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How to handle the discovery of someone else cheating

Updated on August 3, 2012
Discovering someone cheating often poses some sticky situations and ethical dilemmas.
Discovering someone cheating often poses some sticky situations and ethical dilemmas.

Knowledge can be Dangerous

Knowledge can be dangerous, especially knowledge about affairs. When you discover that someone is cheating on their spouse, you are faced with choices about whether or not to say or do anything. That discovery creates many uncomfortable dilemmas. Many of you have faced this dilemma and the discomfort that comes with it. Even Jesus faced this dilemma during his time of ministry.

First, there is the question of ‘how’ do you know that cheating is going on? Did you see the cheating take place? In most cases, the report of cheating is relayed to you. Someone told you that cheating was going on, or you saw the cheater with their lover. Even if you saw them there are concerns about whether or not there is actual infidelity. If your definition of cheating is being seen in public with another person other than your spouse, then there would be cheating. If on the other hand you view infidelity as when there are intimate relations with someone other than their spouse, what you saw may not have fit the definition.

In most cases, unless you caught them in the act, you are acting on hearsay. Even when one of the parties tells you that they are cheating, given the tendency of cheaters to lie, you do not know for sure. The only thing you know is that “you were told” or “they said that they were cheating”. False accusations are nothing new with cheaters. There is also the possibility that someone was being set up. In the historic case that Jesus dealt with, the accusations were true and the cheating woman was being set up. Jesus dealt directly with the woman involved and never sought out the husband to tell him anything.

The guideline that I find helpful is “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?” I ask myself that question when faced with such dilemmas. In cases where I am not part of the problem or the solution, then it is not my business. In such cases, the cheating situation is best left alone. You can find yourself hurt by taking on the cheating as a personal issue when it is not. Taking on the incident as a personal attack often leads to misunderstandings and resentments down the road. If you run and tell their spouse about what you saw, you may be adding to rumors and stirring up conflicts that you have no part in. When the spouse is violent, your news may be the trigger that starts a series of events that ends in someone being hurt or killed. Since a third of all murders involve the spouse, giving troubling news to them can be dangerous. You may feel guilty for not telling them, yet you would feel worse if their spouse killed them or the lover because you said something.

In some cases, when the cheater is a public figure, such as your pastor, your son’s teacher or a relative, the options change. When it is someone that you have direct dealings with, it does concern you. In Texas we would say, ‘You have a dog in that fight’. In such cases, your best option may be to confront the cheater at that moment. Many times, the public exposure is enough for the cheater to wake up. There may also be times that the cheater is wanting to get caught and is using you as a way to ‘blow things up’. You can not always predict or know when you are being played. In such situations, trust your gut. If it feels like your being played, be careful.

Other options include vigilantism.You can take matters into your own hands. In the 1920’s the Ku Klux Klan often dealt with adulterers in such a manner and you can see how well that turned out. Acting as the agent of justice on the cheater whether just giving them paybacks or giving them what you think they deserve often backfires. In some ways, spreading rumors about the alleged cheating is not that different from vigilantism. You are just using words rather than weapons to inflict pain upon the cheater. There is also the dilemma of position.

When you are a counselor, or pastor and encounter an affair that involves one of your clients or parishioners, there may be some implied responsibilities. You need to know what you are required to do by your profession, if anything at all. When it is someone close to you, there is a chance that you will take it personally. When you take things personally, you react personally. In such cases, the best course of action may involve maintaining your objectivity, so that you can help everyone involved. You will still need a working relationship with all parties when the time comes for them to deal with the infidelity.

So the next time you see someone cheating, you may want to think through your options. You may view your immediately contacting the spouse as a ‘noble’ deed thinking that you are protecting the dignity of marriage, while others may view your actions as spreading rumors or being a tattle tale.


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