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.