Hax: More issues here than just cheating

The Washington PostFebruary 21, 2014 

Carolyn: My girlfriend has told me about her unfaithful past. It has me worried quite a bit. She told me she dated someone for three years, and in the last year she became unfaithful. It started with just hanging out with a guy she liked, but she didn’t engage in anything physical. However, she did meet someone at work and that went into physical territory — weekends away to hotels.

After that ended a year and a half ago, she became very promiscuous. We met four months ago and have been dating ever since. She told me she would never cheat on me, and that her past was full of mistakes. She says she used sex to cope.

Sometimes I worry. I’ve heard the saying, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” and I’m trying my best not to become a jealous, possessive boyfriend. Any advice?

R

People can be a bad relationship bet for countless reasons, often in glorious combination. Fixating on only one of them automatically forces you into a narrow view of a person, just when thinking broadly would optimize your judgment — not just of her, but of yourself with her.

For example, why are you stressed by her cheating, but not relieved by her honesty?

Of course it makes sense to be concerned about her destructive past. Of course it’s going to be on your mind. Of course infidelity is near the top of the bad-news food chain.

But, there’s dishonesty at work, for one. There’s selfishness. There’s thrill-seeking. There’s often impulsiveness, or susceptibility to immediate gratification. There’s pain relief. There are, sometimes: cruelty, vanity, greed, cowardice, depression, addiction, denial.

Being possessive of someone, or employing the proverbial short leash, does nothing to offset any of these destructive tendencies. What does keep them from infecting a relationship is mastery of them by your girlfriend, and a certain amount of acceptance of them by you both.

Remember, there’s no such thing as trusting someone never to do you harm. There’s only trust that it won’t be purposeful or negligent — and that you’re prepared to handle it.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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