Question: I broke up with boyfriend of 3 years 7 weeks ago when I found out he had cheated with another woman. He apologized but I was so hurt that I broke up with him. He kept in touch sending me emails and doing all he can do to get me back. He says he understands how much he hurt me and will do anything to make it up to me. My friends say I’m making a mistake thinking of taking him back. That if he really did love me he would never have cheated in the first place. But he is the first and only guy I’ve truly loved and he says the same about me. We talked about marriage and kids and he says he still wants that.
I believe that it is possible to save this relationship but it’s still in my mind that he has cheated before and may cheat again. I drive myself nuts thinking over and over again and occasionally have moments where I think about it and cry. I love him so much that it hurts every day that we’re not together. Do relationships where an ex cheated ever work? Should I give him a chance?
The Love Doctor’s Answer: I’ll start with the easier question. Some relationships do work after one person has cheated and others don’t. Some couples can get past the betrayal and stay together, and others can’t. Each relationship is different, and different people deal with situations differently. Some relationships can even improve if the two people can use the opportunity to grow and for the relationship to mature.
You obviously are still hurting, and that’s quite normal. This is where you need to start. Be emotionally honest with yourself. It doesn’t help you much if you’re in denial about how you truly feel. The denial here is not about whether he cheated or not, or whether the relationship can be saved or not, I think you are very realistic about all these two. The denial is in have you truly forgiven him? Can you bring yourself to trust him again? Can you trust your own judgement in the future? What exactly are the lessons both of you have learned through this and how might you do things differently in the future?
Without clear answers to these questions you’ll always feel terribly insecure and even suspicious of his motives and actions. This alone will make it impossible to save the relationship.
Secondly, once someone cheats that relationship is forever altered. Bringing yourself to accept that things will never be the same between the two of you will make it easier to move past the past. Yes, you’ll still love and care for each other as before — may be even more — but you will not and can not have the old relationship back because that “he cheated on me” will linger indefinitely, in some form or another. My advice to people in your kind of situation is not to work on saving the old relationship but creating a new and better relationship with the same person.
Thirdly, don’t be in a rush to get back together. It’s NOT your fault he cheated but it’s your responsibility to make sure he does not take your love and trust for granted. Let him earn your trust slowly by doing the “right” things – consistently.
Is there any guarantee he won’t do it again? Nothing in life except may be death is 100% guaranteed. But you can reduce the risk by openly and honestly dealing with why the cheating happened in the first place. Even if you get over his cheating and get back together, if you don’t deal with the root cause it’ll show up again in some other form of “relationship problem”.
In short, almost every relationship is savable if both parties are willing to work on it. If you can get past your pain and hurt and want to make it work, I say definitely give it a try. What’s most important is NOT what he wants or what your friends want, but what YOU want and can live with.