Cheating Is Genetic

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While it may sound like a convenient excuse for selfish behavior, apparently, cheating can actually be traced to your genes.

“We have long known that men have a genetic, evolutionary impulse to cheat, because that increases the odds of having more of their offspring in the world.

But now there is intriguing new research showing that some women, too, are biologically inclined to wander, although not for clear evolutionary benefits. Women who carry certain variants of the vasopressin receptor gene are much more likely to engage in “extra pair bonding,” the scientific euphemism for sexual infidelity.”

Despite the claims that “all men cheat,” in fact, a vast minority of men do – and not a significant amount more than women.

I’ll spare you the details of the study, which can be read here, but the article points out:

“Correlation is not the same as causation; there are undoubtedly many unmeasured factors that contribute to infidelity. And rarely does a simple genetic variant determine behavior.

Still, there is a good reason to take these findings seriously: Data in animals confirm that these two hormones are significant players when it comes to sexual behavior.”

As we’ve reported extensively on this site, “the rate of infidelity has been pretty constant at around 21 percent for married men, and between 10 to 15 percent for married women, according to the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago’s independent research organization, NORC.”  Which is to say that, despite the claims that “all men cheat,” in fact, a vast minority of men do – and not a significant amount more than women.

While we are not slaves to our genes, those with a predisposition may experience more temptation than the rest of us.

The article concludes  by saying that  while we are not slaves to our genes, those with a predisposition may experience more temptation than the rest of us:

“So do we get a moral pass if we happen to carry one of these “infidelity” genes? Hardly. We don’t choose our genes and can’t control them (yet), but we can usually decide what we do with the emotions and impulses they help create. But it is important to acknowledge that we live our lives on a very uneven genetic playing field….For some, there is little innate temptation to cheat; for others, sexual monogamy is an uphill battle against their own biology.”

Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.

I Hooked Up with My Boyfriend’s Buddy While On a Break.

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My boyfriend broke up with me after I found out he had been cheating on me for months. I was fine with the break up and helped to initiate it because I was furious. We were done for about 4 months but during this time I got extremely intoxicated one night and ended up at one of his buddies from high school place and we hooked up. It was not one of his best friends just a buddy, not someone he hangs out with anymore but definitely knows. It was a stupid decision that completely went against my moral judgment. Four months down the road, he begged for my forgiveness and came clean to me about all of his wrong doings but I never told him mine. We have been dating now for over 2 years since the incident but for the past 3 months the guilt has been eating me alive. Do I owe it to him to tell him? I feel sick if he ever brings his name up in casual conversation. He never disclosed any of the names to me of who he slept with. Should I tell him before I have a heart attack? Or let the past be the past and just let it go. We weren’t in any sort of commitment at the time.

Linda

Dear Linda,

There is some highly questionable decision-making going on here, to the point where your original question is just about your least important dilemma.

Let’s recap:

Your boyfriend cheated on you. That means he was sleeping with someone else, returning to you, and lying about his whereabouts. For months.

Then he broke up with you.

To me, those two things tell me far more about him than the two years since.

The only time a partner has any say over your sex life is when you are dating exclusively.

Your boyfriend is a liar. Your boyfriend is a cheater. Your boyfriend felt that his life would be enhanced if he were no longer dating you.

You slept with a guy on break. There is nothing unethical about that — especially since it wasn’t a “break” at the time. You were single. Single people are allowed to do whatever they want. As such, you should have absolutely no guilt about your actions, nor should you feel compelled to tell him about them.

Do you think your boyfriend was celibate during your break? Does it matter who he slept with when he was not your boyfriend? I sure don’t think so. The only time a partner has any say over your sex life is when you are dating exclusively.

Which brings us back to your current boyfriend of two years, who has been known to date you exclusively and still sleep with other women behind your back.

If you can forgive his crime, he should have zero to say about what you did when you were single.

You can already tell my feelings about him, and understand why I’m dubious about his ability or desire to make you feel safe in your relationship.

But ultimately, you have to make the call as to whether his cheating spree (it’s not an incident if it happened over and over again) was anomalous.

All I can say definitively is that if you can forgive his crime, he should have zero to say about what you did when you were single.

Straight Men Are More Jealous About Sex Than Straight Women

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In a study of 64,000 people, conducted by Chapman University, straight men were more likely than straight women to be most upset by sexual infidelity (54 percent of men vs. 35 percent of women) and less likely than straight women to be most upset by emotional infidelity (46 percent of men vs. 65 percent of women). From the write-up:

“Participants imagined what would upset them more: their partners having sex with someone else (but not falling in love with them) or their partners falling in love with someone else (but not having sex with them). Consistent with the evolutionary perspective, heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be upset by sexual infidelity and less likely than heterosexual women to be upset by emotional infidelity. Bisexual men and women did not differ significantly. Gay men and lesbian women also did not differ.”

This is the largest study to date on infidelity, so it’s worth considering, especially in light of contradictory perspectives that suggest there should be no difference between men and women. That theory intimates that men and women are the same and that our perspectives on jealousy and sex are only shaped by society. In fact, I’m in the middle of reading “Sex at Dawn,” which spends 300 pages suggesting that very thing – that we are historically polygnous like bonobos, and that men and women should have the same reactions to sex.

For most of our history (pre-agricultural revolution), people lived in groups of 150 and everyone had sex with everyone. That may be true, but even if we’re WIRED that way, our society isn’t set up that way any more.

This study directly challenges that worldview, noting that “men are socialized to be masculine, which includes having great sexual prowess. If a man’s partner commits sexual infidelity, this brings into question his sexual prowess and therefore threatens his masculinity, which leads him to react more negatively to his partner committing sexual rather than emotional infidelity. In contrast, women are taught to think relationally and to be the emotional nurturers in a relationship. If their partner commits emotional infidelity, this may threaten her sense of self more so than if her partner commits sexual infidelity.”

Personally, I don’t know how I feel about this. My allegiance isn’t to my biases but to the facts. Christopher Ryan, one of the authors of “Sex at Dawn,” makes a passionate case for why monogamy and jealousy isn’t natural; that, in fact, for most of our history (pre-agricultural revolution), people lived in groups of 150 and everyone had sex with everyone. In my opinion, that may be true, but even if we’re WIRED that way, our society isn’t set up that way any more. So instead of telling people that they SHOULDN’T be jealous or threatened by sex outside marriage, I look at studies like this that tell me – regardless of what our ancestors did – that both men and women are bothered by infidelity.

Ryan’s point is that people are not built to have sex with one person forever. Attraction towards others is normal. And it seems sad and unfortunate that we should repress a lifetime of continued erotic desires for others all for the sake of “marriage”. I actually agree with him. (And we’re both married.)

Open marriage sounds a lot better in theory than in practice, because it assumes no insecurity or jealousy.

I just don’t know a realistic alternative to marriage/monogamy, given that most of us are profoundly uncomfortable with our spouses sleeping around and potentially falling in love with someone else. Whether the root of this discomfort is biological or sociological doesn’t matter. Open marriage sounds a lot better in theory than in practice, because it assumes no insecurity or jealousy.

But seriously, how many people do you know who are not insecure or jealous of their partners having sex with someone else? That’s the only reason that I think monogamy – despite its flaws – is the best and most realistic option we have for successful long-term relationships. And if you don’t value stability – if you’re comfortable swapping out partners every two years when the chemistry dies down – then you should probably not get married.

Oh, and for more reading on this subject, check out:

Is Monogamy Biological?

Is Monogamy Harder for Men or Women?

Dan Savage on the Virtues of Infidelity

Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.

I’m In a Relationship With the Woman I Cheated With and I Want to Go Back to My Ex.

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Evan, I’ve read a few of the posts and responses and can’t quite seem to find the answer I’m looking for, or similar situation, so figured I’d ask you straight up.

I dated a girl for 2 years and felt I was in love with her, yet, couldn’t quite pull the trigger – get the ring, get married and start a family. I felt the pressure, I pushed it off but it continued to hang over me like a dark shadow. It seemed that it became the only thing my girlfriend cared about. Whenever I would give her a gift, surprise her with dinner or a show, it seemed that she was disappointed that it wasn’t a ring and a proposal. We talked about it, again and again and again, but seemed to make no progress.

Then it happened, I met a girl through friends that I really seemed to click with. She, too, was in a relationship and neither of us wanted to cheat on our gf/bf because we cared so much about them and everything that we had built up with them. The need not to cheat didn’t last long – 30 days or so later, we found ourselves alone – the first wrong move – and then one of us leaned in for a kiss and it happened. We slept together, we had sex and it was amazing. It felt like a release on both our parts. We agreed that it wouldn’t happen again unless we both felt that it was time to end what we had.

We kept our promise, but both ended our relationships and 2 weeks later got together and a year later we’re still together. Lately however, in fact for the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about my ex. I did early on too, but lately even more. The songs, the restaurants, the friends, the activities, our places, etc., all the same experiences but with a new girl, doesn’t seem to remove the ex from my memory. I then began to think of how I’ve changed and opened myself up to change and if I had been this way perhaps the last relationship would have worked out. – I say to that, perhaps the last relationship didn’t provide me with the atmosphere to get to where I am emotionally today – so I see both sides of it. I find that the thoughts that I continue to have is making it increasingly difficult to move forward.

On top of it, I feel riddled with guilt that I cheated and that I’m still with that person. Am I with that person because I indeed love them, or with them because I feel guilty and responsible for their relationship ending as well and have a need to be in it. How do I distinguish which it is and if I’m in it because I’m in love and not feeling responsible? But the cheating part seems to be tearing me apart. At first it felt like relief and it was exciting to be with someone new and different but then I realized that I was open to different things with this new girlfriend and that they aren’t that different from one another, which is why so many experiences seem so much alike.

I’m hoping you can help me move forward. Stay in, get out, go back, distinguish, remove the guilt, be happy and alive with the not so new. I don’t feel a need to cheat, but I question whether I should be in this relationship, or with my ex, or on my own. In the end, I just want to move forward, somehow and for both of us to look in the mirror and know that we’re in the right place – together or not.

Thanks for the help.

Jamie

You fucked up, dude.

I’m sympathetic to you — in the way I’m sympathetic to any human being who made an indefensible decision and now regrets it — but I’ve got nothing for you.

You just learned, the hard way, what most people figure out independently:

  •   There is no perfect relationship.
  • There is no sign from above that’s telling you to pull the trigger on marriage.
  • Marriage is a choice to do loving actions every day for a partner; it is not based on those giddy feelings from the first few months.
  • The grass is not greener on the other side. Even if it seems like it is because your new partner is cuter or smarter or funnier, that same new partner will come with some downside that your previous partner didn’t have — like ego, selfishness, emotional unavailability, etc. Every relationship involves tradeoffs.

I’m not sure if you’re looking for absolution or advice. I can tell you that your letter sounds like my wife’s first husband, who cheated on her and later married the person he cheated with. I’ve never talked with him and have no idea if guilt forced him to stay in the relationship. I will say this, however: his loss was my gain. No matter how great his current bride is, I’ll bet he realized that he screwed up and couldn’t do better than his first wife. And that by staying with her, he’s trying to prove to her, to himself, to the world, that he’s not such a bad guy, and that he didn’t cheat because of a mere “fling.” I’m sure it’s complicated, since you don’t even know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Let your ex go. Your guilt is with you for life. You can’t fix the past, but you can make better choices in the future.

Anyway, here’s the advice part, Jamie.

1. Let your ex go. She can’t trust you. Nor should she. You were willing to break her heart to cheat with another woman, and now you’re willing to leave the other woman to go back to her.

You’re probably not an evil guy, but you sure are selfish, and don’t seem to recognize the consequences of your selfishness until after the fact.

2. Your guilt is with you for life. You’ve earned it. You don’t get to wish it away. Like my wife’s ex-husband, you have every right to rebuild your life, but you have no right to sweep away the destruction you wrought when you cheated on your devoted two-year girlfriend for an entire month, and then dumped her. Hopefully this guilt serves a constructive purpose in the future about the meaning of fidelity — if not with this girlfriend, then a future one.

3. You can’t fix the past, but you can make better choices in the future. If you have no intention of marrying this girl, break up with her. Not to slink back to your ex, but to free your current girlfriend to find the man who wants to marry her.

Any woman that marries you despite your checkered history is willingly marrying a cheater, and therefore overlooking a LOT in order to trust you with her entire life.

If you stay with her, you have the benefit of hard-won wisdom — specifically the idea that no matter whom you marry, you’re going to have to make some compromises.

And so will she.

Any woman that marries you despite your checkered history is willingly marrying a cheater, and therefore overlooking a LOT in order to trust you with her entire life.

Whoever does this, appreciate her, cherish her and hold onto her.

Do You Have a Guy On the Back-Burner? You’re Not Alone.

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While this post was precipitated by the recently discovered love letters from President Warren Harding to his mistress, it really is about the proliferation of social media and how it impacts modern relationships. Simply put, humans have always had back-up relationships – friends to whom they’re attracted, ex’s that still linger, unrequited crushes that have been buried for years. But these days, we now have the capacity to easily keep in touch with all of them – discreetly.

Enter a study of 374 young adults (averaging 21 years of age). Turns out that both men and women, whether they were in a relationship or not, had a number of potential dating options (hereby known as back-burners) with whom they kept in touch, just in case. “This group of young people used text messages, Facebook, and sometimes cell phones to maintain contact with their back burners. As a group they reported having an average of five-and-a-half back burners, more of whom they communicated with in a platonic rather than romantic way.”

We ALL have some of these people in our past/present – but everyone deals with these relationships in different manners.

That sounds about right. When I was dating online prolifically from 25-35, many of those women turned from hook-ups into friends. Hell, I had a dinner party last month with two former hook-ups who brought their husbands to my house, ten years after we dated. Everyone moved on. And that’s what’s interesting about the back-burner concept. Sometimes, your back burner is a former flame. Sometimes, it’s a person you’ve always found attractive. And sometimes, it’s benign and you’ll never take action on it. We ALL have some of these people in our past/present – but everyone deals with these relationships in different manners.

“The researchers hypothesized at the outset that individuals in an exclusive romantic relationship would report having fewer back burner relationships than those who were not. It didn’t turn out that way: The average number of back burner relationships for the two cohorts was about the same. Further, the total number of back burners remained consistent regardless of how committed these men and women felt to their primary relationships. Finally, high-quality back burner relationships seemed to correlate with having more such relationships.”

This back burner phenomenon is nothing new, but social media allows us to do it better – without a paper trail.

Yep, if you’re someone who can be platonic friends with members of the opposite sex, without getting angry, depressed or sexually frustrated, you’re bound to accumulate some back-burners (or maybe just friends). And if you’re someone who gets jealous that your partner maintains such relations, you’re bound to freak out when you learn that – on average – there’s 5 people that he/she is considering if you ever break up. The study, however, “does NOT indicate that individuals in exclusive romantic relationships will necessarily cheat on their partners.”

It is always full trust or no trustThe author of the Psychology Today piece draws the same conclusion that I would: this back burner phenomenon is nothing new, but social media allows us to do it better – without a paper trail. That’s why it’s really important to know the character of your partner and to carry yourself with full trust. The alternative means checking his texts and Facebook messages, and no one wants to be in a relationship with someone who does that.

So, do YOU have any back-burner folks that you’d call if you were suddenly single?

What Is Satisfaction?

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Neil’s a banker who has been working 70 hours a week for nearly two decades. Grace is a former Fulbright scholar who quit her career when she got pregnant. They’ve been married for 18 years. They have sex less than once a month. He feels numb and is searching for meaning in his life. She feels bored and only wishes for her husband to take her on a date. Despite the fact that Neil and Grace are attractive, wealthy and have a healthy 16-year-old daughter in private school, they are unhappy. When Neil catches his wife cheating, he begins to cheat as well, leading to a relationship that looks good but is built on a false foundation.

This is the premise of USA’s new original series Satisfaction. It’s also the premise of millions of marriages around the country. As a dating coach who helps women understand men and find lasting love, shows like Satisfaction are a great leaping-off point for a dialogue about what truly makes people happy.

As they say, “Happy wife, happy life.” Allocate more time to the relationship and your relationship will thrive.

Like the protagonists illustrate so aptly: it isn’t what you think.

The Search for Meaning

No one can adequately sum up “the meaning of life” — although many have tried. But, as I see it, life is an empty vessel, and meaning is what you give to it. When someone like Neil or Grace goes through a midlife crisis, it’s usually because they’re dissatisfied with the status quo. That’s 100% normal. The desire for novelty is common and fulfillment of that desire is important. Studies show that people are happier when they have regular new experiences. This creates a bit of a conundrum for married couples, since, by definition, marriage is about monogamy and forsaking all others, ‘til death do you part. So what can you do if you want to remain happily married for 40 years?

We’ll get to that in a second. But first, I want to circle back to the idea of “meaning.” Neil doesn’t find any meaning in his chosen field of work — investment banking. He sees himself as looking at spreadsheets and making money; there is no human connection to what he does, no betterment for the rest of the world. The way he sees it, if he’s going to spend half of his waking life at work, he wants it to have meaning. To me, Neil has one blind spot and one big choice to make.

His choice is that he can either continue with his lucrative job and how it affords his family a certain quality of life, or he can find a different job that has more meaning and provides better work-life balance. And that segues into his blind spot: how men feel so much pressure to support their families that they fail to see the value in work-life balance. Given the choice, 78% of men want to work full-time after marriage, while 58% of women prefer part-time work. Thus, men like Neil feel that it’s their duty to provide, but fail to recognize the human cost of working 70 hours a week. Sure, you can send your child to private school, but you’re guaranteed to miss her talent show. Sure, you can have a gorgeous house, but if you travel every week and never get to sleep next to your wife, your relationship will suffer. Men have to decide if this tradeoff is worth it. And so do women. It may seem tantalizing to be with a politician, rock star, or athlete who has money and power. But in reality, if his career comes before his relationship, his spouse must suffer with an absentee husband and the illusion of a perfect life.

Why People Cheat — And Why They Shouldn’t

When couples start leading largely separate lives, it creates an emotional void for both partners to fill — and it is often filled by infidelity. It’s a common trope that infidelity is about emotion for women and about sex for men, but that’s not quite the case. 48% of men rated emotional dissatisfaction as the primary reason they cheated, and only 8 percent of men said that sexual dissatisfaction was the main factor in their infidelity.

It’s been said that women initiate two-thirds of divorces, which isn’t too surprising when you think about it. Men are generally more content with their wives than women are with their husbands. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has found that 34% of women who had affairs were happy or very happy in their marriage. 56% of men who had affairs were happy in their marriage.

Life is an empty vessel, and meaning is what you give to it.

If you find it ironic that anyone who is happily married would cheat, you’re not alone. What was striking to me when watching Satisfaction was how the marital discord could have been solved internally without any infidelity. Both Neil and Grace were dissatisfied, but they didn’t do the one thing that could have saved it: discuss it. He was too busy working. She started an affair because he was never around. If only they tried to solve their relationship problems as a team before taking matters into their own hands.

It’s not like Neil loves his job. With Grace’s blessing, he could have looked for a less demanding consulting position at another firm (or a more meaningful career), had more time at home with his wife, gone on more date nights, planned more vacations, and been more available for his family. Problem solved — for everybody.

As Stephanie Coontz pointed out in the New York Times, the most important predictors of marital happiness are not money, chemistry, or education, but how sensitive a man is to his wife’s emotional cues and how willing he is to share in the housework and child-rearing. As they say, “Happy wife, happy life.” Allocate more time to the relationship and your relationship will thrive. That might’ve been helpful for Neil and Grace to know before they started cheating.

Is Adultery Inevitable?

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It’s a challenging concept, isn’t it?

According to a thoughtful piece in the Huffington Post by Lisa Haisha, “Clearly the concept of marriage has changed greatly over the years. And with today’s rate of divorce between 40 and 50 percent, coupled with the prevalence of adultery in many marriages, perhaps it’s time for the concept of marriage to continue to evolve. According to Associated Press, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41 percent of spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional. This leads me to ask, “Are we really supposed to be with just one person our whole life? And if not, must we get re-married five times? Are there alternative ways to perceive and participate in a marriage that will guarantee its success?”

It’s our American culture that teaches us that a husband has to be the best friend, lover, partner-in-crime, transcendent hero and champion. It doesn’t work like that everywhere else.

A couple of things before we dive in. First of all, that 41% statistic was cherry picked to make the author’s case for reconsidering the nature of marriage. I have no idea where she got it. Because I actually looked at the study and the number was only HALF that. In a sample size of 918 people 23% of men and 19% of women cheated. And this was a group of people that averaged 31 years old and 50% weren’t married. So in a high-risk group of not-yet-adults, many of whom hadn’t yet pledged their lives to each other, four-fifths of people hadn’t committed infidelity. I hope you can see how framing makes a big difference when you’re looking at statistics.

For more accurate numbers, let’s look at this article on Psychology Today, which asserts that in a given year, there’s a less than 6% chance your partner will cheat, and over the course of a LIFETIME, a 25% chance that your relationship will suffer infidelity. It’s not a small number by any means, but it’s significantly less than the 40-50% range that people routinely throw around to justify why men are pigs and marriage is a bad idea.

Anyway, the author provides evidence that marriage means different things in different cultures. This is true – and the same conclusion Elizabeth Gilbert came to when she wrote her follow up to “Eat, Pray, Love”, called “Committed”. In it, she goes to Vietnam and asks women in a little fishing village two questions, “How did you know he was ‘the one’?” and “What makes him a good husband?” The only answers she got were laughter. It’s our American culture that teaches us that a husband has to be the best friend, lover, partner-in-crime, transcendent hero and champion. It doesn’t work like that everywhere else. That doesn’t mean I want the U.S. to necessarily be more like other cultures, but it’s an interesting look at how different people can view the exact same institution differently.

The author draws an open-ended but reasonable conclusion from all of this data, “Since marriage has evolved so much over the ages, and different cultures have different views of it even today, perhaps it’s time for the age-old institution to evolve yet again. Maybe the tenets of a successful marriage should not be whether the couple stays monogamous for decades, but rather whether the couple openly communicates about what their unique marriage will look like, what will be deemed acceptable and what will not, and then honoring that joint decision.”

If a couple knows themselves, has good communication, and agrees on their boundaries, any arrangement can work.

Sounds about right to me. I’m a live and let live kind of guy. I have friends who are polyamorous. I’ve met a few swingers along the way. I know of a guy who cuckolds other men by sleeping with their wives in front of them. I’m aware of another couple where the husband is impotent and silently condones the wife having sexual experiences when she’s on business trips. Whatever works, you know?

Personally, I think it’s risky behavior to open up your marriage to the unknown of sleeping with others, but that’s your prerogative. I think if a couple knows themselves, has good communication, and agrees on their boundaries, any arrangement can work.

And if it doesn’t, well, you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame. That’s why marriage, by definition, is about monogamy – even if monogamy itself is not a natural state.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated below.

 

How Can I Apologize To My Husband For My Lack of Trust?

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Evan,

Your responses to questions and blog posts related to trust have been such an eye and heart opener to me. I have carried so much baggage from past relationships related to trust and infidelity, and it almost ended my marriage to a wonderful man. I have engaged in shameful behavior of reading emails, looking at computer history and looking at his cell phone. However, in the past year I have been doing intensive therapy and self-reflection because I don’t want to give any more power to insecurity and mistrust than I already have; I won’t continue to spin a storyline that could cement me in this place of insecurity. So my question is this, how can I apologize to my husband in a way that will speak to him about the gravity of how badly I feel and that I am completely committed to not getting pulled into that dark place ever again.

Thank you,
Yvonne

Dear Yvonne,

Appreciate your kind words and am thrilled that you’re becoming more secure in your relationship. It’s really hard to move past insecurity — especially when you’ve had reason to be insecure in the past — and you deserve a ton of credit for getting into therapy.

The ONLY reason to tell him is to absolve yourself of guilt.

I would love to answer your question simply and directly, except there’s one piece of information I don’t have:

Does your husband already know that you have read his emails, checked his computer history and browsed his cell phone? Did he discover this independently? Did you have a long, drag-out argument, which is why you said your mistrust almost ended your marriage?

Or is this just a matter of guilt that you’re carrying around in your head for your misdeeds?

The answer makes a huge difference.

If your husband already knows, I would guess that you’ve already apologized profusely. I would think that such an apology would be about the only thing that could mend your breach of trust. But if you’ve already apologized to him, then why would you be asking me how to apologize to him?

On the other hand, if your husband doesn’t already know, what is the value of telling him?

As far as I can see, the ONLY reason to tell him is to absolve yourself of guilt. But that’s pretty short-term thinking. Because what will happen when you tell him is that you will be putting a sledgehammer to the underlying trust of your relationship. Right now, your husband thinks everything is fine. When you come clean about how much you’ve been spying on him, everything is going to get really weird, really fast. And what for? To make YOU feel better — not him.

I’ve written about this before, but this completely reminds me of a recurring conversation I had with a jealous ex-girlfriend who was convinced that I was at risk of cheating. Sadly, she didn’t know that my integrity is my most cherished value, and even though I like looking at other women, I would never act upon it. Anyway, one day, she tells me that if I ever cheated on her, she would dump me instantly. Furthermore, she tells me that if I ever cheated on her, she’d expect me to tell her? Wha-?

“Wait,” I say. “If I’m going to receive the death sentence for drunkenly kissing a stranger, why exactly would I tell you?”

I thought this was a reasonable point. I thought wrong.

“Because that would be the MANLY thing to do,” she replied.

“It doesn’t make any logical sense,” I continued. “If I made a colossal mistake that I instantly regretted and vowed to never do it again — and if I know I want to spend my life with you — why would I sabotage that entire thing just to be ‘manly’? Once again, I’m not saying I’d cheat on you, but since you’ve already told me that you would definitely not forgive me, you’ve given me no incentive to tell the truth.”

The best apologies are the heartfelt ones that completely own the situation — instead of trying to share blame.

This logic INFURIATED her. We must have had this conversation a half-dozen times in the six months we were dating. She ended up dumping me after learning about a friend’s bachelor party at a strip club in Vegas…even though I wasn’t at the party.

I love that story and try really hard to be consistent in my walk and my talk.

If your husband has no idea what you did, I see less value in telling him and rocking the boat than in keeping it to yourself and silently trying to improve your trust. This should be YOUR burden, not his.

And if he knows what you did and is still with you, I’m not sure what else to say. The best apologies are the heartfelt ones that completely own the situation — instead of trying to share blame. If you own your jealousy and let him know you’re working on it, I see no reason why he shouldn’t forgive you.

What Not To Do in Relationships

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Dear Evan,

I have been married for four years (I married at 21) and I have been unhappy for quite some time. I had an affair early in our marriage due to my husband being emotionally unavailable and I felt I needed to fill the void he had left. Recently, we have been having more problems than usual as I find myself searching for my own identity; after a few years I feel as though I lost who I was as an individual, instead of as a part of a couple.

When we started to spend time with a new social group, my husband and I were having a great time. A few months ago, one of the more popular men in this group and I became very close friends. After spending a lot of time together (both in private and in public) I began to realize that my feelings were beginning to go down another path and upon telling him this, he very pointedly said that he would not have an affair with me, because he respects my marriage and my husband. So I thought, okay, not a big deal.

Kids who get married before the age of 25 have a 75% divorce rate.

He was recently selected for a new job (his “dream job”), about 1000 miles away from where I live. When he found out he was leaving in a few weeks, we began to spend more and more time together and I found myself in love with him. I separated from my husband with intentions of divorce a week before he left. When he told me he loved me and wanted to be with me, and that we would find a way to make it work, we ended up spending a night together. He was very sweet and said amazing things to me that no one ever had. But…

Within three days, he started to disappear. Now he’s at his new job and explains that the job he took requires the first two years to be spent training in various locations around the US (he apparently didn’t know this when he applied). He’s become very distant, doesn’t answer (or return) my calls, and now I’m incredibly confused.

Was I just a hookup because he was leaving? Would a guy exploit a friendship like that?

Thanks,
Annie

I debated as to whether to run this letter, since I really didn’t have much advice for you, but then I figured that it was such a good snapshot of what not to do in relationships, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share it with the world.

What not to do in relationships:

1. Get married at 21. I’m not sure why you got married at 21. I suspect it had to do with chemistry, sex, being in love, and that sneaking suspicion that you were an adult and were ready for the next step with your boyfriend. Either way, kids who get married before the age of 25 have a 75% divorce rate. Caveat emptor.

2. Marry an emotionally unavailable man. It’s not like your husband became an entirely different person after you married him. You deliberately chose to hitch your train to an insensitive man in your early 20’s before you’d had experience with lots of other adults.

3. Have an affair early in your marriage to fill the void of your emotionally unavailable man. I feel for you, but the answer is marriage counseling or divorce, not cheating.

4. Justify the affair as if this is healthy standard practice. On the bright side, your matter of fact tone indicates that you don’t feel the least guilty about this first transgression. Which means that you have, at best, a loose sense of ethics and morality, and would be drawn to similar men.

5. Become close friends with a popular guy from your social group. First of all, popularity exists after high school? Second of all, it’s basic Marriage 101 stuff: Thou Shalt Not Develop Close Friends of the Opposite Sex Lest The Temptation Be Too Great. If you’re an emotionally deprived wife, searching for connection, you’re pretty much begging for an affair when you do this.

6. Confess to your popular close friend that you’re falling for him. You could have pulled away and said nothing, but you chose to bring this to the surface. Why? Because you wanted to have another affair. Can you see how you’re coming across, Annie?

Thou Shalt Not Develop Close Friends of the Opposite Sex Lest The Temptation Be Too Great.

7. Fall in love with another man in the weeks before he moves. Another opportunity for you to pull away cleanly without your husband knowing, but you dove in, headfirst, and convinced yourself you “loved” this guy.

8. Get separated from your husband to be with a man who is going 1000 miles away. As much as I’m beating up on you, it’s in the realm of possibility that you can fall in love with another man while you’re with your husband. But to consciously fall in love with a man who has one foot, two arms and five packed bags out the door? Kind of poor short-term thinking, no?

9. Become surprised that the man who said he was disappearing has actually disappeared. The fact that he was sweet to you, slept with you, and said nice things before he left is sort of predictable. It’s hard to sleep with someone when you’re mean to her, and it would be surprising if his final words to you were that he never planned on seeing you again. He was in the moment. You were in the clouds.

10. Ask a question like this: Was I just a hookup because he was leaving? Would a guy exploit a friendship like that? Huh? You make every mistake in the book, cheat on your husband repeatedly, seduce a guy with an out-of-town job who said he respected your marriage, and then complain that the guy “exploited” your friendship?

You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me, Annie.

Look in the mirror. Get into therapy. And start taking responsibility for your behaviors.

I feel bad that you’ve made so many mistakes, but you’re not going to remedy them by continuing on this childish, selfish and immoral path.

I Cheated And I Regret It. How Long Do I Have to Pay the Price?

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I am a 29 year old man who has been dating my current 31 year old girlfriend for close to a year. I met her last October at a mutual friend’s wedding and asked for her number. We began going out, and in January, we agreed to be in a committed relationship. We share many hobbies and interests, have stimulating conversations and love spending time with each other. She is beautiful (she was a former model), and is practicing as a lawyer now. Income wise, she earns more than me, but that has never been an issue and she is always happy to chip in whenever we go out. I knew I was in love with her, but I didn’t know just how much she meant to me until I nearly lost her recently. Please allow me to explain.

Prior to meeting my current girlfriend, I was notoriously known as being a player, with weekends filled with clubbing and picking up random girls. I hadn’t had a serious girlfriend for over 3 years. After committing to my girlfriend, I began missing my single lifestyle. Although my girlfriend always told me to have fun at my boys’ nights, she always wanted to know when I was home. She always wanted to know who I was with and where I was. I suppose I resented having to “check in” with her.

In March, I was having a boozy night out with some guy friends when I bumped into my friend, who I will call Katy. I always knew Katy liked me, and I was flattered at the attention she was giving me. My friend Gary, who doesn’t have much respect for monogamy, egged me on. Drunk and encouraged by Gary, I ended up sleeping with Katy at her place that night. After the event, I immediately regretted it, and messaged Gary saying that I felt like a complete jerk for cheating. I stopped contacting Katy afterwards and cut her out of my life, and resolved to be a good boyfriend from then on.

I had almost completely forgotten about this event until one day, I was napping at my girlfriend’s house and she woke me by slapping me across the face. It turns out that she had gone through my phone and discovered the messages between me and Gary where I was confessing to Gary what had happened with Katy. My girlfriend told me she suspected I had never really given up my playboy ways which is why she went through my phone to find proof. She broke up with me and kicked me out of the house.

The following week, I sent her flowers and called every day begging for forgiveness. I told her I would do absolutely anything to regain her trust and give me a second chance. She finally decided to forgive me conditional upon the following: (i) No more boys’ nights; (ii) To install a GPS tracker on my phone; and (iii) To remove Gary from my life. I agreed to all conditions; the last one was the most difficult for me to do as I had known Gary since high school, but my girlfriend believed he was a bad influence to our relationship, so I agreed and told Gary I could not to see him anymore.

It’s been a month since she decided to give me a second chance. I am grateful to have her back in my life, as I now know that I cannot live without her. However, I can’t help but feel stifled as I have no freedom or control over my life anymore. She doesn’t allow me to see female friends she doesn’t trust, even in the company of others. She watches my every move on the GPS tracker, and flips out if I forget to “check in” or report who I am with. I know I deserve this, but I miss seeing my friends and miss my freedom too. Would I be unreasonable if I asked her to loosen the leash around my neck a little? Or is her behavior now completely rational?

James

Let’s start at the end and work backwards, shall we?

Trust is the underpinning of any relationship.

You have a girlfriend who doesn’t trust you.

Therefore, your relationship is doomed and you should probably get out and start over.

Trust is the underpinning of any relationship.

Now that we’ve ripped the band-aid off, let me explain why I feel that way, so you can draw your own conclusions.

As I’ve said many times before, it’s either “all trust or no trust”.

You can’t partially trust your partner. If she’s talking to her ex-boyfriend on Facebook, you have to assume it’s platonic. If you’re going to a bachelor party with your buddies, she has to assume you’ll be faithful. If either of you doubts your partner’s ability to stay faithful, all trust is eroded.

The thing is, James, you didn’t have any trust to begin with.

Your girlfriend was already mistrustful of men before she met you. You overlooked that and then resented that she made you “check in”.

Factor in that you aren’t a trustworthy person. Your girlfriend knew you were a player, that you hung out with players, and that you glorified the player lifestyle, and she overlooked it. She evidently figured that keeping you on a short leash would tame you.

In fact, as you pointed out, it had the opposite effect. The more she clamped down on you, the more you wanted your freedom.

So you cheated. And regretted it. And hoped she’d never find out. But she did, and now she’s got your balls in a jar next to her nightstand.

And, not surprisingly, you’re not really enjoying the consequences of not being trusted. This is what it’s like to be in jail, dude. You stole a car for fun, the cops caught you, and now you’ve got a record. Isn’t it bullshit that they’re locking you up? Isn’t ridiculous that you have a record and that it will follow you around when you apply for jobs? Isn’t it unfair that one mistake should haunt you for the rest of your life?

Not really.

Your girlfriend’s behavior is completely rational given your behavior. What she doesn’t realize is that it’s completely ineffective.

As I wrote in “Why He Disappeared,” men are about feelings, not about looks. In other words, we may fall for someone because she’s hot, but ultimately, we stay because of how we feel when we’re around her.

I can’t speak for James here, but I’d have a really hard time feeling good about a girlfriend who couldn’t forgive my mistake and continued to treat me like a criminal. To forbid you from hanging out with your friends, to be GPS tracked and to force you to cut off a friend is — depending on your perspective – a steep or perfectly reasonable response to your infidelity.

If she can’t trust you — or won’t trust you even though you’ve vowed to be faithful — then you both owe it to yourselves to make a clean break.

No one is going to defend your infidelity.

But I will take a stand and say that your girlfriend’s behavior is indefensible as well. If she wants to have a happy boyfriend, she has to make you feel like a trustworthy human being and you have to continue to earn that label.

If she can’t trust you — or won’t trust you even though you’ve vowed to be faithful — then you both owe it to yourselves to make a clean break.

You will have learned a valuable lesson as to why it’s important to be faithful — otherwise you lose the girl and get thrown in jail.

And she will hopefully learn that the only man she should date is a man she can COMPLETELY trust. Because while you may be willing to put up with this phone-checking, friend-banning, GPS bullshit because you’re a cheater, an HONEST man will have ZERO tolerance for being treated like a criminal.

PRIVACY POLICY

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