Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering columns from her archive.
Dear Carolyn: I just found out my boyfriend and his ex-girlfriend have been emailing every so often, prompted by my boyfriend. I told him it made me uncomfortable, and he’s stopping. So why do I feel slimy?
Because the emailing was either innocent, and you seized control for no other reason than your own insecurity — or it wasn’t innocent, and your crackdown doesn’t change the fact that they were emotionally entwined.
So, you intervened and have nothing — no truth, no assurances — to show for it. That could make one feel slimy. Go back to him, and find out why he reached out to her. Make it clear you want the whole truth, not just what he thinks he should say.
He may still withhold information to protect himself, but if you listen carefully with your mind open to everything his words, face, attitude, even history are saying (instead of throwing up a bunch of must-save-this-relationship defenses), I think you’ll get a good fix on his trustworthiness.
If you can trust him, then certainly he can send an occasional e-mail to the occasional ex. And if you can’t trust him, then you need to be the next ex in his contact list.
Re: Must-save-this-relationship defenses: My husband cheated on me. He has owned up, is doing the soul-searching and counseling, and we’ve both grown a lot. I still don’t fully trust him and wonder if I ever will again.
We have lots of great things in our relationship. Is that enough? Will I be able to trust again, or am I just trying to save the relationship?
Ask yourself what it will take for you to trust him again. Is it a clear goal he can actually achieve? Say, hitting the one-year mark without suspicious behavior? Three years? Five?
If it’s just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop, then it doesn’t sound as if you’ll be trusting him any time soon. Staying married on those terms wouldn’t be fair to either of you.
Since my opening question is actually a trick question — there is no such achievable “goal,” since you can’t prove a negative — I would argue the person you need to trust is yourself.
You need to trust whether you’ve married a good person, trust your ability to sense deception, trust yourself to handle it if you get more bad news, trust your priorities.
The last one is the heart of this issue. Your concerns suggest that having a faithful spouse is among your top priorities. Is that the right call? Forget society — I mean for you.
Anyone who enters a marriage needs to ask him- or herself whether infidelity would be the end. I’m guessing you would have said yes, as so many do — and yet, obviously, it wasn’t the end for you. As it isn’t for so many.
So, would another infidelity seal it, or does your idea of marriage allow for nuance?
Every culture seems to have its own approach to fidelity, and that alone suggests there’s room for complicated views. Revisiting your ideals with reality in mind will give you a better understanding of what you need, and can expect, from your marriage. Taking charge beats waiting for shoes to drop.
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