Is he cheating or just really friendly?
December 1, 2016 1:49 PM   Subscribe

A history of near-cheating incidents have me questioning some over-the-top comments my husband has made to some women. Can you help me tell if I am over-reacting and figure out how to proceed?

My husband and I have been together for well over 10 years, and married for 6.

About 7 years ago, before we got married, a friend let me know that he caught his girlfriend sexting with my future husband. I confronted my husband, we fought, and then I forgave him. History became history.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I found out that my husband was sending nearly nude pictures of himself (wearing only his new, racy underwear) to a former co-worker. We fought again. At the encouragement of some friends, I forgave him. We moved on with life.

Today, for whatever reason, I was compelled to snoop. I found some texts between him and two other girls that contained statements about how hot they looked in their Halloween costumes, joking (sexually driven) invitations for them to come over, and statements about how amazing they (did? would?) look topless. He's a pretty avid snapchat user, so I what I saw was just partial conversations with the rest happening in snapchat.

I'm pretty lost and without a support system for this (most of our friends are mutual), so I'm struggling to figure out if I'm over-reacting to what I've read. It feels like history is just repeating itself, but I can't tell. Am I over-reacting? How should I go about working this out? Given that I was snooping, how can I even bring this up?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
No, you're not overreacting and even though you did something wrong by snooping, there's no way you're going to be able to stay silent about it forever (at least not without tons of resentment and loss of trust). If you do want to stay with him, and especially if you have kids, I'd try couples therapy. I'd talk through this on your own with a therapist first before confronting.
posted by AFABulous at 1:54 PM on December 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh, jeez, this sucks. You are not overreacting. If anything, you've been underreacting.

It sucks that you couldn't trust him, based on experience, which led to the snooping. I mean, not ideal I guess, but pretty much totally not the worst thing happening here. History is repeating itself. He might want to stop, but he's not stopping. I don't see a reason to assume this behavior will change, and it would be totally reasonable to take a position that it has to change if you are going to stay in the marriage. You don't have to make that choice, but I want to confirm that it would be a reasonable choice to make. You don't have to be cool with this behavior.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:59 PM on December 1, 2016 [25 favorites]

>for whatever reason, I was compelled to snoop
You had a reason, though, right? Like you had an intuitive feeling that he was cheating?

He's cheating.

He might not be having penetrative sex with other partners (might not) ... but if the rules of your partnership involve an understanding that sexting is cheating (and it sounds like they do, and he knows it, because you fought about it and forgave him twice), then this bout of sexting is cheating.

I don't think snooping is good, but I think covert sexting (aka cheating), is worse.
A big problem is that you don't trust him, which is why you snooped.
A bigger problem is that he didn't deserve trust, since he was sneaking around.

I'd say forget the snooping, just deal with the sexting.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:02 PM on December 1, 2016 [37 favorites]

You're not overreacting. I'll even double down and say you are not wrong for "snooping". Your instincts smelled smoke and you went looking for the fire. Why should you be chastised for that?

The question now is what do you want *within what you have control of*? Having *this guy* not act like this is *not* within your control. You must now decide if you willing to put up with a guy who will keep doing this and VERY likely escalate as soon as he finds someone willing to take their clothes off with him or if you would rather DTMFA and let yourself heal and be available to someone who will not act like this.

Good luck and (((((hugs))))
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 2:04 PM on December 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Am I over-reacting?

Different relationships have different standards of acceptable behavior. Fwiw, this certainly falls outside of what I would be OK with, so I don't think you're over-reacting.

Given that I was snooping, how can I even bring this up?

Perhaps say something like "I was snooping and know that is a problem that we can address—after we deal with what appears to be your inappropriate relationships with other women."
posted by she's not there at 2:05 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

You have confirmed that this is an entrenched pattern that's unlikely to change. You say that on previous occasions, you fought and then you forgave him. This leaves out the most important part, IMO. That's whether he was contrite, deeply sorry, and recognized this as a deep disrespect of you, himself, and of your mutual relationship. If he wasn't genuinely deeply sorry, I would have a problem with that. If he said he was deeply sorry and then has continued to not change his behavior, I'd be even more upset. Either way, none of this would be OK with me.

How many more chances to disrespect and betray you are you going to give him? You're not over-reacting. Even though we don't have all the details from your post, I'd argue that there's a better chance that you're under-reacting. If you don't have friends you can trust to give you good advice and support, please go find a therapist to speak with. Not a marriage counselor (though you may want to add that at some point). Right now you need a thoughtful person who is there just for you. That person can be a therapist. They can help you with next steps. Good luck. I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by quince at 2:08 PM on December 1, 2016 [23 favorites]

Listen to your gut. You went snooping because you know he's not entirely to be trusted. You are not over-reacting. People in a committed relationship who have an agreement to not do this sort of thing don't do this sort of thing, and when they do, that's breaking agreed-upon rules. Don't let him minimize it or make this about your snooping. This is about him.

How you work through this depends on what you want - do you want to stay with him, knowing he might do this for the rest of your relationship? No judgement - just, he's shown you who he is for 10 years. You should assume this is how it is going to be and determine whether it's a deal-breaker or not.

Can you live with him doing this sort of thing, but not ever actually sleeping with them? Or, can you have an open relationship? Or, do you need him to go to therapy with you to see what can be worked out? Do you need no-contact between him and other women? It's okay for you to decide what you can accept and draw that line in the sand.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 2:15 PM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

The snooping is a red herring. He might try to use it to make you into the bad guy, but he'd be wrong. You had a hunch that a guy who had cheated on you twice before was cheating again. And guess, what you're right.

You're absolutely not overreacting. Who knows what all went on in Snapchat, the content of those texts alone is inappropriate for a person in most people's understanding of a monogamous relationship to be sending to a third party.

Take pictures of the texts with _your_ phone, and ideally get them printed out. Then go see a divorce lawyer to figure out your options*. Then confront your cheating husband. You have done the right thing here and given this man multiple chances, and he has chosen to throw all you've done away.

*staying with him is an option, but you should look at what being single again would mean for you wrt finances, parenting, etc. before you decide to stay.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:15 PM on December 1, 2016 [30 favorites]

Is your question whether this kind of sexting counts as cheating, or is it does this mean he's having sex with other people?

For the first, although my marriage is not 100% traditional monogamy, yes, speculating on people coming over to parade around topless (or looking at topless pics) would count as a violation of our vows. I also don't think it speaks well of your husband that you describe the women as girls, if it implies a big power/age difference. And when you add in that you already established with him that sexting is not okay, then...yes. This is absolutely cheating.

I'm not a fan of snooping but my marriage vows didn't actually contain a no-snooping clause where they did contain "forsaking all others."

For the latter case, see above. To be frank about it, I myself would actually feel better about a one-night stand on a business trip than a habit of exchanging racy pictures with people (unless it was negotiated first.) I would really prefer that to my husband rationally violating an agreement about our relationship we'd made twice before!

I think you need a therapist and possibly a lawyer. I think you are underreacting.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:19 PM on December 1, 2016 [27 favorites]

There is no planet on which this is merely friendly, platonic banter.

Listen to your gut. You know what you know. You are not overreacting, and you deserve to be in a relationship in which this never happens. (That doesn't necessarily mean you have to leave him, but it does mean you have the right to be treated a certain way, and the right to examine truthfully how your husband treats you now and what that track record reasonably suggests about the future.)
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 2:19 PM on December 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's your choice to fight with him again and resolve things. It has worked in the past.

Maybe there's an arrangement you can both explore so you don't keep getting blindsided.

But ...

He is cheating on you. He ALWAYS has. So if you do not want to be married to a man who cheats on you ALL THE TIME, you should really really leave.

Those are the options.

Stay with a guy who cheats and make your peace. Or leave this guy who cheats so much they should maybe come up with a new term for it.

(Don't get me started on your friends.)
posted by crankyrogalsky at 2:31 PM on December 1, 2016 [20 favorites]

If I caught my husband doing 15% of what you've caught your husband doing, I would show him the door in a heartbeat.

I know I couldn't live with a man like that and you shouldn't have to either, not if you're not OK with it... which you obviously aren't.

He lied to you and been acting out behind your back for close to 10 years now. This is not a man who respects you and it doesn't sound as if your friends respect you either.

I'm sorry. This is tough, but you know what you have to do.
posted by JenThePro at 2:51 PM on December 1, 2016 [15 favorites]

I have a really mellow approach to most "hey, it's just friendly, no big deal" stuff, including that some of my friends work in the adult industry, just so you know where I'm coming from.

You've told him repeatedly in the past that this isn't okay and that it's upsetting to you, and he's still going at it. What he got from the previous experiences isn't that he can't do it, it's that he can do it if he wants and he can lie to you if he wants and you'll just forgive him. He doesn't care that it upsets you. He feels entitled to do this regardless of how it makes you feel, because so far you've shown him that you'll put up with it. It's probably gone on a lot more than you know about, rather than being intermittent, and it probably does go beyond this level.

He's not going to stop. Given that you can't have the level of trust and accountability that you want with him, what do you want to do?
posted by bile and syntax at 3:01 PM on December 1, 2016 [20 favorites]

Just want to add more voice to the sentiment that snooping is not relevant here. I don't think snooping is a helpful word here. Real snooping is looking at your vacationing neighbor's private drawer when you're watering their plants. Your husband gave you evidence, both historical and in your gut, that he was cheating and you needed to know what you were dealing with. Not looking at signs that something is really wrong is not called being an ethical non-snooper, it's called being in denial. If he in any way deflects towards your so-called snooping as any kind of relationship sin at all, do not bite.
posted by flourpot at 3:15 PM on December 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

There is no planet on which this is merely friendly, platonic banter.

^ This.
I am really friendly and have had people mistake my warmth, etc, as me coming on to them. But, yeah, no. This is not just someone being friendly and it being misinterpreted.

Is your question whether this kind of sexting counts as cheating, or is it does this mean he's having sex with other people?

I am also not clear what you are asking. If you are asking "does this mean he is having penetrative sex with these people?" well, we can't answer that. But either he is getting some of his sexual/emotional needs met this way -- aka emotional cheating -- or this is a prelude to an "actual" affair.

I have had affairs. They do not start with flinging someone onto a bed one day. They start with discussions and testing the waters and yadda. The people involved often tell themselves it is okay for REASONS. The water is often muddy and they aren't sure where this is going. Etc. They have plausible deniability, even in their own mind. By that I mean even they themselves may not be sure what their intentions are and whether or not this is really bad.

But it is also behavior that genuinely faithful people do not pursue while hemming and hawing and justifying that it is okay as long as it doesn't cross some line...which they aren't sure where that line supposedly is. People who desire to be faithful err on the side of avoiding the muddy waters. People wallowing in the muddy waters are often hoping to slippery slope themselves into something "just happening."

You don't know what is going on in those Snapchat discussions, which, as I understand it, get automatically deleted and can't be checked. Ask yourself why a heterosexual married man even needs to have Snapchat discussions at all with female friends. What is he hiding from you on a routine basis?

My assumption is that whatever you found a record of is just the tip of the iceberg of what goes on off the record.
posted by Michele in California at 3:23 PM on December 1, 2016 [32 favorites]

Whether or not he's actually cheating, you're definitely not a match. Find someone you trust enough not to have to snoop on their phone.
posted by cmoj at 4:28 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

As to how to bring it up, don't get sidetracked. The truth is fine and you have nothing to feel guilty about. "I was feeling like there was something up with you and I looked at your phone to see if my fears were founded. This is what I found."

I'm really sorry you're having to deal with this.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:40 PM on December 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oh man, I'm so sorry. I know how gross this feels. He's sneaky and cheaty and you are in no way overreacting.

My ex-boyfriend was on Snapchat with other women a lot and I dismissed my gut instincts about that for a long time. But I shouldn't have, because he was also still on dating sites, still sexting other women, trying to cheat on me if not actually succeeding.

If your husband and these women are already having risqué text convos and then need to take it to Snapchat? I guarantee you that what they're snapping to each other is NSFW.

Don't ignore what your gut is telling you this time: you can't trust your husband because your husband isn't trustworthy.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 5:35 PM on December 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

I had friend who did things like this and told me all about it. I liked everything else about him and kept asking why? why would you do this to Peg? She's awesome and you will destroy everything. He couldn't stop and he did destroy everything.

I think you'll find that some of your mutual friends are beside themselves about this. When it blew up I had to choose and I chose her. She didn't deserve that. Not one bit. She had to come to terms with having wasted 7 years of her romantic life. I'd be getting ready for that grief.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:22 PM on December 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah ditch him.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:29 PM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you're underreacting, and I'd put money on it you're underreacting to other things, too.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 6:36 PM on December 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

If he makes this about your snooping, he can go to hell. He's being shady as fuck.

I don't know if he's fucking these women. But I personally consider his actions cheating, and at the very least, a serial violation of the agreed upon terms of your relationship.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:38 PM on December 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

I was with someone who behaved similarly, and after 15 years together, he finally found someone as despicable as my ex-h to have a full-blown affair with. The previous indiscretions were always somehow explained. I wish I had turned to a place like AskMeFi instead of doubting myself. I wish I had left him about a decade before I did.

It will be hard and it will change a lot of things. But you'll likely find that not lying to yourself lightens up your life in unexpected ways. And it's also pretty likely that at least a few mutual friends only tolerate him because of you.
posted by A hidden well at 7:03 PM on December 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

if something happens once, it may never happen again. If something happens twice it will surely happen a third time.
posted by chartreuse at 7:30 PM on December 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Compared to the offense, snooping is a non-issue practically, so don't get side-railed by feeling guilt about that. If it comes up, you can say yeah, I wouldn't do it again, but that's not the story here. It's cheating, because it's sexually charged behavior with other women that he promised that he wouldn't do. It's behind your back, and it's compulsive. I guarantee the only time you've found something isn't the only time it's happened. That being said, this kind of thing does not necessarily mean a breakup, but it does mean a serious and legitimate breach of trust and a come-to-Jesus moment on his part, at the very least. I would ask for proof that he's getting help to not do this again, if you feel like continuing to give this a shot.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:47 PM on December 1, 2016

I would be really upset if I found out any of these things about my partner. I would definitely consider it cheating. To be honest, the past sexting would have been a potential relationship ender for me.

I think what's happening here is that you're in sort of a "cheating Overton window", which is completely unacceptable to me. Forgiving someone for previous worse cheating doesn't mean you're bound to excuse later awful behavior that isn't quite as terrible. Anytime you're in a situation where there is a scale of terribleness, the answer is just NOPE.
posted by Sara C. at 8:44 PM on December 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would hate to say it, but I have to say I've encountered two types of people who cheat:

1. Those who do it one off, as in were on a business trip got drunk and slept with someone in a hotel.
2. Those who systematically sought it out, especially after getting caught and counseling.

Morally, I am not to say if one is better then the other, but I will say the latter group does not seem to get better. I had a few good friends in the latter group and their husbands convinced them they would stop, and they simply got better at cheating, nearly always leading to a divorce.

I think a lot of people on AskMetafilter say cut and run too frequently but as this has been a problem over the years and it has failed to stop, I really doubt it will. Hope for the best but prepare for this worst. Good luck.
posted by geoff. at 11:03 PM on December 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

He's disgusting. Few people turn my stomach but people like this absolutely do. I would confront him and make plans to leave. No offence to your friends but they sound like regular Mother Theresas with that forgiveness shit. I would say this is not one to consult them on. They don't give good advice. I would also try to find friends who are not mutual. I think that makes life a lot harder when people are going through this sort of change. If not friends then acquaintances (through a course or a hobby). Start to build a new life as you move out of the old one.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:42 AM on December 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

For some reason the "racy underwear" part is a red flag for me. Do you have a thing for racy men's underwear, or...?

I have seen a lot of dudes' underwear drawers in my life and I have never seen anything but standard underpants. I have never met a heterosexual dude with racy underwear and assumed men's racy underwear existed solely for a very small % of women who found it appealing and would buy it for their lovers, and an also kind of small % of men who would either receive it as a gift from male lovers or use it for...sexting, etc, to try to show off a worked-for physique or whatever. It's just such a tiny segment of the underwear marketplace that it seems like a thing a dude would buy with sexting firmly in mind.

Ignore me if you like men in scanty skivvies and this was a present or something you both happen to enjoy. But if racy underwear is of no appeal at all to you, it's...far from common for your partner to happen to have unusual underpants. It's an odd part of the narrative that reads as an extra bit of hijinx to me.

I think you are under-reacting (and like others, wonder what else you might be under-reacting to if you're questioning yourself on this one). I would see a counsellor and a family law attorney on the down-low and make a plan, and save as many texts/sexts/etc as you can -- I really don't think you need to worry about "snooping," here.
posted by kmennie at 4:49 AM on December 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

I would hate to say it, but I have to say I've encountered two types of people who cheat:

1. Those who do it one off, as in were on a business trip got drunk and slept with someone in a hotel.
2. Those who systematically sought it out, especially after getting caught and counseling.

I really agree with this point and I would like to say that if I was on the receiving end of being cheated on by a "Number 1" guy, it would be something I would work on and go to counseling for and I personally know people who have come out the other side of such betrayal as a stronger unit.... people "slip" for all sorts of reasons.

But if I was dealing with a "Number 2" guy, the kind of guy your husband is, someone who actively betrays his wife again and again and again and who is deliberately subversive and sneaky and shady - I would not be able to deal with this, the sense of betrayal is far too acute and the trust has been annihilated to oblivion. These types of people rarely change.
posted by JenThePro at 7:29 AM on December 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a pattern."

People can change. But there is no evidence this man has or wants to.
posted by Michele in California at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been in a relationship where the trust was gradually eroded through various pushing of agreed upon boundaries, and now I'm in one where I trust my SO fully. I can't recommend the latter enough, it's not worth the anxiety and self doubt to not trust the person you're with.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:27 AM on December 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

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