The thought of cheating was completely baffling to me when I was younger.
Stories would reach my ears of men and women that would stay with their unfaithful partners and I secretly considered them weak and pathetic. The very idea of staying with someone who cheated seemed so absolutely insane to me that I swore up and down that I would never end up in that situation.
Many years later I was in a serious relationship, about to get engaged when my boyfriend abruptly cheated on me. My perceptions of infidelity were shattered as I realized that leaving wasn’t as easy an option as it once seemed. I loved my boyfriend deeply and didn’t want to throw away our life together.
If I could go back in time with more knowledge of relationships, these are the specific questions I would have asked him to find out if we had a chance of saving our relationship.
Are you willing to work on this relationship?
James and Diane were an older couple that I was friends with right out of college. They had been married for over a decade and seemed relatively happy which is why the news of their divorce was quite a shock. Months later I ran into James at a party and he explained what had happened. He said that Diane had been coming home late for months and James finally asked the question that was constantly at the back of his mind.
“Have you been cheating on me?”
The answer was yes, and James immediately began doing everything to make the relationship work. Even though Diane was the one who cheated, James acted as if he was the one who had done something wrong.
He planned dates, couples therapy, and everything he could think of to bring back the spark. Even after all of his effort, Diane left him for the man she had cheated on him with in the first place.
There is a question that James could have asked that would have provided clarity for both of them. He could have asked Diane if she actually wanted to make things work to save them both time and heartache.
When you cheated did you feel any remorse or guilt?
Over a decade ago I witnessed the demise of my parent’s thirty-year long marriage.
The beginning of the end was when my father found some emails my mother had been exchanging with her secret lover. When he confronted her she was quiet and subdued. My father begged her not to leave him and was determined to make things work. However, anger began to build inside of him until he went into a rage and he asked my mother if she felt guilty at all.
Unfortunately, I was witness to this exchange and I still remember the look on my mother’s face. There was no remnant of remorse whatsoever, she simply looked smug.
I wish my father would have asked if she even cared that she had cheated in the first place instead of immediately trying to make things work with someone who felt complete indifference about the relationship.
Why did you decide to cheat on me?
Melody was absolutely beautiful. She was a waitress at the restaurant where my boyfriend bartended and constantly tried to flirt with him even when I was present. Before he even told me the full story I knew that she was the person that he had slept with.
My boyfriend told me immediately after it happened. He said that he couldn’t bear to hide it from me because I was his best friend. He claimed that he didn’t have feelings for her.
What’s interesting is that earlier in our relationship my boyfriend had mentioned that he had cheated on all of his previous girlfriends and it felt like self-sabotage.
I never asked my boyfriend why he had cheated. It truly was a one-time occurrence and Melody quit shortly after their night together and we proceeded to try to make things work.
But if I could go back… I would have dug deeper. Because I truly believe there is a deeper reason that my boyfriend cheated and ultimately it had nothing to do with me and asking the why behind his actions may have unearthed something he needed to know about himself.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this story, the majority of couples continue to stay in their relationship after infidelity. In fact, I was shocked to learn that around 70% of couples stay together after their partner cheats on them.
After my boyfriend cheated he was willing to work on our relationship and I saw how absolutely devastated he was that he had been unfaithful. It was nearly impossible to be mad at him because I saw that he truly hated what he had done. We ended up breaking up but there was love between us for a very long time, and we are still civil with each other, almost a decade later.
The entire experience taught me a lot about my preconceived notions around being unfaithful. When I was younger I associated cheating with screaming fights and slamming doors.
Now I associate infidelity as something that can be worked through and even make a relationship stronger. It will just take willingness from both parties to start rebuilding the trust and asking the right questions to ensure that the relationship is truly worth saving.