This perennial advice column ethics teaser has been botched in more columns than I can count, so it was a pleasure to read the response to the dilemma by Carolyn Hax, the syndicated relationship advice columnist whose ethical instincts are invariably superb. Here was the substance of her answer:
“…to the husband or husband-poacher (whoever’s the closer friend), say something akin to: “I’ve heard this is happening, which means others have, too. That’s Issue 1. Issue 2: I want no part of this — I don’t even want to know what I already know. Issue 3: If Wife asks me something, I won’t lie. As someone who stands to lose friends in this mess, I hope you’ll clean it up.” Then butt out, knowing that if someone forces your hand, your next move has been declared in advance — and if your friend finds out that you knew, you can say: “I’m sorry. I did what I felt I could.”
This strikes me as both practical and wise, though it seems key to Hax’s answer that both women were described as “semi-good” friends. This allows her to avoid the tougher problem when the friend being cheated on is more than semi-good, but a close and trusted friend. In that situation, I think the balancing act tilts to loyalty, and requires the friend in the middle to spill the beans—AFTER warning the semi-good friend what is about to happen, and giving her a chance to act first.
When both the cheater and the victim are semi-good friends, the Golden Rule cramps up. You wouldn’t want a third party interfering with your private life, but you would want a friend to alert you to a cheating husband if your positions were reversed. Hax’s solution embodies discretion, caring, fairness, honesty and disclosure, a good set of ingredients in a no-win situation.
Source: Washington Post
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