Dr. Deb would love to answer your burning relationship questions.

Today’s Advice Highlights:

  • Your friend is having an affair with a married man – should you tell her what you really think?
  • How do you remain friends without feeling like you’re compromising your values?

Dear Dr. Deb.

Once upon a time, my friend Sarah (not her real name) vowed never to get involved with a married man. Imagine my shock when she came to me one day and told me she had, in fact, become that person, and is involved with an older, married man in her office.

I simply can’t make sense of it. Sarah isn’t exactly a free spirit – in fact, she’s very inexperienced when it comes to romantic relationships. 

Whatever brought this on, she has certainly dug her heels in, rationalizing the relationship, using a tale as old as time: He doesn’t love her/his relationship with his wife is awful/they sleep in separate bedrooms/he can’t divorce her…yet.

Through it all, I haven’t said anything because I’m a big believer of not volunteering advice to someone who didn’t ask for it. The problem is, my friend has asked me that dreaded question: “What do you think?”

It took so much for me not to blurt out my real thoughts (No, no, it is never okay to get involved with a married man). At the same time, my friend is important to me, and I want to be there for her.

I realize that life isn’t as black-and-white, especially when it comes to relationships. But how do I tell her how I feel without alienating her? How do I stay true to my values while helping my friend navigate this difficult situation?

Dr. Deb, is this a time to stick with my friend through thick and thin or should I let her go and learn from her own mistakes?


Dear Tongue-Tied,

When I read your letter, my first emotional reaction was like yours: No — just no, no exceptions – to cheating and infidelity.

It also made me question whether I could give reliable and balanced advice when it comes to this situation. It’s tough not to feel triggered when I’ve been on the other end of the equation, the one who was cheated on. Decades ago, my husband and his female colleague began an affair that ended up destroying our marriage and tearing apart our family. 

It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced – I was convinced I would die of a broken heart. I’m saying this because the way your friend Sarah rationalized the affair, it’s clear that she thinks no one else is affected by their actions except herself and her married boyfriend.

You mentioned that Sarah has rattled off excuses which sound like a “tale as old as time.” The sad part is that how their affair started is probably equally as old and cliché: the usual office attraction and initial chemistry, bonding over coffee, lunch, then dinners, eventually progressing into a whirlwind romantic relationship for all the wrong reasons. 

Through all of this, I can’t help but feel for Sarah. The married man is older and is more experienced than her. I’m assuming the power dynamic isn’t equal in the office, and that he has power over her as a superior. There are so many red flags in this picture that I can’t imagine a version where your friend ends up happy. 

It seems likely that Sarah has become an easy target for a man wanting to cheat without consequences, someone he can control and leave once it stops being “fun.”

Sarah does need your friendship now, more than ever. But the best way you can be a friend to her is by being honest about how you feel. The big caveat is you need to be as kind as you can while telling your friend things that she’s probably not ready to hear. 

Tell her that you support her, but you can’t lie to her, either – that’s something she can truly rely on when things become difficult. Your biggest role is to gently, but firmly, remind her that she has a choice. No matter how strong her feelings are for the married man, she always has a choice about the relationship.

There are many reasons why people have affairs; an insatiable need for attention, a dying relationship, the illusive hope created by the promise of love, the thrill of being more “special” than one’s spouse. I can intellectually understand cheating, but emotionally, there’s no way to condone it. At the end of the day, everybody loses when it comes to infidelity. 

We’ve all been guilty of making poor decisions at one point or another. Personally, I have found it comforting to know that the people who care about me loved me through my foolishness. You can love Sarah, lend her a listening ear without validating her decision. Remind Sarah of who she was before she had this affair: your wonderful friend who had strong values against infidelity and cheating.

Dr. Deb

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