Ethics: My Cheating Friend –

Ethics ConceptI am a single woman in my mid-20s. I recently learned from my dear friend that she has developed a longtime pattern of cheating on her husband of five years. I understand cheating happens for various reasons — but if I remain friends with her, am I condoning her ongoing behavior? If I am “anti-compulsive-cheating,” do I therefore have to be anti-her? I value many aspects of our friendship but don’t see her (or my) views on philandering ever changing. EVE, HOUSTON

It’s totally fine to have friends whose values oppose your own. Having relationships with people does not condone everything they do. You can be intimately involved with a person and still view the quality of his or her thoughts and actions with objective distance.

Now, that changes if you become tangibly involved with unethical acts: if you provide cover for deception, if you help people lie or if you tell them their infidelity is justified (even though you believe it isn’t) — then you’re complicit. But that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening is that someone you care about is doing something problematic and has selected you as her confidante (despite the obvious risk in doing so). This reflects positively on you as an individual. And as long you stay within your own value system — as long as you do nothing or say nothing that contradicts whatever you consider the better way to live — the friendship is valid.

You claim your friend’s views on philandering will not change. You’re probably right. They probably won’t. Maybe she doesn’t even think what she’s doing is particularly wrong. But in all likelihood, she knows it’s wrong (but does it anyway). Abruptly ending your friendship won’t have any impact on her cheating; she will just assume that you’re self-righteous or that she’d be better off keeping her secrets to herself in the future. If you stay in her life, however, you might be able to show her a different way to live and think. Tell her that learning of her infidelities made you question the merit of your friendship. Make it clear that you see her behavior as wrong but that you would not socially discard her over this difference. If she ever asks your advice, tell her to stop cheating on her husband (or to at least be honest with her husband about how she chooses to live).

Don’t end a friendship because someone acts in a way you never would. Part of being a good person is being open to people who are not so good, and part of being a friend is making flawed acquaintances feel as if they can tell you about their flaws (without fear of abandonment or persecution). In fact, if you’re the type of person who wants to associate exclusively with those who perfectly mirror your own ethical worldview, you’re reducing significantly the scope of your potential life experience.


My Cheating Friend –

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