Should you dump your partner for cheating?
An age-old question. If someone cheats on you, should you cut your losses and get out, or work to repair the relationship?
There’s no one answer, but as I note in a letter to my advice column in the Washington Blade (below), I advise you to get some understanding about why your partner cheated. Although it’s not your responsibility that he/she cheated, please remember that a relationship is a system. Meaning, both people influence the quality of a relationship. So, both people can play a role in (re)constructing a better relationship in which it is less likely that infidelity will occur.
Like the guy who recently wrote you, I found out last month that my boyfriend Chris was regularly hooking up on Grindr.
My best friend is urging me to dump Chris. He says, “once a cheater, always a cheater,” and I think he’s probably right. If Chris broke our agreement to be monogamous and lied to me, how can I know he won’t start cheating again?
I was puzzled that you didn’t tell the other guy to definitely dump his boyfriend for cheating. Isn’t there some clear line beyond which certain behaviors are just not forgivable? Don’t people in relationships owe it to each other not to be mean or hurtful?
Aside from this huge disaster, we’ve had a good relationship. Although considering what I’ve learned, I wonder how much of it was real. Chris is saying that having his cheating come out into the open is making him look at his behavior and want to change. I wonder if this is possible.
I’m trying to figure out what to do and I’d appreciate your thoughts.
My first suggestion is that you not make the decision to stay or go impulsively. Crises like this give couples an opportunity to clarify what’s important to them, and how they want to respond when difficulties arise.
If you leave Chris because of his infidelity, would you be acting out of anger, to hurt him because he hurt you? The desire to retaliate is understandable. But if your goal is to have a caring long-term relationship, you need to develop the skills to resist that urge even when you’re badly wounded. Otherwise, you are likely to end up in a cycle of hurting each other because you’ve been hurt.
You could view this situation as an opportunity to become stronger. To learn how to soothe yourself under pressure, manage your reactivity, and thoughtfully respond to your partner in a way that sets high standards for yourself. Of course, these are important skills to develop whether or not you decide to stay with Chris.
People have affairs and outside sex for all sorts of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with their partners, and some of which do. Leaving Chris before talking about what led to his stepping out would prevent you from fully understanding and possibly working through what happened. Do you know if Chris was looking for affirmation? Feeling bad about himself? Depressed? Curious about other guys? Horny? Simply not interested in a monogamous relationship even if he had agreed to it once-upon-a-time?
Was your relationship or sex life stagnant? If so, how is Chris at bringing up and talking about difficult topics, and how are you at hearing them? And vice-versa?
If you decide to stay with Chris, also consider your reasons carefully. Are you afraid to be alone? Do you have good reason to believe Chris’s commitment to a monogamous relationship going forward? Might you be choosing to keep your eyes closed rather than see some hurtful truth about your boyfriend and the relationship you’ve had?
To Chris: What’s been driving your ongoing hookups? If you gave them up, how would you manage? Do you really want to commit to monogamy, or are you giving this lip service to placate your boyfriend?
You have important tasks here: To understand why you have been stepping out; to determine where you really stand on the monogamy issue; and to develop the skill of being forthright, a man who means what he says. You also have the chance to learn how to hold yourself accountable and to make amends to someone you have wounded. Don’t squander this moment by simply saying what’s expedient.
Many of us fantasize that our relationship will be a place where we always cherish our partners and are always cherished by them. But reality is far more challenging and far more interesting.
Most of us go into relationships without really knowing what we’re doing. We often will let our partners down, sometimes in big ways, and we’ll inevitably make mistakes. We all struggle with our own imperfections and those of our partners.
In this ongoing process, we might decide that we don’t want to deal with the particular imperfections of the person we’re with. If we choose to stay, we get the opportunity to learn how to make a whole-hearted loving commitment to a partner who isn’t going to give us everything we would like. This is the choice that you two now have to make.