I'm Telling Your Husband About Us!

Or your wife.

Thinking about Tiger Woods’ trials, I got to wondering this. When is it OK to tell the spouse of the married person that her husband (or his wife) has been cheating with you?

Obviously this is a wide-open question. It seems to me there are two main categories: you, the Other Man (or the Other Woman) knew your partner was married, or you didn’t know. I’m not going to try to set it up as a poll, but just for the sake of the discussion, when is it the right thing to let the cuckolded spouse know they’re married to Cheaty McCheaterson?

My thought is that once a person undertakes to cheat on his or her marriage they pretty much lose all rights to complain about the conduct of their partner in crime. So I don’t see it as wrong to tell the offended spouse what’s happened, regardless of whether or not you knew going into it that she (or he) was married.

Bonus points for adding and contrasting the same-sex question: if you’re a man, having a sexual relationship with another man who is married to a woman, does that change the initial calculus, whatever it was?


I think that every circumstance is different, and should be treated as such. But my default opinion would be to not interfere. Their marriage is none of my business.

One notable exception would be if the cheating spouse lied to me about her marital status.

But if I know she’s married and I’m enabling her cheating, I don’t have much of a high ground to stand on.

I would say that if there is “cheating” involved (meaning I am having an affair with a married person, and the married person’s spouse does not know and is being actively lied to), that’s not OK in the fair place, so I wouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying if it’s OK to tell my lover’s spouse that my lover is cheating.

The motive for telling is surely significant - for example, cheating does not justify blackmail.

If you’re the other woman or other man, it’s never the right time to tell the cheated-on spouse. You’re not the right person to be telling. Let the spouse deal with their marriage, you deal with your own issues.

It’s never an okay thing to do, but one really shouldn’t be surprised when a person of questionable ethics does something ethically questionable.

You can threaten to tell every time you want some new jewelry or more attention.

The only right time to actually tell is after you’ve totally had it with him and want to bring him a world of hurt. Some girls might think that ratting the guy out will cause a rift in his marriage that will end up with him leaving her for you but if she kicks him out he will hate you forever.

Thinking about it, I see many possible situations. I’ll try and make a list:
I am going to call the outside person L (for Lover), and there is S1 (Spouse1-the cheating spouse) and S2 (Spouse2). For the purposes of this discussion, I will imagine that S1 and S2 have a relationship where neither of them have agreed that one of the couple can have an affair and keep it hidden from the other party, so S1 would have to be lying actively or by omission.

In My Humble Opinion, the genders of the people involved should have no bearing on whether or not it’s OK to tell the other person.

So here’s my list:

  1. L and S2 do not know each other
    [list=A][li]L having an emotional affair with S1 (no sex) and L does not know S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in safe sex) and L does not know S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in unprotected sex) and L does not know S2[/list][/li]2. L and S2 are acquainted
    [list=A][li]L having an emotional affair with S1 (no sex) and L is acquainted with S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in safe sex) and L is acquainted with S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in unprotected sex) and L is acquainted with S2[/list][/li]3. L and S2 are good friends[list=A]
    [li]L having an emotional affair with S1 (no sex) and L is a good friend of S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in safe sex) and L is a good friend of S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in unprotected sex) and L is a good friend of S2[/list][/li]4. L and S2 are relatives (e.g. siblings)[list=A]
    [li]L having an emotional affair with S1 (no sex) and L is a relative of S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in safe sex) and L is a relative of S2[/li][li]L having a sexual affair with S1 (engaging in unprotected sex) and L is a relative of S2[/list][/li]
    If you think gender is important or sexual preference is important, then you can expand the list as follows
    Gender: each person can be male, female, M to F transgender, F to M transgender
    Sexual preference: each person can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, (asexual? I’ll leave this one out for now)
    That would expland the list by 3 (# people) * 4 (gender possibilities) * 3 (sexual preference possibilities) or 36 variations of the above list. Except that I would assume that a homosexual person would not have a sexual relationship with a heterosexual person of the opposite gender. If we include the “asexual” sexual preference then I would assume that an asexual person would not have a sexual relationship.
    After writing this I think that I love lists too much and my head is starting to hurt.

Now that I’ve made my list, i still don’t have a very different opinion. Having the relationship is not OK in the first place, so it is academic to wonder about how acceptable it is to reveal the relationship.

I agree with this, assuming of course that the lover knows the spouse is married. I can see situations where it would be the right thing to do, to tell the spouse, though. For example, the lover finds out they are HIV positive, and they have been having unprotected sex - if spousey won’t come clean, the cheated-on spouse still needs to know. I’m pretty sure the cheated-on spouse also needs to know if a baby comes out of the cheating. My first option would be the spouse telling their own spouse, but if they’re too much of a weasel, then the lover needs to do the dirty work.

Wow. More extensive permutations than I imagined!

In your cases 4B and 4C, can we imagine that L has a crisis of conscience and breaks off the affair… and then must decide wether “doing the right thing” means confessing to his/her sibling what has happened? Does it?

It seems … counter-intuitive to me to simply say that because the relationship was wrong, we can foreclose this kind of inquiry. No question - it was wrong. Now L has decided to behave correctly. In the case of L not knowing S2, I’m Ok with deciding that this ends L’s obligation to do anything more - L stops sleeping with S1, and that’s that. But in the case of good friends, it’s a closer question, and in the case of L and S2 being family, it’s closer still.

Yet another permutation. Yes – if a child results from the affair, then what? That child may have some claim on the estate of S1 and S2. If L is female, the very existence of the child could remain unknown to S1 and S2; if L is male, then obviously S2 will figure out his wife S1 is pregnant, but may believe the baby to be his. Indeed, perhaps S1 may not know the child’s parentage.

All right then. Let’s postulate that L is ending the relationship and wants to do the right thing. (Bricker, please don’t tell us that you are asking “on behalf of a friend”, we all know what that means! Knowing you, I am betting that this is a purely academic question.)

I would have almost the opposite opinion: if L and S2 are unacquainted, then I think it is less harmful for L to tell S2. Because the pain for S2 will be greater when the relationship between L and S2 is closer, and if L and S2 will still see each other frequently after the revelation, then L will be a constant reminder to S2 of what happened. So I would say the degree of acceptability for L to tell S2 is inversely proportional to the closeness of the relationship.

This. It’s like asking, “You’ve robbed a bank; now what’s the best way to spend the money?”

Wrong is wrong, however you slice it.

Sure. But in your hypo, we can easily imagine someone saying, “I robbed a bank. I know it was wrong, and now I wish to do the right thing. Must I confess? May i simply anonymous return the money? How about if I give the money to charity?” So, too, here.

All the nutty hypotheticals aside, I can only see two reasons to tell the spouse:

  1. To hurt him / or her (the spouse)

  2. To hurt / get revenge on your partner

In either case it just makes one’s bad behavior that much worse. I’ve been saying since the whole Tiger thing broke that these women that are coming forward are ten times worse than he is because they’re not only helping him to commit adultery, they’re greedy whores as well.

Sorry, don’t mean to turn this into a TW hijack.

It’s wrong, but it still happens.

Heck, moral questions are easy. If you are having sex with a married person and they haven’t told their spouse (i.e. they are cheating) the only time it is appropriate to tell is:

  1. If they try to break up with you, or

  2. They refuse to pay you the money you asked for.

If both, then it’s a good thing you took those pictures, no?

It might be OK to tell if it would serve some useful purpose for the spouse. Certainly if you’re concerned that the spouse may be exposed to STDs through you or another of the cheater’s partners (because male cheaters at least rarely limit themselves to one).

In my (second-hand) experience the spouse usually 1) has been told before or 2) can’t possibly NOT know or at least suspect, and hasn’t done anything about it. I imagine that in 95% of cases, the “other” tells the spouse as revenge against the cheater or to break up the marriage or some other self-centered purpose. In these situations, telling seems like adding insult to injury.

I know it’s a little outside the scope of the OP, but “L” might be married as well. I got a strange call on my cell some years ago that went something like this-

Woman: Hello, are you “Betty Boop’s” husband?

Me: Yes…

Woman: Your wife and my husband have been having an affair. But to double check- does your Betty have brown hair and work for Nearby Company?

Me: No, mine’s blonde and works somewhere else.

Woman: Whew, well good thing for you then. Bye.

We found out through a mix up at the pharmacy that there is another woman with my wife’s name that lives a block or two up the street. The caller probably got my cell# from the outgoing message on our land line.

So that is another wrinkle. If you find out your spouse is cheating, do you call the spouse of their lover?

I agree.
I don’t see that the third party has an ethical obligation to keep silent nor one to speak, either.

From a tactical perspective, both threatening to tell and actually telling seem to have an exceptionally high probability of changing the nature and quality of the affair and most likely in a manner that is not going to be to the benefit of the other man/other woman. So telling is probably not a good idea, (unless of course, the cheater is reasonably famous and the other man/woman thinks reality TV and/or a Playboy spread is a positive for their career) but I’m not sure it’s a moral question at that point.