First things first: there’s no right or wrong way to deal with your S.O.’s infidelity. For some, there’s no moving beyond a partner’s betrayal. It’s not possible to trust them again. For others, cheating is the end the culmination of a lot of things gone wrong between two people—things that can be worked out. I think the specifics of each couple’s situation make all the difference. Did your girlfriend cheat once? Was she having a full on-affair? Did she come clean or did you catch her? There are many levels of betrayal, I think. One thing I’d like to clear up before I get into my story: I do not think that the person who gets cheated on is responsible for his or her S.O.’s infidelity. When I say things like, “My boyfriend’s infidelity was a wake-up call,” I mean that I saw the extent to which I pushed him away from me; I am NOT excusing someone’s dishonest, excruciatingly painful behavior just as I’m not suggesting that you (or I) are responsible their actions. Hear me out. About two years into my relationship with T, I found out he hooked up with a woman in his office. Here’s what happened, and here’s what I learned about weathering the storm.
T and I were together just over two years when I found out he and a co-worker slept together, twice, six months before. We had been living together for three months. T’s co-worker, M, was also living with her boyfriend. We were all mid-twenties. One day I sat down at the desk and used the computer we shared and T’s email was open. I swear, I had NEVER looked through his stuff before. But on that day, for some truly bizarre reason, I searched for M’s name. I’d become suspicious when I noticed that T and I stopped attending parties thrown by their boss (parties we both loved. T worked at a year-or-so old production company run by recent NYU grads who worked hard and played hard). I remembered how I thought they seemed flirtatious the last time we all got drunk and were in the same room together. The emails between T and M told a story. The first time they hooked up, it was accidental. How do you accidentally get naked and have sex with someone? Well, I just mean that it was spontaneous, and that the physical act was not preceded by an emotional affair—a friendship that is so intimate it can constitute cheating. According to the emails, both were full of remorse and regret. But a couple weeks later, they began to exchange emails frequently. One would send the other an article about a band he liked or a show at the Guggenheim she’d seen over the weekend. It wasn’t long before they made plans to get drinks after work. Her boyfriend was out of town and T told me he was going out late with his best friend from college. I’ve never felt more out of control in my entire life than on the night I found these emails. T had to restrain me because my rage was out of control. I was hysterical.
The period immediately following this was damage control on his end and finding a way to not cry around the clock on mine (naps and boxing classes help). Once I accepted what happened and my emotions reached a level at which I could begin to think about what was to become of me and T, I knew there was no easy answer. This may sound strange, but I forgave T. I believed him when he said he didn’t mean to hurt me. Though I didn’t feel this way initially, I knew T loved me and that his tryst with M was not a reflection of my inadequacy. (Side note: this self-esteem stuff came from therapy. Do yourself some good and get some self-esteem going—therapy not necessarily required—before you enter into a relationship. It’s essential for thinking clearly when we need to evaluate our partnerships.) I was also able to look at my part in what happened. Again, “my part,” which I’ll get to momentarily, did not give T license to do what he did. It’s just important for me to look at what I may have done to contribute to the situation—not someone else’s behavior. I realized two things. One, I had entered into a relationship with someone I knew had cheated—on his ex—with me. Two, though I’d never snooped through T’s stuff before that one fateful evening, I was very paranoid and checked up on him constantly. I’d want to know whom he was with at all times. Even his lunch hour. If he was late coming home from work, I’d ask him if he’d seen his ex-girlfriend. I sent him the message that I didn’t trust him and that he could basically do no right by me (the latter coming from a general bossiness that I’m really trying to work on. No one wants to get close to someone who’s constantly disapproving). And I know, I know—I actually couldn’t trust T! But my denial about T’s character combined with the way I mistakenly thought I would keep us close by browbeating him 24/7…something was gonna blow.
So what happened between me and T? I broke up with him. Not because what he did was unforgivable, but because I need an S.O. who respects me enough to be honest about what he thinks is wrong in our relationship. I need an S.O. who is willing to hurt my feelings by being honest with me rather than saving face and getting his needs met elsewhere. I know that ultimately T did the best he could—it wasn’t personal. And he’s told me many, many times how much he regrets what happened. But I just saw very clearly one day, after a couple months of trying, that I didn’t trust T to tell me what was on his mind. Could he have gotten to that level of communication one day? I hope so. But I just wasn’t willing to wait and see.
Have you forgiven an S.O. who’s cheated? Kicked them to the curb? Please share your story!