Hearing it through the grapevine: Would you tell a friend they were being cheated on?

Matthew SmithLead data journalist
July 04, 2017, 9:53 AM UTC

Older people are far more reluctant than younger Brits to break bad relationship news to their friends

Breaking bad news to someone is always hard, and informing someone about problems in their love life is among the hardest of all topics to cover.

Now new YouGov research can reveal that only just over half (53%) of Brits would tell their friend that their partner was cheating on them. Only 15% of Brits actively say that they would not tell their friend, however, while a further 27% say they don’t know what they’d do.

There is an enormous difference between young and old people on this dilemma. Fully 81% of 18-24 year olds say they would tell their friend about the affair – this figure drops with each older age group, finally slumping to fewer than a third (32%) of 65+ year olds.

At the same time, the older people get the more likely they are to say they would not make the revelation to their friend (28% of 65+ year olds, compared to 6% of 18-24 year olds), or be unsure about what they’d do (35% of 65+ year olds, compared to 11% of 18-24 year olds).

The age divide was present across all the cheating scenarios we put to the public. In a situation where the roles are reversed and it is a person’s friend cheating on their partner, only 21% of Brits would be prepared to break the news to the partner. But the figure for 18-24 year olds is 34% and drops to 15% of 65+ year olds.

And while 13% of Brits overall would tell someone if they had slept with their partner having been led to believe that they were single, this figure falls from 30% of 18-24 year olds to 7% of 65+ year olds.

One reason for such a drastic change in attitudes by age could be that older people are far more invested in their relationships and telling them can have much more negative repercussions on their life. Telling a 20 year old that their boyfriend of a few months is cheating on them is, after all, a very different prospect to telling a 68 year old that their husband of 40 years and the father of their children is cheating on them.

YouGov has previously found that older people are much more reluctant to say anything negative about a person’s partner – perhaps simply not rocking the boat becomes much more appealing as Brits age.

While there is also evidence of a divide between men and women, it is far less pronounced than the difference between young and old people. On the whole, women are more likely than men to grass someone up for cheating, and young women particularly so, but the extent of this difference diminishes as Brits get older.

It’s still better to say something

While Brits may be reluctant to give their friend such bad news, they take heart in knowing that not only is it the morally right thing to do, but also that it’s very likely to be what their friend wants. When we asked if people would want their friends to tell them if they found out they were being cheated on, 75% of people said yes, and only 8% said no.

Even though, as with the other questions, there is still a noticeable difference by age, the majority of older Brits would still want to be told (58% of 65+ year olds, down from 81% of 18-24 year olds).

So take note people of Britain! Should you ever find yourself in the situation where you find your friend is being betrayed, no matter how hard it is to tell them, odds are they’ll thank you for doing the right thing.

Photo: iStockphoto

See the full results here