People blurt out really stupid things sometimes -- especially when they're caught off guard. And getting hit with the news that a friend's significant other is cheating is exactly the kind of thing that can prompt you to say something that you'll regret. Based on the infidelity statistics, chances are one of your friends will drop this bomb on you sooner or later. Forewarned is forearmed. Here are three things you should NOT say in response to the news:
"But you're so much hotter/prettier/better looking than her!" You may think that's a compliment, but it's not. That reaction suggests that if the other woman were hotter than your friend, then the affair would at least be understandable, if not justified. It's not only the beautiful who deserve not to be betrayed, and the duty to keep one's word isn't contingent upon how attractive one's spouse is. So, unless your friend and her husband included the clause "until someone hotter than you is willing to sleep with me" in their vows, looks are irrelevant.
"Great! Now maybe you'll finally divorce that pathetic loser!" It's not wrong for you to feel this way, but it is wrong for you to say that right now. As far as your friend is concerned, there's nothing "great" about learning that her significant other is cheating on her. In fact, the news likely comes as a huge blow. You may justifiably want her to dump his ass, and she may well decide to do exactly that, but at this moment what she needs from you is sympathy and support, not added pressure. And getting the message from you that she has no choice but to end the relationship can make her feel boxed in and desperate.
"OMG! Really?!? Give me ALL the details!" This isn't some juicy celebrity split you're reading about in a gossip magazine at the nail salon. This is your friend's relationship. However engrossing the details may be, treating this news as edge-of-your-seat entertainment is not just incredibly insensitive, it reveals a Steve Jobs-level of inability to empathize with others. Your friend's real life drama is completely upending her life. The more salacious the details are, the more mortification and pain she will likely experience as a result. The raunchy details should turn your stomach, not whet your appetite.
Now that you know what not to say, here are some tips on what you should say. Statements that show sympathy are the name of the game. A simple "I can't believe he did this to you! I am so sorry!" or "This whole thing sucks!" can go a long way. It's also fine to offer your support ("I'm here for you if you ever want to talk") as long as you're prepared to follow through if she takes you up on it. But remember, your goal is to help, and that means your involvement should make her situation better, not worse. If she asks you to ride shotgun while she stakes out the other woman's apartment, or to be the getaway driver when she keys her ex's car, or to be her bar-hopping buddy while she leaves her kids at home alone, your answer needs to be a firm "no." Real friends speak up when a friend is about to make a colossal mistake.
Feel free to comment on all of your friend's good qualities and also to dog out her ex for his no good, cheating ways. I've never met a woman yet who doesn't find comfort in the former and take pleasure in the latter at a time like this. And if you catch her slipping into that pitiful pattern of casting her significant other as some innocent victim and demonizing the other woman, your job is to call bullshit on that. She's free to loathe the other woman as much as she wants, but she should not let her significant other off the hook -- especially if she's at all entertaining the notion of staying with him. For their relationship to have any chance of being repaired, her significant other must take full responsibility for his actions.
Follow the guidelines above and take your cues from your friend. With the help of caring and levelheaded besties like you, your friend will not only get through this ordeal, she'll emerge a stronger person as a result of having lived through it.
Follow Christina Pesoli on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChristinaPesoli