Discuss: Kiss and Tell

Oct 26, 2012

Dear Belle,

I need some advice about a problem I’m having at work. Several months ago, I was out to dinner with my husband when I spotted my boss’s husband sitting at the bar.  Naturally, I walked over to say hello.

He was sitting with a woman who was not my boss, and she had her hand on his thigh.  When I saw that, I turned and walked away.  My husband also saw them kissing.

Last week, my boss confided in another co-worker that she thinks her husband is cheating on her.  Obviously, I know he is. 

I didn’t tell her when it happened because I didn’t want to hurt her. But now I think I should say something…what do you think?

Sincerely, Troubled.

I’m going to make my advice short and sweet: Keep your mouth shut.

If you tell her now, she’s going to wonder why you didn’t tell her months ago.  I understand that you were trying to spare her feelings, but you chose a path and now you’re committed to it.  Telling her now will only leave her feeling more betrayed than she already does, and cause her to question your loyalty.

Plus, if you tell her, you insert yourself into a very dramatic situation, opening up a Pandora’s Box of trouble that you do not want.  Because once you tell her what you saw, you will forever be the woman who saw her husband cheating on her.  That’s a bell you can’t unring.

What if they get divorced and she wants you to swear to what you saw in court? 

What if they stay together?  You’ll be a constant reminder about what happened, and she’ll probably wonder if you judge her for staying with him. 

What if she doesn’t believe you and thinks you’re making it all up? 

Whichever way you slice it, this is a nightmare situation to be in, but unless this woman is also your very-very good, close-as-sisters friend as well as your boss, don’t say anything.  She is your employer, you have a professional relationship, focus on that and forget about what you saw. 

Yes, it will suck to keep the secret.  But I can almost guarantee that the flip side of this record is even uglier.

Also, I would recommend that you don’t discuss the situation with your fellow employees. Your boss confided in your co-worker, and she should have kept that to herself.  Don’t gossip about this situation with him/her, or with anyone, anymore.  Gossiping about your boss’s personal life is unprofessional and could be very detrimental to your career. 

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  1. Ella says:

    I'm pretty floored by the latest response about not wanting to know.

    I'm in the “anonymous letter” camp. The emotional parts of it are all very complicated, but the risk of STDs is not. If my partner isn't being faithful (including just kissing at a bar), I may be crushed by the emotional fallout, but I want to be saved from the risk of herpes, HIV, or some other horrible disease.

    I would make the letter as basic as possible:

    “I saw your husband sitting at a bar with a woman whose hand was on his thigh. My friend saw them kiss a few minutes later.

    I've struggled with how to handle this information. Please forgive me if I made the wrong decision.”

    (I chose “friend” because “date” didn't seem like an appropriate term given the circumstances. Your husband is your friend. He's obviously much more, but it relationship to you isn't at issue in this letter.)

    I would also print it at a public location (so it can't be traced to your printer) and use gloves to put it in the envelope… yes, I'm that serious about “anonymous.” No DNA or fingerprint signatures either.

  2. Word, Belle! I
    It also doesn't like this guy is particularly careful – PDA with the other woman – so your boss is bound to find out from someone eventually. Don't make this your problem.

  3. Ellen says:

    I agree with Belle. You need to keep this information to yourself. It will do you no good by inserting yourself in to your boss's personal life. There is no good outcome for you in this situation.

    I feel very much for you, Troubled. I was in a similar situation. At my first job after college, I worked for a family friend at a Fortune 100 company in NY where we commuted together daily from NJ. I was 99% sure that she was having an affair with her husband and 100% sure that she was having an inappropriate relationship with a colleague. I was constantly put in the most uncomfortable situations. I chose to cover for her (by just going along with her lies or saying I didn't know where she was) not because I like lying (I actually HATE it) but because I didn't want to be involved. I think in the end it was the right decision.

  4. K... says:

    I agree with Belle: keep your trap shut. No good ever comes from exposing uncomfortable truths. Do not feel guilty. Your obligation to your boss is a professional one; this is a personal matter outside the scope of your employment relationship.

    At my last firm, I watched the partnership implode when one partner exposed another partner's (extremely inappropriate, extramarital) affair with a junior staffer. Guess which partner was later forced out of the firm?

  5. S says:

    Agreed 100%. For your own sake, don't get involved.

    I was once in a similar position. I eventually decided to tell someone about her husband's infidelity. I knew for a fact there was unsafe sex involved and I was her close personal friend (different obligations than a purely professional relationship)… but with the enormity of the fallout, I'm still not sure if I made the right decision.

  6. C says:

    I agree with Belle. UNLESS she is also a close personal friend who you have a relaitonship with outside of work and have known for years and years, I would keep my mouth shut. It probably feels awful to know this “secret” but I guess if he's displaying PDA in public, she's bound to find out anyway. I also agree that this information should not be shared with other co workers or employees, if it is, it will eventually get back to your boss and your reputation and career could be in jeopardy.

  7. S says:

    I should add that I didn't expect everything to be sunshine and roses — I knew I wasn't being a hero; I was putting friendships at risk, a marriage that wasn't mine, etc. — but I totally underestimated how terribly I, personally, would be effected. And it could have ended a lot worse than it did… there could be a divorce, violence, etc. on my conscience right now.

    In hindsight, keeping the secret would have been far less difficult and emotionally draining than getting involved. So if you can, please learn from my mistake and just let it go.

  8. Ms. B says:

    Excellent insightul mature advice Belle. And well presented. Bravo. Hope every one takes heed. while it is difficult to keep a “secret”, I hope she shows her metal and doesn't squeal. Nothing but heartache and betrayal all around if she does.

  9. Self-less says:

    I will definitely be in the minority here but I completely, unequivocally disagree. If you saw someone being abused, you wouldn't stand by and keep your mouth shut, at least you shouldn't. Same principle goes here; tell the woman. As a woman, I'd want to know if my husband is being unfaithful to me, regardless of who it comes from. And I'd hope that her boss wouldn't be immature and petty enough to fire this person just because she told her the truth. A job is a job is a job is a job. Losing one doesn't mean you won't find another. But losing your principles just to protect your own self, is selfish.

  10. S says:

    Self-less, I'm also married, so I totally see your point. It's why I made the decision I did, in the end.

    But every situation is different. The advice seeker doesn't know what her boss's marriage is like, or how her boss would react to being told about the restaurant scene. She doesn't know what the restaurant scene was… pretty easy to jump to conclusions with the hand on the thigh, but she didn't see them having sex. She does know that she currently has a job and a professional relationship with her boss.

    I suppose I would modify my advice to the advice seeker as such: If directly by your boss if you've seen her husband in a restaurant with the other woman, and you feel you can't lie, don't lie. You can say, “I didn't know what to make of the scene; I didn't want to assume anything.” But know that nothing will ever be the same for you once you cross that line.

  11. K says:

    Look, I've been in the shoes of the woman being cheated on. And my gut reaction years after the fact is to say that I still would want to know and I would want someone to tell me. Imagine how humiliating it feels finding out after the fact that everyone around you knows of your partner's affair, and no one had the decency to come and tell you.

    But, I understand the caveats–especially since this is your boss. Seeing that this is your boss and not, lets say, a good friend that is a co-worker that has less of an impact on your workplace performance, I say tread lightly. If I were in your shoes, I would anonymously send a letter to her in the mail so she receives it at work (if you send it to her home, her husband will probably intercept it.) If she is a good friend, then I'd tell her the truth in a private place. But if you aren't particularly close, AND because she's your boss, I'd go the alternative route instead.

    I really do disagree with a lot of the advice here. Sure, stay out of it if you can, but still have the decency to tell her, especially if the only safe way is anonymously. As someone that has been in this woman's shoes, who had to find out on her own, and later discover that everyone at her work and at her husband's place of employment knew of this long-term affair, I felt worse knowing that no one approached me to let me know sooner.

  12. Belle says:

    Self-less: You say something when a woman is being abused because she might be injured or killed. Being cheated on is a risk you take in any relationship, not something that will directly result in your physical injury or death.

    As for losing your principles, the employee has little first hand knowledge of the situation. She isn't the one who saw him kissing the woman, her husband is. Yes, she saw them together in what looked to be a compromising position, but what does she REALLY know? Also, she clearly isn't close enough to her boss that the boss confided her suspicions to her directly. If that were the case, it would be a different situation.

    The bottom line is she does not know what this woman's marriage is really like, she cannot say first hand that he kissed another woman-just that he was with one-and the boss has never discussed it with her directly. Some would argue that the principled stand would be to not overstep your bounds and go meddling in someone else's marriage based on what is essentially hearsay, conjecture and rumor.

  13. HM says:

    Right Belle! Always err on the side of caution.

  14. CynthiaW says:

    I understand the position of the women who say that they would want to know, but not all married women do. Not even the ones who speculate about it like your boss is – maybe she's really looking for reassurance that her husband would “never do that”.

    I've been married for 13 years and with my husband for 18 and I can't honestly tell you that I would want to know – and I suspect that I wouldn't. I trust him completely and don't think that he would ever stray, so maybe that's why I say that. However, I wouldn't divorce him, even if he were cheating, so I think that I'd rather not know.

  15. S says:

    I like Ella's advice the best so far. (I'm obviously not at all objective here.)

    The boss has a heads up to get tested for STDs and take whatever other action she deems necessary… the advice-seeker does not soil her professional relationship with her boss or face any fallout… it's as best-case scenario as can be reached, under the awful circumstances.

    The critical part will be, not talking about it with anyone. Seriously, advice-seeker: DO NOT TALK ABOUT THIS. It's not your marriage, it's not your business, telling others cannot help you in any way. If you have to get it off your chest, tell a counsellor and THAT'S IT.

  16. M says:

    I think what Belle said about having made your choice a long time ago is important too…If you were going to say something to your boss (and I'm not at all sure that you should; see below), the time was then— i.e., right after you saw it– not now.

    I totally get why your feel torn, but at the same time the diversity of responses here should tell you something about about how she'd react: You don't know and you can't. It's one thing to say “I'm worried my husband is cheating on me” and another entirely to have it confirmed. (And I can't at all imagine receiving an anonymous letter to that effect.) It's a crappy all around, but for now: mouth shut.

  17. Alanna says:

    I agree with M. Some women would want to know if their husband were cheating, and some women would not. You can't know which type she is, so it seems best to stay out of it.

  18. SC says:

    I agree to not volunteer the information or ever let her know what you saw, but if you're feeling totally guilty and she asks you what you think maybe steer her towards a way to figure out for sure. Odds are she won't believe it unless she sees it with her own eyes anyway and she'll just end up being mad at you.

  19. ms says:

    What terrible advice! Follow the golden rule: treat others how you'd like to be treated. Most women would like to know they are being cheated on, and you can assume that this woman wants to know based on her discussions with others about the issue. Would you want to stay with a man who is cheating on your and possibly bringing home STDs while people in your life knew what was happening????? No, you would not. So help this woman.

    Don't err on the side of protecting your ass. Err on the side of honesty and bravery and helping other women.

    If you're not bold enough to tell the woman to her face, find a way to tell her anonymously. Leave an anonymous note on her desk, send her an email from a dummy email account with the details, etc. Yes, this is a weird and wimpy way to give her the info. But it's better than having her be further humiliated and hurt by her husband's actions.

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