The moral dilemma for the infidelity informant.
In our modern culture of hookups and alcohol fuelled antics, it seems as though it is almost impossible to avoid infidelity, whether it be from personal experience or simply knowing someone who has gone through it. Complicated and hurtful, the knowledge of infidelity is a heavy cross to bear, regardless of who holds it. However, if one were to know of another’s infidelity, is there an obligation to tell the person who is being betrayed?
Some might argue that no one should be compelled, in any circumstances, to relay this information. They can do so if they wish, but there is no obligation in the least. If you don’t want the drama of dealing with a cheating couple, then it is best to remain silent. This seems a little less than empathetic to the person being cheated on, but it is also understandable that some might be wary of handling the consequences of revealing such information. Not many are inclined to engage in Jerry Springer-esque interactions.
Nonetheless it would seem that most attach some obligation to inform the cheated-on of their partner’s missteps. The simple question it boils down to is whether or not you would want to know yourself? Some might say, no – they don’t want to be informed of their partner’s betrayals, but this seems to stem more from fear than a true desire to keep the infidelity hidden.
Relationships are meant to be about sharing the most intimate parts of oneself, entrusting the intricacies of one’s life and personality with another human they have deemed worthy, capable and close enough to be able to share it with. They are about creating mutual trust and communication, building up a positive space for both involved, openly and honestly. To withhold knowledge about a betrayal of this trust, of this agreement to work together, is to hide something that definitely has an impact on the dynamics of a relationship.
It also should be said that cheating is not usually a singular offense; normally there is the act itself – the act of cheating on one’s partner – followed by the omission, as the cheater covers up or ignores the nature of their offense. The hurt that stems from cheating is not just the fact that someone can have relations outside of the commitment they make, but also that they are able to keep such information from a partner that they have agreed to share their life with.
An imbalance occurs, in which one person is put at a disadvantage without all necessary and available material required for an informed decision about whether they want to again place their trust in their partner. The uninformed victim is consenting to a relationship without truly understanding the nature of the relationship in which they engage. Not only this, but they will continue to divulge sensitive personal information and share experiences with someone that they cannot claim to fully know, considering that they are unaware of what betrayals their partner is capable of committing.
Because of this, it seems that knowledge of cheating ought to be shared with the person being betrayed. It seems unfair and cruel to have them continuing on in ignorance, unaware that the person they trust most could do such a thing. Not every person shares the same level of obligation; there seems to be a spectrum of obligation that correlates to the depth of the informant’s relationship with either side of the couple. The closer you are to the couple – in particular the person being betrayed – the more obligation you should hold to inform them of the indiscretions.
This all being said, the real issue is not having to inform someone of cheating, but the cheating itself. This can be circumvented through many accepted methods. Open relationships and polyamory are quite evident in our society, and thus pose an option that does not involve a betrayal. Remain honest with your partner about how you feel and discuss how it is you should proceed.
Those who make a mistake in a spur of the moment and “accidentally” do something (perhaps induced by substance consumption) should just own up to what they have done and admit it themselves. It is far easier to forgive someone who does something and owns it than someone who does something and denies it. If your reason for cheating is that you are unhappy in your relationship, sever the relationship before doing anything with another person; it makes it far less complicated as well as much less hurtful.
Most importantly, (granted, easier said than done sometimes) don’t cheat. Make everyone’s lives a little easier and resist temptation for the sake of the love and care that you share with your significant other. Make it so that no one is in the position to have to reveal your immoral act by simply avoiding the immoral act in the first place. It saves everyone a lot of trouble and stress.