Q: My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for just over a year now in an exclusive and loving relationship. We were once childhood sweethearts when we were 11 years old and lost touch mid teens only to reunite in May last year and instantly fell for each other. In the years we hadn’t been together he had dated a woman nearly 10 years older than him and she fell pregnant by accident – he was only 23. She made life unbearable for him during her pregnancy and broke it off with him. He kept the pregnancy a secret from his family and friends for months and came clean with his mother, with whom he has a good relationship, when the little girl was 6months old. The ex made it abundantly clear that she was prepared to let him be a part of their child’s life but as an arm’s length father. Or so the story goes.
I found it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that he had this child and would forever be inextricably linked to another woman because of it. I gave myself some space in the beginning and said I wasn’t ready to meet them just yet. Then as our relationship progressed, so did that of him and his ex and daughter and he began to spend more and more time with them. I finally felt ready to meet them both in about June this year. But he told me that his ex started pushing back saying she wouldn’t allow it until he and I were a sure thing. We had been together for a year and had been discussing the possibility of marriage in the future. I didn’t see how this could be a problem and told him that he clearly hadn’t made that clear to her just how much of a sure thing I was. The more she pushed back and the more they spent time together (with the child) the more I had a gut feeling about just what this woman’s motives were and begged him to let me meet them for the sake of my own sanity so that I could see the relationship between him and the ex for myself and allay any fears that I could be making up in my head. But it didn’t happen and I grew more and more suspicious of her and her motives but he told me that I had nothing to worry about.
But clearly I did, as he has just broken down and confessed to me that he has slept with her twice in the past two months and stayed over at their house when he had in fact been lying to me, saying he was at home (we live two hours apart and only see each other every 2nd weekend, as he now spends alternate weekends seeing his daughter). Apparently the ex made the first move but he never had to follow through and yet he did. In the midst of this, he also confessed that when we had been through a rough patch 9 months ago, he had had one night stand with another woman which never materialized into anything more. I discovered texts from her at the time and confronted him but he told me I was being grossly insecure. Much like he did with his ex.
He broke down into tears and sobbed like a baby when he confessed, telling me he couldn’t go on lying to me – that I didn’t deserve it. And I saw true remorse in his eyes. He has always despised men who cheat and I have always felt so calmed by his stance on infidelity. It was as though I didn’t know who this man was in front of me all of a sudden and he said he didn’t know who he had become and was horrified with himself. I believe that he loves me, I believe that he is truly sorry, but to be honest I don’t know what to do.
We both love each other dearly (although you wouldn’t think so given his infidelity, calculated lies and emotional torture, playing on my insecurities so that he wouldn’t be caught out). I really do want to give him the chance to be the man that he used to be and that I know he can be but forgiveness and trust are a huge huge issue (obviously).
The biggest problem though, is that the manipulative ex, who is playing on his weaknesses and telling him to “come home” to her and their daughter and that she’s sorry and “lets just be a family” again, is going to forever haunt us and our relationship forever. He has called her and told her he made a mistake being with her and that he wants to spend the rest of his life with me — potentially jeopardizing his ability to see his daughter if the ex withholds her — and I see this as a huge and positive step taken by him. He wants to make amends for it all, to become the man he used to be. He said he lost his way and forgot his roots and truly truly loves me with all his heart and wants to make a life with me if I will give him another chance.
But what on earth do I do? Or more importantly, where do I begin. She will haunt our relationship forever and he will always be in contact with her for the sake of that little girl. Can I cope? Can I trust? Please please help me, I have never been so confused, hurt and out of control in all my life and could do with a little professional advice as a starting point. Should I stay or should I go and if I stay how do I handle this incredibly sick and tricky situation he has put us all in?
A: You handle it very carefully. Once trust is broken, it’s very, very hard to re-establish. Yet you say that you see your boyfriend taking positive steps. That’s hopeful. But it’s very important that you keep the focus on him. As you pointed out, he is not a “victim” of a manipulative woman. She can only manipulate if he lets her. I suggest he see a lawyer to make sure he knows what his rights are regarding access to his child so she can’t threaten to withhold her from him.
Meanwhile, it might help you trust your boyfriend again if the two of you went into some couples counseling. He needs to resolve his feelings about his ex and whatever feelings of guilt he has about not making the family with her she says she wants. You need to be assured that he has come to a clear decision and you need to work with him on rebuilding the trust in your relationship.
If you do come to the conclusion that you can marry this man, I suggest you make every effort to make some kind of alliance with the ex, quite separate from your relationship with your boyfriend. Since she and your boyfriend share a child, you will never be able to evict her from your life — and shouldn’t. You need to find a way to make peace with each other and focus your energies on making the best possible situation for the child. You and she will both be mothering this little girl. Ideally, the two of you should be able to talk to each other about what the child needs and how she’s doing with each transition from one house to the other.
The little girl is the only potential “victim” in this situation. She can’t make many choices. She can only react to what the grownups do. All the adults need to work hard to make it possible for her to move between the two homes without any unnecessary stress. Once her father makes the choice of who he is going to marry, all three of you need to put old hurts and possibilities aside and to focus on the present. Hopefully, you will be able to go about your lives, knowing that the relationships are clear.
I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2008
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). He cheated on me with his ex. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/10/06/he-cheated-on-me-with-his-ex/