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Things you should never say to someone who’s been cheated on

“She must really put out.” Oh. My. Word. When my husband of over two decades slept with someone at work and I found out about it, a “friend” said this to me. I didn’t bother explaining that my ex and I had more sex after 20 years than most people have in the first year of marriage. You can hardly blame folks for not knowing what to say when someone close to them has been cheated on, but there are a few canned responses we really need to do away with.

Woman annoyed with friend

Photo credit: Fabrice LEROUGE/ONOKY/Getty Images

“Cheating is a symptom.”

Friends like to come at people who have been cheated on with, “Cheating is a symptom of something that’s not working” because they skim read some self-help literature that said that. Let me clear the record once and for all. Cheating is a symptom of something that’s not working, but it’s not related to the relationship. The thing that isn’t working is the cheater’s conscience, ability to communicate and feelings of compassion. No matter what “isn’t working” in the relationship, cheating just trades one set of problems for another set of toxic problems that often involve innocent people like kids and in-laws.

“What does she look like?”

Really? Really? What does she look like? What the hell does that have to do with anything? At least in my case I was much better looking than the troll that my ex stepped out on me with. That sounds harsher than I mean it of course, and it is also terribly immodest, but I have earned the right to say such things. And I’ve earned that right because people have said stupid things like this to me. How dare people reduce my marriage, my life’s work and my kids’ lives to “upgrading?” If your friend is cheated on, don’t ask what the other person looks like. Ever.

“I always knew he’d cheat.”

OK, the guy I married may have cheated and is acting like total scum, but he’s still the guy I grew up with, built a life with and had awesome kids with. Saying that he was just looking for a time and place to cheat suggests you know more about my spouse, my life and my marriage than I do, which is impossible. It also suggests that I must be stupid, oblivious and/or delusional and since I’m trying to navigate the most painful time in my life, I really don’t need anyone to shake salt in the wound. The person who was cheated on is going to be saying plenty of hideous things about their spouse — they don’t need you chiming in on things you have no intimate knowledge of.

“You need to have a hobby, date, to be on your own.”

If you want to be a good friend to someone in your circle who has been cheated on, strike the words “you need” from your vocabulary. The truth is, you have no clue what the other person needs. Even if you have been cheated on, marriages — like fingerprints — are unique to the people in them. Your friend will figure out hobbies, dating and whether or not she should be single or in a relationship on her own, in her own time.

When someone you care about has been cheated on, the best thing you can do is become a professional listener. If your friend is truly lost — keep opinion out of your suggestions. Offer up a few constructive ideas and end every conversation with, “I’m here for you. I’ll support you no matter what you decide.”

Note: Women cheat too of course, and many of these apply regardless of gender. Because I’m a woman who was cheated on, these phrases reflect that specific gender circumstance.

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