pensive simonDear Michael:

I never thought it would happen to me, but here I am, in a relationship with a cheater. I didn’t know he was sleeping with other guys, but I started to notice too many things that were weird and he then started being extra nice to me in a way that made me wonder what the hell was going on.

Anyway, I found out; confronted him and he admitted it. The problem is: what do I do now? Do I forgive him? How can I trust him again? He swears he won’t do it again, but can I believe him?

I’m tempted to leave him but he’s begging me not to. He said he’ll even go to counseling (which is a big step for him). What should I do?

Boyfriend’s a cheater


Dear BAC:

You ask good questions. Cheating can end a relationship or – surprisingly – can make it a lot better. Let me explain:

You wonder: how can you trust him again? For most of us, it takes time; you can’t rush it. He will have to realize this and not pressure you to “get over it”. You don’t say how long you’ve been together, but, if it’s taken you years to build up trust, it may take a while to restore that trust if a whole lot of deception has gone down.

Counseling can help. It’s a good sign that he’s willing to do it, it shows that he doesn’t want to give up on your relationship and that he’s willing to change. What I’ve noticed in counseling couples dealing with infidelity is that if BOTH parties involved want to work it out, they almost always do.

If you and your boyfriend are willing to look at what conditions brought about his cheating, you could both learn a lot about yourselves and each other. In fact, many couples I work with – when cheating is the issue that brings them in to see me – end up CLOSER than they were before. Why? Because they are pushed (by the cheating) to take a good look at their relationship and see the mountains of small resentments that they’ve been avoiding.

In the short run, however, taking about cheating is pretty damned uncomfortable. This is why couples’ counseling can be really helpful: it’s not easy talking about this stuff, and most of us aren’t willing to squirm that much unless we get some professional assistance.

In the short run, it can really suck to hear why your boyfriend cheated on you. But, in the long run, you sure can learn a lot about him and yourself. Maybe you had no idea that he felt neglected or unappreciated. Maybe you took him for granted and just assumed he’d always be there.

Every cheater imagines that they aren’t getting some need(s) met and that they “deserve” to feel loved and desired in the way they want. Your boyfriend may have needs that he’s never told you about. Maybe he wants more of you emotionally. Maybe he felt that your sex life was kinda dead or dull.

I’m not saying this to rationalize his behavior; I am saying that if you are both willing to understand why he did what he did, your relationship can become even stronger as a result.

And what about the old adage: “Once a cheater; always a cheater”? It is my experience as a psychotherapist that any habitual or compulsive behavior can be changed if the person wants to change and is willing to do the work to do so.

Cheating is an alarm clock. It tells you both that something’s off, something’s wrong, something’s missing. Often, we have these nagging little voices that tell us: “pay attention; something’s wrong”, but we don’t want to listen to them so we ignore them.

Until the alarm clock gets bigger and louder and we can’t ignore it anymore.

No one can tell you to stay or go. No one knows your relationship and what the two of you have when no one else is around. So don’t take anyone else’s advice unless it aligns with your own. Only you know if this man is worth working it out for or if you’re better off dumping his ass and moving on.

Cheating is an intense wake-up call. It gives you information that you probably don’t want to hear, but need to. It can be an opportunity to work out all the shit you’ve both been avoiding…or not.

It’s all up to you. You hold all the cards.

Play them wisely.