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Help! My Boyfriend Is Cheating On Me, But He Pays The Rent
Dear Armchair Psychologist,I'm a small business owner in NYC with a healing practice. I've been with my boyfriend for six years in a somewhat unconventional relationship and over that time he's been my ride or die. My boyfriend and I have an income gap in our professions, so he financially supports me. I'm a two-time cancer survivor, I got it first at a young age and also recently in my 30s. He has stood by my side through the very rough cancer diagnosis and my recovery.Two years ago, when I victoriously beat cancer, we went away for an idyllic beach vacation to celebrate. During this time, I walked in on my boyfriend in the hotel room having a casual conversation with his ex-girlfriend of seven years. She apparently needed his support. Fast forward to a year later, I discover that he started getting massages from her at the spa she works at. He'd been doing this regularly for 6 months during times that I was out of town. (For my health, I regularly go away for a few months in the winter.) I approached him about it, and he totally denied it was true.My boyfriend is very kind and loves to be of service. He says that he will always be "there" for his exes and that it has no impact on how he feels about me. The problem is I'm obsessing over her, and it has been utter torture. The pain has pushed me to be someone I am not proud of. I'm constantly questioning if he's seeing his ex-girlfriend and jabbing him whenever I discover anything that could be possible evidence of their rendezvous. Sometimes my mistrust is spot on and sometimes I'm wrongly accusing him.I really never know when I can believe him and the net result is I'm enslaved by these thoughts and am not being my joyful, loving self when I'm with him. I am open to a somewhat open relationship provided the "affairs" are transactional. I'm torn because I do know he loves me, but I'm really at a crossroads of what to do.I try to encourage honest dialogue but whenever I bring it up the issue of possible cheating, he gets frustrated, upset, and says he just wants to be alone. It's hard to have an emotionally intelligent conversation with him about it before it turns to anger and he begins comparing me to his ex-wife.I am also looking for advice on how to stop comparing myself to his ex-girlfriend and being nasty about her. In my heart, I know there's a deep lesson to see how I may have unconsciously and energetically played with men (who were in relationships) through my healing practice so it all feels a bit karmic. I know there is a genuine opportunity to forgive the ex-girlfriend and forgive myself for unintended possibilities that I may have hurt another woman, and come into better alignment with the right action. I can't leave my boyfriend at the drop of hat because of the financial support, which has its own implicit complications. I am also looking for advice on how to best get financially independent so I never have to be in this position again.- Anguished
I'm sorry you're experiencing such pain and anguish, and that you worry you may have lost yourself to these circumstances. The fact that you're able to exude such compassion towards the alleged mistress, despite the hardships you've endured, shows a level of emotional intelligence that is admirable. I can't imagine the toll that cancer has taken on you and your relationship, but I'm happy that you beat the illness and that your boyfriend was there when you needed him.
You say you have an "unconventional relationship," which leads me to wonder specifically how you define your coupling? Regardless, it's troubling your boyfriend isn't transparent and forthright. Based on that lack of transparency, it does seem likely that he is cheating or, at least, feels guilty about or ashamed of his actions. It's also natural you'd feel inadequate, unloved and obsessed with the "affair" and "the other woman" in a situation like this, so don't beat yourself up.
The financial dependency, which is a common reason for people to stay in undesirable relationships, is another component that is proven to cause lack of self-worth and depression. One in five people are in a relationship because of the financial security their significant other offers them, this according to a UK survey of 2000 people.
Your boyfriend isn't signaling that he's willing to work on the relationship, discontinue the happy massages with his ex, or seek help. According to Dr Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson of The Couples Institute,"When the partner who had an affair answers questions truthfully without evasiveness, it helps the other put an end to feeling suspicious or crazy. When the evasiveness continues, it signals that the feelings leading to the affair still exist and that the primacy of the committed partnership does not."
Therefore, it is important that you begin to focus on yourself and your emotional and financial wellbeing. Since you and your boyfriend share a long history and love for each other, chances are you may redefine your relationship into a sustainable friendship when the time is right. For now, you need to educate yourself on finances and carefully plan an exit strategy. There are many resources available to achieve this. Reach out to close friends or family for emotional support and also if you have the option, I'd highly recommend you seek out a qualified therapist. It is time that you heal yourself, fix your finances, and soon enough afford some of your own massages!
- The Armchair Psychologist
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WRITTEN BYUbah Bulale