Ask a Dude: Does Almost Cheating Count?
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a little over a year and a half. Four years ago he had a friend that he fooled around with but they never dated (he wanted to, she didn’t). From what he has told me about the situation, it seems like she was emotionally toying with him (hooking up with other guys and whatnot) but they were still friends till she transfered to another school end of freshman year.
I found out that a month or so in when we started dating that she was visiting the area and he went to have lunch with her. He told me this and all was okay. Last May (about a year after this lunch date) I unfortunately came across an IM exchange they had (my boyfriend was drunk) and through it found out that they were playing around with the idea of hooking up but ended up not because they were both in relationships. After that IM exchange, which was timestamped a few days after they went to lunch, I saw that between then and the date that I found it, they had spoken once or twice–neither time which she replied back.
I confronted him and told him what I read. Although he was angry, he fessed up to it all and reinforced that nothing physical happened (except a peck when they left). He said he needed that for closure, and since then our relationship has blossomed into something I enjoy. Which is where it gets me–our relationship is great. I trust that he has let go of her but I still have these bouts of anxiety where I remember the time that he emotionally cheated on me, and how betrayed I felt.
Anyway, after that long rant I just want to know how I can ease my worries. We have grown together a lot, and we are open with each other, but I can’t help but think how she may still be in the back of his mind or how another lunch date may occur without me knowing, or how he still may have feelings for her. Would it be too much to ask for him to not speak to her anymore just to be sure?
Dear Feeling Worried,
You must forgive. You will never forget.
That, in a peanut shell, is the pickle.
Emotional cheating can be as devastating to some as physical cheating. I know about a couple that had been married for several years but the wife began a cyber-relationship with another man for two years and never told her husband about it. He was devastated. Why? What was missing? What couldn’t he provide her that she needed to find somewhere else? How could he ever trust her again?
Well, in fact, trust CAN be rebuilt. However, after consulting with a prominent psychologist, I’ve discovered that it can take roughly two to two and a half years before one partner can put it out of her mind for any length of time. You’ll never be able to forget. Nor should you, necessarily. However, you’ve got to be able to forgive and put this to the side. Otherwise, you’re putting your relationship on a doomsday clock. Can you hear the ticking?
It’s been over a year since he committed his emotional infidelity. That’s a long enough time to observe his behavior and make the determination: has he strayed since? If you believe he’s been open about any and everything in his life since then, then that’s the behavior you have to base giving your trust on. You’ve suffered a trauma. The fear of being re-traumatized can be worse than the fear of losing the person you care about. If he’s proven over the last year that he’s been completely faithful, if he’s put forth that effort, then you either have to move this aside or head for the hills.
If you don’t act based on his behavior then your doubts are going to ruin your relationship.
The bitch of living is that you’ll never be able to control another person’s actions. What he does, what he thinks, and how he acts are all his decisions to make. Yes, they affect you. Yes, they can hurt you. Yes, they can help you. No, they’re not under your domain. No, they’re not going to be based on what you want them to be at all time. No, you can’t dictate what actions he takes. If you make demands about what he can or can’t do, then you’re telling him you don’t trust him. Distrust is poison. You’ll breed resentment. You’ll inspire distrust in him. You’ll effectively end any chance of being happy for the long-term. You can’t forget, but you can forgive.
Forgiving isn’t easy. If it was, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been healed long ago. Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t have killed themselves. The Hatfields and the McCoys would have spent New Year’s Eve 1888 drinking champagne instead of hacking each other to pieces. Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort would have founded a scholarship at Hogwarts for orphans.
Forgiveness begins with a decision to move forward. You have to accept that you have occasional doubts. Don’t judge them and don’t judge him based on them. The first step to controlling what thoughts you let in is in controlling what you do with the ones that are already there. Just accept them. Then move them aside. It sounds easier than it is. Because you’ll have to keep doing this over and over again until one day, you’ll really put the past out of mind. Forgiveness takes work. He has to work at earning a second chance and you have to work at giving him one. Unless you don’t think your relationship’s worth the effort. That decision is yours, and yours alone.
(In Walter Cronkite’s voice) And that’s the way it is,
[Isn't he wise? Don't you wish you could get more? You can! Check out The Dude's other insights into the male mind right here.]