Recently I was forced to end a relationship over a fundamental miscommunication. I had failed to communicate that I do not much like being deceived. He had failed to communicate that he had a wife in another city.
In the distraught days after I uncovered the truth, I wondered if I should tell his wife. They were not in an open relationship, my lover told me, and he would greatly prefer that she didn’t know.
But I imagined how I would feel in that situation. I certainly knew how I felt in my own situation. I was humiliated. I’d been played for a fool. I was so grateful I had figured it out. Surely she had the right to know?
I put the question to Facebook, theoretically, of course. Is it my duty to tell her? Would you want to know?
The responses were immediate, and passionate. Many respondents fervently believed that I should tell the wife, for the sake of women everywhere, for the sake of her own wellbeing. Others felt equally strongly that it wasn’t my place. I should walk away, cut ties, and not drop a bomb into another woman’s life.
But the key issue in all the discussion seemed to centre around one question:
Would she want to know?
We all imagine being the betrayed wife, and how, if it was us, we would want to know the truth. But not every woman does want to know. I have acquaintances who have operated on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with their spouses. They suspected something was up, but decided to turn a blind eye to preserve their relationships.
For some women (and men), infidelity isn’t a deal breaker. I know several couples who have stayed together after episodes of cheating. In some cases, they worked hard to rebuild their relationships. In other cases, they moved on and pretended it never happened at all.
So when I’ve discovered another woman has been cheated on, the answer to the question, “Should I tell the wife?” is not at all simple. I don’t know this woman, so I don’t know her feelings about infidelity. I don’t know if I’d be doing her a favour or not.
And it got me thinking. This is a conversation we need to have with our loved ones, before it ever happens. Those of us in relationships need to tell our girlfriends, our siblings, the people who care about us: Yes, I would want to know, or No. Please don’t tell me.
It’s like ticking the box for organ donation, prior to being in an accident. Except that very few of us will ever become organ donors, but many of us will be cheated on. Infidelity occurs in over a third of relationships. It’s not something we want to think about, but it’s a conversation we need to have.
I was once swiping through Tinder and saw a married man I know. I didn’t know his wife well, but I knew her friend, and I called and notified her. I felt that she was in a better position to decide whether the wife would want to know. Apparently, she already did.
I believe in the sisterhood and I believe in women supporting each other, and I believe in calling out bad behaviour. But I have learned in recent times that we all have different ways of managing our own lives and relationships, and that what is true for me isn’t necessarily true for you, or for my best friend, or for my lover’s wife.
I haven’t discussed infidelity with many of my friends. It seems somehow uncouth, to ask them to imagine their husbands cheating on them. But this experience has prompted me to have the talks. “Would you want to know?” I will ask each of them. “Would you want me to tell you?”
I suggest you do the same with your friends, and tell them how you feel about your own relationship. If they heard anything, would you want them to tell you? Tick the box. Yes or no.
I would want to know. But I need to know whether to tell.