When someone finds out their spouse has had an affair, they often reach out to family and friends for support. These loved ones find themselves listening to the outpouring of pain, anger, and confusion while experiencing their own emotional turmoil around what they are hearing. If you receive the news that a loved one has discovered their spouse has been having an affair, there are a few helpful things you can do. You can't take the pain away but your support can make a world of difference.
Finding out about an affair is a lot like the experience of losing someone to death, going through a natural disaster, or finding out about a serious illness. In other words, its a crisis. Your loved one might be a mess for a little while and have trouble functioning and carrying out day-to-day responsibilities. He or she may hnot be able to eat or sleep, may have trouble focussing, staying calm for any length of time, or other strong reactions. The best thing you can do is to be there as a safe listener. Being a calming presence available to give hugs, sit with them, or help with childcare or other day-to-day matters that seem so overwhelming is very important. Let them know they won't be going through this alone and that you love them. Reassure them that their various reactions are "normal" and understandable. Its okay to encourage them to eat, sleep, and practice self care.
The hardest thing, probably, is to deal with your own feelings of anger and helplessness. The closer you are to the spouse who had the affair, the more you will feel personally betrayed, as well. If there are children involved, you may be upset about the impact the situation will have on them. People you love are hurting and that is difficult to deal with. You may have fears about your own marriage if you saw this couple as having a solid and healthy relationship. Issues from your own past may resurface and cause you distress.
If you thought you knew that person's values and respected their character and choices, you may feel disappointment and a personal sense of betrayal. After all this is someone you thought "would never do something like that." The thing is, even very moral and "good" people have affairs. Most of the time, they are a series of choices that lead down a slippery slope, not one definitive choice to live inconsistently with their principles. This is why prevention and boundary setting are so important.
You will need your own "go to" people who can listen to you vent your feelings. This probably means choosing people who are not already very involved in the situation but who can be trusted with sensitive information. These should be people you can be honest with about your own emotional reactions. Spewing your own strong feelings about the person who cheated and what they did may seem like sympathizing, but it actually makes the conversation more about your feelings. The betrayed spouse may feel the need to defend their partner. This is true even if they are spewing anger and calling the spouse horrible names. It is somehow different when someone else does these things. Its okay to say, "I'm really upset and angry that they did this to you, but I'm here to hear your feelings not to vent mine."
Giving advice such as "You have to leave him/her," is rarely helpful. With affairs, each person and each couple has to decide in their own way and in their own time what seems best. Your loved one is probably not consulting you to find out what you would do or what you think they should do. Even if they ask for your guidance, "I really don't know what you should do, but I'm here to listen if you need to talk through your thoughts" is the safest response. Expressing an opinion either way could come back to bite you. If you encourage separation, for example, and they later regret such a decision, you could find yourself blamed for their choice, whether this is fair or not. On the other hand, if you tell them the Bible says they have to try and work their marriage out because "that's what God would want," they may say you tried to make them feel guilty and judged for wanting to leave.
What you can do is encourage them not to make any major decisions while they are still so hurt and upset. Encourage them to wait until they're able to think a little more clearly and ot to take action impulsively or out of anger. "I know you're hurt and angry, and I'd probably be tempted to do the same thing, but I'm worried that you're going to regret doing or saying that," can be a way to address this without sounding judgmental or patronizing. Asking questions like "Are you sure you want to do that?" and "How is that going to help things?" might be good ideas if they're thinking about pulling a Carrie Underwood and vandalizing their partner's vehicle to teach him a lesson.
Many marriages survive affairs. Sometimes, the relationship is eventually better and stronger. "You two may be able to work this out" is a way to offer hope without it seeming like you are telling the person what they "should" do. Its probably not a good idea to tell them this may be a blessing in disguise, though. Plattitudes and nice sounding phrases don't help much either. "Everything will work out fine," or "God doesn't put more on you than you can handle," often shuts the other person down. Such cliches are sometimes what we hide behind when we don't know what to say but they ring very hollow to someone struggling with such a painful reality.
Remind them that there are counselors and clergy who can also help. Good people have affairs and they are more common than most people think. Your loved one is not the only person going through this and it is okay to remind them of that. The Beyond Affairs Network (BAN)
is a support group with meetings throughout the US. Your loved one may feel too overwhelmed and ashamed to consider anything like that at first, but just knowing groups like BAN exist may be a comfort early on.
There are lots of helpful books and articles on recovering from affairs. If you want to do some reading yourself to know what someone goes through after finding out, that may help. Letting them know you care enough to do some research could be very meaningful. "I've been reading this book I thought might be helpful to you if you'd like to hear about it," can be a gentle way to share what you're learning. If they decline, let them know they're welcome to ask you about it at a later time. Let them know you're just trying to know as much as you can, not so that you can influence their decisions or tell them how they're "supposed" to feel. There are lots of excellent resources on this topic at
Remember to take care of yourself and to cut yourself some slack. No one is at their best in these types of situations, but your support is so important. Give yourself credit for being a good friend and turn to your own sources of strength and support during this difficult time. If you don't think you want to be around the person who had the affair for a while, it is okay to say so. If you are in a situation where you have to be around them, make interactions brief and business like. Don't be rude but you don't have to fake being overly nice either. Just remember that you are just as responsible for your choices in how to behave as they are. Losing your temper and confronting someone inappropriately at a less than suitable time or place can cause more stress and hurt for everyone involved.
If you think you've goofed by saying or doing something that may have caused your loved one more hurt, let them know you are sorry and that you truly just want to support them. Let them know that you don't always know what is best to do or say but that you remain committed to being there for them as they go through this difficult time. Be nice to yourself. These situations are difficult and you are doing the best you can. Your loved one is lucky to have you and you can feel good knowing you are standing beside them during one of the most difficult times in their life.