If you've been even kind of paying attention to the news lately, you know that the way a person handles classified information is quite important for a number of reasons. Even if you aren't a politician, knowing secrets comes with a lot of power.
For example, say you're swiping through a dating app and come across a person who you're pretty sure your friend is dating exclusively — meaning, that person is most definitely not a confirmed bachelor or bachelorette. Your first instinct might be to screenshot it for evidence, but then what do you do? Whenever you have proof that a loved one's partner is cheating on them, here are the questions you need to ask yourself before you do anything else, according to Andrea Bonior, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships.
How valid is this evidence?
You have the receipts, but before you act on anything, you have to determine how reputable that evidence actually is. There's always a chance that there was just a misunderstanding, Dr. Bonior says. You could be hearing this information fourth-hand, or people might be spreading malicious gossip about someone on purpose, she says. Of course, if you're seeing someone on a dating app first-hand, that's pretty indisputable, but it's always worth it to consider that there might be more to the story. Perhaps your friend decided to go on a break with their partner, or maybe they opened up their relationship on the DL. The bottom line is: Don't do anything until you know the proof is legit.
How close are you to this friend?
Gauge your level of emotional intimacy with the friend in question, and basically decide if you think you owe it to them, Dr. Bonior says. Your relationship with a work colleague is very different from your relationship with your best friend, for example. When it is a very close friend you're dealing with, think about what you would want to know in this scenario, Dr. Bonior says. "Telling them is not always the best, because they could have very different standards than you do," she says. That said, most people would probably want to know, she adds.
But there are different "gradations" of friendships, too, and someone might feel like you're overstepping your bounds by making comments about their relationship, Dr. Bonior says. "Consider what your role is in the friendship," she says.
Who do you feel most comfortable talking to?
Once you've determined that your proof is legit and it's worth it to share this information, eventually you're going to have to tell someone — either your friend or their partner. "It's a huge piece of information to keep from someone, and if you don't tell them, you're allowing them to continue in a relationship they probably wouldn't want, given all the facts," Dr. Bonior says.
If you are close with your friend's partner, you might want to approach them first, she suggests. You can say something like, Look, if you don't tell this person what's going on, I'm going to have to. It might seem a little blackmail-y, so this particular route might be a little dicey, Dr. Bonior says. "But some say that's the kinder thing to do, because you're staying out of it and letting them handle it on their own," she says.
Are you ready to help your friend?
On the other hand, if you want to go straight to your friend, you should do so during a "sensitive, private, and respectful time," Dr. Bonior says. Tell them, I have some difficult and confusing information, and I'm not sure what to do with it. Or you could say, I heard something pretty damning about your partner, and I'm not sure if you want to hear it, so you at least give them an opportunity to pass.
Wait for your friend to react, and then let them know that you're willing to help them. For example, you could say, I'm conflicted and feel awkward, but my only goal is to help you. I won't judge you either way, but I felt like I couldn't not tell you. "Sometimes the kicker is that the person knows that it was going on the whole time," Dr. Bonior says. But at least you can feel good about doing your part as their friend.