Should I tell his wife he's gay?

My former best friend refuses to come clean.


Cary Tennis
May 8, 2006 2:45PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am debating about providing information to someone that could potentially destroy a marriage. Is it better to know the truth, or live blissfully ignorant?

I had been best friends with "John" throughout high school, college and after. We were so close that he was the first person I told when I came out of the closet.

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In college, John began a relationship with a wonderful woman, "Jane," who I really liked and with whom I developed a nice friendship. Throughout their relationship, John cheated on her a few times, which disappointed me, but I stayed out of it and remained loyal to him. There was also some hidden drug use going on, but it appeared to be under control, so I stayed out of that as well.

Eventually they became engaged, and I was honored to be offered the role of best man. Midway through the engagement Jane suddenly became suspicious that John might be gay, and brought up the subject several times. She offered her support and gave him an out if he were gay, but implored him to deal with it before the wedding plans were made so everything could be canceled. John denied it vehemently, and I backed him up because I had never known him to be anything but straight. John and I just chalked it up to her suspicions about his friendship with me and my gay friends.

Well, shortly before their wedding John became enamored with one of my male friends and set up a date with him. They met and had sex. I was shocked that he would cheat on Jane so close to their wedding, that it was with a man, and about how nonchalant he was about the whole thing.

A few weeks later I was the best man at their wedding. Shortly thereafter, John sent me a character assassination letter that had balled up years' worth of small, unforgiven misunderstandings, and essentially ended our friendship. Because none of the issues in that letter, even when combined, came close to being a friendship ender, I suspect that he felt it was safer to not have me around with the new information I had about his indiscretions.

I had hoped he would eventually reinitiate a friendship with me, but now a few years have passed without any communication and it is clear he wants me out of their life permanently. Jane has followed his wishes and not contacted me, but I know she doesn't have any hard feelings toward me at all -- on the contrary, I would bet she misses me as I do her.

So now that I know there's no more friendship to consider losing, here's my question: Should I tell Jane that her suspicions were true and John has cheated on her with a man? Or just stay out of it and mind my own business? I know the apppropriate time to do something would have been prior to the wedding, but that would have meant losing my best friend of so many years, which at the time seemed incomprehensible.

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And the really difficult part is that I recently found out they had a child. So, if I tell Jane, she might divorce John and then their child would grow up in a broken home. Believe it or not, I still think John could be a very good father.

I am really leaning against getting involved and saying anything, but I'd like to have some other points of view before I totally forget about it.

Torn

Dear Torn,

If John is having unprotected sex with men, then he is putting his wife's health at risk and she needs to know. If he won't tell her then someone needs to tell her.

If he is not endangering her physically, then this is a moral and spiritual problem, a problem of relationship. Relationships are not healed from the outside. They are healed by the people who are in them. John needs to tell his wife the truth. If he can't tell her yet, we'll just have to wait.

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She needs to hear it from him.

It may be possible to aid him in this, however, whether he wants to be aided or not.

I often say that we are powerless to change people, and that engaging in such efforts is dangerous psychologically. But there is a difference between changing people and persuading people. I do think we can persuade people to take certain actions. When you persuade someone, they make the choice. It's a responsible activity with clear boundaries.

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So I think that's what you ought to do. Try to persuade John to tell his wife what is going on.

Write him a letter.

Do not threaten him. Simply persuade.

Tell him that you know how painful it is to live a life of deceit. Tell him of other men in similar situations who have come clean. Try to direct his attention to some of their stories, and perhaps some of my other columns that touch on the subject as well.

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And what is your motivation for this extraordinary course of action? Love. Love for him and love for his wife, and even love for his child whom you have not met but to whom your love extends. Stress that he will never be happy in this marriage and that neither will his wife.

Offer to meet with him in person. Offer to accompany him to any kind of support group you can find, or to see a counselor or priest. Make yourself available. Humble yourself. Tell him that you understand why he lashed out at you and you forgive him for it.

Keep at it. You are addressing his conscience. The conscience is powerful but it works slowly. He may react at first with anger or threats. Keep at it. Reassure him that you are not threatening to tell his wife. You are simply trying to persuade him to save himself. Tell him that living with such a secret can lead to depression and sometimes to suicide. Tell him that it isn't necessary for him to hide. There is nothing shameful about being gay. Offer your help. Offer your support. Keep at it.

If you know men who have been through what he is going through, they might write to him as well or speak to him directly if it can be arranged. There is nothing more powerful than listening to someone who has been through what you are going through.

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You will naturally ask how long you ought to persist in this effort and what to do if it fails. I think you ought to persist in it as long as you can. I do not know how long it might take, nor how you would know when the effort had failed. If you wrote to him for a year or two years or 10 years and he did not change, that would not mean that you had failed. Eventually he will admit who he is. Whenever that happens, you can assume that your efforts played a part.

Do not abandon him. He's a troubled man. He was once your best friend. You were his best man. He needs your help. Keep at it.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

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