A few weeks ago, my girlfriend confessed to me that she cheated while on a business trip. This is especially painful because we had just celebrated our third anniversary. Jen seems very contrite and I want to forgive her, but right now I am hurt and angry.
The problem is that we had planned to go home to my parents for Christmas and now I don’t want her to come. It’s too soon to just move on and have a merry Christmas.
But if I don’t bring her, I’ll have to explain to my parents what happened and I’m afraid it will poison their feelings toward Jen. I don’t think there’s any way I can keep this a secret from them.
My parents were not happy when I came out and it’s taken them a while to get comfortable about my relationship. It was a really big deal when they invited both of us home this year and I’m mad that Jen screwed up this opportunity.
Whether I take Jen home or not, both options seem to suck. Advice?
Both of your options have serious downsides. Fortunately, there are other ways to approach your situation.
Point one: You’re too old to be sharing everything with your parents. As an adult, it’s your job to figure out what you want to do, what you want to share and what you consider to be your personal business. Like Jen, you would be wise to develop stronger boundaries.
I’m curious why you think you must discuss Jen’s infidelity with your parents. Given their response to your sexual orientation and your relationship, they seem like a poor source of support. I understand that you’re struggling right now. Keep in mind that going to others who take a stance about what you should do gets in the way of you figuring out how best to proceed. I suggest you find some healthy ways to soothe yourself. Consider activities such as exercise, journaling, time with a companion animal or close friend, meditation or yoga. If you want to speak with a friend, choose someone who won’t take sides or trash Jen.
Although I advocate that you not drag your parents into this, it also isn’t your job to present the appearance of a flawless relationship to them or to anyone else. A lot of same-sex couples believe that they have to show the world that gay relationships are healthy by hiding any discord or problems. Of course, gay relationships can be as strong as any other, but all relationships have ups and downs. Remember not to put pressure on yourself to come across as having a perfect partnership.
Point two: Get clear about why you don’t want Jen to come home with you for Christmas. If you really believe that it would be too painful to spend time with her right now, then take a break and go home without her. Making this choice will give you a bonus opportunity to get better at setting a boundary with your parents if they press you for more details about Jen’s absence than you want to provide.
But don’t leave Jen in town because you want to punish her. Sticking it to your partner is always a bad move. You don’t want retaliation to be a weapon of choice in your relationship when either of you is displeased or hurt.
Point three: It is absolutely possible to heal your relationship after an affair. If you both want to move forward as a closer, stronger couple, Jen will have to understand what contributed to her stepping out and what she must do to avoid cheating again. And you will benefit from understanding her affair in the larger context of your relationship. While you’re not responsible for her behavior, spouses often play some role in a partner’s infidelity, whether by being distant or hostile or simply by not addressing some red flag they’ve noticed and are scared to bring up.
Ultimately, you will also have to decide if you are willing to forgive Jen, because if you don’t, your relationship will go nowhere. Forgiveness means letting go of anger and resentment and accepting what happened. Forgiveness usually takes time, so don’t rush yourself.
Tackling the hard stuff with Jen will be more difficult than giving her the cold shoulder, but will be far more beneficial in the long run. If you and Jen decide to go forward, I hope you will be motivated by knowing that crises in relationships can lead to tremendous growth.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in LGBT couples counseling and individual therapy in Washington. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.