How do you cope when a valued friend learns about your affair and it ends your friendship? This can be a painful and unexpected response to your affair. Harsh judgment is common, and loss from it is very hard to handle.
First, let's talk about how a friend might find out about your affair. One of the worst ways is when the affair is unexpectedly discovered. The surprise of the affair then becomes a hot topic of gossip, and ensuing marital decision making often involves input from family or friends who take up arms and sides. This tends to be the most traumatizing and polarizing experience.
The other reason an affair gets revealed is when an affair couple transitions more quietly into being a public couple, but it becomes known or apparent to others that the relationship likely started while one or both people were still married.
You also may have taken a leap of faith and disclosed your affair involvement to a friend; and the friend’s reaction is not supportive as you’d hoped.
Usually you’ll experience both strong negative reactions, as well as accepting and gracious ones. But today we'll focus on what happens when a friend turns their back to you in reaction to your affair.
Why It Happens:
Why do some people — often people you considered close friends — ostracize you because of your affair?
Short answer is fear.
Fear is the great and powerful force that leads a previously loving friend to respond with judgement, vitriol, distancing, anger, rejection, and other common negative emotions that cause the friendship to break.
People who break off a friendship with you because of your affair are afraid. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand. They need to create distance to re-establish their own psychic safety. If they’re married they may be afraid infidelity could happen to them. If they have strong personal viewpoints or religious beliefs, they may reject your affair simply because it doesn’t align with those beliefs. Also, culturally we are taught to reject and judge affairs. So, while it may be unfortunate, these friends are responding appropriately to the world we are taught to live in.
We know that people who have affairs have the same living value systems as people who never find themselves in affairs. With the exception of serial cheaters, philanderers, and chronic liars, the majority of people who have an affair or transition to the affair relationship as their new primary relationship are people just like you and me. But it can rock you to your core when the mirror is held up and you're seen differently in the eyes of others who previously respected you... because now you're a 'cheater” or “homewrecker.”
One of my single clients out of LA, “Minnie,” was told by a previously loving friend that she was a hypocrite for falling in love with a married man. Minnie’s own husband had traumatically and suddenly left her for an affair years before. Even though there were many crucial differences in the dynamics in Minnie’s current relationship versus what her husband has done to her, Minnie's friend didn't try to understand. Instead, her friend refused to accept her new boyfriend and expressed disappointment in Minnie's perceived 'interference' with a married person.
Minnie cried in my office, distraught and in pain. This friend had been like family to her. She’d been excited to finally share her new love with her friend. Instead, her friend slighted her, judged her, and worst of all, she no longer called or invited Minnie to social plans with their mutual friends. Minnie’s friend also talked about her with other friends and made her feelings widely known. Minnie struggled for many months with feeling harshly judged and outcast. She dipped into depression and despair. We worked hard to recover Minnie's sense of worth, and to re-establish her connection to healthier, more loving friendships available to her.
What to Know:
Your friend is judging and distancing themselves to protect themselves from discomfort. Remember that it's a very evolved, open person who can be mature enough to withhold judgment and allow for the diverse reality of human experience.... including not reacting to your affair with fear, rejection and distain. What you’ve now learned about the friendship you’ve lost is that this friend was not able to tolerate and hold space for something they don’t fully understand. Lack of empathy, support, or even neutrality, gives you valuable information about your friend and your friendship. Pay attention. When someone shows themselves to you, believe them.
What to Do:
How do you process the end of a friendship because of your affair? Allow for the pain and allow for the feelings of grief. It’s like any other loss — but it feels terrible, too, because of the added judgment you’re receiving. If you’ve already tried to talk to your friend and they won’t hear you out, let them go. It doesn’t mean the friendship will never recover with time. It just means that right now your friend is choosing their side of the road over yours.
Right now you need to take good care of yourself. Align yourself with friends and family who support and love you. You'll know which people understand that life and relationships are complex and ever-changing. These friends barely skip a beat and choose to accept you just the same in light of the news. Yes, even loving and supportive friends will have questions and may be curious. They may have feelings of their own, and they may share them, but you’ll know and feel the difference between this kind of friend and one who shames or turns away from you.
The effects of an affair ripple outward and touch every part of your life. Losing a friend when they learn about your affair can be unexpected and traumatizing in its own right. As you struggle to reconcile your own choices and with the harsh reality of how its received by the outside world, know that changes to your relationships are inevitable. Now, you need to be more confident than ever in your decisions, who you are, what you want for yourself, and what you need to do to create a healthy, happy, aligned life after affair discovery.
Lauren provides boots-on-the-ground lived experience combined with invaluable professional expertise working with infidelity. She is committed to helping individuals and couples deal with and heal from marital affairs in a highly effective, yet warm and judgment-free style.
Lauren's articles help share much-needed information, and reduce the stigma and shame around the common experience of infidelity. Contact Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about working together.
Lauren, Affair Specialist