Can a 3 year relationship survive a break after trust is broken (not infidelity...but almost)?
December 8, 2011 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Can a 3 year relationship survive a break after trust is broken (not infidelity...but almost)?

Three months ago, my boyfriend admitted that he'd been hiding a year long relationship with his ex-girlfriend of 4 years that included them actually meeting for drinks once. As far as I know, there was no actual cheating, just many, many lies. It was kind of a disaster but after two weeks of crying and fighting, we decided to try to make us work. It's been a very slow recovery. I still go through episodes where I start thinking about what happened, decide I hate him, and we argue, almost break up, and then decide not to break up because we love each other. In many ways it's brought us closer together (we both readily admit we want this relationship for life), but I'm starting to think we may be one of those couples that love each other but can't quite be together.

Before the whole thing happened, I was already in an unhappy and unstable place in my life. Hating my job, feeling unmotivated, stuck in a rut I suppose. My only consistent source of happiness and stability was my boyfriend. It's been 3 months since he admitted their relationship, and although I feel our relationship is getting ever so slightly better, I feel like I am getting worse. I don't like waking up most mornings, feel constantly ill, depressed even, the backbone of it all being what he did. I no longer trust him or see him as someone who would never hurt me. He's struggling as well; he says he feels blindsided by my episodes and mood swings, saying he doesn't understand because he feels as if we're getting better.

I feel like I need time away from him. I don't want to end the relationship at all, on the contrary, I can't imagine my future without this person. But I'm having a hard time moving past what he did with him constantly by my side. Is it possible to survive a break like this when a relationship is so fragile?
posted by fezzle to Human Relations (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I no longer trust him or see him as someone who would never hurt me.

This means that an important emotional component of your relationship is already gone.

This relationship is broken. You might be able to fix it, but honestly, it doesn't sound like there's any reason to. This guy is a bastard. Having a secret relationship with an ex is way too shitty for you to be expected to deal with. Why, in the first place, should you be put in this awful position, ever? You deserve much, much better.

Before the whole thing happened, I was already in an unhappy and unstable place in my life. Hating my job, feeling unmotivated, stuck in a rut I suppose. My only consistent source of happiness and stability was my boyfriend. It's been 3 months since he admitted their relationship, and although I feel our relationship is getting ever so slightly better, I feel like I am getting worse. I don't like waking up most mornings, feel constantly ill, depressed even, the backbone of it all being what he did.

You can't have a really good, healthy relationship until you're good and healthy, yourself. It's going to hurt like hell, but breaking up is probably the best thing for you in the long run.

So you've been feeling depressed with your job. What's your ideal job? What do you need to do to get it? Take some time, a year or two or longer if need be, to work on yourself and your own independent happiness: get yourself onto the path you want to be in your life, start being the person you want to be. Once those pieces start coming together, you'll be ready for a relationship built on real trust and the coming-together of two whole, happy people. It will be a world apart from this unhappy situation. You can do it, you just need to start making the painful-but-necessary choices to get there.

Good luck. You're going to be okay. And it's time to move on from this shitty boyfriend.
posted by clockzero at 10:10 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

In what sense did they have a "year long relationship" if they only met up once in person during that whole time?

That aside, it doesn't sound like this is a good relationship for you. You've been feeling worse and worse. You don't trust him. You don't mention anything positive about him — not even a token "He's very kind" or "I love him." It sounds like the only reason you want to stay with him is that you're afraid of not being in the relationship, which isn't a very good reason.
posted by John Cohen at 10:11 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

What do you hope to get from the break? More trust in him without talking to him? Because if I were to take a break like that, I'd spend the whole time worrying about what he was doing now that we were taking a break. Taking a break usually means that people are free to pursue others, and if they're not? That's like a weird no-relationship limbo.

Sit down and ask yourself that question, and the question "what would it take for me to trust him again?" See if there's an answer that the two of you can work on together. And if you have access to some therapy for yourself, that can help your current relationship issues and with all of the other stuff that you mention that seems to be muddying the water.
posted by ldthomps at 10:11 AM on December 8, 2011

Taking time away sounds like a good idea to me. It worries me that his (enormous) breach of your trust has upset you so deeply, and his response to that seems so unsympathetic. Has he taken responsibility for his actions? Is he sorry? Do you see him actively trying to win your trust back? Since you didn't mention any of that, I feel like the answer must be no. By all means, take a break from your relationship and from him, give yourself an opportunity to figure out how you feel. But I think you may find that "moving past what he did" includes realizing that losing him might not be the end of the world.

You don't specify whether he's kept up the friendship (?) with his ex now that it has come to light. Be prepared for the possibility that that relationship may continue to develop while yours is on the back burner, and that he will probably continue to hide it from you.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:11 AM on December 8, 2011

I can't tell you if the relationship will work or not, but if he had been hiding a YEAR long relationship from you, it took conscious effort on his part to deceive you. It wasn't a "moment of weakness" on his part. Personally, I don't think I could trust someone like that
posted by Qberting at 10:15 AM on December 8, 2011 [13 favorites]

I don't think I could trust a person who did that ever again, much less be in a relationship with them. You don't specify what exactly went on in their secret relationship, but lying is my deal breaker. It feels to me that he's struggling and saying he doesn't understand because he feels he's "off the hook" for what he did and thinks that everything should be just peachy keen from here on out.

I think your physical symptoms are a pretty good indicator that you need to part ways with this guy. Permanently. You deserve better.
posted by noxetlux at 10:17 AM on December 8, 2011

Possible, yes. Probable, no.

Your relationship issues aside, you are spending all this time and energy trying to fix the relationship when you really should be working on yourself. Your boyfriend, even if he were not dishonest, should never be your sole source of happiness and stability. Even if you manage to resolve the issues between you regarding trust, you'll still be, at root, unhappy and stuck in a rut.

Seriously, please, put yourself first. You may find that when you are in a better frame of mind and with some space, you don't want to be with someone who lies to you for an entire frickin year.
posted by sm1tten at 10:17 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

What precipitated him admitting this relationship with his ex? Did you discover something? Was he feeling guilty and he just mentioned it out of the blue?

I can't understand why he would tell you when you were "already in an unhappy and unstable place in my life. Hating my job, feeling unmotivated, stuck in a rut I". You were already down and this just added to it.
posted by dgeiser13 at 10:24 AM on December 8, 2011

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read this in detail: How to Rebuild Your Spouse's Trust After an Affair

If he is not willing do to all of the things on this list, then I seriously suggest that you not continue the relationship. Really, what it comes down to is how sorry he is and how willing he is to own and correct the issues that he has created.

Here is one of the most powerful statements in that article that I hope you take to heart:

Remind yourself that it is quite possible that the victim spouse was enduring similar feelings of unhappiness or frustration, but instead made a conscious decision not to betray you.

You were unhappy. You are unhappy. But, you didn't choose to have an emotional affair with an ex because of it. You two may have issues with each other that can be worked out in counseling, but first he has to own his actions and be willing to repair the damage that he has done to your trust in him.
posted by Shouraku at 10:28 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like there may be an underlying problem - I would focus more on the other issues in your life that are making you unhappy and focus less on the relationship. Yes, you both need to deal with the relationship issue, but *you* individually need to get yourself happy and well. If that means spending some time apart, then take that time and do what you need to do to get yourself okay.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you need to break up. A 'break' is too ambiguous, too no man's land. I think you need to concentrate on yourself and your needs. You were already unhappy before the boyfriend cheated and did that contribute to his cheating, is that what was behind your unhappiness even if you didn't know specifically that he was cheating, i.e. something was off in the relationship.

Get yourself in good emotional shape and perhaps you can get back together with the boyfriend or perhaps you'll have moved on or he will have. Being miserable is magnified when you're with someone that adds to that misery, even if it's not deliberate.

Take a few months apart, don't stay in touch and agree to touch base in 3 months and maybe again in 6 months. During that time, you can start working out, hanging out with girlfriends, spending more time with your family, talking with a therapist, taking up some new hobbies, get a cat. Concentrate on what you enjoy without having to take anyone else's needs into consideration. Be a little selfish and self-indulgent, get your nails and hair done regularly, weekends out of town, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. Read trashy novels, read lots of self help books, eat in bed. Start swimming, running, playing lacrosse. It doesn't matter, just get active, but also relax and don't think too much. When you get mopey, it's time to watch comedies. Decide when you want to have deep meaningful thoughts, maybe after reading something insightful.

Also, keep in mind that the repercussions from infidelity don't resolve themselves instantly. There is a grieving period, where you have to work through the loss of trust you've suffered.
posted by shoesietart at 10:31 AM on December 8, 2011

My ex had a not actually affair 'affair' with a woman I thought was a friend. Conversations, hanging out, calls, emails, etc. It never developed into a sexual relationship while we were still married, but he was emotionally invested in her in a way that was not healthy to his relationship with me.

I was blind. She was dating someone else after all and I'm not a jealous person and I kept telling myself it was just innocent friendship, he was married to me, etc etc. He was the one who ended up ending things. And it hurt, oh my god did it hurt.

Except, after a couple of months, I realized I was actually happier, on a day to day basis, than I had been when I was with him. That I'd been invested more in having a relationship (any relationship!) than in my ex-husband as a person. That I thought I'd be worse off alone - but experience was showing me I was much better off instead. I missed his mother more than I missed him.

I can't tell you if your relationship can be 'fixed'. One tell for me that mine couldn't was that he wouldn't do therapy. Once I accepted that, it was a huge weight lifted off my mind.

Since you are asking for advice, I advise you break up with him. It will hurt, in the short term. You might not know what to do with yourself at first. But, you will get to work on yourself, and figure things out for yourself, and get yourself in a position where you can find someone who deserves you, and who wants to be with you.
posted by sandraregina at 10:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't really understand this notion where massive amounts of lies don't count as cheating. To me, breaking a foundational agreement in a relationship is cheating, and forthright honesty is a foundational agreement in all of my relationships.
posted by rosa at 10:47 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I, too, would like to know more about the circumstances of his confession and what he confessed to. The story sounds really unlikely and as if he might have done more than he has admitted so far.
posted by BibiRose at 10:49 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also chiming in to ask: has he apologized? Has he acknowledged that what he's done is hurtful to you?

This has me worried too:
He's struggling as well; he says he feels blindsided by my episodes and mood swings, saying he doesn't understand because he feels as if we're getting better.

Mainly because it points towards the first question... this strongly hints that he's not taking responsibility for what he did, nor is he empathetically putting himself in your position. "Mood swings" and "episodes" are completely understandable, normal reactions to a revelation that you've been cheated on, whether emotionally and/or physically, for a year. (I am highly dubious of his story, especially if he hasn't apologized.)

If he has not apologized, and instead has been insinuating that you are somehow making things difficult for him by reacting normally, run. Run away very, very fast. Break it off quick and clean.

If he has apologized and recognized your hurt, then things could be different, but honestly... an entire year? And he just... told you? My spidey sense tells me something is deeply awry.
posted by fraula at 10:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe your desire to grip and hold on tight to the relationship now is more a reaction to the realization of how tenuous your grasp was before. Maybe now your actions are responding to that near-loss rather than the idea that this is a relationship you would choose, all things now known. Truth is, of course, whatever idea you had of who he was, that guy's gone. You sound like ET and the flower; as the relationship 'improves', you yourself deteriorate a bit. Take a break. You have things to work through on your own. See how it rolls out, this right now sounds really sad and unsustainable.
posted by Katine at 10:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stop twisting yourself into pretzel knots. This isn't worth it. You are deeply unhappy. You will feel so much better when you dump this guy. You have no idea how liberating it will feel to take an action that says to yourself and others, "I am worthy of a loving, stable, honest relationship - and this one wasn't it. I'm getting back out there to find someone who shares my values and will put an intimate relationship with me first."

You are miserable because this is a huge breach of trust. You shouldn't have to "get over" something like this. It never should have happened in the first place. A year is a long time. That it happened with an ex-girlfriend is, I think, part of the deeper hurt for you. They already had a base of shared intimacy when they picked up again behind your back, even if they never slept together. That's a pretty traumatic betrayal.


Some cheaters are on their best behavior, all the charm comes back, after getting caught or nearly caught. It's how they add spice to their lives. Not saying your guy is a serial cheater, just telling you this is a dynamic. It is similar to couples who feel more in love with each other after a particularly nasty fight, and they are the types to fight often. For some it's more about the dramaz and less about the quality of the relationship.

There is so much hinky and dysfunction coming from this guy, I really think you should stop putting the effort in and just dump him. Put that effort towards finding someone mature and honest, instead.

That's my two cents. Be well, whatever you decide.
posted by jbenben at 11:14 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry. I've been in a similar situation, and for me it was not fixable. My only regret is sticking around for a year afterwards and attempting to fix it (and uncovering more and more lies in the process).

I no longer trust him or see him as someone who would never hurt me.

This is the crux, unfortunately. You cannot trust him not to hurt you again. You can't be happy in a relationship with someone that you don't trust. And why would you trust someone who had intentionally lied to you for a year, every day?

I feel like I am getting worse. I don't like waking up most mornings, feel constantly ill, depressed even, the backbone of it all being what he did.

It's natural that this would be hanging over you, casting a shadow over things, particularly since it sounds as though you haven't had much closure or support over this issue. It sounds like some time by yourself might help you to clear your head and straighten things out in your own mind, without having to live with this daily at the same time. Even if you agree to revisit things in a few months, it would give you the chance to have some breathing room and perhaps see whether you can adjust to things without him.

he feels blindsided by my episodes and mood swings, saying he doesn't understand

If he had an appreciation of what he had done, or felt a responsibility towards you, he would understand your reaction instead of feeling frustrated by it. In short, everything that fraula has said. +1 to jbenben's advice too (this is resonating strongly with me).

Good luck. I hope you get through this and find peace. Please MeMail me if you want to.
posted by bent back tulips at 11:28 AM on December 8, 2011

You are right not to trust someone who hurts you and then blames you for your pain. Take some time away from him and this relationship and work on your own stuff. You don't have to be this unhappy.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cliche alert: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
posted by lulu68 at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think this has to be a big deal. If he didn't cheat on you, then he was simply trying to keep things drama-free by not mentioning the ex.

Unfortunately, many girlfriends (and I'm sure boyfriends) cannot tolerate the idea of someone remaining friends with their exes. This is something I learned, and now will never bring up any friendships I have with exes, unless I have to.
posted by eas98 at 12:20 PM on December 8, 2011

People on AskMe seem to always be very quick to leap to DTMFA advice. You haven't really given us enough info to offer very useful opinions here, but I will say one thing: yes, relationships can survive such things and often do. Heck, they sometimes survive actual and flagrant infidelity, which this apparently wasn't. It's really not clear what the 'relationship' with his ex amounted to--the occasional chat?

The question is not whether relationships can be mended in the wake of such things--they can, they have--the question is whether you feel the relationship is worth the mending. It sounds like a lot of things aren't working well for you in your life right now. That's probably not a good state to be in when trying to work on a damaged relationship and not a good place from which to assess the prospects of mending it. I think you probably need to seek some therapy, try to get your life outside the relationship in better order and then try to make a decision whether to recommit to this relationship or try your luck elsewhere.
posted by yoink at 12:23 PM on December 8, 2011

I have been in a similar situation very recently that appears is not fixable. We hurt people that we care about sometimes. We make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, but blatant dishonesty and deceit over an ongoing period of time is like taking a bullet. Yea, you may recover. You may find that he is working on healing the wounds but the scar is always going to be there. Over the course of a lifetime, that scar may not mean much to someone who has truly recovered, but the wound could do serious damage if it doesn't heal properly. I guess what I am saying is if he is trying his damnedest to right his wrong and you see his progress and he is in no way making you feel like it's stupid or silly for you to be hurt, then it may be worth trying to heal the wound. Of course trust is a hard thing to rebuild with someone, but it is possible if he works at it daily (assuming you are willing to work towards forgiveness, too). Three years is a lot of investment in someone and if you don't think he is genuine with his regret/ apologies, then don't waste any more of your time.
Bottom line: A genuine, honest, apology and serious effort to redeem himself would have gone a long way with me when I was in your shoes. Someone who doesn't take my feelings seriously when they have knowingly hurt/ deceived me isn't someone I'd want to build a life with.
posted by allnamesaretaken at 12:35 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he didn't cheat on you, then he was simply trying to keep things drama-free by not mentioning the ex.

"I lied because I thought you would be angry if you found out" is actually pretty normal, run-of-the-mill, lying-to-get-what-you-want lying.
posted by endless_forms at 12:40 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you wake up every day miserable, crying, unable to trust or forgive him then you need to end the relationship. That's it. Relationships aren't about waking up every morning and feeling like shit about something your partner did. They're about being happy, and they're about being able to trust and forgive.

That doesn't mean there's something wrong with you, if you can't trust or forgive him again. Sometimes things are just so bad that it's simply not possible. If that's where you are, then let go of him and move on. It's best for both of you.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:23 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

The question isn't "Can such a relationship survive?" because if course it can. The question is, should it?

The answer is no. If there were a shortage of single people out there (or you had children, and I'm assuming you don't), putting up with this type of lying and drama might be worth it. But there isn't, so there isn't. Leave and move on.

But ask yourself 2 things on your way out, to avoid things like this in the future:

1) Is there something about you that made him think he couldn't tell you the truth? Hanging out with an ex isn't a big deal, or at all unusual. So why did he feel the need to lie? Are you abnormally jealous? Prone to violent fits? Anything like that? The answer may be "no," but it's a question worth asking.

2) Why would you even consider staying with someone who lies to you?
posted by coolguymichael at 1:27 PM on December 8, 2011

I usually recommend a fidelity plan in these cases. If he's willing, it might help you to feel secure enough to get through the tough times here.
posted by peagood at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2011

He lied to you about his ex because he still had feelings for her. That puts you in the position of not being his primary focus of attention while he indulges himself playing Casanova. Upthread it was mentioned that this is a dynamic of dramaz and ego-stroking. Does he have low self-eteem or conversely, entitlement issues/narcissitic leanings?

It's pretty clear this was at least an emotional affair (although he's an out-and-out liar who's happy to deceive you for a year, so who knows what really happened?) rather than 'meeting up with Blah my ex who I've been on platonic friendly terms with for ages'.

I'm not sure how this came out, if you found out and he had to explain or if he just needed to unburden himself (?) but if it's the former, I'd bet he's probably still lying about specifics to minimize any consequences. Three months after dropping this shit is far too early to be whingeing about you not being over it too, BTW. He should be nothing but contrite and caring and understanding for at least the next year.

Personally, this kind of betrayal would immediately activate Operation: Cut That Turd Loose, which I recommend doing ASAP if you have the financial means (do you live together?). I went through a very similar thing a few years ago and cannot overstate how relieved, calm and exponentially happier I was after we split. It took me all of two weeks to get over 'guy I thought I couldn't live without'. I have an incredible partner now, but even just being single was so much better than being with that idiot-hole. Something to consider.
posted by everydayanewday at 2:31 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would tend to say this is a no go.

You can't have a real relationship without trust. And, as said person didn't just "slip up" once, but continued the behaviour over a year, I think they have established exactly how trustworthy they are.

In addition, relationships need to be based on respect. I think it is fairly obvious that said person did not respect you enough to say anything at all about said relationship while they indulged themselves. I can't think of anything other than the phrase "have your cake and eat it too."

Not the least of my reasons is also why said person hid the relationship at all. If everything is on the up and up, then there would be no reason at all for the covert nature of said relationship. Plus, how do you know said person even told you the truth of how far the other relationship went? Once you throw trust out the window, getting it restored is extremely difficult.

I am not a DTMFA kind of person, but it would seem to me, from the information provided, that said person has abrogated any shreds of behaviour that would make for a healthy relationship with you, and, as such, continuing any sort of emotional investment in this person will only bring you dividends of unhappiness and pain.

OTOH, I am not the most successful at relationships, so my opinion could very well be worth what you paid for it - nothing.

Fundamentally, you need to focus on what you are telling yourself you need to be happy and healthy.
posted by Samizdata at 2:43 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

"... saying he doesn't understand because he feels as if we're getting better" - this sounds to me like a goodly dose of wishful thinking on his part; this is what he thinks should be happening by now, and he doesn't seem to understand why and how you can still be so hurt by his behaviour. If he can't grasp how deeply his betrayal (and I think it is betrayal, even if there was no physical element to it - you trust him to be straight with you + he isn't + you hurt = betrayal) has cut, then he doesn't seem to have a particularly strong understanding of what constitutes loving behaviour. And I dare say there's a lot of guilt wrapped up in that attitude - if he loves you, then he knows he's responsible for making you unhappy and the quicker you're "over it", the better he can feel about himself. A bit selfish, methinks.

This is, to my mind, how things are ideally supposed to work. When you are down and sad and your job is a pain in the butt and you are bored and frustrated, his place is by your side helping you to work through those things. Not giggling over coffee with an ex. Not composing texts and e-mails or however he was spending his time communicating with her. If you commit to a partnership, that's the sort of thing you sign up for. He doesn't seem to have worked that one through yet.

What should you do? Only you know what would suit you best. If after three months you're finding you're not able to move forward into a place that makes you feel better (NOT him), then what would make you happiest? Stick it out and hope you come through it stronger as a couple (and as others have said, some relationships can survive great betrayals), or cut your losses? For me, life seems far too short to spend time with someone who lied to me, in such a cruel and undermining way, whether by omission, actively or passively.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you're crying all the time then you are in a situation you need to get out of.

If he were doing anything to repair the betrayal you would not be crying all the time.

Also, he thinks this would all be getting better if you'd just stop crying all the time. This, I think, is the thing, more than the other stuff, that really makes me want to punch him on your behalf.

Please get away from him. He is making you miserable for no reason and blaming you for your misery. I don't care if there's some theoretical model in which this could possibly be fixed. He's blown it so hard.

p.s. I'm serious this makes me really, really angry on your behalf. I can't figure out a way to express that strongly enough.
posted by tel3path at 5:05 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone for your responses but I should probably apologize for not giving enough information in the first place. To be honest, this is my first time posting here, and I didn't want to write a babbling mile-long missive and scare everyone away. There is obviously much more to this story. I'll do my best to keep it on the shorter side of long.

Before this boyfriend, I had never been in a serious relationship, let alone one that lasted more than a few months.The more major relationships I've had in my life have been with girlfriends, and funnily enough, every single one has ended in a blaze of fire. I'm almost certain this kept happening because in my late teens/early 20s, I was (and still am, but to a lesser degree) emotional, insecure, and jealous. Losing friends constantly did not help that. The last time this blaze of fire business happened, I ended up in therapy. I lost an entire circle of friends (this time, it was my choice), and it was a huge shift I couldn't deal with. I went for a year and my therapist taught me how to be young, open up, and have a good time.

During that positive period, I reconnected with my now boyfriend. We had gone to college together but were never close. He called me unexpectedly a year after graduation wanting to go to a party. We spent the next year getting drunk together and kind of fell into a relationship that ended up making perfect sense. We have everything in common, make each other laugh, have the same taste in things, and complement each other perfectly. I love him more than anything. But after the first year of being together, it was clear I had retreated into my original insecure self. I often feel like what my boyfriend has in me now is not what he signed up for, but I have conceded that this insecure person is just who I really am. He has never complained but has agreed that I was different when we first started dating.

A year and a half into us, he asked me to move in with him. I was genuinely surprised simply because I had never considered it. I wasn't ready. I told him I wanted to get myself in order (get a new job) before making that leap, and spent the next year waffling around, not getting a new job. A few months after he asked me, the ex came back into his life.

What I know of her (what he's told me) is that they were together for four years in highschool and college. They ended after a year of breaking up and getting back together while her parents were going through a divorce, and she moved miles away. A year after they broke up, he flew to see her, said it didn't go well, and she decided she never wanted to see him again. Two years later, I came along. And then, shortly after he asked me to move in with him a year ago, she moved back to the area and texted him unexpectedly. This is where the whole thing started.

He has said too many times to count that he had absolutely. No. Romantic. Interest. In her. Whatsoever. He felt like he never got closure from their relationship, and wanted to get that closure while making sure she was okay and that her family was okay. The reason he kept it from me is because a) he knew I wouldn't understand, and b) I've always been fiercely insecure about this girl. This is true. As I said before, I am insecure and jealous and was always curious about this mystery girl who my boyfriend gave 4 years of his life to. It was an ongoing "issue", albeit a smallish one. During the time he was speaking to her, I was having dreams about her and would occasionally check with him to see when he spoke to her last. At that point, he was blatantly lying to me. Looking back, it seems like my intuition was trying to warn me.

He said she contacted him first, and over the next several months, they texted/spoke every once in a while (he says) and she eventually messaged him on Facebook. I read the message thread and it seems as if their contact from that point forward was exclusively through Facebook. They spoke every few months (he never responded when I was with him) and it was relatively harmless until the one instance he told her: "I'm always thinking about you." He's sworn to me a million times he didn't mean it in the way I think he meant it, but I still don't completely believe him. This past summer, they started talking more often and she asked him out for drinks. He agreed. Two weeks later, he met with her at a bar in the city. He called me on the way home tipsy and in a fantastic mood. I remember thinking it was odd at the time. Then, his parents bumped into her at the grocery store. He says that was the tipping point in the whole lie. He's told me many times now that he never intended to create any relationship with her, and had planned to see her the one time and then tell her they *really* should never speak again. Once he realized how big the lie had become, he decided he could let her go and continue building our relationship on this massive lie, or risk everything and tell me because he loves me. He decided to tell me.

I've spent 2 of the 3 months after he told me not even trying to forgive him. Our relationship has become completely bipolar. Half of the time we're wonderful together, until something small triggers the memory of what happened and I have a complete meltdown. My meltdowns became so often they were happening twice a week. He's been as good as a boyfriend who fucked up can be in this situation. He constantly tells me he loves me, is incredibly affectionate now, has verbally expressed that he wants to marry me, have kids with me, and grow old with me. He's been understanding during my meltdowns, has cried with me and told me he regrets nothing more in his life than what he did. He says that even if there's a chance our relationship will end because of this, he doesn't care because he loves me and he wants to stick it out. I feel like all of this should be helping me get over this, but it's not. Just a few weeks ago, I finally decided I would actively try to forgive him rather than try to forget about it and my meltdowns started tapering off. But I'm still having them and have noticed a slight change in him...he finally seems to be growing tired of it. The last 2 times it's happened, rather than hugging me and saying, "I'm sorry," over and over, he's started arguing back. This is not helping and I'm starting to lose faith.

Thus...why I feel like I can't forgive him while I am still with him. I feel like I need some sort of a break to work on myself, try to accept what he did and decide whether or not I want to move on with him or without him. I can confidently say that I love him and want us to work, but I'm honestly not sure I can handle feeling like crap much longer. To be honest, it often feels like I am the one who's making this difficult for both of us. I don't want to string him along in a relationship I know is going to implode, but the thought of letting him go feels like a huge mistake. Maybe I'm reaching for middle ground by choosing a break over a break-up, but like I said, I really don't want to lose him.
posted by fezzle at 5:40 PM on December 8, 2011

There are a few things I want to comment on regarding your followup, but let me start out by saying that I'm glad that you realise that despite not wanting to lose the relationship, you realise that you need to work on yourself. And I hope you follow through with that and are successful.

First of all, it doesn't really matter what the nature of their relationship was that he was hiding. He knew it would bother you, that's why he hid it. And lied. I understand that four years is a long time to some people, but after a couple of years apart, and then a couple of years in a new relationship, he shouldn't still be needing closure. There was a completely appropriate way to handle all of this, and he failed. It's understandable why you would have a hard time forgiving him.

Honestly, from his side, I also see that he was perhaps thrown by both your insecurity/personality changes and then waffling around not getting your life together when he wanted to move forward with you. It makes it easy to start wondering about the past when you are not sure about your present and future. And because he keeps telling you that he's sorry and expecting you to move past it at a pace that is comfortable for him, he's now getting frustrated that you're having meltdowns and etc. I think that's understandable too, because he probably doesn't know what else to do -- although I frankly have not much sympathy for him.

*Please know that I am not blaming you at all for his actions. I'm just trying to look at both sides.*

Have you had this discussion with him, where you say that you understand that he's trying to make it work, and that you would like to be able to repair the relationship, but that you need a break to work on yourself and figure things out? The thing is that many breaks do actually end in a break-up, but obviously your current method of dealing with this isn't working for either of you. When the situation is this untenable, something has to change.
posted by sm1tten at 5:57 PM on December 8, 2011

Please keep in mind as well that we are heading into not only a stressful tie of year because of holidays but because of lack of light and general starting to get tot he point of the year that depression is a serious concern for many people who are not even going trough what you have been. Don't know where you live, but it may be a contributing factor.

Not minimizing or excusing, just adding another data point.

It is possible to fix this, but it takes time and a lot of hard work, and likely some outside assistance. Is that worth it? hard to say.

I've a feeling that all the outside stressors are making this situation worse. You already feel trapped in other areas of your life and adding this just makes everything worse. If you can arrange it yes a break might be a good thing, but that means a break from work as well, if you are unable to disconnect from the many things that are making you feel like crap right now you may end up transferring how you feel about one to the other.
posted by edgeways at 9:52 PM on December 8, 2011

"He felt like he never got closure from their relationship, and wanted to get that closure while making sure she was okay and that her family was okay."

Not really sure it would require a year of clandestine and increasingly intimate and emotional contact to "get closure" - maybe half an hour on the phone? Maybe a quick meet for coffee? Maybe even letting you know what had happened - she got in touch with him and he wanted to lay the ghosts - and telling you where and when the meeting ws to take place and how long it would be for and how much he wanted to see you to tell you all about it immediately afterwards? Yes you might have been angry and upset and insecure about that specific situation, but he wouldn't have lied and you could have trusted him subsequently.

"He's sworn to me a million times he didn't mean it in the way I think he meant it, but I still don't completely believe him."

Me neither, for what it's worth.

"But I'm still having them and have noticed a slight change in him...he finally seems to be growing tired of it. The last 2 times it's happened, rather than hugging me and saying, "I'm sorry," over and over, he's started arguing back. This is not helping and I'm starting to lose faith."

There's that guilty conscience again - all that pent-up sense of defensive grievance is bubbling up as you are apparently letting your hurt go. I've seen this before - "I've behaved badly and feel like a heel but now it's my turn to asset myself and adopt a slightly injured / less vulnerable pose" - pathetic and immature and I'm sure we've all felt something similar when we have hurt someone.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 1:40 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I like how in your update this is really all your fault for (a) not being ready to move in, and for (b) because you are insecure/jealous/whatever.


Lots of mind games and dramaz in there.

For a year this woman was the third person in your relationship, and somehow, you knew that. He called you elated after he saw her? He convinced you it took an entire year to get "closure" with her?? (and that's a BS concept, anyway...)

This guy somehow, indirectly or directly, has you convinced his lack of character and deceitful choices are your fault.

You're right. You do have self-esteem issues. You shouldn't be this easy to con.

And he's way into the dramaz, btw.

Break up with him. Get some clarity with therapy or other self-work. Stop blaming yourself. You might find once you stop being your biggest critic that a lot of the mood swings and jealousy (and dramaz) goes away once you have a better way of regarding and interacting with yourself.

(Sorry for any typos. From my phone)
posted by jbenben at 10:12 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Get rid of him right away. If he'd just slept with someone one-off, I'd say 'who cares', but he lied to you for a year. You'll survive without him, and be better off alone for a time than living with someone so untrustworthy. And the bonus is that if you go it alone, you'll find someone else - usually seems to work that way.
posted by nickji at 9:37 AM on December 10, 2011

I realize the obvious and easy way through this is to walk away. You're all right, I would survive and come through the other side a happier person. That being said, I still believe I can make it through this with him and not be miserable. Maybe that's foolish, but it is what it is. He says that he just wants me to be happy and if it means leaving him, he knows he's the only one to blame. He's well aware I'm thisclose to leaving him.

So we talked through the specifics of taking a break. I've decided it will happen after the holidays since we both have a few commitments with each other's family and don't want to make it any more difficult or complicated than it already is. There will be minimal contact and he says he has absolutely no interest in seeing or speaking with anyone else (including the ex) during this time. Basically, he's going to wait for me, however long I need. This is a pretty ideal "break" if you ask me. I just want to be alone and either deal with what he did, or decide I'm better off on my own. He knows that after the break, I might not come back. Regardless of that, he still wants to wait. Go figure.

One thing I forgot to mention in my last post... when he told me what was going on with his ex, he got her to call him, put her on speakerphone while I was there, and told her they should never talk again. So she knows shit hit the fan for him and I because of his secret (although she didn't know it was a she says). This past Saturday, she texted him for the first time since that phone call asking if he was at a concert. He told me right away and promptly deleted it. We were both confused by this. She knows things were bad between us because they were speaking. If he were at said concert, I would be with him. Was she hoping I was there so she could meet me? Was she wondering whether he was now single? Was she trying to get a response from him just trying to stir up drama/feel powerful? I don't know. But I hope it doesn't become a problem if him and I survive this.

Again, thanks for all your responses. I hope I haven't disappointed anyone with this decision...
posted by fezzle at 9:22 AM on December 12, 2011

« Older How to help a 6-year-old to keep his fingers (and...   |   How to get relief from dry fingertips and cuticles... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.