Readers tell Cary Tennis: That adulterous wife's husband should rat her out!

By Salon Staff
Published February 16, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

[Read the column.]

My wife once revealed to me -- after a mutual friend let something slip that provoked a lot of questions -- that she'd spent years having one affair after another, mostly with people whom we both knew and some of whom I'd considered friends of mine as well as of hers. (Mercifully, though, all the ones I knew had been friends of hers first.) I was crushed and humiliated and still don't know how I survived it all. (In fact I'm not sure I'm done surviving it.) I was also furious at a lot of people, including some "innocent bystander" friends who'd known of her ways and who'd done nothing to help me out of the dark.

Here's what I wish they'd done, and what your reader should do: Approach the cheating spouse (my wife in my case, your reader's wife's lover in your reader's case) and say, "I know what's going on, and your partner deserves to know about it, and if you disagree then you don't deserve a relationship with [him/her]. So you tell, or I will."

-- Howard Runyon

So you are looking at a storefront across the street and you are about to step out into the street in front of a bus. Since you're an adult, I'm ethically bound not to warn you?

Your response is antisocial to the extreme. He is of course obligated to tell her, since she may be ignorant of something that may bring her harm. All of the analogies you bring up are so stupid it's just hard to imagine why you entertain them.

"You risk damaging your own reputation." At best, this is the quandary of the john who turns in a brothel for having an underage staff member. At worst it is the clear refuge of the scoundrel. Do what is right; your reputation only needs to remain spotless in your own mind.

A few years ago an attractive married woman hit on me and told me that she had an open relationship. I congratulated her husband on having an open relationship, which was a surprise to him. Consequently I missed some pretty good sex. Oh well.

People won't confide in you? What, people won't tell you about their affairs with married women? Adults assume certain risks when they brag about their exploits. Do you really want to spend a lot of time listening to such "confidences" (actually, I suppose you do)?

Should you keep tabs on your neighbors, and turn them into the authorities for petty infractions? Many people do; it's not that pleasant. On the other hand, the neighbors are pretty much adults. Part of their duty while they break the law is not to put you in the spot of knowing they are doing so. And if you see your neighbor having sex with his 12-year-old daughter, you're going to close the blinds? How about building pipe bombs? It's actually OK to turn in your neighbors.

Informing the wife is "judging"? Have you lost your mind? Telling the wife she should be angry because her husband is getting it on is judging. This is just informing. Give the wife the information, and assume that because she is an adult she will do something useful with the information.

Many people assume that the wife cares, is not having her own affair, is ignorant about the situation: Don't assume. Don't assume "she must know." Simply tell her. Tell her anonymously if you wish. Then she'll feel completely free to ignore the information.

-- David Zink

In marital infidelity, the stakes are high and in this day and age include life and death. My recent divorce was motivated by infidelity on my husband's part that resulted in my catching an STD while six months pregnant. Because I had one STD, I had to take a full panel of tests for all kinds of STDs. I had to spend a harrowing 10 days waiting for the results, knowing that if I tested positive for a blood-borne disease the baby would have to be tested, too. Luckily our little daughter was unharmed, and I escaped without anything incurable. But I truly consider it an escape -- my ex caught hepatitis B right around the time I had the divorce papers served. If it had taken me even three more months to wise up, I could be enjoying an incurable liver disease, too. So telling the married adulterer's wife would be more than schoolyard snitching, it could save her life. What "Wanting to Tell" knows about the married man is that he is a married man who screws around. He doesn't know how far that goes. "Wanting to Tell" needs to see his own doctor and if there is anything amiss in the STD department I'd say he has a moral imperative to rat the rat out.

-- Anonymous

Wrong, wrong , wrong -- I was the offended wife once, and everyone knew but me -- all my friends. I found out while seven months pregnant when I decided to go to a friend's party that earlier (due to morning sickness) I wasn't up to.

Talk about embarrassed silence when I showed up, and she was there with my husband. When I yelled and screamed and got mad, people said I was embarrassing them! Asking them why they didn't tell me, they said it wasn't their place. NONE of those people are my friends anymore, and I have a very low opinion of them all.

If you see someone rob a bank, abuse a child, rape a person, and you don't tell anyone, you can be charge with being an accomplice -- your silence helps makes the crime possible.

My husband couldn't have cheated on me without the help of my friends' silence -- they were accomplices. They are part of the problem.

Child abuse and rape have gone down as the attitude of "you can't talk about it" went away. Want to make it harder for people to cheat? Talk about it, don't help them with your silence.

You are actively hurting the person, and helping the abuser with your silence. As to the opinion of "I am staying out of it," no, you're not; you are helping the person who is abusing another trusting human being, because without the help of your silence they couldn't get away with it.

Shame on you.

-- Helen

For most crimes of passion and in legal fact, it's not ethically defensible to defend the guilty, but this is the advice Cary Tennis delivered in this case -- so that the parties involved could "work things out themselves." Cary Tennis mentioned that it would be "unfair" to deprive the guilty husband the chance to work things out with his wife -- WHO HE CHEATED ON. What if it were a pedophile who had violated his daughter instead of his wife -- would the advice be to "protect" the pedophile, so that he could "work things out" with his family? Of course not. So is it dramatically different for adults? If so, why, since only two of the four adults in this case are "consenting" -- and the two consenting adults are the cheaters?

Cary Tennis' advice to protect guilty parties is a travesty and I hope and pray the writer does not take this bad advice and lets a cheater keep on cheating.

-- Rich Greenwood

Cary's advice to "Wanting to Tell" is horrible, horrible advice.

This person has a moral obligation to tell the wife of his wife's affair partner about the affair. Contrary to what Cary wrote, this woman is an innocent person being victimized by her spouse, and she has the right to know everything so she can make decisions about her life.

With only rare exceptions, relationships begun as affairs fail, and they always hurt innocent people. The first thing that hastens their speedy end is exposure. Ask any expert on infidelity.

The man who wrote the letter should share his evidence of the affair with the other man's wife immediately, even if it makes him feel good.

Also ... as someone who has had firsthand experience with addiction, does Cary see the parallels between extramarital affairs and drug abuse?

-- Greg Fall

"I agree with your therapist that you should not tell her. I do think, however, that in an ideal world, she ought to know what's going on." If we all acted on our ideals, then we would be closer to living in an ideal world. Why wouldn't telling the adulterer's wife the truth be a good thing?

-- Dara

1) Clearly he can't make a decision. Tell or not tell? Nut-up to the job, pal, and figure it out! It's not that hard. In this area, real men do not get "consensus" on how to handle a situation. That is the domain of how a woman handles such things. No wonder this man's wife had an affair. If he handles all such household matters in such a way, why does she need to be around?

2) He should tell the cheated-on wife. Moral dilemma? Ethical dilemma? Are you kidding, Tennis? She deserves to know what kind of man she is married to.

Let the cheating partner tell? Yeah, he's already shown his high values by cheating on his wife. Could he have been with someone else who might just have a sexually transmitted disease? Just leave it to him to do the right thing. Good idea, Pollyanna.

"Don't be a snitch?" Who did you blow to get this job? Heaven forbid you get a snitch jacket, Starsky, when you find out you've been cheated on and might have concern for another human who has been deceived as well.

Look, the chips are already down for the cheated-on husband. By telling the cheated-on wife, he will be exacting some revenge possibly. But he's going to be helping the deceived. That's more important.

Get your priorities straight. Or were you just filling column inches? Jeez.

-- Scott Boyer

"Harumph" /Clearing my throat/ 'tention Cary: Yada, Yada, Yada ... I'd tell her. Human beings, as complex, thinking creatures, will always have the best and the basest of reasons for doing things -- sometimes mixed in together. You marry someone because you love them and can't imagine life without them, but you may also realize that this means your laundry gets done and you have a standing date for Saturday nights. You want your children to succeed and excel because you want them to have prosperous lives, but it also means you get to say: "That's my son, or daughter." It comes with the territory.

Look at it this way: He has told every person not pertinent to this situation, except the one person who is most affected by it. That makes him an accomplice. It would be different if he and his wife were working things out ... but they're not. At the very least, it places him in a potentially legally tenuous situation, where he could be sued later on if the wife of the other man finds out that he got divorced due to this affair and did not see fit to notify her. We live in litigious times, my friend.

Sure, he would be getting revenge. But when is that WRONG? Only when it harms someone. In this case, he would be doing (some) good. As for waiting for the husband to do the right thing -- his wife finding out might be just the push he needs ... If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then doing something that serves his best interests may be just what this situation warrants.

I'd tell her. And let the chips fall where they may, end of story.

-- Valda

Cary Tennis' column is the best advice column ever and anywhere.

I get a life education every time I read it.

-- Michael Smith

Salon Staff

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