Moral dilemma: To tell or not to tell

Very simply:

A relative suspects the spouse of cheating (the spouse having recently left the relative, without admitting seeing someone else), gives me what info is available, and asks me to try to confirm it (my location and situation makes it more practical).

I pretty much confirmed in short order that the spouse is indeed spending nights at the residence suspected by the relative.

I have not yet mentioned anything about it to the relative.

The relative seems to be ready to get on with the divorce, and adultery might speed things up. I also have no doubt that if the spouse came back home and said, “Ya know, I did wrong. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please forgive me. . . yadda, yadda, yadda” that the relative would take the spouse back, all things forgiven.

The dilemma:

I don’t get involved in people’s personal lives, relatives or otherwise. Despite this, I am too frequently asked to referee some squabble that I don’t personally give a damn about.

I don’t want my name mentioned in connection with the corroborating evidence. I don’t trust the relative to keep that confidence.

To not tell–well, nothing changes for me. But the relative has some more hoops to jump thru for the divorce.

But to tell–I don’t want to get in the middle of any domestic disputes. And people having affairs can get pretty upset when outsiders intrude. I still have all my teeth–intact–and I’d like to keep it that way for some time.

Where’s Joey Greco when you need him?

Then don’t get involved.

Several years ago I had a somewhat similar situation. A friend thought that her fiancé was seeing other women, and my opinion was sought. What I could have told (and didn’t) was that the fiancé had once made a pass at me. I agonized over not revealing this, but I honestly couldn’t see that any good would come of it. Somehow, in my friend’s mind, I would have been blamed for having broken up the relationship, even though the sexual overtures were entirely unwelcome.

They later broke up after the fiancé gave my friend an STD. :eek:

I was in a similar situation a few years ago, but I was the suspicious spouse. I knew some mutual friends had to know more than I did about what was going on, and no one would tell me anything. Everyone was way too quick with, “No! I don’t know anything! Don’t ask me!” when I hinted around.

After everything fell apart, I was more pissed off that people knew what was going on and didn’t tell me - more people than I realized at first. I lost a couple good friends over it.
I mean, there’s ‘mind your own business’ but the spouse who is being cheated on deserves to know the truth.

Earl, if it were me I would have declined the request in the beginning. I would have told the relative that I just wasn’t comfortable doing something like that and if they wanted to be angry w/ me, so be it. Now you’re stuck w/ lying, either by saying you haven’t checked, or you found nothing; or getting more involved.

You could try taking the middle road by telling the cheater that you know, and recommending s/he tell their spouse. You are already involved since you didn’t decline the initial request when it happened (whihc you probably should have). At this point, there is no way to not “get involved”.

My question to you is: what did you say to the relative when asked to spy on the spouse? Did you say yes? No?

Do what you said.

Tell your relative you’ve changed your mind, and suggest that he contact a private investigator.

People do crazy things when they find out their spouses are cheating, and you wouldn’t want to feel responsible for whatever might come of it. It could be a lot worse than a divorce.

This question seems to come up a lot, on and off the SDMB. I think the general consensus is to stay out of it.

“Mind your own business” and “The spouse who is being cheated on deserves to know the truth” are not mutually exclusive options.

Yes, the spouse might deserve to know the truth, but it’s not the duty of his or her friends to play the role of detective. I’ve seen a few people lose friends because they DID tell them their spouse was playing around on them.

The fact is, the third parties who know about the cheating are in an almost impossible position. If they tell, they can end up alienating and losing their friend by being the source of such bad news, especially if the couple ends up staying together. If they don’t tell, they can end up alienating and losing their friend by choosing to keep quiet.

Given that both options are so fraught with the possibility of recrimination and alienation, i’d choose the one that didn’t put me in the middle of a couple’s relationship problems, and keep my mouth shut.

I’m sorry, but if you suspect that your SO is cheating on you, it’s not anybody else’s job to confirm or deny it. You’re putting your friends in an impossible situation. It isn’t their job to make or break your relationship–and whether you like it or not, that’s what you’re asking them to do when you ask “do you think/know/suspect that my SO is cheating?”

This is particularly true if these are friends who are “couple friends” with you…if you and your SO are friends with one or both of them. If they say that “I think he/she is cheating,” and you either get over it or it turns out not to be true, you’ll hold it against them…and if they say, “No, he/she isn’t cheating,” and it turns out they were wrong, or didn’t think it was their place to tell you…

Well, they are still screwed.

The failure of your relationship is not your friends’ fault. And IME nobody wants to hear it, and they may kill the messenger…and if the friend is wrong, they may viciously kill the messenger of erroneous news.

I’ve been on both sides. And with Monday-morning quarterback accuracy, I wouldn’t say a freakin’ word. If you’re right, you’re to blame. If you’re wrong, you’re to blame.

At the end of the day the faithfulness or lack thereof of your SO is your business and nobody else’s. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, explore it yourself. Don’t lay that much drama on a friend.

If this is true, it’s hard for me to feel sorry for the girl. Stay the hell out of it.

I agree with this. If you’ve agreed to do the spywork here, you’re already involved, and it is too late to stay out of it. If you withhold your information now, you’ll catch the backlash when your relative eventually confirms the suspicions, and are likely to catch some “how dare you spy on me?” attitude if the spouse learns of it, even if you withheld the information (because anger is rarely rational).

I think in your shoes I’d be as non-specific as possible. “Your suspicions are correct” should suffice, with details about when, where, and who not being strictly necessary and increasing the likelihood that you will be identifiable as the source of the information. If the relative needs more detail than that, then leave the dirty work up to him - you’ve done your part. Be very clear to your relative that you don’t want your name mentioned in this business for any reason, and are not interested in being involved any further.

In the future, learn how to tell people you can’t be involved in their problems up front. It is a hard thing to say, but surprisingly often it increases your friend’s respect in you, rather than puts the strain on your friendship you might expect. It will also help that person deal more decisively with their situation, without a scapegoat in the middle to deflect blame to.

Good luck.

Do you listen to This American Life, by any chance?

They did a piece once with a private detective tailing a suspected unfaithful wife, and when the evidence seems to be building to support the suspicions, the client (the husband) happens to call for an update. The detective’s response is, as best I recall, almost verbatim what you said above. Very low-key, very professional.

To the OP, I’m sorry to say that I agree with the folks who say that your obligation is to carry out whatever you agreed to carry out when initially asked. As I read your post, you were “ask[ed] to try to confirm it.” There are ways you can weasel out of that (“Well, it’s not like I staked the place out … maybe they didn’t spend the night”), but I’ll leave your weasel comfort level up to you.

Alas, at this point, if the news sparks an alienation of affection suit or something similar, it’s pretty much too late to keep yourself out of it.

Er, why did you agree to confirm her suspicions in the first place if you don’t want to tell her?

I don’t think you should get involved if you feel like you shouldn’t, but it seems odd that you’d agree to her request initially and then decide you don’t want to get involved.

Ages ago I knew a woman and she got serious with this guy.
I found out he was cheating on her - the other woman (I knew her vaguely) flat out told me they were having sex during the week and I had seen them together several times when he was supposedly at work.
So I told my woman friend about her cheating boyfriend.

They got back together - and neither of them ever spoke to me again.

Never again will I tell someone their SO or spouse is cheating.
First of all, I don’t really give a damn, and secondly, and most important;
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

I know a guy who - many, many years ago - his own mother knew his wife was cheating. His mother said nothing.

When he learned of that… he was not pleased with his mother.

I wasn’t there to see it, but decades later, you could still see the effects of him feeling betrayed when he related what parts of the story he felt comfortable saying. He looked… hurt and confused even then.

Hmmm, never heard of it. If they’re quoting me, though, it must be worth listening to.

I was actually asked, “Here is the name and address. Do you think you can find out anything?” I answered, “I don’t know.”

At this point, the whole point seems to be irrelevant, though. The relative, whom I spoke to earlier today, doesn’t really seem to care anymore about this or any other paramour(s), past, present, or future. She’s more concerned that he might just disappear, making it difficult for her to get child support–similar to what happened to (his) Wife #1 (the relative being #4).

I will just add this one anecdote:

They had a grandchild born five months ago (2½ hour drive away). They didn’t actually see the grandchild until he was four months old. I asked, “Why did you (two) wait so long to go see him (new grandbaby)?” The response, “Spouse doesn’t like to be around kids,” the adult daughter already having two other younguns 6 and 4.