What's Cheating and What's Not
Dear Dr. Tracy,
I am a 19 year old female from Washington State and currently dating my first boyfriend
whom I met my freshman year in college. We have been together for almost a year now and
things have been going well these past couple of months, but I can't seem to get over an
incident which happened back in March of this year.
My boyfriend and I were frequently arguing about petty things and pretty much not agreeing
about much of anything. He suggested that we take a break to try and work things out. I didn't
really feel it was a necessary action to take, but I agreed because he made this appear to be
the mature thing to do. The day following our "break up" my roommate told me that she had
seen him walking around campus holding hands with another girl. I was so upset by this news
I couldn't concentrate on my school work or focus on anything else other than my own
jealousy. Two days later I stopped by his apartment to drop off something he had left, and he
suggested to me that we should try and get back together. I asked about the girl he was with,
and he guaranteed me that nothing sexual happened between the two of them. We then got
back together and things were going fine, until he kept receiving phone calls from the girl he
claimed to had no "sexual contact" with. I find out that she had a pregnancy scare, and he was
the only man she had slept with in the past month. I was so hurt by this, and almost dumped
him, but he convinced me that it wasn't considered cheating because we had been on a brake.
The problem is I can't seem to get the ghost of this girl out of my head, and every time I think
about him having sex with her, I feel physically ill, yet I can't brake up with him
because I love him so much. Every day I battle with the question "should I, or shouldn't I?"
Besides this incident, we have a good relationship, but I can't help but question his honesty,
and I am deeply hurt that he could do something like this to me. He tells me that he is in love
with me, but I don't understand how he could want to have sex with someone else, and say
he still has feelings for me. I don't know, maybe it's a trait of men in general to think with their
little head instead of their big one.
I agree with you, your boyfriend's "breakup" was very convenient for him. And very suspicious. He's asking you to believe that he was totally faithful before he broke up with you, and then suddenly, within a day or two, started holding hands and sleeping with someone he'd never before been intimate with. It's possible, but it's not likely.
It's also possible that he picked the fights and arguments over petty things just to precipitate a break or a "time out" on your relationship so that he could indulge himself with this other woman and still claim to be innocent of cheating since you weren't really together. If so, it was a sneaky, underhanded move. Either way -- whether he was previously cheating on you or had this little "affair" all planned out -- you have a right to be angry and hurt.
But jealousy is a useless emotion. It hurts the jealous person so much more than the person they're jealous of. So instead of being jealous, be watchful. Since you agreed to the "time out" on the relationship, technically he had every right to be with someone else during that time. And although his story is suspicious, it all could conceivably have happened during that brief period. You may never know.
So tell him you're willing to forget it this one time, but that if anything like this happens again, you won't take him back. Let him know you suspect he picked arguments to have a fling with this girl and he shouldn't try it again.
If he's in love with you and you're in love with him, forget the other girl and be happy together. After all, you have him and she doesn't. Stop battling with yourself and either decide to stay and forget it, or leave.
Just because a man has sex with another woman briefly doesn't mean that he loves you less. Some men make decisions by comparison shopping. Give him the benefit of the doubt this one time, but let him know there can be no second chances. You are both young, and this relationship isn't likely to be the final one for either of you. This is a good time in your life to learn to set limits, to learn forgiveness and to gain enough self-confidence that you're not constantly jealous.
When you're confident about your own value, you don't have to be jealous. You simply think, "He's really stupid if he chooses someone other than wonderful me. And if he tries to compare me to someone else, I don't have to worry because I know I'll come out ahead."
Young men in general are more likely to think with their little head than older ones who have often learned the hard way which head should be in control.
Dear Dr. Tracy,
Another Separated but not divorced question - but different. I am 43,
English but work abroad in an unaccompanied post. About 3 years ago I met
the woman of my dreams, 14 years younger and Algerian. Our friendship
developed at the same rate as my 12 year marriage was disintegrating. 1 year
ago I told my wife about her and we decided to split up and then divorce on
grounds of adultery. There are 2 children involved. I believe that I have
been open and frank with all parties all along. My wife and I are good
friends but bad partners and we both feel better for the decision that we
have now taken. We aim to be good joint parents to the boys and we are
sorting things out with the minimum of fuss to help cut down legal costs.
The girl of my dreams is very different in terms of culture and language but
I have never felt this to be an insurmountable problem. We are very, very in
love and to this extent she has even moved in with me which breaks many
social taboos in her country. I have enormous respect for this sign of
commitment. I have said to her all along that I only love her and contrary
to her occasional jealousies I do not, would not nor cannot fool around with
any other girls.
The problem is that she is intensly jealous of any contact I have with my
wife. I have explained and shown papers that I am getting the divorce but
that the UK system is more complex than hers. It is not a subject that we
often discuss because she gets very heated. I have said all along that we
will get married, and that is my sincere wish this year. She often asks me
when and I can only give her the latest from my solicitor, which at best is
not before October this year.
From time to time she gets very emotional, normally when I plan to see my
kids in UK - which I don't do enough frankly because of her insecurity when
I am not there. We have had some quite bad rows cause of this but we have
always made up and strengthened our relationship. After the rows I have
analysed the relationship to see whether I can continue. In each case I have
continued because I believe that we are deeply in love with eachother and
are learning to accept eachother's faults. We discuss and laugh about them
when the going is good.
However the latest saga leaves me really wondering. At midnight before I
flew to UK she was in bed recovering from a bad back problem. Having packed
etc I got into bed and gently touched her shoulder. She took this as the
signal to go ballistic, chucking a things around the bedroom and then
grabbing some bin liners and literally sweeping all her stuff into them. In
no time at all she heaved the bags out and slammed the front door closed
with all her strength. She went back to her family house a short walk away.
Somewhat shell shocked and totally unprepared for this I decided to change
one of the locks for a spare that I had when I took the appartment
effectively ensuring that all my gear would be safe in my absense. Then I
bathed and went to the airport for my flight, leaving her with no access to
the flat, no car or mobile phone. Just before I flew, she called. I told her
what I had done and she threatened to break the door down (difficult as it
is very strong). As she expolded with rage she threatened to kill my entire
family, spread the worst rumours about me wherever she could and told me
that I would pay very dearly for this when I got back! I told her that she
had walked out and I could not leave my flat open to her for the week away.
I am a fair person and would like to say that I can understand her
frustration. However I am weighing up the logic of all the sacrifices I have
made for her, personal, financial and professional and also the 3 years that
she has "invested" with me with still only being in second poll position in
her mind. I was convinced that we would be husband and wife and that I would
proudly carry her on my arm the rest of my life, with all her differences,
likes and dislikes etc. I loved and still love all her differences to mine,
its a wonderful mix.
My question is that I am still madly in love with her and 3 years worth of
mutual adoration can't just go up in smoke, so should I try to rekindle it
(if I'm still alive!) or shall I call it quits now? Walking out on your man
and him changing the lock and leaving for a week is a bit of a tie breaker.
I believe that this was emotional over reaction on both parts but that if
there was no depth in the relationship I wouldn't be writing to you for
I feel sure that if we marry she will be a perfect mate. I also can't stand
the thought of going through all this again with someone else after all that
I have done for and with her.
You may be able to tell me whether her, in my view, very unfair behaviour
(kick a dog when it's down) will change when I am divorced and we are
Dear Madly in Love,
What on earth makes you think that marrying this woman will make her act differently, or be less jealous and angry?
Marriage has its own problems, as you well know. Let's say for the sake of argument that you take this woman back and you marry her because you're madly in love. Then you go once again to visit your children -- which you certainly will want to do. Is she going to be less jealous or more jealous because you're married to her?
Marriage may make her feel even more possessive and entitled to your total attention. It's quite possible that she might feel even angrier and more upset about you visiting your ex and your kids after you're married. How will you ever leave her in your apartment if you're afraid of what she will do when you're gone?
Unless you're prepared for a life of emotional uproar (and some people really thrive on this kind of emotionally charged life), you may have to forget this woman. She's liable to make your life a constant battle and you may never know when she'll go off and explode. She is 14 years younger and from a culture you probably don't understand as well as your own.
Imagine how you will feel when you are 60 and your 46-year-old wife throws things around the house, destroys your possessions and throws a jealous temper tantrum! Take it from me, you won't like it. I really don't think her behavior will change without serious therapy and commitment to work on managing her anger and her jealousy, which I doubt she is willing to do. Her behavior might be acceptable where you are now. But if you were to return to England, it might not be as easy to take.
I suspect your being so far from home and unaccompanied is one reason for your attachment to this woman. But she has threatened to kill your entire family. This is really above and beyond normal anger. It's worrisome that her culture might think it's okay to kill you or your family. Perhaps you should learn more about it before you make a decision about taking on this risk - if you're still alive when you read this.
Worried About His Ex
Dear Dr. Tracy,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for about 10
months (he's 33 and I'm 30). Our relationship has
been progressing to the point where it is quite
serious, and I think it will continue to progress. He
told me for the first time that he loves me a few
months ago, and says it regularly; we get along very
well and have many common interests; and there is a
general sense of mutual respect and admiration between
The problem is, he and his ex-girlfriend (30) broke up
over 2 years ago because he wasn't happy anymore at
the end of their 10-year relationship and cheated on
her, then told her he had done that and wanted to
break up with her. She evidently would not accept
that and was very upset, so he felt bad and tried to
continue dating her. She would never forgive him for
the cheating and continually tried to make him feel
guilty by crying, screaming at him, etc., so he felt
that it was never going to work. Once they finally
broke up for good, he continued to talk to her
regularly and hang out with her (I think out of a
sense of guilt and because they had gone out for so
long), although she would still bring up the cheating
and make him feel guilty over and over.
When he and I started to date, he was still talking to
her every week or so. As things between us got more
serious, he talked to her less, although she continued
to call him. Things seem to have got out of hand
within the last couple of months. Several weeks ago,
she left 6 messages on his answering machine, crying
and screaming and so on about how whoever he was
dating now was a whore, he should pay for her therapy,
etc. He didn't call her back, but he did pick up the
phone the next time she called and told her that he
didn't want her to call him at home anymore. She got
mad and hung up on him, then a few days later called
his boss to say that he was taking a new job (which he
was, but hadn't yet told his boss). After that he
blocked her phone number from his phone, but then 2
days ago he got about 15 messages from her calling
from another number. Again, these were her screaming,
crying, saying he should pay for her therapy because
he ruined her life, etc.
My question is, what do you think is the best way for
him to handle this situation? He has had trouble
personally cutting her out of his life because of the
length of his relationship and because he feels that
to some extent it is his fault that she is so hurt and
mentally/emotionally messed up. I think that at this
point she should have moved beyond this anger and that
her behavior is way beyond the bounds of anything
reasonable, whatever he might have done to her in the
past. For example, to refer to anyone he is dating
now--2 years after they broke up--as a "whore" is just
ridiculous, as if he's still cheating on her somehow.
I'm sure she was very hurt by his cheating, and she
must have thought that they would get married someday
(although they were never engaged or living together),
but enough is enough.
Although he says she wasn't like this when they were
dating--which I'm sure is true, since I can't imagine
anyone wanting to date someone who acted this way--I
also think there must have been some indication in her
personality that she would be capable of behaving like
I realize that this is between him and her, but since
he is a big part of my life I feel that it affects our
relationship as well. I don't know whether he should
try changing his phone number, call her parents (who
she still lives with), try to talk to her and tell her
to stop calling him because he has a new relationship
now, or what. I'm starting to think she's going to
show up at his house and do something crazy.
Any advice you have would really be appreciated.
He's yours. She lost him. Have compassion. She spent ten years with him and probably expected to spend the rest of her life with him. You would be upset, too, if you were in her place.
So forgive and forget what she said. Show you can be a bigger person than she is. Don't stoop to her level and don't act out or you'll be put in the same category she is. And sure, there were probably indications when he was dating her that she could become irrational. Perhaps that's why they never married.
However, all that's in the past. Right now, he needs to handle this situation. It's up to him really. He partially caused the problem. He cheated on her and drove her to this point, and his guilt is probably righteously deserved. He could call her parents and suggest that she needs therapy, he could pay for her therapy, he could change his phone number, or he could simply continue to try to pacify her.
Let him decide what to do about her. But if he wants to keep her in his life, insist that she must be friends with the two of you, as a couple, and not just with him.
You, however, have little to worry about. The worse she acts, the better you can look in comparison. So just be the good guy and let her be the bad guy. You can't lose.