Hi Dr. NerdLove!
My boyfriend recently had an affair with a co-worker that lasted for about a year. I’m not sure of the exact details because he won’t be totally honest with me. He’s embarrassed and ashamed, as he should be. I’m hoping that he will eventually provide those details, as I must have transparency in order to even consider moving towards forgiveness. The infidelity was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” I’m struggling severely trying to deal with his infidelity and have I’ve considered leaving the relationship more times than I can count. I feel a pain that I cannot quell. The betrayal has broken my spirit, hardened my heart, and produced insecurities and feelings that I didn’t even know I had. I’ve developed severe anxiety since discovering the affair through text messages on his phone. It’s so bad that I literally feel sick to my stomach on a daily basis. I’m stuck in a cycle of rumination about what happened that I can’t seem to stop or control. Every time he leaves the house, I’m wondering who he’s with and if he’s cheating. Every phone call or text message he gets, I’m wondering who sent the text and/or who’s on the line. I hate my current behavior. This is not me! I hate who I’ve become as a result of his betrayal. In fact, I don’t think I know who I am anymore. The old me would never have even considered being with a man who cheated. I’m violating my own boundaries and it pisses me off. I’m disgusted by his touch right now and I don’t know how I’m going to be able to have sex with him again without some thought about the whore he had sex with repeatedly. Oh and to make matters worse, he cheated without using protection, all done during the height of the pandemic. I’m on the brink of a total mental health break down. Our bond has been broken and I know that it will never be the same.
With all that said, I think that professional help is necessary if we are to move forward and have any chance for the future. We stopped having sex about a year ago, which I think was part of the reason why he cheated. But that doesn’t by any means excuse his behavior. Our communication is one-sided, meaning I do all of the talking. He has a hard time expressing his feelings, probably due to growing up in an abusive household with a cult like atmosphere (Jehovah’s Witness). He’s also a chronic and pathological liar. It’s actually quite amazing. I had no idea that people like him even existed. I would classify him as a total narcissist. He lies about everything big and small. Even when presented with evidence of his guilt, he’ll continue to lie and try to gaslight me. He also has several addictions from soda to cigarettes to porn to gambling. He spent over $2000 just in the last 2 months on gambling, which just adds more stress to the relationship. The ONLY reason why I’ve stayed up to this point is because of some lingering, maybe foolish sense of hope. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very skeptical about the ability to salvage this relationship, but I’m willing to try begrudgingly and with caution. Through everything, I really do love this man. I’ve invested almost 4 years into this relationship and at the end of the day, he’s my best friend. I guess what I’m really asking you is should I put any more energy into making this relationship work? I’m beyond tired. Exhausted in every way. I’m overweight. I put on 50 pounds over the last 2 years due to prolonged and continuous stress and I’m more depressed than I’ve ever been in my entire life. We are scheduled to start couples therapy within the month and we both have regular, individual therapy sessions for personal development as well.
Dr. NerdLove, should I even go through with the couples therapy? Or is this relationship already at the point of no return? Please help!
—– Totally Depleted
This is interesting, TD, because you’ve written the inverse of what I call the Big Ol’ But letter. These are a type of letter that advice columnists get fairly regularly, where someone talks about how great their relationship is and how amazing their partner is… and then somebody puts in a call to 1-900-Mix-A-Lott because there’s a BIG OL’ BUT coming that completely invalidates all of the good things that the letter-writer listed.
Yours is the opposite, TD. You’ve talked about how awful you feel, how betrayed and hurt you are and how much your relationship has suffered… BUT you want to know if you should try to save this relationship. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, I think my question for you is: Why?
To be sure: I’m firmly on the record that not all affairs are equal and that affairs aren’t the worst thing that could happen to a relationship. Nor, for that matter, do I think that they’re inherently unforgivable or an instant Relationship Extinction Level Event. I think that there are many times that a relationship can be pulled back from the brink after an affair and even come out stronger on the other side, if everyone is willing to work at it.
This… is not one of those times.
Straight talk, TD: you’ve given me a laundry list of reasons why your dude sucks. He’s bad at communicating, he’s a pathological liar and you two haven’t had sex in over a year. You’ve got very different beliefs and relationships to porn, gambling and smoking and he’s put your health at via this affair. Remind me, again, why you want to work on this with him? I mean, for reasons besides having been with him for four years, that is. Because if literally the only thing that’s making you consider sticking around and working on this is the amount of time you’ve already invested… well, that’s a mistake. That’s what’s known as The Sunk Cost Fallacy, where you’re sticking with a poor choice because you don’t want the time and energy you’ve invested to go to waste. There’s a point where you’re never going to actually recoup your initial investment (as it were) or pull out a win, and I suspect you’re well past that point.
Now, let’s say for a moment, that there are aspects of this relationship that would make it worth saving. Half of healing after an affair requires that the person who cheated not only demonstrate remorse and understanding about why they did what they did, it also requires that they demonstrate a willingness to make things right. They can’t undo the hurt they’ve caused, but they can work to mend it and — importantly — work to rebuild and re-earn their partner’s trust. This can take time… a lot of time. Trust isn’t something that’s rebuilt all at once. When someone has betrayed your trust in a significant way, you don’t just slap some spackle and filler on there and you’ve got all the trust that you had at the beginning. It’s rebuilt and re-earned piece by piece, day by day.
The other half requires that the person who’d been cheated on be able and willing to forgive and allow them to re-earn that trust. And to be clear, forgiveness doesn’t mean that they’re no longer hurt, nor does it mean that things have been forgotten and shoved down the memory hole; it means that the person who’s been hurt is willing and able to move forward and work with their partner so that they can try to heal in ways that actually help. It doesn’t do any good, after all, to try to work towards healing if the way folks are going about it aren’t meaningful to the folks involved. If I were to tell you both that the way you can heal is for him to stand on his head for three hours and recite the Ramayana… well, maybe that’s worked for someone, but it ain’t gonna do any good for you. So a big question would be “what could your partner do that would help make things right for you?”
But before you can get to that point, you have to answer a bigger, more important question: is it even possible for you to forgive him? Are you willing or able to heal and move forward with him?
This isn’t an idle question. I’ve seen couples where one person cheated and the cheater sincerely regretted their actions and tried to fix things. However, their partner, despite supposedly forgiving them, never let the affair go; it was the first thing to get hurled around during disagreements or moments of frustration. Despite going through the motions of “making it work”, all that happened was that two people got locked in a cycle of hurt; one because they’d been betrayed, and the other because their partner would wield that past betrayal like a weapon from that point onward. It would’ve been far, far better for them to just break up than to put in all that effort, just to end up more miserable than before.
This is why it’s important for you to ask yourself if this is something you want to fix in the first place, or even if you think it can be fixed. It doesn’t do any good if he’s trying to fix things in good faith when you know that you can’t or won’t forgive him. If this is a pain that you can never get past, or if this is a betrayal that will always taint everything he does. Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean that your pain isn’t valid, that you shouldn’t be feeling it or that you’re in any way, shape or form obligated to forgive him. It’s a question of if you want to forgive or if you’re even able to. If you aren’t, then it’s far better to end things cleanly and decisively.
And if I’m being honest, I think “drop him like fifth period French” is the way to go. Leaving aside the fact that you haven’t had sex in over a year and how hurt and angry you are, you paint a picture of a guy who’s pretty damn awful. With all the negative things you’ve said, the way you’ve felt and the stress that this has put you under… well, I’m kind of scratching my head as to why you would rate this guy as your best friend or a relationship worth saving. If anything, it sounds to me like you’re asking for permission to break up with him, rather than try to salvage what seems unsalvageable.
Well, not that you need it but hey: permission granted. It sounds to me like this relationship is already over. At this point, getting clear of this guy is going to do far more for you and your emotional health than any amount of couples therapy would be worth. Maybe — maybe — couple’s therapy would be worth it in order to help facilitate the end of the relationship in a smooth and orderly fashion. That might be helpful, if only to help mitigate the stress and pain of a break-up. But trying to fix things? Nah.
This is a classic “GTFO” situation. Forget couple’s counseling and focus on processing and working through your pain with your therapist and work towards healing and alleviating your stress and anxiety. Kick him to the curb with the rest of the garbage, have a long, theraputic scream, followed by support and love from your friends and let this relationship recede in the rearview window. This was your past. Now it’s time to look to build a new, brighter future for yourself.
And while I know you’re hurt and (understandably) angry, at the end of the day, the best revenge is letting the ones that hurt you fade into irrelevancy. Move on and don’t waste any more of your mental and emotional bandwidth on this dude. You deserve better than that.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I know this is for dating problems, but I’m sure you’ll be able to help.
I’ve has a huge crush on this actress, let’s call her Amanda for privacy reasons. I’ve has the crush since March, so, like, 9 months. I can’t stop thinking about her. I keep having overly sexual dreams about her, and I see her face everywhere.
There isn’t an age difference at all (we’re both 15, just a month and a week apart).
Help me, Dr NerdLove, you’re my only hope
– Get Out of My Dreams
This one’s easy, GOMD: just relax.
I know that sounds dismissive, but I’m serious. This isn’t that big of a deal. You’re 15 years old and you have a crush. Everything — and I mean everything — seems larger and more momentous when you’re 15. You’re on the cusp of being considered an adult, but you’re still very much a pup. Your hormones are surging like crazy, your brain’s in overdrive and it feels like the world is nothing but pure roiling chaos. Everything, even crushes, are intense as hell when you’re in the middle of this.
But the good news is that it passes. Even crushes that feel borderline obsessive will fade, if given the chance. You just have to make sure to give it that chance.
The reason why this is lingering for so long is that you’re letting your crush on Amanda live rent free in your head. You’re letting your feelings about your crush — not about Amanda, but about your crush on her — occupy so much of your brainspace that it can’t fade. Crushes are like a fire; they only last and grow if you feed them fuel. Cut off the fuel supply and the fire goes out. In the case of a crush, constantly thinking about it — both the person you have a crush on, but also the meta-thinking about the crush itself — feeds the fire. It doesn’t matter if you’re fantasizing about dating her or banging her, or if you’re trying to force those feelings away: you’re still devoting bandwidth to it.
If, on the other hand, you just let things be, you’ll find that the crush will fade. Letting it be doesn’t mean that you don’t feel it or you don’t think about her or your feelings. It just means that you don’t dwell on them. You note and name those thoughts and feelings — oh, hey, it’s my crush on Amanda — and then just let your thoughts move onto other things on their own. You don’t need to force it; just note the feeling, name it, then gently redirect your thoughts elsewhere. This drains the crush of all that energy you’ve put into it and it becomes just another random thought or feeling over the course of the day. Then, before you realize it… it’ll have been days, or even weeks and you won’t have thought of Amanda even once. The crush will have faded and your thoughts will have turned elsewhere.
So note those feelings, name them, let them flow through you and just gently redirect your mind elsewhere. Yes, it feels intense as hell, but I promise: this too, shall pass.