Your friend calls you in the middle of the night, crying. She sniffles and barely manages to say, "He did it again. He cheated!" You hold your breath because you aren't sure what to say. You want to say the right thing. However, what comes out may be the the worst thing you can say.
Right now, your friend or loved one is in a crisis. They just found out that their partner cheated. Sure, there are things they want to hear. And you want to say them, because you want to comfort your friend. And you want to let your friend know that you are there for him or her in their misery. But trust me, if you say the wrong thing now, it could come back to bite you later on. And some things you say could be even worse -- you could lose your friendship forever.
Do you want to really help them? Here are the things you should never say to a friend who's been cheated on:
Leave. This is the worst thing that you can say. When someone shares with you that they've been cheated on, they are basically opening up and sharing one of the most vulnerable and defeated moments of their life. It makes sense that you might tell them to leave. But when you first find out that your spouse or partner has cheated, whether it's disclosed or discovered, the last thing you should be doing is making a decision about what you want to do in the long term. In fact, if you want to give better advice to your friend right now, say to them them, "Don't make any decisions right now. Wait until the major feelings blow over."
Tell them this: It's important in this time of crisis to feel safe and to take care of one's health and safety. Find a place to sleep if you can't be in the same bed as your partner and take care of your health by remembering to eat and drink plenty of water. And remember that what you are feeling now is not what you are going to feel a few days or even a few months from now. Now is not the time to make any major decisions about your future. Moving out, breaking up or filing for divorce now may make it even harder later on.
Once a cheater always a cheater. That's just not true. Many affairs happen because of opportunity. And in fact, many relationships can be sound, happy and healthy and affairs still happen. And cheating partners may be very remorseful and willing to do anything they can to repair afterward. What may be more helpful to hear right now is that many relationships are stronger than ever after an affair.
It may not be clear right away if this relationship will make it or not, but if you are really a friend trying to give advice, what gives you the right to tell someone that if their partner cheats, they will always do it again? How do you know?
Men are such pigs. Or the equivalent: Women are such sluts. It's not helpful to classify someone's most important partner as just one of a whole group of unwholesome and awful people. Inferring that one's partner has no integrity, cannot be trusted and, in fact, is a lowly, awful person with no redeeming qualities may feel good in the moment, but if your friend ends up staying with that person, they will never want to look you in the eye again and you may end up not only losing your friend, but creating an enemy.
They should have just left you first. That's easy for you to say. The person being cheated on didn't want to be cheated on. What makes you think it's easier to hear that they should have been dumped instead? How would being broken up with have made their life any better? In fact, they probably don't want their partner to end their marriage or relationship, so you saying that it would have been better to divorce is going to sound like the ultimate insult. It is incredibly patronizing for a friend or loved one to assume that ending a marriage or committed partnership is better than being cheated on. Yes, being cheated on feels awful, but how is being dumped going to feel any better?
You'll meet someone better. Don't try and move your friend onto someone else or something else too soon. They aren't ready and they don't want to be. And no, they shouldn't have a "revenge" affair. Don't take your friend out to meet someone else. Don't encourage them to cheat to "get even." If they do that, then they will just have to get over two affairs: their partner's and their own.
So what do you say when to a friend that's been cheated on? You are allowed to have your own feelings, but let your friend know that they are yours: "I am so mad and upset that this happened to you. It's hard for me to forgive what they did to you right now. I am so upset for you."
Do yourself and them a favor: Be supportive by listening, being empathetic and validating their feelings. This might sound like, "I am so sorry you are going through this. It must feel awful right now. I understand that you are feeling so sad and angry. It sounds like you are feeling terrible. What can I do right now to help? What do you need from me? "
Perhaps the most important way to support a friend after infidelity is to simply let them know, "I love you and I am here for you. (Even if you can't resist throwing in a one-time "...Whether you stay with that cheating s-o-b or not.")
Dr. Tammy Nelson is a world renowned sex and relationship expert and the author of The New Monogamy and Getting the Sex You Want. She can be found at www.drtammynelson.com. For more information on creating your new monogamy agreement go to https://www.drtammynelson.com/products-page/book/newmonogamyautographed/