When it comes to cheating, nothing is straightforward. Things can be complicated even when you are not one of the people directly involved or affected by an infidelity, but simply a witness. Do you expose the cheater, and how do the particular circumstances of the affair, your relationship to the various players and other factors affect your decision?
According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, most people would be inclined to share what they knew if they discovered that the partner of a friend or acquaintance was committing infidelity. However, the study also found that different variables added to the hypothetical scenario made people more or less inclined to expose the cheater.
For this study, the researchers surveyed 487 undergraduate college students. Of those who participated in the survey, 67 percent were female and the average age was 19.
Respondents Influenced by Cheater’s Characteristics, History
Overall, 89 percent of the responses were in favor of exposing the infidelity, regardless of the contextual variables. But some of those individual variables tended to make the respondents much less inclined to tell what they knew, while some produced almost unanimous responses in favor of exposing the cheater.
The respondents showed a tendency to be loyal to their friends, regardless of whether the friend was the cheating or injured party. They were much less likely to tell what they knew when their close friend was the one cheating than when their close friend was the one being cheated on. The same was true when a close relative or their own child was part of the hypothetical scenario.
The circumstances of the affair also impacted how likely the respondents were to report the infidelity. If the other participant in the affair was known to have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), people were very inclined to expose the cheater. If the relationship was on the brink of a major transition such as moving in together or getting engaged, the respondents seemed to feel that the cheated-on partner had the right to know. Ongoing affairs were also more likely to be exposed than affairs that had already ended.
When the partner who cheated was the major breadwinner, people were less likely to expose the affair than when the partner who cheated was being financially supported. They were more likely to expose an affair if the cheater had a long history of cheating or a history of abusing their partners.
Interestingly, having any information at all about the details of the affair or the major players made the respondents slightly more inclined to expose it.
Don’t Take the Decision to Expose a Cheater Lightly
Cheaters themselves often face a dilemma when it comes to confessing an affair or keeping it secret. As deceitful as it sounds, many experts recommend keeping the affair quiet unless there is a good reason to say something, such as the risk of STI exposure. Too often, cheaters confess out of the desire to ease their guilt and end up placing the burden of hurt and betrayal on their partners. If cheaters are truly remorseful and do not intend to stray again—as the desire to confess would suggest—it may actually be more selfless to keep the knowledge to themselves.
People who are not directly involved in the affair should consider some of the same questions before telling what they know. Is the desire to tell truly about the welfare of the friend or acquaintance, or is it about easing guilt over keeping the secret or worrying about being blamed for not telling if the affair is exposed some other way? On one hand, people in this position cannot say with certainty that the infidelity will not be repeated. On the other hand, people should not make a decision that could so seriously affect another relationship without careful consideration.