I was recently informed by someone that my boyfriend has been sexually texting another girl for several months, as well as had an active profile on dating site Plenty of Fish. When confronted, it took a few days but he did admit the truth to me. I am devastated and hurt; we have a very loving relationship and have built a very wonderful life together.
When he was explaining everything to me, he broke down and told me how he has been feeling a lot of self hate for a long time. His job has not been going well at all and we had been fighting a lot as well. He said he felt he was not succeeding in any aspects of his life, and has been extremely depressed.
He expressed to me that having flirtatious and often sexual conversations with these other women gave him a few moments of happiness or at least feeling desired in some corner of his life. (There was never any physical contact made with these women, not sure if that even makes a difference). He said it was less about the sexual aspect and more about feeling like he was wanted.
I want to try and work through this and improve our life together. He has expressed how sorry he is and how he wants help, and wants to become better. He has also expressed that he still loves me very deeply. Is it possible for couples to overcome something like this? I truly believe we both want to. I don’t want to give up on something wonderful because he faltered, but I don’t want to set myself up for a guaranteed heartbreak.
Can people heal from this? Can relationships still work after this? What steps do we take? He is open to couples therapy. I love him very deeply.
Gone Fishing for the Fix
Dear Gone Fishing,
It probably feels as though your relationship has just exploded. But actually, you and your boyfriend are off to a pretty good start. He’s come clean (as far as we know, about everything) and you’re already reframing his online affair as more about him than about you. Good work!
“Celebrity therapist” Esther Perel (author of the new book The State of Affairs) has built a career around her insightful take on infidelity which, shakes about a third of relationships in the U.S. In Perel’s vision, infidelity (whether in-person or online, physically or just romantically intimate) is an indicator of the cheating partner’s process of seeking change within themselves rather than a reaction to their dissatisfaction with their partner.
This means that you’re wise to focus on the question: “What did the online infidelity do to combat my partner’s low self esteem?” rather than turning inwards with “What did I do wrong!?” This will keep you both focused on the true issues that need to be worked on in order to recover from the situation-at-hand. (Assuming, of course, that you both want to remain monogamous and/or continue the relationship).
However, this re-examining and re-building responsibility doesn’t rest entirely on your boyfriend. Infidelity is also a sign of structural issues in the relationship that may need to be evaluated and reconsidered — by both of you.
Take this as an opportunity to self-reflect and ask yourself: What aspects of this relationship are working? Not working? Used to work but could use a tune-up?
Is there something about our communication I wish had been different before all of this secret-keeping? Do I want to make more space for hard truth-telling between the two of us? How have I been handling his low self-esteem? Are these methods getting me what I want? What do I want to be different in the re-built version of our post-infidelity relationship?
Now’s the time to consider these things and advocate for yourself as a partner and also for your relationship. Doing this work with a couples therapist is, of course, always my recommendation.
Finally, if I were you, GF, I’d pay special attention to the fact that somebody outside of your relationship was the one to come forward with the truth, not your BF. That’s the part that smells the most Plenty-of-Fishy to me.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.