Thank you for the opportunity to serve. I read your question, and I would sincerely like to help.
You wrote: “My heart is hurt and I am struggling to make the right decision if I should stay or go. My heart keeps saying that since it happened before we got married and took our vows, maybe it’s not AS bad.”
My answer: Here’s what you don’t want you to do: You don’t want to “repress” the hurt by telling yourself it shouldn’t matter because it happened before the wedding. The fact is, it does matter. Trying to “minimize” the event isn’t the way to relieve your pain. In your “gut”, you recognize… betrayal IS betrayal regardless of the “timeline”.
It’s obvious his actions have hurt you, and you must acknowledge that so you can heal from it. It’s also obvious his actions broke the trust between both of you, and you BOTH need to acknowledge that, so you can rebuild.
Remember: Betrayal isn’t just about “sex”. It’s about deception, secrecy, and lack of integrity — when it happens is irrelevant. I believe this isn’t really an issue of “cheating before the wedding” anymore. At the core, the real problem is trust. So… the real question you’re asking is… can I trust him?
You know as well as I do that a relationship without trust is like a library without books — it might have a shell, but it lacks substance. And we both know that’s not the type of marriage you want. You want a relationship based on trust, honesty and mutual values. And knowing his history, the deeper question then becomes, can you have that kind of marriage with this man?
My answer is yes. Absolutely. You can have it. (I’ll tell you more about this in a minute.) For now, let’s move on to your next question.
You wrote: “…but I am so hurt! I also have that ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ phrase in my head… is that true? Or can someone change?”
I find “once a cheater, always a cheater” to be a very damaging cliché. What it basically says is that once a person makes a mistake, they’ll keep making that same mistake into infinity. This is along the same line of “a leopard never changes its spots,” but neither of these statements point to truth.
The fact is, a leopard can’t change its spots because it’s a leopard. But a human being on the other hand can change anything — his mind, his body, his life. That’s part of what makes him human.
For all of us, it’s our ability to LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES that sets us apart. So, when you believe statements like “once a cheater, always a cheater,” you’re basically denying a person’s “human” capacity to learn, grow and overcome his or her mistakes. Never underestimate the power of a human being to grow. There are no limits to how much a person can learn from their mistakes.
My question to you is this:
IF I were to remove the cheating event, IS this guy worth fighting for?
I believe that most people would like to get their needs met honestly — rather than dishonestly. What happens is that people have certain “needs/desires,” and when they don’t have the skills or tools to get them met honestly, they sometimes resort to dishonesty. The question you need to answer is… do you believe your husband can learn how to meet his needs honestly? For more help answering this question, read my article What is Wayward Rehab.
So, where do you go from here?
Basically, you have two paths you can take. You can keep living in fear, or you can get on the road to recovery. I suggest you get on the road to recovery. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. You are worth it, and your marriage deserves a “fair” chance.
How do you get on the road to recovery?
Step #1: Willingness. Yep, it all begins here. It’s not a matter of “can you” have the marriage you want; it’s a matter of “are you willing to” do what it takes to have it. It’s not a question of “can you” trust again; it’s a question of “are you willing to” trust again? It all comes back to “willingness” — the willingness to risk, to put your heart on the line, and to “open up” again. All this isn’t a matter of IF you can, because of course you can — it’s a matter of are you “willing to.” I leave that for you to decide.
Step #2: Switch your focus from “hurting” to “healing”.
Each one of us gets “hurt” in the game of life. As a matter of fact, I just got off the phone with my 72-year-old mother-in-law whose home was just robbed. Understandably, she’s devastated. She feels hurt, violated, and victimized in the worst way. And on top of it, she’s the sweetest woman you would ever want to meet. She just can’t understand who would do such a thing.
How do you comfort someone at a time like this? You do so with compassion. A lot of love and gentle words. I reminded her… material things are always temporary, that nothing of any REAL value was taken from her. We went on to talk about how lucky she was not to ever have had to “steal” for a living. How blessed she is that both her grown children meet their financial needs fairly and honestly. In the end, she was able to move from feeling victimized to feeling compassion for those who didn’t know how to meet their financial needs honestly and fairly. And then, we made plans on how to fortify her home against it ever happening again. She truly is an amazing woman. By the end of the call, she had decided she would recover and not cower in fear.
The same lesson applies to you.
You can recover, or you can cower. You can focus on how much this hurt you, or you can focus on how this can “heal” you. When you switch the focus from the “hurt” to healing, it means you’re owning the fact that his indiscretions were a wake up call, and not a death blow — because anything that stresses a marriage also has the potential to strengthen it. Your job, then, is to use this experience as a teaching tool (and not as a torture device). Let it be your call to action to learn how to design a marriage in which BOTH partners get their needs met honestly. You need to learn how to create that “passionate monogamy” lifestyle so neither of you feel the need to reach beyond the boundaries of your marriage. To help you learn more about how to do that, read my article: Intro to Passionate Monogamy.
Step #3: Embrace true forgiveness. Here’s the thing to know, though: Forgiveness isn’t something you do for him. Forgiveness is for you. When you forgive him, it’s you that feels the instant pain relief.
And here’s another thing:
Forgiving someone you truly love isn’t hard. What’s hard is loving truly enough to forgive. This is why forgiveness isn’t the real miracle. Having the type of love that inspires such forgiveness is the true miracle.
One thing you should know:
When you love, you have no guarantees. Just like my mother-in-law doesn’t know if those robbers will come back again, you don’t know if this will happen again. There’s no way to be certain. But if it’s certainty you’re after, you’re on the wrong planet. (Earth is a place of uncertainty, but that’s what makes it so exciting!) So that’s why true love is a real miracle. There are no real “reasons” for it. No “logic” to explain it. No “contracts” to guarantee it. And yet, you give it anyway.
Now, the ball is in your court. You have some decisions to make. Will you stay on the path of fear, or get on the road to recovery? Will you let the love win, or the fear? I trust you will make the loving choice.