Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s Power editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
My partner and I have been in a relationship for six years now, but we were long-distance the first four. We’re living together now, comfortable and settled down.
A few months ago, I was helping him troubleshoot something on his phone and I saw some old text messages from two years ago, just a few months before we moved in together. They were sent to someone that I can assume (with high confidence) was a sex worker; they were talking price, location, and things he wanted to do. I didn’t want to believe it, but the final exchange read “I’m here” and “Thanks, that was fun.”
Of course, he denied it. He said he would never do that and he doesn’t know why such messages would be on his phone. I told him to give me a plausible explanation as to why they would be there if he didn’t send them. He couldn’t.
I figured it all took place years ago when we weren’t even living in the same state. Our relationship has been doing well since we started living together. I decided to try and forgive him, even though he denied it ever happened. Things are back to normal between us. We have fun. He makes me happy and I’m truly in love.
The thing is — I can’t quite get over it. Sometimes, I get flashes of those text messages and the lewd things talked about in them, and intrusive thoughts about the awful things they probably did. I’m paralyzed at my desk in the middle of the workday. It weighs heavily on my heart and has affected the way I see my partner sometimes.
I want to move past this and I want to be with him. Is that crazy? What can I do to forgive him?
It is not crazy to want to forgive your partner for infidelity. People do that all the time, for good reasons, and while it changes a relationship it does not always have to break one. In fact, the circumstances of your partner’s cheating (long-distance at the time, seemingly a purely physical entanglement with no ongoing emotional attachments) is precisely the sort of thing many people find easier to forgive than say, a years-long affair or a secret second family.
What is crazy, though, is trying to forgive someone who has not asked for your forgiveness, because your partner is unwilling to even admit that he may require it. “It’s not the cheating, it’s the lying” is kind of bog standard advice column stuff but truly, in this case, it’s not the cheating, it’s the lying.
I suppose you can take some comfort in the fact that your partner appears to be a terrible fucking liar, because anyone who could craft a spontaneous, convincing explanation for those texts is probably a sociopath, but that is hardly comfort enough. You are unable to get over this because his lying means it’s not something that happened in the past you can put behind you — he drags it into every moment of your relationship. I don’t doubt that you love him very much, but it is hard to continue loving someone who thinks you are stupid.
You need to talk about this again. He needs to know that his relief at being given a pass on this is coming at a cost to you. There are many loving and happy couples out there for whom infidelity was a bad thing that happened, but if you want to get there, he needs to admit it was a bad thing that happened.
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