Ask Dr. NerdLove: I Cheated And My Husband Might Never Forgive Me

Hello, all you wheel-eyed death lemmings. Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that's the king of the luchadore ring.

This week, I bring you tales of struggle. It's hard enough to recover from a mistake in your relationship, but what if your partner refuses to let it go? On the other hand, what happens when you get bored by every relationship you start?

As a bonus, previous letter writer No Win Situation, he of the bi-curious girlfriend, is back to let us know what's happened since we last heard from him.

Let's do this thing.

Hey Doc,

Long time reader, first time desperate emailer.

In the third year of my marriage to my husband, I slept with his best friend. It wasn't emotional. It happened once and was a culmination of several factors (finding my worth through the male gaze, thinking that I needed to test his love for me by hurting them, several other small reasons that don't really matter in the end). I told my husband a day or two later. We stopped communicating with his friend but my husband stayed with me.

Fast forward to present day- we're on our 13th year of marriage, have a 7 year old son, and a nice, comfortable, loving life together. I can say without hesitation that we are BOTH very happy with each other.

Recently I've been trying to lose weight but keep emotionally self-blocking/sabotaging my efforts. While talking with a friend to work out the whys I hit upon the fact that I was afraid that if I lost weight and started feeling good about myself I would be tempted to cheat again. I also realised that as the circumstances that led to the cheating are changed (and, more importantly, I myself have as well) I could confidently say that it wouldn't ever happen again no matter the circumstances. It was a revelation to me that I was not the same person I was back then and in my excitement at my insight I told him all this. We tell each other everything so it seemed like the most natural thing.

He accepted this information with a sort of... angry amusement. He told me that A) every year in the 'anniversary month' of my cheating he becomes very angry with me and, looking back, I remember Octobers being a tough month for us but never really registering that it's a yearly occurrence. I did know that in our worst fights I could see the unspoken anger at my betrayal in his eyes which he also confirmed. B) He says that he still hates his former friend with a depth of anger and force that is rare for my sweet, goofy husband. I pointed out that I, as his wife who made a vow to him, am the worse of the two and that it seemed unfair to hate a friend for sleeping with his wife and not hate the wife. He agreed that it was strange but simply said that's how he felt.

I feel like, given his reaction, he hasn't moved on. I understand we can't go back to how it was before but at the same time, I'd like to do what I can to lessen his hurt. I'd thought time would help at least a little with that, but apparently I was wrong. Is there anything I can do to help him or should I just leave it alone?

Thanks, 13 Years

Cheating is an emotionally fraught issue, 13 Years. It's the sort of thing that can hit people straight in their insecurities. There's nothing like finding out that your partner betrayed you to kick your soul square in the nuts.

The reason for that pain can vary greatly, depending on the person. For some it's jealousy and fear, the worry that someone could take away this person who they love and care for and have invested themselves in. For others, it's a primal "somebody touched my stuff" feeling that they may not be proud of. For others, it's a fear that it means that they aren't good enough; that they had somehow caused this infidelity by not measuring up to their partner's expectations or needs. Or it could well be a feeling of loss of identity — their place in a couple being threatened because their partner isn't the person they thought they were in a relationship with. Add in the simple pain of being lied to and you have a volatile mix.

While many affairs are relationship extinction-level events, not all of them have to be. After all, not all affairs are equal; serial cheating is very different from a one-time slip-up. In your case, it was the latter: a perfect storm of insecurities, mistaken ideas about love and a friend who should have well known better but did it anyway.

So you confessed, you've done your penance and you've gone out of your way to earn back your husband's trust and repair the rift you caused. But based on your letter, I'm wondering how much things are actually healed.

The tricky thing about fixing a relationship after cheating or being cheated on is that it takes both parties to work in good faith toward healing. The cheater has to make their amends and earn back their partner's trust. The person who'd been cheated on needs to be willing to forgive and let their partner earn that faith back. You've presumably done your part… but it sounds like your husband hasn't. And that's going to be a huge problem for the both of you.

It's perfectly understandable that your husband was hurt and angry; you injured him pretty badly with what you did. That's the sort of thing that's going to leave some deep emotional wounds. But it sounds like he's never actually let the wound close. Every October, he starts picking at the scab and keeping that pain fresh. He's been hoarding his resentment of your actions like a passive-aggressive squirrel collecting hate-nuts for winter, and he's unleashing it at you every year.

That ain't good. That sure as fuck isn't healthy, for him or for your relationship. To quote a wise man, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering. He may be your sweet and goofy husband most of the time, but unleashing on you every October and nurturing his hatred of someone for ten years is really troubling. That's a ticking time bomb that's been planted dead-bang in the middle of your life together and there's no telling when that's going to go off.

I get that his friend's betrayal is galling. I can completely relate. To get personal for a second, my first serious girlfriend cheated on me with a close friend of mine. For months, even a year, I was angry enough to fuel a dozen Zynic albums and wouldn't spare the fluid to piss on the guy if he were on fire. Two years down the line however, he was a non-entity to me. I didn't hate him any more. I didn't even think of him. He was just gone.

Your husband, on the other hand, is keeping that pain close, and that's not healthy. Picking fights every October is him continuing to punish you for shit that happened a decade ago. Hanging on to hatred for someone who's no longer in his life for that long is mind-fuckingly masochistic. There's no good reason for any of it except to keep stroking one's rage-boner.

If he's taking your realisation that you're not the person you were ten. FUCKING. YEARS ago as something that's just going to stoke the fire out of coals he won't let go out? I hope he has the emotional intelligence to realise that isn't healthy.

If you want to help him, then you two need to start talking to a marriage counselor. Someone who can help you two talk things through and give your husband the tools he needs to start letting go of his anger. And if he won't do that, then you two need to have a conversation about why he won't let go.

Good luck, 13Y. And write back to let us know how you're doing.

Hey Doc,

I'm hoping you can help me understand something about myself that I have been having a hard time wrapping my brain around: I can't seem to maintain my own level interest in dating anyone, despite how much I feel the drive to pursue them.

My adult dating history has been on an escalating scale of difficulty over the past decade, with each relationship getting more and more serious, and ending worse each time. Most recently (about 2 years ago now), I got married after only a short time (talking months of being together here) and we agreed to divorce after about a year when we realised how foolish the decision had been. Before that, I lived with a woman for 4 years until we simply lost interest in one another.

What I'm finding now is that not long into dating and talking to a woman, I seem to find myself overcome with total apathy toward the idea of pursuing her and it starts to feel like way more trouble and energy than I'm willing to give, and I just break off communication. Mind you, I do not ghost, but often times I just drop the "I'm really not feeling this, I'm happy to stay friends if you want," type of thing. It's also important to note I am not sleeping with anyone by this stage. A few dates and late night calls into the thing, I just wake up and feel like I have lost interest completely. In the past year and a half or so since the divorce, this has been the case for me on at least 4 different occasions.

The stupid part is that to me, I feel there is a fairly obvious explanation: that I clearly need space and haven't given myself much time to breathe/recover/live since the past couple of relationships on my record. I have been told as much by my friends, and I would agree. I just started a new job and am about to move into a new place, and part of me feels like these things will help in the long run, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

But my question is this: Why the hell can't I strike the right balance of drives here? I am clearly not trying to do enough to keep things going, even when I think a woman is funny, intelligent, gorgeous, a good person, and/or awesome to spend time with. And yet I keep putting myself in a position where I end up going out with and talking to a woman romantically only to shoot her down because of my own crossed wiring or some bullshit. I feel like I'm repeatedly contradicting myself and confusing/hurting women who don't deserve it in the process.

It's more confusing because my whole life I've always given my all to my relationships, and done everything I could to be 1000% committed to the love and passion that goes into being in love. Now it feels like I have absolutely no energy or desire to to any of that shit, but still find myself filled with the desire to be with someone else, and not just sexually.

What the hell is my problem? Perhaps I'm just looking at this wrong, but it feels like I have love to give, no will to give it, and can't make up my mind as to which feeling to listen to.

Please help me make sense of myself, because I seriously don't understand what I'm doing.

Sincerely, Acting A Fuckboy

There're a couple of things I suspect are going on here, and they all twine together like horny snakes.

The first is that you sound a bit exhausted. A divorce can put you through the emotional ringer and not leave much in the tank for romance. If you're still processing things, it may take you a bit to heal enough to have the energy and interest to give to someone new.

Which leads to the second possibility: I wonder if you're not sabotaging yourself. You've had some bad experiences and a divorce in your recent past, and thsoe things can do a number on your psyche and your self-worth. Going by the way you're describing things, you sound like you're pretty down on yourself for having "let" these relationships go bad.

Sometimes, when we absorb a lot of self-blame, we subconsciously punish ourselves for our perceived sins. If you've put yourself in a place where you don't believe that you deserve to be happy, there could very well be a part of you that's not letting you get excited about the women you're meeting. It's that jerk-brain part of you that's saying, "Yeah, she's great isn't she? TOO BAD YOU'LL JUST FUCK THIS ONE UP LIKE YOU RUIN EVERYTHING ELSE," and shutting off the interest, just as you were starting to think that there might be some potential.

The third possibility — and one that frequently ties into the other issues — is that you might be picking the wrong women in the first place. It's entirely possible that you're pursuing women you think you "should" be into, even though in reality, the two of you simply aren't compatible.

Sometimes we get it in our heads that we think we want a particular type — a party girl, a girl-next-door, the outdoors-y type, a Geek Girl — because… well, that's who we're supposed to want. They may be the type our friends go for or would approve of. They may resemble our exes and we're just repeating old patterns. Or they may be someone we think we want because we see them as making up for some perceived lack in our own life or personality.

While they may be perfectly lovely people in and of themselves, they just don't have that X-factor that stirs your heart and loins and trying to maintain the level of excitement we think we should have is exhausting when it's just not there. So there comes a point where you just are tired of trying to prop up that feeling of "I should be crazy for this person!" when in reality there's nothing there.

This could very easily go hand-in-hand with the idea that you don't "deserve" to be happy. Your psyche points you towards women you know on some level aren't right for you because you know it will never work. You go on a couple dates and you hit that same level of apathy; wash, rinse, repeat with an ever-shrinking dating pool and a vague emptiness in your soul.

Fortunately, all of these have the same basic treatment. Right now, the best thing you can do is to take a step back from dating for a bit and get centered. Like you said, you haven't had a lot of time to breathe and process. If you want to heal, you should indulge in the most effective self-care known to man: getting your shit together. Get settled in your new job. Get into your new place. Build yourself a new life and let your soul recover. Spend time with your friends, catch some movies, hit the gym and do the things that just make you feel good about yourself. Give yourself a little rebuilding time — and I mean months, not weeks — and then examine how you feel about things.

That's when you look at what all these women have in common. What drew you to them in the first place, and what it was that ultimately turned you off in the end. Maybe you just needed a break. Maybe you needed to pursue someone who wasn't your "type", but has that little thing that stokes your fires if you'd give it a chance.

But for now, just take a break and get your feet back under you. Love and sex will be waiting for you when you're ready to get back in the game.

Good luck.

Hi,

A while ago I asked for advice regarding my recently bi girlfriend, and her wanting to have sex with another woman. Just wanted to let you know how things went!

In short, fucking awesome. To be honest, not much changed. We didn't do a threesome, per your advice, which I think was incredibly wise. We also didn't go the polyamory route. I read the resources you recommended and quite a few others and we discussed it, but ultimately she decided on her own that her reasons for wanting to be with another girl weren't the right ones for her to actually pursue it.

In talking with some of our bi friends, she decided that for her, sex with another woman was a validation of her bi-ness, because she felt she couldn't truly be bi if she hadn't been with another woman. The trick here is she didn't really want to be with someone else, she wanted to prove to herself that she is bi (her words not mine). With the help of some wonderful friends and great YouTube videos she has become significantly more comfortable in being bi.

Overall it's a been a wonderful learning experience for me too, as we (society) don't talk much about what it's like being bi, but I think it's an important discussion to have.

I think we are more comfortable with each other now than we ever have been, and I know she feels way better now that she doesn't feel like she has to hide anything. We decided to stick with monogamy because it works for us, and I'm just really happy to see her so much more comfortable with herself.

Thanks for the help Doc!

No Longer In A No Win Situation

P.S. it's really fun gossiping about girls with your girlfriend, apparently?

Glad to hear it worked out for you two, man. Here's to more happy times together for the two of you!

Did your relationship survive an infidelity? Did you have to take a break from dating after a bad break-up? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. And meanwhile, we'll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.

Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku's bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you'd like answered? Write [email protected] and put "Kotaku" in the subject line.

Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek's Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.


Comments

    (finding my worth through the male gaze, thinking that I needed to test his love for me by hurting them, several other small reasons that don't really matter in the end)

    Stopped reading after that, what a load of... ugh. What a load of trite, worthless, self serving crap. If this is for real, how utterly selfish, seriously, hope he gets out and never looks back and I say this from goddamn experience on his side of things.

    Last edited 27/02/17 12:11 pm

      It is frustrating, but if you read on they do have a loving relationship and she claims she's not the same person she was. Cheating is shit, there's never a good excuse, but people can change.

        I dont believe that. Once someone cheats they can always do it again. The first time is always the hardest. Soldiers and serial killers say the same thing about killing someone. Only the first is hard.

          That's simply not true. If you cheated on your wife once you wouldn't go on a cheating rampage. It's not the Dark Side of the Force. People grow and change. Each relationship is different. None of us are who we were 20 years ago. Nobody figures out who they are instantly.
          When I was young I was in a relationship with someone I didn't really care about (at least romantically). I wouldn't have cheated on her but now I've grown up I think being with someone you don't care about is on par with cheating. I wasn't doing it to hurt her, it was just me being young and new to processing these sorts of emotions.

          Last edited 27/02/17 3:16 pm

            "That's simply not true"

            Actually it is. Think of any challenging or difficult thing like bungee jumping, or diving with sharks etc. The first time you do it's tough. But once you have done it, you know the next time is not so hard. In my 35 years I have known a lot of men and women that have cheated. And while they may not have done it again for awhile, or even on the same person, they have done it again.
            Using young as an excuse is rather crap to be honest. Oh I was young and didnt know better, pfft.

            Should also add for some of us cheating has never been nor would it ever be an option. I dont care the circumstances. Would never in a million years do it. For others.. well, yeah.

            Last edited 27/02/17 4:46 pm

              So if I go bungee jumping I'm going to enjoy it and be unable to resist eventually going again? You make it sound like everyone wants to cheat and only remains faithful because they're afraid to break the rules.
              Plenty of times cheating has come out as a result of someone feeling guilty and being sick of the lies. I mean in this case she told him after one or two days. That's getting harder not easier.

              If my girlfriend cheated on me that would end the relationship on the spot, but I'm not going to stand around judging people who recognise and regret their mistake. Indiscriminately holding it over people is a horrible thing to do. Zero tolerance is an absurd approach to pretty much any situation.

      Yep. Hell, if I was Dr NerdLove my response to this whole entry would have basically been "don't fucking cheat" and left it at that.

      EDIT: okay, so on the one hand - the husband should either choose to forgive her, or get divorced. Holding on to it and picking fights again every year is shitty. If you still feel that way, end the relationship.

      On the other hand, my advice to the wife is still the same - don't fucking cheat.

      Last edited 27/02/17 12:37 pm

      Couldn't agree more.
      Her husband should have walked the f away from her at that point.

      Yeah, have to agree. Unforgivable in my eyes, also talking from experience.

      as someone who has been through a lot of traumatic childhood experiences, i can actually relate to the mindset and the reasoning behind it. as it comes from a very deep place of self loathing which is horrible. BUT! i will also say that in the end it still all comes down to a choice despite whatever emotions a person is feeling. its about being reactive or creative depending on how you 'c' it. lame quote, but makes sense.

      and i agree, he should probably move on. the only thing is, depending on how much he loves and cares for her, it would be up to him whether he wants to support her through professional help. but yeah. thats one messy AF situation.

      Stopped reading after that
      hope he gets out and never looks back

      Too late, wife cheated on their third year of marriage, which was ten years ago. They're still together and she's still a potential cheater to this day.

        Oh yeah went back and read it all, don't wanna be half informed after all. It irritated me, he made the mistake of staying there that's for sure. It's not healthy to stay in that sort of thing where trust is destroyed.

      She acknowledges it was her fault and a bad time for her. But is was a decade ago and her husband made the choice to stay with her after that happened. As the doc says holding on to hate and pain for over a decade is not healthy

        It's definitely not healthy, it wasn't a wise decision to stay, but ultimately that too, is partially her fault as without her actions, this wouldn't even be a factor. Her actions have had long running consequences on even his emotional and mental health.

          I seem to be a minority in this article but I feel that a relationship can survive cheating and still be fulfilling. People make mistakes and if they learn from them it can stop happening again.
          She screwed up but I am on her side in this situation. If you choose to remain after your partner cheated, and he did choose, then you need to work together to overcome that, not hold on to the resentment.
          Hell they had a kid 3 years after the cheating, which is sure as hell not something you should be doing if you still have that much hate and resentment.
          If you thought it was such a grievous act that you need to be bitter for over a decade then you should have left.
          If you think the relationship is strong enough to bring a child into the world then you need to let it go

            I'm with you, Tigs. I have many thoughts, but I don't have the mental energy to write them all down.

            Im on the same trail of thought. Since he chose to stay, he needs to let go of it. If the damage was that severe, he had the option to walk out a long time ago.

            Cheating is a different beast for everyone. On a personal note, cheating for me is the ultimate betrayal in trust. If that kind of trust is broken, I dont think there is anything anyone could do to make me stay.

            It would forever be engraved in the back of my mind; how long till it happens again?

            You have a point, but this guy might be genuinely conflicted about it and still not have been able to work his way through what happened. Also they have a kid - that changes the dynamics of deciding to up and leave. We don't know under what circumstances they had the kid - it might not have been planned.

            I think the issue people have is that the woman who wrote in seemed to try to justify her infidelity with a load of self-serving nonsense to make herself appear sympathetic, while Dr Nerdlove just about vilified her partner. As Weresmurf said this came about entirely due to her selfish actions. We only get one half of the story here. As far as I'm concerned, nobody's 'side' is worth taking but I have more empathy for her partner - seems like he's still suffering from her actions.

              I don't think it was an attempt to make herself appear sympathetic. To me it came off as explaining how immature she was to show that she has genuinely gained perspective on it. I mean 'finding my worth through the male gaze, thinking that I needed to test his love for me by hurting them' isn't like saying 'he was busy with work and not putting enough attention into our relationship'.
              You're right that we only have one side of the story but given what she's said she's reflected on it and grown. She seems to put the blame on herself. She's not upset that he isn't over it, she's upset that she's discovered that instead of getting over it he's just buried his feelings and continued with the relationship. She thought he'd moved on and he hadn't, which puts his actions over the past seven years into a new light.

              I think the headline leads us to some conclusions before we read it. I mean I read that and thought 'here we go, someone cheated and wants a quick fix to get forgiven'. I even thought her explaination of why it happened was stupid. It paints her in a very dark light right up until we get to the revelation that it happened seven years ago.

      Her most redeeming action was that she confessed to cheating quite soon after. Oh, and that she never cheated again after that. It may be enough to start a kernel of trust again.

      Otherwise, I'm with you. If there's no way he can feel any trust for her, they should end the relationship. Though have to feel bad for the kid.

        Mind you, I don't think she should be condemned to hell forever, I just think in terms of that relationship, the waters are poisoned to the point of it being unhealthy for them both. I think they're best off splitting, as it's quite clearly not healthy for them. She's tried, he's tried but it's not doing them any good and there's resentment. She needs a clean start to be a better person, and he needs to be able to unquestioningly trust again.

    Didnt even bother reading it. Cheating whores, or bastards, may be forgiven but should never be trusted ever again. Throw them to the curb. My partner and I have 3 kids and she knows full well if she ever cheated then it would be over. Have more respect for yourself and dont put up with the bullshit of your partner cheating on you. This goes for both men and women.

      That comment is a disservice to sex-workers. They're at least up front and honest about what they are selling and there isn't anything hidden.

    I feel sympathy for everyone involved in that first letter: the wife, for a haunting, senseless indiscretion, and her unwillingness at the time to recognise the long-reaching future repercussions; the husband for his indecisiveness earlier in the relationship and an inability to resolve his issues which has led to a long-standing, bitter resentment; and the child for the misfortune of having been born into the situation.

    Of course the family may well be joy and butterflies apart from this one bugbear. A pity nonetheless.

    I make it a point near the beginning of a relationship "if you cheat we're done, no if's or but's just done"
    There's no excuse for cheating, ever. and being young or drunk IS NOT one either.
    I think the betrayal was worse because it was with his mate.... who had probably been around longer than the girlfriend. ie he trusted them to hang out together.... his trust in friends and women was shattered that day and he should of ended it with both of them. Now they have a kid, who's life will be greatly altered (they'll probably end up splitting, or staying in an untrusting relationship) either way the kid is affected. and who's to blame for this.... you could say it's the bloke for not letting it go when he should have but when it comes down to it all, that would be a non issue if she hadn't cheating in the first place... imagine how happy you'd both be together now... but nooope through it away for a root. poor kid.

    The cheater has to make their amends and earn back their partner's trust. The person who'd been cheated on needs to be willing to forgive and let their partner earn that faith back.

    I dunno. It may just be that she omitted some information but she didn't sound as though as she did much on the way of amends? Just owning up amends doesn't make. It merely saved you the greater shame of being discovered unwillingly. She seemed so sure that her husband simply forgave and forgot that she failed to realise his change of behaviour every year on the date. She simply put the thing out of mind and now is surprised that her husband didn't even though she never gave him reasons to.

    She cheated on him with his best mate, and the punishment is that once a year he acts like a dick for a month? I reckon she's getting off lightly.

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