When I was young(er) and dumb(er), I committed the ultimate relationship sin: I cheated. I was unhappy with my boyfriend, got drunk with some friends, and kissed one of them. It was a stupid and selfish choice, but I’m a better partner now because of the mistake I made. Here’s why:
I went to therapy for my issues.
I knew that as unhappy as I was in my relationship, my then-boyfriend’s actions hadn’t forced me to go make out with some other dude. Clearly I had problems that I needed to work on, so after coming clean with my boyfriend and breaking up with him, I started going to a therapist. She helped me understand why I’d done what I did, but more importantly, the simple action of going to therapy was an important step for me to take ownership of my actions rather than blaming them on alcohol or my ex.
I identified the things that made me want to cheat.
Although I’d taken complete responsibility for being unfaithful, I knew that my actions didn’t just come out of nowhere. In order to prevent myself from making the same dumb choice in future relationships, I examined my relationship with my ex and figured out what had pushed me to that point. Ultimately, I figured out that the biggest factors were my ex’s controlling, jealous side and my own desire to have a concrete excuse to end the relationship. Once I knew what the problems were, I was able to solve them faster in future relationships.
I learned how to manage desire for other people.
It wasn’t like I made out with the first dude who looked at me — this was someone I’d had a crush on for a little while, and rather than keeping my feelings in check, I acted on them. In my next relationships, I still occasionally got innocent crushes on other people, but the difference was they stayed innocent. I focused on their flaws rather than their attractive qualities, and once I stopped putting them on a pedestal, it was easier for me to appreciate my partner more rather than comparing the two people.
I stopped settling in relationships.
Honestly, I was miserable with my ex for a while. He wasn’t someone that I’d really wanted to date in the first place — I was just young and dumb and thought I could build a successful relationship out of lukewarm feelings. As I’ve gotten older (and yes, wiser), I’ve become a happier single woman, and when I’m in a relationship with someone, it’s because I really, really want to be with them. When you’re crazy about someone from the very start, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll even think about being with other people.
I started being more honest with my partners.
My ex and I had numerous problems that put a strain on our relationship before I cheated (not that it excused my actions). But rather than choosing to work on them or even bring them up, I stayed quiet or let arguments go unresolved. Now, I’m much more straightforward with my partners when I’m unhappy, and I encourage them to be as well. Not only does it keep resentment from building up, but it makes me feel like we’re a team that confronts problems together. When I was with my ex, feeling like I was on my own made it a lot easier to have a wandering eye.
I didn’t let myself be a statistic.
You know the saying: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” I’d heard it before and I didn’t want to be a stereotype. Right after I’d cheated on my ex, I was worried that this was just who I was. But after I went to therapy and took some time alone to sort out my issues, I decided that no matter what, I wasn’t ever going to be a cheater again. My pride alone was a major factor in forcing myself to become a better person and take every possible step to make sure I never betrayed someone like that again.
I put myself in my ex’s shoes.
I’m an empathetic person and imagining how my ex must’ve felt when I came clean ate me up inside. That feeling alone is plenty enough to crush any chances of me ever being unfaithful again, and the thought of even flirting with some stranger at the bar while I’m in a relationship makes me feel sick. Maybe it’s a little extreme, but I’d rather have that than the lack of empathy I had while I was dating my ex.
I refused to put myself in “risky” situations.
I had so many opportunities to walk away the night I cheated on my ex, and I didn’t take any of them. I could’ve left the club, I could’ve said “no” to the guy I was crushing on, and I could’ve stopped drinking when I felt myself getting a bit too tipsy. The external factors didn’t cause me to cheat, but after that relationship, I became a lot more aware of the situational factors involved with my bad choice. The person I am now would never even consider going out and getting drunk with a guy she had any kind of feelings for if she were already dating someone else.
I chose to actively love my partners.
I loved my ex, don’t get me wrong, but it was a passive kind of love — I was so focused on how I felt for him that I stopped putting effort into doing things for him. I know that my laziness in our relationship carried over to the lack of effort I put into being faithful. Now, I treat my relationships as investments, and that means making sure I’d never do anything that would jeopardize the hard work I’ve put into them.
I redirected my guilt.
I beat myself up for a long time over my decision, and although I deserved to be hard on myself, there came a point when the crushing guilt I felt wasn’t productive. I couldn’t undo what I’d done, and my ex had moved on to someone who made him truly happy. So instead, I started focusing on using my guilt to make myself a better partner. I never forgot what I did, and I still feel bad about it, but I can live with it knowing that I’ve learned my lesson and have become a better person as a result.
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