I have always been one of those who could not understand how women stay in obviously messed-up relationships, and even as I write this, I imagine what would I do if my friend came to me in a similar predicament, and I would say: “Get away!” But now that it’s me, how do I walk away from everything I have worked for? How do I take that life away from my kids?? My boyfriend has been saying all the right things — that he is sorry, that he wants to work on our relationship, that he will do anything to get my trust back. But how??? What could he possibly do? I trusted him more than I trust myself. He was my best friend. We could talk about anything. We are not a couple of teenagers playing house. We made a conscious decision to have a family. I mean, yes, the second baby made things more difficult, but we knew what we were in for! All we had to do was survive this first 12-18 months! This was not supposed to happen to couples like us.
How do I ever look at him and not think about what he has done? How do I start trusting him again? How do I keep myself from panicking every time he is 10 minutes late from work? If I forgive him, how do I know he will never do this again? He says one of the reasons he did this is to escape the routine. But for the foreseeable future, that routine is not going to change. And what if that damned condom didn’t break? Would he have even told me? How do I know that it was only this one time (not that it matters much)?
We have decided to go to couples therapy, but until then, how do I look at him? How do I talk to him? I can’t leave, but I can’t throw him out either. I can’t talk to anyone about this, because even if by some miracle I will be able to forgive him, I know none of my friends or relatives ever will.
I have always thought of myself as a strong woman, but I hate myself now. I hate my inability to walk away, and I hate that I let him hurt me this much. Any advice would be welcome. Broken Condom, Broken Heart
First of all, this is not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong! And you can absolutely be a strong woman and have something bad happen that shakes your foundation and makes you question everything you thought was real (like the trust you felt for your partner). Not knowing immediately what to do and not feeling like you are immediately ready to just walk away from this relationship doesn’t make you weak. You have more than yourself to think about here. You have two young children whose lives are every bit as intertwined in this family unit as yours is intertwined with your partner’s. If you leave with them or if you kick your partner out, there will be consequences, and dealing with those consequences isn’t easy. This isn’t an easy decision to make, and, just because you’re feeling confused, doesn’t make you any less strong; it makes you human.
You can get through this. You can ask your partner to leave because you can’t stand the sight of him and every time you look at him you think about what he’s done not just to you and your relationship, but to your family. You can ask him to leave so you have space to process what you’ve just learned and what it means for your future. You can get some distance not just while you wait to start therapy, but while you’re IN therapy because this man right now isn’t who you thought he was and you can’t bear to share space with him. You CAN “throw him out,” as you say. It is every bit your right — and a justifiable one, at that — to ask him to stay with a friend or family or find a motel for a few weeks (or longer) so that you don’t have him in your home when you sleep and he’s not there when you wake up and he’s not there when you get home from work or with the kids.
Space is an immediate need of yours that can be met. Once you have space — both physically and psychologically — you can begin meditating on the other issues you’re facing: how to re-build trust; how to co-parent while you try to work on your relationship; and how you can move forward if you decide this is not someone you want to be with anymore. A therapist will help you tackle these issues in-depth. On your own, you can begin thinking about what you need from your partner in order to, first, forgive him, and second, trust him. Maybe you need him to call you every hour. Maybe you need him to come directly home from work every single day. Maybe you need him to share his passwords to his email and phone and wherever else he may have a trail to various transgressions. Maybe he needs to show you his phone at will, whenever you ask him to. These are just some ideas and maybe none of them will work for you, but the point is for you to think about how your boyfriend might be able to work toward earning back your trust and then giving him a chance to do right by you. IF you decide to move forward with him.
If you decide to MOA, that’s perfectly fine too. Personally, I would have a hard time believing that my partner slept with a prostitute only ONE time and it was that ONE time that the condom broke. I’d think there were probably plenty more times before the condom incident, and that would make me pretty leery about continuing a relationship. He not only put your relationship — and family — in serious jeopardy; he risked your health.
If you haven’t yet, please go get tested for STDs. Who knows what diseases your partner has exposed himself and you to without your knowledge. And beyond talking to a therapist, call in your support network — close family members and confidantes — and ask for help. With two young children, you’ll need childcare help, emotional support, and maybe even financial support — if you kick out your boyfriend (which I recommend you do, at least temporarily) and figure out how best to raise these children now that the status of your relationship is up in the air. Stay strong.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.