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The boyfriend has a close friend, “Justin,” whom I cheated with a few times, from October of last year to this January. Justin is engaged, and we both decided to stop our affair out of guilt. Initially, I was going to break up with the boyfriend, but Justin talked me out of it. I took some time to evaluate my motivations for cheating, and I realized I had some self-esteem issues. Through some internet reading, I decided it best to not tell the boyfriend as that would only serve to alleviate my guilt, and Justin seems very much in love and planning a wedding and has avoided placing himself in situations alone with me. I figure that living with my guilt is my punishment.
The boyfriend and I have moved forward in our relationship. I let him know that I had needs that were not being met, and I have made an effort to support him more after listening to some of his concerns. I fell in love with him again, and I see that he is what I want in a partner. And after so many years we are still sickeningly sweet with each other. We have been talking about marriage and I continue to appreciate how well we work together. He is exciting, passionate, and loyal. His friendship with Justin has been fading for other reasons and I find little opportunities to point out that he does not have to stay in an unfulfilling friendship (but I never bring it up on my own!).
Things are going well, but I am afraid that the cheating incident will come to light one day. Should I break up with him and hurt him now to save him from hurting later if he finds out what I did? Should I throw away this life we have been working on together? I am trying to deserve him, but maybe this is too far gone to rebuild and I should let him have the opportunity to start over with someone better. And how would I break it to him without messing him up? Should tell him the whole story and let him decide? Is that just self-serving? What is the right thing to do? Regarding Justin and his relationship, if my boyfriend knows the truth, it will get back to Justin’s fiancée and I will let Justin deal with his own mess. — Friendly Cheating
There are so many red flags in your letter, I hardly know where to start. So let’s just start at the beginning — the part where you chose your boyfriend’s close friend to cheat with — someone who was emotionally unavailable for multiple reasons — and how it wasn’t just a one-time thing, but a full-on affair that lasted for months. And then you thought about breaking up with your boyfriend but let Justin, the guy who stood to lose even more than you, talk you out of it. And then there’s the part about how you have self-esteem issues and how you don’t feel like you deserve your boyfriend. That’s a lot, and none of it bodes well for the longevity and success of your relationship.
It’s great that you’ve fallen in love with your boyfriend all over again after cheating on him with his friend for months, but it doesn’t sound to me like you’ve really addressed the issues that led you astray in the first place. You may have expressed some of your needs and are making an effort to be more attentive to your boyfriend, but what have you done to work on your self-esteem issues? If you don’t think you deserve your boyfriend, then it’s only a matter of time before you’re tempted to cheat again because cheating is a quick way to feel validated.
Honestly, it sounds to me like you could benefit from some time on your own and some time with a therapist. You’re obviously waiting for the other shoe to drop — for your boyfriend to discover the truth; for him to “find someone better”; for your relationship to end at some point for one reason or another. It seems like a terrible way to live — always fearful that you’re this close to losing something so important to you. Rather than self-sabotage, I think it would be best to put your relationship on hold and get some counseling before you unravel further.
As for whether to unload the details of your secret onto your boyfriend, I wouldn’t go that far. Your boyfriend doesn’t have to know that two people he trusted betrayed him. It can be enough for him to know that you aren’t in a place right now to be the girlfriend he deserves and that you need some space to work on yourself. It can be enough for him to know that you have doubts about your ability to commit long-term and that you need some time alone and time with a therapist to work through your self-esteem issues before you can be wife material for anyone. Sometimes the work we need to do to be a good partner is work better done outside of a relationship. This seems definitely the case for you.
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