It’s deeply uncomfortable when you see a friend’s partner on Tinder, or making out or holding hands with another woman, or even hitting on you. WTF do you do? Sure, you don’t want to get involved and create drama in a close friend’s relationship, but on the other hand, you don’t want to let your friend think his or her S.O. is a committed partner if he or she is acting like a free agent. Ta-ricky.
Depending on exactly what evidence you have and how close you are to the cheated-upon friend or family member, maybe you feel like you have to tell them. Just know that “shooting the messenger” became an idiom for a reason, so, you’ll want to deliver it very carefully, and keep certain things in mind before making a move you can’t take back. Below are five things to consider before talking.
Trust Your Gut
How solid is the evidence that cheating actually occurred? Seeing a friend’s BF or GF on Tinder is not hard proof that they’re doing anything wrong. They could have an account just to swipe for fun with friends (and not act on it). Even if you see suspicious activity in person, it may not mean there’s foul play going on—many people have open relationships that they may keep private with their partners. So, avoid making assumptions, but do listen to your gut. “This is an important situation where you want to tap into your intuition,” says loveologist and sex educator Wendy Strgar, author of Love that Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy. “If you see the cheater doing something sketchy in person, is he or she avoiding eye contact with you?” Look for signs like this to help you pinpoint whether something truly shady is going on, before you proceed to the next steps.
Give the Cheater a Chance
If you determine that what went down is indeed eyebrow-raising enough that you have to say something, consider first approaching the cheater rather than your friend. “The first step should be going to the apparent cheater and giving him or her an opportunity to deal with it directly,” says Strgar. “Give the couple a chance to correct themselves on their own.” This is more about keeping yourself out of unnecessary drama than choosing the cheater over your friend. Confront him or her by saying something like, “I saw you with a woman at the bar on Saturday who was not Sarah—what was up with that?” If he or she can’t explain or defend the actions, or gets really uncomfortable and seems to scramble to come up with an excuse, and most especially, if he or she refuses to talk to your friend about it, that’s when it’s time to approach your friend yourself.
Do It Face to Face
If you’re feeling kinda tempted to write your friend an email, text, or call her to deliver the bomb, think again. “If and when it’s time to go to the friend, do it in person face to face—not digitally,” says Strgar. “Drop by her house, meet for tea, or something similar. Avoid meeting at a bar and having too much booze. Your friend will likely need your support processing this news, so be sure to deliver it in a sensitive, gentle way. For instance, you could start by saying, ‘This is a really hard conversation to have, and I wish I didn’t have to be the one to tell you this, but if it were me, I’d want to know.’ Even though it’s going to suck to tell her something so hurtful, realize that you’re honoring her and the situation by doing her the courtesy of being with her when she finds out.
Share What You Know—Then Back Off
Since you’ve made the decision to tell your friend something painful and difficult about her relationship, realize that you’ve inserted yourself into a very private part of her life, and after you’ve given her the basic facts, your responsibility is done, and now your only job is to be there for her. Realize that her emotional response will likely go through phases (denial, anger, grief, etc.) and as such, she needs space to figure out her next move. One major thing not to do is to encourage her make any big decisions right now. Instead, stick to facts. “Give the basic information you know—the time, place, person, and evidence you have, and say you’re there for her if you can support her,” says Strgar. “Tell her you trust her to make the right choice for herself but you feel like it’s the kind of thing that if it was reversed, you’d hope she’d tell you.”
Afterward, Keep It to Yourself
Once you’ve done the hardest part—delivering the news—your job is simple: Be there for your friend (without staying overly involved to an unhealthy degree) and keep your mouth shut. It’s embarrassing and painful enough that your friend had to find out about her partner being unfaithful through a third party, but the only thing worse than that would be if her relationship problems became fodder for gossip. “Assure her the information stays only with you,” says Strgar. This will give her peace of mind amid a chaotic, stressful time. If you yourself need support (since it’s probably been pretty stressful for you, too) journal it out or confide in someone you know you can trust who’s outside your shared friend group, whether that’s your own partner (assuming you fully trust him or her!), a friend who lives in another city, or your mom.