Advice requested on a potential ethical dilemna

I’ll try to keep this one brief. As many of you are probably already know and are tired of hearing about, my wife cheated on me, we’re divorcing, and she immediately went to dating someone else, with whom she’s now happy. If you’re interested in more detail about that, search prior threads or PM me.

My wife and I had been together a long time, and have several mutual friends. Some of them, of course, are very curious about what happened. My wife shared her side of the story with a couple of close friends and family members, but for the most part, she’s a pretty reserved person and not into talking about personal details of her life. I, on the other hand, have no trouble at all talking about what happened, accepting blame for my role in it, and pointing the finger at her where I think it is deserved. I find it somewhat therapeutic.

Now, I’m no longer so foolish as to believe my wife needs any sort of protecting, nor do I wish to provide her with any. But there’s at least one person who is a mutual friend of ours who also is a coworker of my wife’s and hasn’t been told anything about what has happened. Since she is, in fact, my friend, I have no problem sharing the story with her. On the one hand, though, I worry about doing this because she’s prone to gossip, and it might not be long before (at least my version of) the story is floating around my wife’s workplace. On the other hand, I’m not sure why that’s my problem.

So, what am I not thinking of? How would you handle this? Should I be worried about spreading gossip at her workplace? It’s not my intent, but I realize that’s the likely result. Do I have any obligation to keep that from happening, even if it’s a story between friends that gets propagated through no action of mine? Are there other reasons I’m not thinking of that should keep me from sharing with this particular friend?

I wouldn’t initiate the conversation, but if asked, I wouldn’t hold back.

It’s not your problem. Talk about it or don’t talk about it at your own discretion. She’s not going to be your wife anymore - don’t treat her like she is.

“Since you work with X and see her on a more regular basis, I think you should ask X for the details.”

I don’t think you really want your story floating around your ex’s workplace. It’s your problem because people will be talking about you. If it turns out that everyone talks highly of you and she gets lambasted, you’re still part of the story. And you’ll end up being a dick that it was you that helped spread the story.

Direct the co-worker to the ex and let it go. Don’t be all middle-school and spread stories. I know it’s cathartic for you but now it’s getting silly. This is your private life and your ex’s private life. I have a feeling that once all the anger settles down you will regret having told so many people.

The only issue I take with this is that my wife’s story is dramatically different than my own, and the idea that a friend of mine hears only her side is not particularly appetizing.

I find this to often be the case in these type situations, therefore I personally just listen with no comment to them.

I probably wouldn’t share with this friend simply because I wouldn’t want to share about myself. If she wasn’t on the front lines of the friendship army and getting the tale early, I probably wouldn’t feel like telling.

BUT! That’s largely a result of my being reserved, not an ethical consideration. I think we do have a right to tell our own stories and if other people don’t like the telling, I think we do have the right to think they are being unreasonable. If you wouldn’t tell more in an attempt to poke at your ex but would indeed treat this friend the way you’ve treated other friends and would treat future friends, I don’t see that as remotely unethical. It’s only when the reason you do something is to hurt someone else, or when it’s essentially gossip about someone else that it becomes unethical to me.

How much are you actually friends with this co-worker, and how much does the wrong story at your ex’s work really effect you?

From an outsider’s POV this really looks like you finding a perfect opportunity to get the ex toasted on a large scale. An “in” for you to have her life ruined at work. Sounds delicious, I’m sure…but do you really want to go there?

I know I don’t know the whole story of your relationship with the co-worker and why she really needs to know anything. I’m just pointing out what it looks like, to me, on the surface. I know you are hurting, and hurting bad. I don’t want you to make a decision you’ll regret later.

You can let her know what went wrong without the gory details.

My take on my ex husband was “he decided he wanted to date other people” and then if I didn’t want to talk about it, “How 'bout them Vikings?” (well, not really, I couldn’t talk about football for the life of me, but some similar change in topic - pre prepared helps). The who and when this happened (well before I knew he wanted to date other people) doesn’t need to be everyone’s business and you can refer it to your soon to be ex if asked more direct questions - but answered as “Oh, I don’t really know if that is that important, the important thing is that it wasn’t a compatible situation with being married to me.”

ZipperJJ, you make a valid point. But I think if I’d wanted to tell the story out of revenge or a desire to hurt her, I would have done so a couple of months ago. Besides, it’s her workplace and she gets to control the spin, so I’m not even sure I could hurt her even if I wanted to. I think my philosophy at this point is much like Clothahump and jsgoddess referenced. Why should I hold back if I’m asked? Who am I protecting? I have a right to tell my story.

But I’m not going out of my way to tell anyone who hasn’t asked. I hadn’t even told my own mother until curiosity got the best of her last week and she finally asked if one of us had had an affair.

I’ve been (still am, really) in your position. I was hurt by an immediate family member, and naturally, we shared hundreds, if not thousands, of relatives, friends, and acquaintances in common. I was torn between my right to share my hurt with whomever I chose, and my responsibility to respect the IFM’s privacy. And even if, deep down, I didn’t really give a shit about the IFM’s privacy, I still didn’t want to come off as a vindictive asshole. So the position I took is that I wouldn’t withold any information, but neither would I volunteer it to everyone I met, and I would do my best to speak as factually and unbiasedly as possible.

This attitude has worked out well for me, and I’d advise the same for you. Given how you’ve dealt with the whole situation so far, I have no doubt that you’ll continue to be more than fair and handle it with aplomb. That said, there are two other things you should consider, when thinking about what to tell and how to tell it:

  1. What does the friend *want *to know?
  2. How would you feel if she heard your side of the story, but ultimately didn’t believe you and/or sided with your wife?

Regarding the first point, if she’s completely in the dark, and thinks you’re still together, then I think it would be appropriate for you to say something along the lines of, “Just so you know, Wife and I are divorcing.” If her response is simply, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” then you can leave it at that. If she already knows and is asking what happened, you might start with something basic, like, “She broke my trust, and there’s really no fixing things now.” That will give the friend the chance to either offer sympathies and indicate that this is all she wants or needs to hear, or press for more details, at which point you’re free to elaborate.

As for the second point, it’s really just something to prepare for when telling anyone your side of things. I find that in situations like this, while some people feel a responsibility to side with the wronged party, others would prefer to just remain neutral and avoid conflict. For the latter group, if one person presents their side of the story, and the other says nothing, they will often side with the party who says nothing, in order to “stay out of the drama”. So if this is just a casual friend, someone you’re not really close to, then you might want to consider whether the comfort and support she could offer is really worth the risk of losing the friendship entirely. In my situation, for instance, I know that my aunts and uncles know some of what the IFM did, but I’ve never had a discussion with them about it. The admittedly superficial relationship I have with them now is more valuable to me than the negligible benefit I would get from telling them all the details. Close friends and relatives, however, get the whole story, because while I’d hate to lose them, if they didn’t believe me or did and sided with the IFM, then I wouldn’t want a close relationship with them anyway.

And I guess the last thing is that, regardless of what you or your wife say, people will talk, the story will get distorted, and some people will choose to believe whatever they like. So it’s in your best interest to just act as honorably as possible, so that people will be inclined to think the best of you, regardless of what they hear.

Has this particular friend asked you for all the details in the situation? Or are you thinking of calling her to arrange a meeting to explain your version of the truth? Knowing that she’s a bit of a gossip & may spread your version of the story around your ex’s work place?

You mentioned that your ex “immediately went to dating someone else, with whom she’s now happy.” Do you want to spoil that happiness by making her co-workers think she’s an evil harlot? Do you really want to screw with her livelihood?

You say you’ve found your finger-pointing “therepeutic.” Perhaps you should think about actually telling your side of the story to a therapist. Everybody you know has probably heard enough. Life is unfair. But perhaps you need to think about moving on.

I’ve been in a similar situation, so I understand your dilemma. You are right that it isn’t your job to protect reputations or to concern yourself with whatever gossip goes on at her office. However, you don’t want to be seen as a gossip-monger or an instigator either, so discretion is really in your best interests.

Were it me, I would talk to your friend about anything you would normally share- for me it depended on the closeness of the friendship and the level of my desire for sympathy/empathy whether the friends got the ‘it didn’t work out’ version or the ‘he’s a lying jerk who shouldn’t be allowed in the company of civilized people’ version. But if it were likely to get back to the other party through gossip or even the mutual friend directly addressing it, I would be careful to tell the absolute truth (as you see it) and couch it in terms of “I’m sure she will tell a different story” or “I am sure she didn’t mean to be [a mean name] but I just can’t get passed [evil deed]”. That way you at least come across as objective and don’t look like you are just trying to get rumors started amongst her co-workers or (even worse) trying to communicate with her through use of the inter-office gossip system.

Heart of Dorkness, thank you. All very well said.

Bridget Burke – I don’t give a rat’s ass about her happiness being spoiled. But I’m not going to take any action to make that happen. That reeks of petulance, and I don’t want my actions to be influenced by being mindful of her. But that last statement cuts both ways. If I refuse, in this instance, to tell someone what happened, then that’s also being mindful of her, albeit in a different way. My actions should be free of concern for the consequences to her.

As to your first two questions, the answer is neither. In an email exchange I had with the friend yesterday, she mentioned that she doesn’t know what actually happened. I didn’t volunteer anything in response to that, but I suspect the question will come as we continue to talk.

I think you may have taken my “finger-pointing” comment slightly out of context, or I may have phrased it poorly, but no matter. I’ve been in therapy, before and after the attempted reconciliation. Moving on is always good advice, but there are still a lot of little issues like these that I will continue to have to deal with for a while to come.

And on preview, MitzeKatze, I think you’re right. How I’d speak to this person normally is a very good barometer of how I ought to approach the situation now. And in this case, that likely means that I won’t get into much detail with her, if it even comes up.

I’m in a similar situation myself.

When I first separated from my ex-husband, I was terrified of saying anything that would hurt his professional or personal reputation. But that in itself was a symptom of the problems in the marriage–what he wanted came before what I needed. It took a long time and a lot of therapy to accept that my needs were important too.

But it’s not like I need or even want to go around trashing him just for the sake of trashing him.

On the other hand, I’ve wanted to tell my story and help support other women (and men) who are going through the same things. For example, I sometimes consider starting a support group or writing an article for publication. And sometimes I consider writing a book that doesn’t focus on the particular issues in my marriage, but does include them as part of the narrative. But concern about my husband’s reputation made me feel like I was unable to do these things.

At this point, if I do decide that I want to share my story publically, I won’t let that concern stop me. It’s my story and I can do with it what I want. But I’m not going to do it just to make him look bad. I’ll do it for my own needs and other people’s needs.

As an example, I have shared some of the story on this board when I thought it was relevant. It took me a long time to even be willing to do that. (Hell, I don’t think I even said anything about getting divorced for a year or something.) But I haven’t started any threads called “My ex-husband is an X who did Y” or something.

So my suggestion to you is to err on the side of playing it close to the vest. You can always share more later if you come to a point when you feel certain that it’s the right thing to do.

I do like the idea of saying “she decided she wanted to see other people” and leaving open the question of whether she acted on that before or after your separation. And I see no real reason why you shouldn’t answer honestly if asked to clarify that.

I like what Heart of Dorkness said in her first paragraph:

I would say you’re fully entitled to tell the truth. Just keep it as factual as possible. “Asimovia started seeing someone X months ago. I found out Y months ago and we got divorced.” I don’t think you need to include the gossipy details. No doubt she’s telling her version of the story which has many exaggerations or outright lies.

I don’t think you have to take any responsiblity for the affair. That is her fault. Regardless of what you did, she shouldn’t have gone there. Even if she was totally unhappy, she should have gotten the divorce first and then met someone else.

“I only share this much with you as you are a close friend. It is not my intention that anything I have shared with you need be shared in my exes workplace. I only told you this much as you asked me directly. I am hoping I can count on you to keep this between us.”

That’s a nice thought, but given human nature (and the friend Asimovian is talking about being a known gossip), I wouldn’t even bother going there. Go in knowing that anything you tell her will be common knowledge in minutes at the office, and judge accordingly, would be my advice.

I can see what you’re saying about being mindful of her feelings, Asimovian. I don’t quite agree with you that you are entitled to have no concern for her feelings or how things affect her, though. Not necessarily because she’s a nice person and deserves you looking after her feelings, but more for the memory of the long relationship you had with her, if that makes any sense. She will always be someone you loved enough to marry at one point in your life, regardless of what came after, and I’d still give that at least a little consideration.

The comment I’ve gotten back from the “he decided he wanted to see other people” is that people see me as being non-judgmental about my own divorce - classy. That its a statement of fact - not evaluation. Honestly there is not a lot different between that and “the bastard cheated on me” except understated delivery that managed to make me out to be the better person. And there is enough sarcasm that can be read into the statement that it doesn’t leave me feeling completely innocent.

In theory, this makes a lot of sense, but in my personal situation, I just don’t feel it. If she’d been willing to give our long relationship that kind of respect in the end, we might be friends today. But she didn’t, and I just don’t feel that consideration for what once was. Perhaps someday, I’ll feel differently.

Dangerosa, I like the tactic. It’s still the truth, but it leaves out the overt vitriol. Which is fair in this case because, oddly enough, the fact that she wanted to be with other people is NOT where my anger comes from. So that could work.