Partner of 6 years kissed someone else - what next?
March 4, 2013 1:12 PM   Subscribe

That's basically what I know right now. He kissed someone he's in a group with after the two of them went out to lunch. We've been together for 6 years, have been living in different states for the past year and a half; the distance was supposed to end this summer when we moved in together in a new city, but now I don't know what to think. He told me himself this morning; the kiss happened yesterday.

We're talking about it tonight. This was an explicit violation of the terms of our relationship, which is not at all open. Possibly relevant: we're in our mid-late 20s, see one another in person about once a month, talk daily. Though I didn't know it at the time, he was "kind of" seeing someone when we got together (as was I) and that relationship ended when ours began, so maybe this is just how he ends relationships. Aside from that, nothing like this has happened to my knowledge.

How can I figure out how I actually feel about this (beside hurt and sad)?
I've been open in the past to an open relationship (trying to be pragmatic about long-distance and human nature) but he wasn't interested in that. Now I'm feeling betrayed and also wondering if it's just my fault for moving away. It takes me a really long time to emerge from shock to true emotion, so I'm not sure how to make decisions about my relationship when I haven't started processing yet.

How do I approach this call tonight? My morbid curiosity means I want to ask a bunch of questions about the relationship, how long attraction has been present, etc., but I don't know if that's going to help or hurt. Thoughts? Knowing my partner, he's going to be looking to me to lead the conversation with my feelings, but I don't know if I'll know what they are at that point.

Also also:
If we stay together, are there ways to rebuild trust after this out-of-the-blue breach of it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What type of kiss are we talking about? I mean, I've been happily married for going on 20 years, and I've kissed a male former co-worker/still a friend during that time on the lips after having dinner with him. Nothing necessarily romantic, just a friendly gesture.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:16 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been open in the past to an open relationship (trying to be pragmatic about long-distance and human nature) but he wasn't interested in that. Now I'm feeling betrayed and also wondering if it's just my fault for moving away.

His actions are not your fault. If he wanted an open relationship (where it would not be a big deal for him to kiss other people), he would've agreed to your initial offer. You mutually promised not to kiss (etc.) other people, and he broke that promise. If you need my permission, you are allowed to be mad at him.

On preview: if it's a kiss he felt like he needed to confess, that's all we need to know IMO.

I want to ask a bunch of questions about the relationship, how long attraction has been present, etc.
Well, I'd want to know. If he's willing to admit to kissing a coworker when you logically wouldn't have found out otherwise (your friends didn't 'catch him' or what have you), he's probably going to be honest in his answers. He also might be trying to lead this into a break up situation, but only you and he can know that.

A kiss in itself isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but the loss of trust might be. Since you said he's done something like this before, I'd be wary about progressing further with him.
posted by Flamingo at 1:19 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, so, from a standpoint of pure propriety: slip-ups happen. If every decent relationship where someone fucked up broke down right then and there, we would be in pretty sad shape as a society. Genuine forgiveness for doing dumbass things is important in a relationship whether it is for kissing someone, forgetting to pick you up at the airport, or saying something awful in front of someone's parents. Now, can a kiss be a total, 100% dealbreaker for you? Absolutely. Totally within your right as a member of the relationship. And many relationships DO end, then and there, because of a kiss and some for the better! You're the only one who knows what is right for you here.


Though I didn't know it at the time, he was "kind of" seeing someone when we got together (as was I) and that relationship ended when ours began, so maybe this is just how he ends relationships.

With the little information we have, I think he is ending your relationship in the shitty way he did it before. LDRs do not have a high success rate before we even get to who did what. LDRs that begin in a gray area like that doubly so. LDRs where the gray area rears its head again? Well, there's something to be said about being able to recognize a pattern when you see it. But, again, that's going on the little information you gave us, although I feel like you included that tidbit for a reason.

But it's not your fault. The whole "driving someone to cheat" (and whether or not this is explicitly cheating depends entirely on you two as a couple drawing a line, which it sounds like y'all did and it sounds like he breached) thing is a crock of shit, as far as agency goes. Short of grabbing him by the back of his head and smacking it into someone, the kiss is his doing.

The way to get over this, if you want to get over it, is with forgiveness. Forgiveness without qualification (short of "don't do that shit again") and without resentment. You can still feel betrayed and be upset and feel everything you need to feel, but if you want the relationship to work, you have to forgive him and you have to mean it. Otherwise, you'll just build resentment and god knows you'll have a lot more problems than a kiss when it surfaces.
posted by griphus at 1:21 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you should ask yourself what you want in this relationship. Knowing that you take a while to process emotions (I'm that way, too), I think you should give yourself the space to have your full reaction, starting immediately, and continuing until you're done. HOWEVER, this doesn't give your carte blanche to hold this over your partner's head until doomsday. But, for now, don't make any commitments or possibly any particular demands.

The breaking of a relationship agreement is always upsetting and destabilizing -- with reason! What you feel is real and it matters.

You are both human, which means that if you stay together after this, you will both make mistakes and hurt each other (both on purpose and by accident) in the future. This doesn't have to be the end of the relationship, and there are ways to repair.

Your comment about your partner looking to you to lead the conversation is a bit of a red flag for me, though. Do you do the majority of the emotional work in the relationship? It sounds like it could be time for him to step up and do some caretaking of both himself and the relationship.

More than the items your morbid curiosity wonders about, the things I'd want to know for productive-conversation-sake would be: Does he know why he did this? Does he intend for it to happen again? If he doesn't intend for it to happen again, what steps is he taking to avoid temptation? Is this his shady way of trying to get out of the relationship without taking ownership of the decision?

For myself, the distance plays a big role in my perception of this. Being far from your main squeeze is legitimately hard on everyone, and can make it harder to resist temptation.

I'm curious about his past rejection of open relationships in light of this.
posted by spindrifter at 1:25 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, after re-reading your question a few times, I think "I think he is ending your relationship" might be an overstatement (and sorry if that freaked you out!) That being said, though, considering how you got into this relationship in the first place AND having been apart for a year and a half, this is slightly more serious than the same thing happening to a couple who do not have those factors in play.
posted by griphus at 1:31 PM on March 4, 2013

What was his reaction? The way it's written, he told you over the computer? And now you are having an opportunity to talk about it? My mind is blown already if it was over the computer. You don't tell anyone anything important over a computer. I may be an antique, but that's what I think. Maybe that's par for your relationship, though, being long distance. But I'm discouraged.

But pay attention to his reaction. Is he begging for forgiveness? Is he saying he wants to make it work? Is he sorry, so, so, sorry? Or he is like, "Yeah, I guess I'm sorry." You'll know. You'll know if he is sorry and wants to make it work. You can also ask, "Well, do you want to stay together?" He may say yes, but if his protestations are weak, you'll know. I wouldn't ask a bunch of questions. It won't get you anywhere, and you're going to know like ten minutes into the conversation what the lay of the land is. If you sense hesitation, I would eject, dump him, don't waste your time waffling for a guy that is trying to break up with you in middle school fashion.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:35 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, maybe you figure out how you feel about it through time? If you don't want to talk to him tonight, you don't have to? Also, not your fault, nothing is your fault. Rally, girl. Don't blame yourself for some weak ass kissing.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:39 PM on March 4, 2013

I guess my first question of my boyfriend would be, "How do you feel about it?"

Either he's going to say, "I guess I've been missing having a girlfriend who's here in my physical world, and it was nice to have someone to hug and kiss. I think that our LTR has reached it's end."

Or he's going to say, "I don't know why I kissed her, it was a huge mistake, I want to be perfectly honest with you, and I want you to know that I love you and I want you to forgive me."

These are very different things.

You don't have to decide right now. You can simply say, "I'm not sure how I feel about this. I know I feel hurt, betrayed, and angry. I may get over it, I may not. I now have issues with trusting you, when it never entered my mind before. I need some time to think about this."

I'd wonder about someone who would risk a 6 year relationship to merely kiss someone.

As for you, aren't you glad you didn't put your life on hold for this guy? You may get back together and be together forever, but if not, at least you moved, got a job/went to grad school, and lived your life.

There was nothing you did wrong. Men aren't weak and defenseless without their girlfriends at their side. If he's a cheater, he'd cheat if you were in another room, or another state, it doesn't matter. So your moving had very little to do with his lips being on someone else's lips.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:47 PM on March 4, 2013 [14 favorites]

How can I figure out how I actually feel about this (beside hurt and sad)?

It's ok to not know. Hurt, sad, and confused is a natural response.

also wondering if it's just my fault for moving away.

He's an adult. You are not at fault for any other adult's actions/inactions/decisions. Ever.

Knowing my partner, he's going to be looking to me to lead the conversation with my feelings, but I don't know if I'll know what they are at that point.

You're not responsible for leading this conversation, he is. He kissed someone else, he's had time to figure out his feelings, he leads. You are reeling and not in a position to say what's what with you, you want to know what's what with him.

And you don't have to figure your own feelings out by the end of the phone call. He may say "big mistake, very sorry, please forgive me, never happen again" and it's still ok for you to say "I don't know how I feel about this yet."
posted by headnsouth at 1:53 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Did he say anything else about the kiss? That's what I feel unclear on reading your question. Did he express regret, apologize, say it was a mistake or just tell you it happened and set a time to discuss it further later? It's sort of hard to know how to read the situation without those details.

To play devil's advocate a little, assuming he expressed regret I'd say go into the conversation with an open mind and just try to talk it out and get a temperature if possible. It's completely normal to be hurt and upset, but I think it's a good sign that he told you so quickly (given that you're long distance he could have kept it to himself and you'd be none the wiser). 6 years is a long time and long distance relationships are a horrible mind fuck. When you aren't in each other's day to day lives it's a lot harder to stay connected and happy and much easier for the innocuous little attractions we feel for people to get in our heads more deeply than they ever would if our partner was nearby. Given the length of time you've been together and his display of honesty, I think it's worth hearing him out and trying to triage the relationship if possible.
posted by amycup at 2:07 PM on March 4, 2013

Yeah, I don't get why all the pressure is on you to respond to this. He owes you a clear and honest explanation, full stop. What you do with his explanation is completely up to you, and you can figure it out on your own time. This is not a "your move" type of situation, and you shouldn't feel manipulated into feeling that way. The onus shouldn't be on you to define what this is and what it means for you guys.

Fwiw, I've been in a few LDRs, and the ones that weren't working caused me to freak out a bit at the prospect of having to be a full-time partner. In those cases, there was a lack of real emotional commitment that can sometimes be hidden by physical distance. That could be what's happening here, but only you two know that for sure. Definitely halt any moving-in plans until you've hammered this out to your satisfaction.
posted by sundaydriver at 2:13 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I suggest that you listen till he's done saying everything, and I know that's not easy at all. Keep your voice calm, and breathe slowly. Draw him out by saying "mm-hmm," "go on"; when he pauses, stay quiet and he'll say more. When he peters out, ask a question like, "where do you want to go from here." This is terribly hard because it might feel like you're letting him off easy, but really, you won't be. You're requiring him to be honest, and to say everything he's been thinking and doing. If you argued with him right away, you'd be taking him away from the subject at hand: What's going on with him, and how does he want to proceed?

When he's done, tell him how you feel: hurt, sad, confused, uncertain. If you talk about your emotions, then it won't be appropriate for him to argue or disagree, because they're your feelings. After you say how you feel, let him talk.

You don't have to make any decisions now. You don't have to let him off the hook until you're ready. Maybe the decision you'll make will be, "I'm going to wait a while before I decide."
posted by wryly at 2:27 PM on March 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

Sucky situation. I feel for you.

This would be my approach, as someone who tends to have a hard time staying fully present during emotionally-charged conversations, particularly ones involving psycho-sexual stuff.

I'd write out a stream-of-consciousness mind-dump (pen and paper). From that, I'd make a list of questions. I'd have that pad of paper and pen next to me when I make the call.

I would treat the call as an information-gathering session. No accusations; no assumptions; no arguments...just keep asking questions and listening carefully (and jotting notes in case I blank on his answers later on).

If it became too difficult to remain calm and strong, I'd ask to take a breather and reconvene within a reasonable time.

I would also give myself time to process the call before responding in any depth.

Dunno; this might be too controlled/restrained of an approach. I'm not convinced it's even the best way to hash out things like this, but it's so far the best way I've found.

Good luck; stay strong.
posted by nacho fries at 3:43 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, you might consider telling him that you need some time to process this before you talk about it, and that you want him to consider one question in the meantime: did he share it with you in the spirit of trust and openness and moving past his mistake, or did he share it with you in the hope that you would get upset and break up with him?
posted by davejay at 4:22 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

(note: if his response is "I don't know if it was a mistake" or "I didn't make a mistake" then that's him hoping that you would get upset and break up with him, in my book)
posted by davejay at 4:24 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Though I didn't know it at the time, he was "kind of" seeing someone when we got together (as was I) and that relationship ended when ours began, so maybe this is just how he ends relationships

Yeah, I think maybe this is how he ends things with people. I am sorry.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 4:58 PM on March 4, 2013

Start making other arrangements. Sorry.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 6:10 PM on March 4, 2013

Update from the OP:
Those of you who said this was his exit strategy were totally right. They're "in love" after knowing one another for two weeks, it's all very precious. I'm pretty blindsided, would say I dodged a bullet but I think I was grazed. If anyone wants to offer perspective or thoughts, I'm at
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

So sorry. :(
posted by salvia at 11:05 PM on March 4, 2013

I'm sorry, OP.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:24 AM on March 5, 2013

Sorry to hear that. And yes, when something like this happens it usually means things are over, at least for one of the partners.
posted by pakora1 at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2013

That sucks. Check your email, I sent you my Rx for breakups.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:32 PM on March 5, 2013

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