What to do (and say) when your friend tells you they're cheating

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Your friend just told you that they're involved with someone new. The issue? They're still in a relationship with their partner.

In a nutshell, they're cheating, and whether emotionally or physically (or both) it's a recipe for disaster.

Not sure what to do or say? It's only normal. After all, much as you'd like to be there for your friend in this quagmire, you shouldn't have to compromise your values in the process of doing so.

Cherlyn Chong, a breakup recovery and dating coach at Steps To Happyness, shares how you can go about navigating through this situation.

Create space for them to confide in you

You can take a pause to have a think before saying anything. The best reply would be something along the lines of, "Thank you for telling me this. What happened?"

If you feel awkward or uncomfortable, you can share it with them at a later time.

Your friend has just admitted something that's likely deeply shameful to her, so it's best to create space for her to make her feel safe about confiding in you.

Understand the nuances of cheating

Cheating is rarely straightforward and can be quite complicated. Many people do not actually mean to cheat. It usually happens when one is not getting their needs met in a relationship, or if a person already has the self-gratifying traits that lead to serial cheating.

If it's the former, they are usually feeling unloved, unwanted or resentful towards their partner-they do not feel respected or needed. And for many of them, they didn't deliberately go out and find someone to cheat with, but took a chance when the opportunity to cheat arose.

Not that cheating should be condoned but their partner might have a part to play in this. It is also possible that your friend simply isn't ready to be in a long-term relationship.

Ask your friend what they need you to do

Your friend is letting you in on their secret for a reason. They might be looking for support or understanding, or maybe just to share the burden with someone.

So, determine what they want you to do and ask questions like, "So how do you feel about it all?" and "How do you want me to help you?"

If they want support and understanding, you'll likely be feeling uncomfortable as you'll have to go against your morals to support what they did.

You can admit, "I'm going to be honest, this does make me feel uncomfortable. Can you please go through with me what exactly happened before the cheating occurred?"

Mark Manson, a relationship author, once said, "When one's need for self-gratification outweighs their need for intimacy, cheating is likely to occur."

Ask questions to understand where that need for self-gratification came from, and how it became so huge that it surpassed the intimacy of their relationship. You can say things like, "Why did you feel that way?" and "Have you always felt this way? What do you feel needs to change?"

Decide if you want to help your friend, and to what extent

You shouldn't feel obligated to help your friend if this goes against your friends, and this is especially true if their partner is also a good friend of yours. There is a distinction between helping and supporting a friend.

Helping a friend doesn't mean that you support what they did – it just means that your friendship with this person means more to you than your morals at this time. You can help your friend without enabling their behaviour.

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If you decide not to help them, you can say, "Thank you so much for letting me know. I have to let you know that I feel uncomfortable with this and disappointed that you chose to hurt [their partner]. I will have to let you know that I will be taking a step back from our friendship for now till you are able to let [their partner] know."

If you decide to help them, you can say, "Thank you so much for letting me know. I understand why you did what you did, though I cannot condone cheating. Let me know what you need so we do right by [their partner]."

You can also make clear the things you're not able to do, like lying to their partner. Be aware of how far you're willing to go to help them.

It is very easy to get roped into the drama and suddenly find yourself as a full-on co-conspirator. Take care of your friend but take care of yourself too.

Set firm deadlines for both you and your friend

A deadline can be that if they don't tell their partner about the cheating after two months, you will tell them yourself, or that you will only resume talking to your friend after they tell their partner about the cheating.

Whatever it is, set firm deadlines and stick to them. Meanwhile, remember to also stick by the amount of help you can give. If you wish to steer them morally in the right direction, share your opinions with compassion.

If your friend is trying to do her best within a complicated situation, support that and reserve judgement.

You can voice it later, but right now, they need that support from you. Give that and everyone's relationships will only be stronger for it.

This article was first published in Her World Online.

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