What are the limits of post relationship ethics?
September 3, 2019 10:33 AM   Subscribe

My relationship is ending, do I have an obligation to inform my soon to be ex about her new guy?

Currently I am not heartbroken, I am not particularly angry, I feel no need to get even or make anyone hurt. Relationship rules had been established and were broken so I need to step away from the whole mess and everyone involved.

My concern is that I am 95% sure who my soon to be ex will be with now and this person is not a good person (views on women, repeatedly cheated on his spouse and abused her physically, knocking her down several times and breaking her arm once).

I have no intention of trying to tell her what to do or not to do (I feel sick at even the idea of the conversation) but is there a moral obligation to share this information with her before I fully remove myself from the situation?
posted by Twinge to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Mmm, normally I say no, but if you know that he physically abused his spouse, I think you have to mention it. It's going to be tough to do appropriately, because everything you shouldn't say is going to be clamoring to get in there under the guise of protecting her, but if you think you can limit yourself to a simple statement of fact, you should.
posted by praemunire at 10:39 AM on September 3 [11 favorites]


I'm not going to start with threadsitting from the jump but:

The reason I know he broke her arm is he called me from the ER and confessed.
posted by Twinge at 10:43 AM on September 3 [7 favorites]


Yeah, preventing physical harm is worth setting aside any differences over: it's doing the right thing.

She may be resistant to hearing it from you, though, so proceed with caution.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:44 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


Tell her for her own sake. What she does with the information -- particularly given that it comes from you -- is up to her.

And tell her for your own sake, that you won't have that hanging on your conscience later, should it (God forbid) come to that.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:47 AM on September 3 [15 favorites]


My thinking on this has changed recently due to the Harvey Weinstein/#metoo wave, as well as my personal fatigue of men behaving badly. As a woman I have been generally taught by osmosis that any concern or outreach in this area would be seen as nosy meddling (at best) or jealous-batsh*t-crazy (at worst). And so in romantic and professional settings I've held my tongue about bad actors and they've gone on to continue being bad actors in new and different situations.

However, I now think of that as bordering on collusion and patriarchal mass hypnosis. And I know that if I'd been told by a reasonable sounding and generally upright ex that they knew something about someone I was getting close to personally or professionally, I'd at least be more willing to listen to my own internal doubts. Would I be more or less willing to trust it from a male ex than a female friend? Probably less likely, to be honest.

So, depending on the relationship your ex has with you (and not the one you think you have with her) you might be able to say something like, "I'm happy you're moving on and I promise not to say anything more about this, but New Guy once called me from the ER and confessed that he'd broken his girlfriend's arm in anger. If you ever see signs of abuse with him, please trust your instincts and be safe."

Don't position it as a piece of information you use to see her. Send it via email, ask her to delete it, tell her you're not seeking an answer or conversation about it, but simply feel a basic responsibility for a fellow human.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:54 AM on September 3 [166 favorites]


Yes, this sounds like entirely the right thing to do. Stick to delivering the facts as you know them and consider your moral obligation discharged.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:07 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I would not tell this to this person in person. I would write it on a card or a letter and frame it something like this:

I wish only the best for you. As an adult, you are free to see anyone you like. That said, knowledge is power. I think you should know that X called me from the ER in Month Year and confessed to having broken his wife's arm.

What you do with this information is up to you. Normally I wouldn’t share such information. In this case, it seems like the only ethical choice. May you be well and happy going forward.


Or whatever. Just not in person. I truly applaud your question but most especially the actual action of spreading the word. We need more men to step up like this.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:28 AM on September 3 [12 favorites]


So this seems a bit complicated because I'm reading through the lines that your "soon to be ex" might not know the relationship is ending yet (so you haven't had a final break up talk) and that the relationship rules that were broken somehow involved this other guy. Perhaps I am reaching -- apologies if so -- but this more sounds like the current situation is "I'm about to break up with my girlfriend because she behaved inappropriately with a man who is my close friend/former close friend who I know has been abusive to at least one woman and who is also a raging misogynist."

Is this the case? I think you should still share the information you have. Is there a reason you haven't shared this with her in the past? Are you still friends with this guy? If so, that's worth reflecting on.

You sound a bit cold, like you are cutting off feeling your emotions here. There might be a lot of hurt behind that. Please share, but carefully and calmly. Maybe even, "Listen, I should have told you this before, but Fred was quite abusive to Polly; he knocked her around and broke her arm once. I feel like you should know this." At this point, maybe you should share this before the break up conversation. It's hard to know without more context (how long you all have been together, if you live together, if she slept with him, etc).

Also I wouldn't email it or text it. If you write it, do so with the assumption that the other guy will see it. (If she is truly suspicious of you and trusts him, and you email her, she might just forward the email to him.)

An alternative: do you have any mutual friends who know about this other guy? Especially women friends? If so, you might enlist them to tell her because that removes you as a possibly unreliable source.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:40 AM on September 3 [7 favorites]


Reinforce that you trust and value your former partner's intelligence and decision making skills. Express that you appreciate her desire to be a safe and happy person, and you applaud her efforts toward achieving that.

Tell her you hope her potential new partner has done the work to move past his previous behavior. Let her know that hope is not enough in this case and so you are providing her with information instead of silence.

You aren't telling her this to win any points, and you recognize that sharing this information may cause fallout. You feel the risk is too great.

Feel free to mention the #metoo movement and your availability for whatever well boundaried help you are able to offer in the event that this guy is still an abuser. You might provide her with some hotline numbers, with the expressed hope that she never needs them.
posted by bilabial at 11:40 AM on September 3


Thank you all. bluedaisy please check your memail, I don't like adding more to the thread.
posted by Twinge at 11:59 AM on September 3


I like cocoagirl's script. If you think she'll be inclined to disbelieve you (I don't know the circs of your breakup) I don't think there's anything wrong with telling a mutual friend, either. Or all of them.

Unless you're his lawyer, his doctor or his priest, his confession to you wasn't a secret you have any obligation to keep. In my view the more people know about stuff like this, the better.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:33 PM on September 3 [6 favorites]


You have a human obligation to make sure she gets the information, but it doesn't have to come from you directly. An anonymous note on her doorstep may be more credible than an ex-partner.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:50 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


If you choose a mutual friend to deliver the info, just please don't make that friend a woman. That woman's chances of being retaliated against go way up if your ex chooses to share that info in a moment of trust with her new/possible partner. Honestly, there are just some situations where taking heat comes with the job of being human and this is one of them. I'm not saying you have to disclose it's you sharing the info, but think twice before asking a woman to do it.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:34 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Cocoagirl's script is great.

I don't think it would be a good idea to try to do this anonymously, because if your ex works out that the anonymous tipster is you, I think you would lose all credibility. Better to be open and present the facts, but leave your ex to decide what to do with them.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:34 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I am 100% in with cocoagirl on this one. If you know that this guy isn't safe, then he isn't safe for anyone, even if she's your ex or regardless of whatever else has happened. Please give her the care and respect to let her know this information, and don't make it an ongoing conversation - you're just giving her the info so she can make her own choice and stepping back.

It is important for men to speak up - if this dude is a friend of yours, I'd be thinking about why he's still a friend when you have this information.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 6:40 PM on September 3


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