Expert Q&A: Dating the Person With Whom You Cheated
Q: I'm dating the person with whom I cheated. How can I learn to trust him?
A: There is some truth that those who cheated on their partner are more likely to cheat again in a new relationship. Cheaters, after all, have crossed one of those major relationship boundaries-fidelity. And cheaters chose to solve their personal and relationship problems by seeking others or by allowing their emotional needs to override their ethics and commitment.
But, as I've said in other articles, even good people cheat. Various studies on the reported incidence of cheating indicate that about a third of men have cheated and that somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two percent of women have cheated. Remember, though, the key word is "reported." Who knows how many people have not coughed up the truth?
Yes, there is such a thing as a philanderer, yet most people do not get married, move in together or say "I love you" with the intention of cheating. So, how do you trust your partner-and yourself-not to stray? And can you really make your partner trust you? Here are some guidelines that I hope will help you.
1. Make a vow together. If cheating is in your or your partner's past, then create a ritual ceremony where you promise you will not allow cheating to enter your lives again. You could write vows to each other as couples do at weddings. If your friends know about your pasts or how the two of you met, invite them to your ceremony.
2. Be clear and strong with your partner about how he or she is different from your ex. We all want to feel special. But relationships born of at least one cheater always rest on a foundation that might be in a relationship-quake zone. Think about your partner's attributes. What do you like about him or her? How is this person different from your previous partner?
For example, Gwen was very worried that Garrett would cheat on her. They had an office romance that resulted in Garrett leaving his wife of five years. Garrett wrote Gwen a heartfelt and detailed letter where he listed everything that was special about Gwen and unlike Garrett's ex. On his list were items such as smart, giving, sweet, has an education and career, stays fit, can be trusted with money. When Gwen heard Garrett read this list, she felt calmer. She realized that he had really put some thought into it.
3. Tell each other what you have learned from your previous relationship. There's nothing like an honest reckoning with yourself to convince your partner to trust you. Obviously, you were unhappy in your previous relationship-or else you wouldn't have cheated. You both can build trust and reinforce your vows of fidelity by reviewing with your partner your previous relationship mistakes.
The most common mistakes are:
- No love or liking for your partner in the first place
- Lack of control of anger, temper, jealousy
- Lack of teamwork and respect for your partner's needs and opinions
- Use of criticism, cruelty and sarcasm as your way to communicate your unhappiness
- Tendency to ignore or minimize problems or your partner's needs
- Avoidance of talking about your unhappiness
- Inattention to building quality time with your partner
The list could be endless, but the point is to recognize your previous communication style. Think about how you could improve or change it. Ask your partner to help you use more productive ways of expressing yourself.
4. Promise to seek professional help the moment you sense that you are unhappy or want to stray. If you find yourself arguing more, retreating from serious conversations or thinking about straying, seek professional help sooner than later. Most of my clients come to me at the eleventh hour and wonder why it takes so long to get back on track. By that time there is a history of too many cruel words and other disrespectful behaviors. If you have friends you can trust and who know about your past, consult them. In fact, if you invite them to your vow ceremony, you can ask them to speak up when they have any concerns and to urge you to go to counseling.
5. Respect the healing power of time. Eventually, as the two of you build years of happiness and teamwork, your anxiety about your partner cheating will decrease. It is possible to create a new life and new self with stronger values, ethics, self-awareness and maturity. As one of my clients Judie said, "Looking back, I'm amazed that we got through those first two years together. I went to bed every night exhausted from worrying that my husband was planning to run off with one of the women in his office. I know I teetered on being anorexic because I thought I had to do that to keep him."
Don't let your rocky start make you stumble more by reacting with misguided attempts to keep the relationship as Judie almost did. Assume that you can and will trust each other. You can't nag someone into loving you or being faithful. Another one of my clients Ralph said "I drove myself nuts with doubt and so I hired a private detective to follow my new wife. I was out of my head," Ralph said. He was shocked to see that his wife spent her lunchtime going to their local little library. "I wasted my money and almost damaged my health," Ralph said.
Usually, the first few years are the toughest. No wonder so many marriages fail in the first several years. Your efforts to know what is going on in the relationship are better spent in kind, frequent and productive communication and problem-solving rather than spying or doubting each other.
Finally, another benefit of time is that it allows you to forgive yourself. You might even consider writing your ex a letter of apology, depending on your circumstances. Where there is mutual, mature love, there is always hope.
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website, http://www.lovevictory.com, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie—a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. Follow Dr. Wish Twitter.
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