My boyfriend cheated on me with his ex and then dumped me. In a fit of what psychologists dub “hysterical bonding,” I fought tooth and nail to get him back. However, once he was mine again, I realized there was a lot of work ahead. Here’s what I wish I’d known before getting back together with a cheater.
The issues you had in the first place will still be there. There’s that initial wave of bliss before you remember that he actually cheated on you. I was ecstatic for a couple of weeks until I saw him like another girl’s Instagram picture. I called him in tears and he was apologetic, but we realized that our bliss was over and it was time to sit down and really talk things through.
The amount of work it takes to work through those issues is more than you think. It took lots and lots of therapy, both individually and as a couple, to work through this. In fact, two and half years later, we still see our therapist occasionally. I cried so many times I thought I would get dehydrated. I went through his phone, laptop, and tablet. He sat next to me quietly and explained anything I had questions about. We went over and over past situations and I made him repeat every detail until I was satisfied. My boyfriend was willing and the therapist said this was key. In order to make it work again, he not only needed to be remorseful but he also needed to be willing to deal with my pain head on. Luckily, he was both.
You’ll have to go deep—really, really deep. My boyfriend was open and honest with me about the cheating (a key to being able to continue the relationship) but the “why” was a harder premise. Why did he feel the need to go outside of our relationship sexually? Turns out, he was sexually abused as a child and used sex as a coping mechanism as an adult. Finding this out was a turning point in our relationship. Although I was happy he had opened up to me, it was a terrifying realization for me that this would be something he would struggle with continuously. It was hard to listen to him describe the abuse he had endured as a child and it was even harder to move past looking at myself as a victim and focus on his struggles.
You’ll have some work to do too. Eventually, you start to trust again… until something triggers you and you’re suddenly convinced he’s cheating again. I’ve read that it’s like a form of PTSD and that’s exactly what it felt like. We were Christmas shopping one time and I saw a red sweater that reminded me of the one his ex wore in a picture she’d sent him. I felt myself break out in a cold sweat and my heart started pounding. I demanded to see his phone right there in the middle of the mall. Shocked, he handed it to me. I searched it like an FBI agent but nothing seemed off. Over time, I had to learn to manage these triggers and not become accusatory towards him. I had to learn to identify what I was really feeling (anxiety) and communicate this with my boyfriend. When I did, he always gave me what I needed: reassurance.
You’ll have to face your insecurities. This has to be the hardest part of coming back from cheating. My thoughts would run so fast I couldn’t keep up. Was she prettier? Thinner? Smarter? Why did he want her? What was it about her that he liked? Did he compare us? I spent so much time trying to figure out what was wrong with me and what she had that I didn’t. After I learned the why, I had to constantly remember that it truly had nothing to do with me. Every time I got in the cycle of asking myself what was wrong with me, I reminded myself that it’s about him. He reminded me too.
Your relationship will never be the same. We had to renegotiate the terms of our relationship. Before we broke up, it was normal for him to go several hours without texting me. No more of that. He also had several suggestions for making me feel at peace and not putting himself in tempting situations like a “no drinking alone” rule and un-installing several forms of social media on his phone. I think the fact that he came up with these on his own was one of the biggest reasons we were able to make it work. He had to start thinking of my feelings too.
You have to learn to let go. After several weeks of talks and therapy, we planned a weekend trip to a B&B a few hours away. We had one rule: no talking about the affair. We had to learn to date each other again or it was never going to work.
The “other woman” will still exist. Today, things are great. But she’s still out there somewhere. I admit I still look at her Facebook account sometimes. In the past, I would check to see if there was some clue that she was still seeing him. I would scrutinize her pictures to see if I could figure out what it was about her that he liked so much. These days, I find myself clicking on her name and staring at her picture once in a while but I don’t feel the same rush of anxiety. Even though I’ve never met her, she feels like a part of my past. I spent so much time thinking about her that it seems hard to let go. She looks happy in her pictures—with someone else. She isn’t the villain in my story, she’s just an extra.
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