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:06 AM on January 28, 2010

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to this one.

I do think however, you need to find peace in your heart before you make your decision. You need to realize your true intent here, and not just tell her because it would seem emotionally satisfying or it would bring closure.

Find what your true intentions are.

I don't know who said this, but:

Do what is right, not self-righteous.
posted by thisperon at 3:38 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Man, I would tell EVERYONE. Make a website, put up flyers, take out an ad in the paper if I could, and it certainly would be for revenge.

Why should you spare the feelings of people who happily betrayed you and wrecked your life? It's not your fault if his wife or kids are sad, he's the one who hurt them, not you. That is on him, period.

You know what you get by being the "bigger man?" Nothing. You get to sit in silence and try to pick up the pieces of your life, and he gets to continue cheating with no consequences. Do you want to be like your friends who stood by and let such a terrible thing continue to happen?
posted by Menthol at 3:51 AM on January 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

If you do decide to tell her, make sure you have some sort of proof of the affair to hand. It'll be tough enough for her to deal with anyway without the added complication of her husband denying it and her not sure what to believe.
posted by Catseye at 3:55 AM on January 28, 2010

No. Deal with your own problems at home. This is someone else's marriage and no good will come out of it by telling on this person. Let it go and move on.
posted by Winnifred at 4:00 AM on January 28, 2010

One has to assume that the cheating husband knows that the cat is now out of the bag. If he's got half a brain and/or retains some semblance of value for his marriage, then he's already told his wife. Otherwise he's a first class coward waiting for the news to arrive to his wife via a third party. Thus, I would argue that the more vindictive behaviour here would be not to tell the other partner, leaving the husband to sweat it out. But that, or course, would mean even more pain and humiliation for the wife when she finally does find out.

Ultimately, I agree with fatbird. You have to ask yourself what your motivations are for informing - or not informing - the wife. It's not an easy decision, and I wish you the best of luck.
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:02 AM on January 28, 2010

I say, let her know. She needs to know. Yes, it's hard and yes, it's unfair that you are in this position, but she needs to know. When two people have affairs outside of their marriages, it affects their families too.

If it were me, I wouldn't feel right going about my business knowing full well that I'm willfully participating in deception, even if by omission or silence. The truth sucks sometimes, but it's the truth.
posted by SoulOnIce at 4:33 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would want you to come to me with what you know.
posted by Windigo at 4:38 AM on January 28, 2010

I would want to know. Infact, its essential that you telling; otherwise you are enabling his cheating behavior and participating in the deception.
posted by zia at 4:52 AM on January 28, 2010

I would want to you to tell me.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:13 AM on January 28, 2010

I would want to be told, for what it's worth.
posted by jeanmari at 5:28 AM on January 28, 2010

Of course you should tell her. You should call her right now and let her know what's up, and doing it for revenge is just fine.

Those people in this thread that are telling you that it's not your responsibility or that it's none of your business are fools. Of course it's your business. She deserves to know that her husband is a cheater and a liar, and you'd be doing her a favor, since it's doubtful that anyone else has told her the truth.

You just told us that you feel betrayed by two close friends who knew about the situation and didn't tell you. You were in the exact same situation as this woman is now, and you wanted to know, so why are you hesitating at all?
posted by ged at 5:30 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have to agree that if I was the one being cheated on I would want to know. Especially if my health was at risk. I also agree that other than the parties involved in the affair, you are the only other person who has the 'authority' to tell the wife. You are in her shoes, and it is your business since it's your partner who is part of the problem.

That said, you still may not want to tell her. It is an intensely personal decision, and I don't think people on the Internet can make it for you. Even if we had been in your situation before, circumstances are going to be different for you.

Get yourself tested. Get to a therapist, and discuss this with them. They will have the tools to help you decide if telling the wife is going to be beneficial to your overall well being.

P.S. Please don't worry about the guy's kids. Teenagers are old enough to understand the repercussions of an affair. If we were dealing with very young children I could understand being hesitant, but teens are a different story.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:39 AM on January 28, 2010

When I was in high school, the parent who ran the theater group told us a story about when she was in her early twenties. She was engaged this to guy. The guy was great and perfect for her and they were oh-so-in-love. Then the engagement took a turn and they ended up breaking it off and ultimately breaking up. After she broke up with him, her friends all told her, "Good thing you did, because he's been cheating on you for months!" Well, needless to say she was pissed. And doubly betrayed. She said to them in some form of another, "You didn't think I might want to know that the guy I was about to marry was cheating on me? You really thought it was a good idea to keep it from me?"

Needless to say, her friendships with those people ended just as quickly as her relationship with the cheater did.

Now, it doesn't sound like you know this woman, and it doesn't sound like your in her circle of friends. But someone in her circle of friends probably knows and has probably been accepting the affair through silence. And that's just not okay. Sure, we don't know for certain, but keeping this completely underwraps from everyone for two years seems improbable --- (and I'm sorry to say, but I wonder if someone close to you hasn't known for quite some time about your partner's actions and didn't tell you as well). And if that person isn't telling her, and her husband isn't telling her, then who, if it isn't you, is going to tell her?

And sure, it's going to upset her life, but it may be that she's been suspicious for awhile and being told the truth will validate her suspicions. She may be in a better place than we know to hear this. She may not be, but it's nobody's idea of a good time to learn their spouse has been cheating on them regardless of when they're told or by whom. And outside of her husband, family, and friends, in my opinion the next best person to hear it from is the other person betrayed --- provided it's not being done out of malice or for revenge against your partner. And wouldn't you have preferred to know a few months into the affair instead of two years in?

And if she already knows or has consented to an open arrangement, then it probably won't be as much of a problem for her to hear her husband has taken advantage of the open arrangement.
posted by zizzle at 6:05 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm in the "tell her" camp.

But make sure you leave room for her to have her own reaction. Be prepared for her to do nothing. Perhaps she knows already, and is choosing not to do anything about it. You need to be okay with that if it is the case. She may not care. She may not be as hurt/outraged/furious as you. And that's her right.

Also in the get tested ASAP camp.

Good luck.
posted by citywolf at 6:13 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

iwas in a similar position. i can tell you emphatically that i did NOT want to know, but i needed to know. and i'm glad i found out. even though i was collapsing into puddles for weeks afterward & fought with depression for months.

i understand that you feel betrayed by your friends who were in on the secret, but step back for a moment & imagine how difficult this would be to broach with someone you care about. in retrospect, i think my partner actually tried to tell me once or twice, but i wasn't encouraging or receptive of the conversations & he just. couldn't. do. it. you're doing basically an internet poll to determine if you should talk to someone you don't know about this--finding the words to say it to someone you care for is even more difficult.

give yourself some time before you do anything except getting tested for aids & other stds. maybe talk to a counselor--not necessarily about informing the partner's wife, but about the whole thing in general--and get some perspective, as much as that is possible. if you do decide to talk to the guy's wife, make it as unemotional on your part as possible, and be prepared for a less than welcoming reception from the other woman. it could well be that she knows but doesn't know (i suspect i had some of this going on myself), or that she's completely clueless. regardless, you're going to either be bringing her unwelcome news, which can generate a spectrum of responses, or you're going to have an instant ally. i'd also suggest that you be ready to be her emotional support, at least for the duration of 'the telling'; being slapped with something like this out of the blue is bound to have unpredictable results.

regardless, good luck to you. feel free to memail if you want a sympathetic ear.
posted by msconduct at 6:19 AM on January 28, 2010

Ah, I see now that some of your friends did know. So sorry for that. They absolutely should have told you. :(
posted by zizzle at 6:23 AM on January 28, 2010

I would want to know.

But I think you should be prepared for a very negative reaction. She may not (want) to believe you. She may decide that just because your relationship is over, you are trying to break up hers for "no good reason". If her husband is not ready to divorce, he will probably encourage this response. She may have suspected all along and will want to draw you into elaborate revenge plans. I think you should tell her as succintly as possible, including the names of these "friends" who knew, and that's it. If she needs to validate what you tell her, she can talk to these friends.

I think you then need to not worry about taking care of anyone but yourself.
posted by dogmom at 6:24 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I completely disagree with the advice to not say anything for the sake of the children, who are teenagers. As a teenager, I was old enough to realize why my mother was getting divorced. As a mother, I wanted to know that I was being cheated on, and no one told me, and I felt even more betrayed later when I finally pieced it together myself.
posted by Zophi at 6:26 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

To me, this is very cut and dried. Her health is at risk. She should be told. It doesn't necessarily have to come from you, but I think you have a moral responsibility to protect her from her husband's deceptions. If all someone could get from sex was something like a gonorreah that can be cured, then I might think otherwise, but when it's possible for her to get HIV, Hepatitis or Herpes from him, it makes the choice clear. I second the notion of having proof or names of friends who knew, or something at the ready.

Also, just because your partner thinks it was an emotionally intimate affair doesn't mean this guy did. And who knows how many casual encounters he had before he found this intimacy.
posted by cali59 at 7:13 AM on January 28, 2010

I'm in the "tell her" camp, but I think this is a complicated enough situation that there isn't a clear right or wrong way to react, and moreover I think it's entirely possible that you might tell her and she might simply not believe you. Again, I do think you should tell her, I just don't think you should expect a logical, rational reaction from her when you do--and I certainly don't think you should expect her to be glad you told her.

Mostly, I just wanted to add this to the thread: if this person's kids are harmed by his affair, it will NOT be because you told their mother. It will be because this person had an affair, the fallout of which hurt his kids.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:22 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like psycho-alchemy's idea as well (the "he tells her or I do" scenario).

I got a call from a friend a few years back to let me know my partner of three years had been cheating on me. I felt pretty stupid, in that last-to-know kinda way, but I was glad for it and immediately got tested. I know there's not that friend connection in this scenario, but she deserves to know the truth. Sure, this might be about revenge/hurt/whatever on your part and it's entirely possible she already knows or just won't listen to you. But one thing other posters have already highlighted here doesn't change: cheaters put their partner's health at risk. Period.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:31 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed - if you can't give advice without insulting other commenters, please do not comment. thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:51 AM on January 28, 2010

All the people in the "but he has kids" camp. OP isn't going to tell the kids!

If the adult man and woman in this other marriage feel like making this a family wreaking explosion that's something They will do.

But she has a right to know he's been cheating on her. How could she possibly not!?

I think that the honorable route here is the "he tells her or I do" give him a chance to do the right thing. That's being the bigger person. Not being complicit in their lies.
posted by French Fry at 8:01 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

The he-tells-her-or-I-do is often suggested. It's enormously impractical. First, you have to tell this guy. Then you have to like, check up on him or get him to check up on you. Then you have to verify that he told her, if he tells you he told her. What's the point? She's going to find out either way and if you just tell her, you don't have to talk to her asshole husband. Yay!

And think about it, I mean how are you going to VERIFY? Take his word for it? HA! Take your wife's word for it? I mean, you're going to have to call this woman and say something like this:
Hey what's up! How are you! Good, everything is good? Are you absolutely sure? Did your husband told you that he is an asshole cheater? Oh, he did, okay, good. Just checking! Bye!
Essentially, you'll have to contact her anyway, or you'll never really know.

You might as well just call her up and tell her, maybe do it on a Friday so that she doesn't have to work the next day.
posted by kathrineg at 8:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

Besides, who cares if you tell her all happy and peaceful and calm, or if you tell her all pissed off and vengeful. She's going to find out either way, and the quicker it happens, the quicker you can check that off of your to-do list and move on.
posted by kathrineg at 8:26 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

(You used the word "partner" and you were gender-neutral, I'm sorry I described your partner as your "wife")
posted by kathrineg at 8:28 AM on January 28, 2010

Tell her. I once was unfortunate enough to have a cheating wife, and I was left to piece together the information by myself. I would have liked someone to tell me the news beforehand.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:28 AM on January 28, 2010

I would make a condition that he comes clean to his wife or you will.

I did this. Gave him exactly 24 hours then called her. He hadn't said anything. She yelled and cried but (much) later thanked me. She's now married to a great guy, has great kids and is happy as can be.

Varaitions on "it's not your place"

That attitude really ticks me off. Since you know something very important that this person NEEDS to know, you have a duty to tell her. Lay it out, offer to provide any evidence if she wants it, then you can do whatever you need to do.
posted by anti social order at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

And think about it, I mean how are you going to VERIFY? Take his word for it? HA! Take your wife's word for it? I mean, you're going to have to call this woman and say something like this:

Usually it involves standing right next to the person, dialing the telephone for them, listening for the wife to answer and handing the phone to the cheater to explain. Things like this are done all of the time during infidelity issues. Counselors would provide that.

Not only that, but guess what. YOU HAVE TO PUT YOURSELF FIRST. It would be tremendously helpful to you if your partner had to live with the consequences of his affair. When something like this happens, you have to help yourself first.

Wow, you must really hate his kids, huh?

Snide remarks like this don't even begin to take into account the real moral dilemmas people in this situation have. Is it really in the parent and kids best interests to have no idea the husband is fucking around on the wife? Where do you get that from?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Usually it involves standing right next to the person, dialing the telephone for them, listening for the wife to answer and handing the phone to the cheater to explain. Things like this are done all of the time during infidelity issues. Counselors would provide that.

If the OP can do this without punching the other guy in the face, that's cool. And the other guy has 24 hours to squirrel away some of his marital assets and find a decent hotel room, so, good for him.
posted by kathrineg at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2010

Unlike most people here, I think the decision to tell the wife is not cut and dry and a simple "yes, tell her." (And I do NOT think revenge is ok. There are always, always unforeseen consequences to revenge.) Every situation is unique and there are a lot of things to consider, such as, maybe she already knows, as others have written. You don't know what her situation is, and the relationship with her husband. You are what, three degrees removed from this woman? (Your partner, the guy, his wife.) You know something, but is it your responsibility to tell? Do you know her? If she gets a call from you, will she respond like, "who the hell is this? Why are you meddling?" Do you think she'll believe you? I think you have to ask yourself what are your expectations if you tell her. Do you expect her to be grateful? Do you expect to be glad she'll know? That could happen, but it also could not. This is a very unpredictable situation. Just be prepared for those things not happening if you do tell her. A lot of things could change, and a lot of that could be put on you (unfairly or not) if you tell. Just be prepared for all this.

I feel very betrayed by two of our close friends who knew of my partner's infidelity and didn't tell me. Given that, should I tell this guy's wife?
It sounds to me that you don't want to be like your close friends to this woman, and make up for it by telling her. But you are not her close friend. You may have wanted or expected your friends to look out for you and tell you, but how do you know this is the case for her?

I personally think she should know, if she is in fact, being deceived. But we don't know that for sure. Maybe she should know, but I don't know either if you should be the person to tell her.

I'm not going to say "tell her" or "don't tell her." If you truly believe that something good will come out of you telling her, then do so. But don't assume that it will. Bottom line, this is a very personal decision for you, and only you can decide.
posted by foxjacket at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

What you describe can still be revenge, 23skidoo.

Anonymous, the decision is yours. All we can say is: don't do anything rash, and don't act out of anger.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:53 AM on January 28, 2010

posted by kathrineg at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2010

Why are we assuming the wife doesn't already know about this?
posted by dalesd at 10:19 AM on January 28, 2010

The affair has been revealed. It's no longer a matter of who will find out, or whose job it is to tell who. The important thing is that the jig is up, and if you feel capable of making sure it is all the way up without resorting to cruelty or revenge, then by all means tell.

It is very important to do this as simply and compassionately as possible. You want to be able defend (to yourself and to your partner) what you're doing as the responsible and inevitable thing, and that will be pretty hard if you are malicious or gleeful about it.
posted by hermitosis at 10:19 AM on January 28, 2010

Don't couch it in "your health is at risk." You don't know that this is the case. If you tell her, do it because you think that she should be informed about her husband's infidelity, not because you're taking it upon yourself to be self-righteous about The Spread Of Venereal Disease In Your Community.
posted by desuetude at 10:24 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Regarding the children in a failing marriage, I can share this from my own experience.

I am a 45 year old man. A couple of months ago, my father revealed that my mother had had a number of affairs over the course of their 45 year marriage. These began when I was a teenager, and continued throughout my formation as an independent adult as I began to have my own first serious relationships. The affairs were kept secret from my siblings and myself. We had absolutely no idea. What we did have a clear sense of, might be better described as an ongoing malaise. Or insect damage.

There was tension, and anxiety. We found ourselves being judged harshly for seemingly minor offenses. Arguments and emotions in our household were tough to pin down. It was just an environment that didn't make...sense. There was little genuine kindness. Or vulnerability. And there was always this ongoing feeling that scores were being kept. And we didn't know why.

Drinking started. And then continued to not stop. As young adults we adjusted. Devised strategies under our own covers at night. We learned how to live like that. And that was, for each of us, the greatest cost.

I continue to battle that life. Those confusing days and nights trying to do the right thing, make my parents happy. Help them like each other. It doesn't work. And you can lose yourself in the process. So, regarding the children, I for one would have liked to have the information. To have known what was flavoring the sour soup of young-adulthood. I would have felt respected and valued, not coddled and dismissed. And I might have used that to see, as we all eventually see, who our parents really are. Who they are as individual, flawed, often scared adults...who happen to have children. At that important age, information would have been strength. Strength to say "I understand...but, no thank you" to the examples on offer. And then set about my own life and relationships, knowing clearly that my history was not everyone's history.

Anyway, I know this was an indirect answer (at best...and I welcome its deletion if the mods find it inappropriate). I just wanted to address one of your concerns, that of the children. Life is hard. Good luck to you.
posted by nickjadlowe at 10:26 AM on January 28, 2010 [33 favorites]

I hate to think of having the power to cause such pain to another person.

While you might have the power (most of us in relationships do) you didn't cause this pain. The pain you anticipate has already been caused, and you have the opportunity to start the healing by doing what you already know you have to do.
posted by norm at 10:43 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Imagine for a moment the following possibility:

Through their dalliances, one or both men contracted HIV independently from that particular affair and passed it to the other. By chance, luck, or pure statistical improbability (assuming decreased marital sex during the affair and the general tissue-destructive nature of MSM sex), neither you nor the other man's wife have contracted the virus at this point in time.

Now imagine that a year down the road, you find out the other man's wife contracted HIV after you could have (but did not) tell her about the infidelity.

How do you feel about that quite plausible scenario?
posted by jock@law at 10:49 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

As many people have stated, the danger here is acting out of hurt or malice. I don't get the impression from your (admittedly limited) post that this is the case. You seem to be aware that she may not have the same feelings about infidelity that you do, and want to respect her choices in the matter.

A one-time fling is one thing, a mistake the revealing of which might cause more harm than good. However, an extended period of infidelity with the same person is a massive breach of trust and an emotional rift that fundamentally alters the truth of a relationship. As horrifying as it would be, I think that I would want you to tell me.

I would advocate telling her, in person. I would frame it as follows: "I am very uncomfortable in this position, and I wish neither of us were here. I want you to know that I do not tell you this to hurt you or your husband. However you choose to deal with this in your own marriage is your choice, and I respect that. I just felt that you deserved to know the truth of what has been happening and make that choice with full knowledge. Again, however you choose to address this is between you and your husband. These are the facts as I know them." Lay out what you know, as backed-up with verifiable "facts" as you can (she will almost certainly doubt you or try to cast it as unreliable gossip), and try to leave your own feelings out of it as much as possible. She may become wildly defensive of her marriage, she may accuse you of lying or trying to hurt her for various malicious reasons -- but this is a function of the pain of betrayal. It is not about you, and it's not an attack on you so much as a desperate defense against deep hurt. Try not to react with similar defensiveness or hostility, and reaffirm that you hope that you have made the right choice in telling her, and that you are trying to act according to your moral obligations as you see them.

That's the only solution I can think of, and it puts a significant burden on you to bear the brunt of her reaction even as you are struggling with your own pain. If you can manage it, I believe it is the right thing to do.
posted by tigerbelly at 11:10 AM on January 28, 2010

A rare instance where I side with jocklaw (how u doing dude). Chronic cheating is a serious health risk, all emotions aside.

Lastly, Anonymous poster, you have my unyielding sympathy. Keep your head up, get a new partner and some new friends, and get an STD test.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:21 AM on January 28, 2010

Don't tell the wife, at least until you talk to her husband. Give him a chance to work out some less destructive solution. You don't know their particular relationship, her personality, how this is going to affect her, etc. Tell the husband you're aware of what's going on, you're considering talking to her, and tell him he needs to fix things or work toward fixing them before you or somebody else decide to fix them for him.
posted by dervish at 11:29 AM on January 28, 2010

I think you should tell the wife, but you may want to pose your question on an infidelity support board. I recommend Surviving Infidelity.
posted by Maisie at 11:37 AM on January 28, 2010

Mod note: there is a metatalk thread on this topic, if you're not talking to the OP directly, you may want to go there.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:40 AM on January 28, 2010

I disagree that this is a health issue. It's a personal issue for the op, and in my system of morality, the only responsibilty you have in this instance is to yourself. So I would only say something if I was positive I wanted to deal with the consequences of what I consider to be someone elses problem. so I lean towards no, don't get involved. Others make good arguments above though. Tough choice.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best advice I've seen on this came from metafilter, some of it repeated in this thread.

- The wife should know because her health is being put at risk. The husband could contract something & pass it along to his wife without her knowing.

- You should not have to be the one to tell her, you should give him the option to tell her.

How you go about executing this (call her & hand over the phone so he doesn't have a chance to abscond with their savings, or give him a deadline before you will tell her yourself) is up to you.
posted by MesoFilter at 12:22 PM on January 28, 2010

If I were in your position, OP, I would tell the wife.

My reason: The wife needs to be in position to protect her finances. As a teen, my father had been having an affair and quietly started moving money out of my parents joint accounts well before he told her that he was leaving her. The week that he left, he cleaned out what was left in their savings. I also knew two other kids who had similar things happen in their families.

It sucks, but people do this kind of shit, even to people they love, even to their own kids.

We are talking about a situation where a man has almost certainly (barring the small chance that this is an acceptable and known thing within their marriage) been lying to his wife for years now. Whether he plans to leave her or not, she needs the opportunity to make some wise financial decisions NOW. I would want to give her a chance to separate her finances from his in order to protect herself and her kids.
posted by Brody's chum at 12:29 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

The motivation for telling the wife might be selfish in that you want someone to commiserate with. You're hurt and alone in your pain, and it's natural to want to pull someone into your pain to share it with and know you aren't alone, but you have no idea what is happening in that woman's life right now, and she deserves to be told, not by a stranger, but by someone who knows her and can be there to support her. You don't know how stable or unstable she is.
posted by anniecat at 12:55 PM on January 28, 2010

As a teen, my father had been having an affair and quietly started moving money out of my parents joint accounts well before he told her that he was leaving her. The week that he left, he cleaned out what was left in their savings. I also knew two other kids who had similar things happen in their families.

This happened to two of our family friends, too. It's a real flaw in the "tell him he has 24 hours to tell her" plan. Give her the chance to keep all the best divorce lawyers in town from being able to represent him by doing a five-minute consultation with each!
posted by palliser at 1:35 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

My partner of six years cheated on me for about six months. Our roommate figured it out before I did, and she confronted my partner and told her that if she didn't tell me immediately, then my roommate would tell me herself. So my partner told me. I hear the warnings above about giving the cheater an opportunity to take everything and run, but I'm very grateful to this day (many years later) that my roommate handled things the way she did.

Also, I am so, so sorry to hear you're going through this. It must be just awful.
posted by serazin at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2010

I think it's the responsible thing to tell the person being cheated on, yes. At the very least, if disclosure now could prevent the spread of diseases now or somewhere down the road.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:31 PM on January 28, 2010

Of course it's a health issue. It's also a consent issue. Given that they're married and have kids, she's probably not using condoms. If she knew he was sleeping around, she damn well might be either insisting on condoms or refusing to have sex. By keeping her in the dark, you're putting her in a situation where she may be giving consent to fluid-bonded sex that she wouldn't consent to if she was informed. That information is key to her ability to make the health decisions she wants to make.

OP, I think you already know the answer. You wish your friends would have told you. You don't want this to be in a spirit of revenge. So send her a message somewhere that you're sure her husband can't intercept it to say "I'm very sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I wish my friends had told me, so I'm telling you. Here's the basic details, message me back if you want more info."
posted by heatherann at 5:53 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might well be doing her (and the kids) a tremendous favor on the financial/legal level if you tell her, but you would probably need to bring it up explicitly. Speaking from my own experience and that of people close to me, it takes a while to to think of that aspect, often until the damage is done.

From what I've read on the Surviving Infidelity board, a good number of posters seem to agree on certain recommended procedures, like telling any other spouses, getting full disclosure from your partner, and so on. I think you have to listen to yourself on this. For example, how much do you really want to know? Maybe you just want to get out of the whole mess with as few specific pieces of information as possible to torment you. What if the spouse wants to compare notes? Do you have any plan beyond dropping the bombshell? Because it's quite likely they won't just hang up after you tell them. These sound like selfish considerations, but in my opinion you get to be selfish in this situation.
posted by BibiRose at 7:32 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

What you should do is ask the married man "do you want to tell her, or shall I?" Let him decide. If he says "I'm not telling her," then you have been given implicit permission to tell her yourself.
posted by etoile at 4:30 PM on January 29, 2010

Tell the wife and you destroy another marriage, perhaps needlessly. The kids end up with divorced parents or with guilty/angry parents and subjected to the type of pain that nickjadlow above suffered. You'll have to live with that on your conscience.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:43 PM on January 29, 2010

If you do decide to tell her, PLEASE be extremely sensitive to how it might impact her kids if they are exposed to the shock and breakdown that may result.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 12:16 AM on February 1, 2010

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