Thursday, June 14, 2007

I think my friend's ex-wife cheated on him. What should I do?

Dear HTT,

I have friends who divorced last year. I got to know them together, and the man is a good friend of my SO. My SO and the man are part of a group of friends who have known each other for over a decade, and have been witness to the marriage as it fell apart. During the separation, I vowed (to myself) to support both and not let the ex-wife feel abandoned by the whole lot of this crowd. (She and I share a few interests and I have been through my own painful split-up). She appeared to feel the need to fall back on her new-found friends and let the ex-husband have his space with his friends. I have grown closer to the ex-husband due to the closeness of him to my SO. She and I are basically acquaintances.

As tends to happen, many angry conversations came up in the ex-husbands crowd about the ex-wife. I felt the need to defend. There were questions about her fidelity, mostly surrounding the social circles she is now in. (We sometimes see each other on the weekends in this crowd). I did not say I knew for sure that she was faithful, but let the ex-husband know that I had not seen her out with an obvious attachment to another man. I also heard similar comments from others who were attempting not to be too quick to dismiss her as a friend as well.

I found out through a person who is not a close friend, but knows the ex-wife's goings-on, that she indeed did have an affair while married to her ex. (This information was unsolicited, I think alcohol contributed to this person's desire to share). I believe that this is not a rumor, because I know that she is now dating a man she was out with socially often both before and after the separation. I am unaware if this same information was also passed on to the ex-husband.

Here's The Thing-Now I feel naive and like an idiot for defending her and for taking the sometimes angry comments from both the SO and the ex-husband about why I was trying to be fair. There are a few things I am aware of going into this: a) it's really none of my business what she does, b) she is an acquaintance, and I'm closer to the ex-husband than her, and c) she probably will not perceive it if there is a change in my behavior.

So, what would you do? Do I owe the ex-husband an apology? Should I just sit tight and keep my yap shut?


Dear Far-Too-Friendly,

I don’t think you owe the husband an apology.

Even if the woman had an affair (and you still can’t be positive that she did), you don’t know anything about the circumstances. That’s not to say a situation exists that would make you approve of her dalliance—if she had one—but there could be extenuating circumstances that might cause you to be more forgiving of her actions.

It’s impossible to truly understand the inner workings of other people’s relationships. People are inscrutable as it is, alone. But a couple equals inscrutable squared. Who can tell what makes a couple work, or not? Or what bargains were struck and compromises accepted? Maybe your friend made his wife miserable. Maybe he wasn’t faithful. Maybe they were on the verge of a breakup anyway when this alleged affair took place. Lots of maybes. I’m not trying to make excuses for her or paint him as a wife-neglecting jerk. I’m just saying there could be a lot you don’t know.

But whether she had an affair or not is almost beside the point of your question. You have nothing to apologize for. You haven’t lied to your friend. You didn’t knowingly cover for his ex-wife’s infidelity. You’ve only tried to be fair and nonjudgmental, and that certainly doesn’t make you a na├»ve idiot who owes anyone an apology. I think your best bet is to keep mum. Don’t engage in ex-wife bashing, but don’t feel the need to defend her either.

Thanks for writing!