Dear Life Matters,
My husband cheated on me when I was pregnant with our child. I did not and still do not understand why he did this. We separated but continue co-parenting and the love clearly seems to still be there. But how can I ever know that I can trust him again? He hurt me to the core. It was a knife to my heart and I still experience some of those feelings.
Can he ever truly change? Many of my friends say no and not to trust him.
Lost in love
I am sorry that you were so hurt. No one should have to go through that pain. While still in love, you are struggling with trust, which is quite understandable. I think it is a somewhat prevailing view that once a cheater always a cheater. But I must say that it really depends on the person and the situation. Like anything, not everyone is the same no matter what has happened.
Some cheaters are perpetual cheaters; they are pathological liars who do not believe that the rules apply to them. Often they are unable to empathize with the pain that they cause others and therefore might be said to have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies.
Sometimes cheating is truly situational and not at all perpetual. These people feel bad about what they have done even if they haven’t been caught and they are determined because of their own morals never to do it again.
Then there are those who think what you don’t know won’t hurt you. But that usually never works. Somehow, someway, we tend to know even when we don’t know what we know. This is called intuition or that sixth sense.
Some cheaters are truly alarmed by the pain they have caused and their empathy leads them to change.
The motives of a cheater are quite diverse and vast. Sometimes it is simply that they cannot keep their pants zipped or buttoned. These folks just might have a sexual addiction and need some help.
Then there is the “first child syndrome” where you go from being a romantic dyad to being a triad and in this triangle the baby cannot be negotiated. Very often new fathers feel left out and they are really hurt. They often start to resent their partner, but they usually find it difficult to admit to that because they don’t want to be that guy who is jealous of his child or does not want his child to have a good mother.
If the couple has not learned of this possibility before it happens and is not able to speak about it when it does, then more than likely you will have some acting out. This is not always in the form of cheating, but when you are really in need of some attention, this may be the way that you get it.
On a similar note, women married to very successful men who travel a lot or simply work long hours may find themselves in a similar situation. They resent the long hours, but do not want to complain because of the income. However, it is not unusual for them to become involved with their yoga instructor or trainer or anyone that they spend a lot of time with.
Another possibility is that if someone has experienced a great deal of painful loss they can be somewhat emotionally detached and feel extremely uncomfortable putting all their eggs in one basket. If they keep other relations going at the same time, they feel less vulnerable. This is called a “defensive structure” and to break it down and help someone reorganize their psychology, psychotherapy is needed — actually it is required. This is not a change that occurs naturally. It takes serious psychological work.
So, I would say try to evaluate which of these scenarios is the most applicable to your relationship and then decide if it would be prudent on your part to stay or go.
Also, I have a feeling that you might benefit from some counseling to help you work out some of your negative feelings. It really is not good for you to hang on to old injuries and you won’t be clear until you do let go.
Lastly, it is important to remember that relationships require work. We cannot assume that our partner will know what we are feeling or that it will work out if it’s meant to be. This kind of thinking is incorrect.
We are all human. It does not matter if you are a man or woman, anyone can cheat if his or her needs exceed or are not recognized in the relationship.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters, because it does!