06/17/2013 11:23 am ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

Do We Tell?

Sharon looked across the restaurant and did a double take. (Details have been changed.) Was that Chet Adams, her closest friend Barb's husband? No, it couldn't be. Oh, yes, it was. Sharon looked again, and there was no mistake. It was definitely Chet. And there was no mistaking he was snuggling cozily with an attractive brunette.

Sharon was heartsick. Lately, Barb had been confiding that things at home with Chet had been strained. But Sharon was sure Barb had no clue that Chet would be unfaithful.
Sharon wasn't sure what to do next. She worried that telling Barb could set off an ugly marital explosion. On the other hand, if she didn't say anything, Barb could feel betrayed if she ultimately learned Sharon had kept this to herself.

So, what do we do when we're privy to secrets that could potentially rock another person's world? It's a loaded situation that can put us at risk, no matter what we decide to do. Understandably, it's important to consider every aspect of our actions, because the fall-out can be far-reaching and, ultimately, powerfully impact many lives.

Our first inclination may be to act impulsively. Our friend has been wronged and it's only natural to throttle the one who's caused the hurt. But, not so fast!
First of all, we don't always have all the facts, so we must tread very carefully.
We certainly should sort out our needs vs. what is best for our friend. Most of us consider troubling situations from our vantage points. We may know what we would expect friends to do if the situation were in their hands. But, as we know, not everyone thinks the way we do. They may not appreciate our well-intended gestures.
This is not about us, and our need to demonstrate our loyalty. The steps we take should solely focus on our friend's best interest.

Let's assume we have the purest, and best, of intentions. We love our friend and may genuinely believe we have a moral obligation to apprise her of what we know.
It's important to recognize that she may not receive our news with gratitude.
Oftentimes, our friend knows all too well what's been going on. We should remind ourselves that much of the time people elect to remain in relationships, even when some ugly improprieties have been revealed. Every couple has it's own history, values and priorities. There may be serious emotional, family and financial concerns that greatly impact the ultimate decision the couple will make.

For many complex reasons, they may have decided to carefully sort out what they believe is the right way to address their hurts. Once they realize their personal hell has become public knowledge, they may feel resentful and ashamed that we know. They may feel premature pressure to act on a situation they've been keeping under wraps. It's important that we communicate that we will remain supportive and discreet as they determine what is best for them.

Should we elect to share what we know, it will be important to pay special care to show sensitivity. We all bring to our life experiences a long history of previous hurts and fears. It's probably best to sort out our own feelings first so we don't project our own reactions to an already tense situation. It's human nature to personalize situations that come up and to consider how we would react if we were in our friend's shoes.

We should be very careful to hold judgments to ourselves, and should make sure to refrain from offering unsolicited advice on how they should handle the situation. If we are pressed to offer advice, we would be well served to advise careful thought before any drastic steps are taken. We cannot always predict how the news will explode, and the course of events that will unfold going forward.

If they call their partner every name in the book, we should hold back from agreeing with them. We need to be well aware that our friend may decide to work on the relationship, and will remember every last negative comment we've made. It may be too difficult to remain friendly if they believe we have strong judgments against the relationship.
In these instances, we always run the risk that our friend and their partner will join together and blame us for meddling. Worse yet, we could be accused of malicious intent or of trying to create problems.

There are always instances where we determine that we should say nothing, especially if we have concerns about the emotional state of the people involved, or their life circumstances, such as a pregnancy or a recent family tragedy. This is a judgment call, and we have the right to show caution and restraint with information that may not be what is seems.
Some people choose instead to confront the "betraying" partner, with a clear expectation that they address the situation in their marriage in a timely manner.

Ultimately, there are heavy repercussions, no matter which choice we make. We are in the unenviable positions of considering all the facets, and going forward with tremendous sensitivity and care. If we are true friends, we take every measure to preserve the privacy and dignity of the couple, and pray our friend will take protective steps that are right for her.

Linda Lipshutz, M.S., LCSW is a psychotherapist serving individuals, couples and families. She holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia and trained at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy in Manhattan. She can be reached in her office at 561-630-2827, or online at, or on Twitter @LindaLipshutz.