Reader Question: My Friend is Having an Affair

Reader Question of the Week
What do you do if you discover your best friend is having an affair?

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. And that difficult situation is the subject of today’s letter. A reader writes:

I really appreciated your post about When you catch your husband texting another woman but I’m wondering if you have ever written or would be able to address the topic of when you have friend, who is the wife in this situation, engaging in the affair. She recently told her husband, so it’s out now. I’ve confronted her before about what I saw because I was concerned that she may be headed down this path, but she denied that it was an issue. But now I know it was an issue before I even talked with her. So I’m just looking for advice on how to walk through this with her and respond lovingly and Christ-like. She is a believer.

That’s a tough situation, isn’t it? Few of us like confrontation, but when a friend is having an affair, confrontation is pretty much required of you.

Before I give a framework for this situation, let’s just lay out a few “givens”, that I hope we all agree with. Affairs are horrible things. They should never be justified. If a marriage is abusive, or if there is adultery on the other person’s part, then it could be that the marriage needs to be ended. But that is still not an excuse for an affair. You deal with the marriage you are in before you look elsewhere. The vast majority of affairs, however, do not occur in marriages where divorce is the best option. They occur in unhappy marriages, or in marriages where the couple has just grown distant lately. That is NEVER an excuse for an affair.

An affair blows apart the marriage and it blows apart the family, and people need to understand the gravity of what they’re doing. So if you have a friend who is having an affair, here are some thoughts:

"My friend is having an affair!" How to confront her

1. Affairs are Fantasies that Exist in the Dark. Bring it to Light

Why do people have affairs and continue in affairs? Because it feels so intoxicating! They’re unhappy or bored with their “real life”, and the affair makes them feel alive again. Someone loves them. Someone appreciates their thoughts and their feelings.

But it’s all just an illusion. The reason that person is able to act like they love them unconditionally and that their thoughts and feelings are so important is that they’re not living in real life. They don’t have to pay bills, make meals, take kids to the doctor, dealing with extended family crises, and all those other things that marriage brings.

When you’re in the middle of an affair, too, you start to fantasize about what would happen if this continued. You can see yourself married to this person, and see how that marriage would be wonderful. You don’t take into account how angry and hurt and bewildered your children will be. You don’t take into account how long the legal battle will be to end the marriage and establish custody. You don’t think about that; you fantasize as if all the obstacles just float away.

Nothing ends an affair like a good dose of reality. Now I’m going to recommend something here that is drastic, and some people may disagree with me. Perhaps my advice isn’t the right course of action in all circumstances. But I still firmly believe that secrets are dangerous, and that when we bring things to light, God can start to work.

If you know a friend is having an affair, I highly recommend sitting down with her and telling her in no uncertain terms, “End this right now or I will tell your spouse and the spouse of your lover.”

Don’t get into a conversation with her about how unhappy her marriage is. Don’t get sucked into discussing how great the guy is. Just be firm.

What you are doing is wrong, and it needs to stop. If you are going to go on with this person, your spouse still deserves to know now so they can prepare. I am not going to be a party to something like this, and so I will tell if you don’t end it.

How do you tell? I’d go as a couple, you and your husband, and sit the spouses down and let them know.

What if, like in this letter writer’s situation, you have a suspicion, but the friend hasn’t admitted it? You can say to your friend, “What I’m seeing is inappropriate, whether it’s a full blown affair or not. And I fear for your marriage, and I think your husband needs to know so that you can work on this together. I’d be happy to be there with you when you tell him.”

Will your friend hate you and be angry at you? Probably. But ultimately what is more important? Keeping that friendship, or giving that marriage the chance to survive? That marriage won’t survive if the affair is ongoing. Telling the spouse, though, does two things:

1. It stops this fantasy life where the affair appears so easy
2. It gives the other spouse a chance to fight for the marriage

2. Help Your Friend See the Long Term Repercussions for the Children

If your friend has kids, she needs to understand what will happen with those kids. Ask her these sorts of questions:

1. Are you prepared to only see your children 50% of the time?
2. Are you prepared to spend half of your Christmases away from your kids, and half of their birthdays away from them? When they are grown up, are you prepared to see them and your grandchildren significantly less? (People need to be aware that when they divorce, they end up seeing grandchildren only about 40% as often as if they had stayed married. It becomes too stressful for young couples to juggle two sets of parents, and so they tend to withdraw more.)
3. Are you prepared for your children to understand that it was you who broke up the marriage?

That last one is vitally important. People need to know that they will not get off scot-free. I have extended family members who have had affairs and ended marriages, and their children have all been made aware of the fact (not by me) that one of their parents broke up the marriage over an affair. Even if that affair happened when the kids were young, they do find out. It doesn’t stay a secret. And you should tell your friend, “This will NOT stay a secret from your kids. They WILL know that it was you who ended the marriage. They’ll know that you chose your lover over them.”

Is this harsh? You betcha. But people in the middle of affairs need a good dose of reality.

3. Help Your Friend Understand the Ramifications for Her Social Circle

You may want to stay her friend; this letter writer does want to try to still model Christ to this woman, and I do understand the sentiment. After all, James writes:

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

We want to be that person who rescues our friend, and so our instinct is often to be compassionate rather than confrontational. We want to listen to her and talk with her and pray with her and say, “I understand that you’re hurting, but there is a way out.” Perhaps there is room for that.

However, I’m not sure that rescuing a friend from wandering always involves being nice. I think it often involves a cold, hard telling of the truth. And the truth is that if this friend leaves her spouse for her lover, you likely won’t be her friend in the same way ever again, nor should you. She has broken faith with her husband, her kids, God, and her church community. Someone who has done that deserves to know that there are repercussions.

You will not socialize with this other person. You will not go to a second wedding. You will not support her; you will, instead, support her husband, providing baby-sitting and whatever else he needs to get set up as a single parent. And you’re pretty sure that everyone else you know will take a similar stance.

And then be sure to tell her: If you do not end this affair, I will tell the pastor and have you removed from any leadership activities. And people will find out.

If your friend is not a Christian, and that isn’t a good threat, then you can still let her know that your mutual friends will eventually find out what she did.

4. Be There When Her World Falls Apart

Most affairs don’t end well. There is no marriage to the lover; there is only destruction in the wake. When the destruction occurs, and if she is truly repentant, be there to help restore her. Once she’s repented, there is no need to ostracize or punish her. Now is the time to restore her.

Help her and her husband find a good counselor. Baby-sit as much as you can so they can work on this. Pray a ton with her. This is when she’s going to need you.

Many of us are awful at confrontation, and we likely don’t appreciate most of these suggestions. And doesn’t talking about all of this to pastors or others in leadership sound like gossip? I don’t think so. I think affairs are so dangerous that they need to be brought to the light, and so basically, you have no choice. Standing by your friend means helping your friend. You don’t help her by letting her continue her fantasy.

You may need to have another friend pray with you or talk you through this before you confront her, and that’s okay. Talking to one or two other people so you can pray and prepare may very well be a good idea. I think sometimes we’re so scared of gossip that we don’t take the proper steps we need to when something serious is at stake. Do what you must.

In the meantime, here are some more posts that may help if your friend is having an affair:

Books on How to Deal with Affairs
What to Say when a Friend Announces She’s Getting a Divorce

Now, what do you think? Have you ever had to confront a friend over an affair? What happened? Let me know in the comments!

Comments

  1. I thought this was very good advice. I appreciate the fact that you were willing to be hard towards a woman for her sin in your advice.
    thankfulhusband recently posted…The NonNegotiablesMy Profile

  2. Wow, I never noticed that “multitude of sins” appears twice in the New Testament, with James’s statement that you cited, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins,” and Paul’s statement that “love covers over a multitude of sins.”

    And in truth, turning a sinner from their error and saving them IS love. Sometimes, we think love only comes in prettily wrapped packages with soft, sweet messages inside. But there’s nothing more loving than looking after your friend’s best interest and fighting for her family. Great advice, Sheila!
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…Showering and Bathing Together: Why You Should Try ItMy Profile

  3. Very needed words. We all know there are millions of couples who go year, after year, after year living in a marriage that is excruciating and conclude there is no help, no way out. There grounds for discontent are not unfounded. What are some ways to get the word out that there struggles are very common and that real help is out there? This site is one of few I have found that is dealing with these things in a very forthright, upright fashion. There is advertising for everything in every conceivable form of media. Like “just say no” and many, many others. Is there a way we could get the message out that many, if not most marriages can not only be saved but become what they were meant to be ( Insanely awesome, beautiful, precious, crazy fun)?

  4. Thank you for this post! I am stuggling with what to say to a friend who is doing this currently. We are new friends so I stuggle with being so bold. Normally I would not hesitate.
    I kdo now my pastors wife had done all that you suggested above and went beyond that. The pastoral staff has also taken the measures they needed to.
    Thank you for this post. I will definitely step up and be bolder.

  5. Well said, Sheila. My only (very nit-picky) concern is that if she is having an affair it needs to be exposed to the husband even if she ends it (not “end it OR I’ll tell”). Obviously you need to first confirm that she is indeed having an affair, but her husband needs to know even if she has agreed to end it. Offer to go with her, offer to help her/them find counseling, etc. But ending it and leaving it hidden doesn’t sound like a good idea. Just my two cents.

    Overall, though, I totally agree with you. So often we only think of the warm, fuzzy love (and approval), but that’s not Biblical – or not complete. Leviticus 19:17 says, “Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” Yah, I get that we do NOT need to confront our friends about every little thing, but WHOA, this verse seems to be saying that NOT rebuking is NOT loving; in fact, it’s hatred. Along the lines of, “You’re going down a path that will lead you directly off a cliff, but I’m not going to tell you.”
    julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

    • Actually, that’s a really good point, and I meant to clarify it in the article, so let me do it here.

      I think if she ends it, then you can now leave it to HER to confess to her husband. But I would really make sure this happens. I’m still not sure that it’s your job to tell the husband if she doesn’t, but I would definitely advise her to confess, and to get a counsellor/pastor involved.

      You should be working towards bringing everything out into the light, but I’m not sure that it is always OUR role if the friend does end it and is trying to work towards reconciliation. I knew one couple, for instance, where there was an affair, and she did end it, but the relationship was so precarious at the time that confessing likely would have ended the marriage then and there. Instead, she worked at rebuilding and got some counseling, and a year later confessed. It was rocky but they worked through it.

      Had a friend intervened earlier, though, the marriage may not have been saved. So she was working towards confession, but she was waiting for the right time.

      That’s why I think it’s hard to give a definitive statement if the person has indeed repented and is working towards reconciliation, because there are so many factors involved.

      • That makes good sense, Shelia :D And I wasn’t clear either, because I wasn’t thinking specifically of “outing” someone, but of holding them accountable to “out” themselves.
        julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

  6. Helpful and thoughtful article. We do seem to be having an epidemic of extra-marital affairs. In the secular media, one hears that the reasons spouses often give for seeking an affair are that their emotional and/or sexual needs are not being met by their wife or husband. This is something to keep in mind. Are you meeting and satisfying your spouse’s needs?

    I think another relevant factor that is not always brought up is past promiscuity prior to marriage. Sexual affairs or brief sexual encounters after marriage (occurring within months of getting married) may be an indication that the guilty spouse is having a difficult time adjusting to monogamous sexuality. Such casual sexual encounters with others also imply a lack of commitment to the marriage. Promiscuity prior to marriage is very harmful in so many ways. (And, such promiscuity is not always related to use of porn. There are other factors in play such as poor judgment, inability to resist peer pressure, and lack of self-control.)
    Larry B of larrysmusings.com recently posted…some thoughts on organized religion – past and present – and the spiritual impulse in humans – part threeMy Profile

  7. I had a friend, who I wasn’t real close with, who was living with her fiance, had a child with this man, and had been together with him for several years — having an affair with a much younger man, who was single, seemingly carefree, and said all the right things to her. I had suspected it, but wasn’t sure. I also babysat for her. She would ask me to babysit all day on a day she didn’t have to work, and I found out that she was going to meet with this guy while I was babysitting for her. I stopped babysitting for her unless I KNEW she was just going to work. I never said anything to him or her. She claims to be a Christian, but her actions — affair included — show she is not. She wasn’t attending any church so that wasn’t an issue. I was also friends with her mom who knew of the affair and would try to justify and make excuses as to why this was all okay. I was honest with my friend (her mom) and hopefully her mom got the guts to say something to her. We’re not friends today because I just couldn’t watch or support that.

  8. I’d be interested in a “My friend is having an emotional affair” post, since that’s usually how these things start!
    Heather recently posted…3 views of Mt. Fuji: tempuraMy Profile

    • That’s a good idea, Heather! I’ll think about that. Like you mean when you know your friend is in contact with someone on Facebook, or texting someone from work? I think I may take the same approach. Let her husband know that you’re worried. I do believe that we keep too many secrets.

  9. Thanks for taking on a tough issue.
    I tell folks I am a friend of their marriage first, and them second. This leave no question about how to handle something like this.
    Paul H. Byerly recently posted…Confronting to ConnectMy Profile

  10. Thank you so much! Excellent and sound Godly advise. Do you truely think that an emotional affair has to be confronted the same way? Do you have to confess to your spouse, knowing the hurt and damaged trust that will result – even after you repented and turned around? When does a (lustfull!) attraction/infatuation move to being an emotional affair- when you act on it?

    • That’s a great question. I think if someone is attracted to someone else and is dealing with it that does not have to be confessed. That would only cause hurt.

      On the other hand, if you have a friend that you know is constantly texting someone, and flirting with them on Facebook, and is refusing to stop, then I do think that steps may need to be taken.

      If a friend confesses to you that she’s attracted to someone and wants to figure out how to stop it, then you certainly shouldn’t go running to your spouse. But if the friend is in dangerous territory, and is refusing to admit it, then you may have to take some steps.

  11. Wow, this is a tough one! I’ve often wondered what I would do in a situation like this. I don’t like to meddle in the affairs of others (no pun intended) because I don’t appreciate being lectured, so this is really difficult. You can’t control the actions of other people. All you can do, it seems, is pray about the situation and hope for the best.
    I don’t condone or support people who have affairs but it seems a bit cruel to do some of the things suggested above. It is one thing to talk with somebody about their actions and the consequences that could result, but quite another to shun and ostracize them socially because of it. Maybe if they have betrayed you in some way and slept with your husband (as no true friend would ever do), then I understand taking that position, but otherwise? I dunno…seems a bit extreme. We can hate the sin but acknowledge that the sinner is only human and most likely hurting in some way, seeking something to fill a void. It seems more prudent to have a “heart to heart” talk with the person and gently help them understand that nothing good can come from what they’re doing, as it could possibly ruin their marriage or hurt their children if they have any. Hopefully they will see that this isn’t what they want to happen.

    Affairs shouldn’t be condoned but I will say that as a married woman, I battle with temptation. My husband is a wonderful man in many ways but we have no spark at all. There is no sex or intimacy of any kind. I love him dearly, he is the one I want to be with, but honestly? He is a cold fish. I know it sounds terrible but it’s true. I’ve wondered if it stems from his upbringing…his mother frowns upon dancing because to her, it is “sinful”. Sex is looked upon as something taboo and to me, that is sad. We have to sleep in separate beds when we visit his folks. I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband but I won’t lie…sometimes it is hard to imagine the rest of my life without being touched and held and made love to. It is hard to feel undesirable after you’ve made a commitment to be with the same person for the rest of your life. And worst of all, to feel guilty for having natural sexual desires although you’ve never betrayed your spouse.

    So that is also worth looking at and talking to your friend about. Maybe it’s a deeper issue, like feeling rejected or unwanted by her husband? Maybe loneliness? Not that adultery is justified (it rarely ever is) but it helps to understand her emotions and why she is doing this. By trying to understand and offering wise counsel, maybe you can guide her down the right path.

    • MB, your level of honesty is truly rare. My heart breaks for you. God never intended marriage to be this way. Don’t know where you are with God, but I would like to share with you that there is definitely a raging spiritual battle and marriage is at the top of the list. Here are some links to some information about spiritual conflict. I will inform you in advance that they are one hundred percent Bible, Scripture but NOT simply the opinion of human thought. I hope you will take a look. May God work in your marriage so you may be treated as He intended.

      http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1953/the-believers-warfare-part-1?term=spiritual%20warfare

      http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1954/the-believers-warfare-part-2?term=warfare

      • Hi Daryl,

        I appreciate your kind words. I’m not having a spiritual battle, really…more like a moral conflict about what is right (being honest, not hurting the one I love) and what I truly need on an emotional/physical level.
        I appreciate my husband for all of the great qualities he has and I feel lucky to have him in so many ways. But at the same time, I am human with a high sex drive and it is frustrating that he doesn’t seem to want me in return. The rejection makes me feel like I’m just not good enough…and this is a message I was given about myself from many people at a very young age.
        So although I’ve never had an affair and most likely never would, I can see sometimes how it happens. Once again, I just want to say that I don’t condone infidelity at all…it is a very hurtful, destructive thing to do. My parents divorced because my father got another woman pregnant.
        This is why I often try to do the right thing in my marriage despite my true feelings. I love my husband, hence I would never want to hurt him in any way.
        I also hold myself to the standard of “do unto others” because I know how hurt I would be if he ever cheated on me. I believe in treating people the way I want to be treated. But it is a struggle sometimes…I am still fairly young and I have physical/emotional needs that aren’t being met.
        Thanks for saying I’m honest. I believe that there are certain things that we simply must be honest about because communication is important, no matter what faith one practices. Sex is one of these issues that we shouldn’t tap-dance around. I think my husband was raised with a somewhat repressive, unhealthy view of sex and anything related to sexuality and this has carried over into our marriage.

        Some people might feel that it is improper for a married woman or even a single woman, Christian or otherwise, to hold views like the ones I’ve shared…but it comes from my heart. It hurts to be married to somebody who is ideal in many ways but so incompatible with me in others. I’ve always wanted children and now it seems that he doesn’t. I’m now deeply ashamed of my body and reluctant to be intimate with him because of the rejection, which has caused me to gain more weight. I was a size 4 when we met and although I’m not gorgeous, I was a very attractive girl. I know that some men still find me attractive even at my current size (10-12, and I am short). So I often beat myself up for gaining weight and not being pretty enough no matter what I do.
        This is why I suggested that the person talk to her friend and find out why she is having, or thinking about having, an affair. Maybe there is some emotional/physical need that isn’t being met. Not an excuse to cheat but some insight into why…maybe the other man is showing her more attention than her husband does, or makes her feel special. Maybe her husband is critical or controlling and the other man is more easygoing. I would never blame the spouse who is cheated on in most cases because infidelity is hurtful enough as it is, but sometimes we have to understand all of the people involved and how the situation came to be.

        • MB,

          Thank you for sharing what I consider to be extremely personal information. I don’t know if this format is appropriate for someone to attain the kind of attention needed to help someone work through such difficulty. I am not a frequent user of these things but I have been very blessed by Sheila’s wisdom and her love for all of us. I so desire for you to have someone who would be able to impart to you the comfort, support, love and wisdom you need. You said that you do not perceive your marital struggles as a spiritual battle. I beg you to reconsider. I am not proposing that you need to begin to think every thing is some kind of spooky, weird, satanic, demonic occurrence. The evil realm is very, very crafty and subtle and can certainly convince you that you are justified stepping out on your husband. God made the beauty of sexual enjoyment/pleasure. Your husband is to love you as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it and loving you spiritually, physically, emotionally and sexually is all part of it. Do not give up my friend. May God send you some people who will lift you up in prayer and may God begin to do a work in your husband so he will begin to see how grievously he breaks you heart. You are in my prayers.

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