Should I take him back after he cheated?

Consult with Krystal Dear Krystal, My boyfriend cheated on me and I don’t know if I should take him back. While we were out drinking…

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Consult with Krystal

Dear Krystal,

My boyfriend cheated on me and I don’t know if I should take him back. While we were out drinking a few weeks ago, he broke down and told me he slept with someone else. He told me it only happened once and that it would never happen again. I was in shock and told him I needed some time. He has been staying with his brother ever since.

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve gotten together a few times. I’ve had a ton of questions about when and why this happened. Each time, he’s been open with me (or at least I think he’s being honest). He said it happened when he was traveling for work. I asked what triggered this since I haven’t noticed any problems in our relationship. At least, he hasn’t told me of any! He said that he’s been feeling distant since I started grad school a few months ago. He said he was feeling insecure about our relationship so when some other woman paid attention to him when he was drinking, he had a momentary slip up. He keeps emphasizing that this won’t happen again.

I don’t know what to think. Every since he told me, I feel like I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster. One minute I can’t stop crying, the next I’m angry and then at other times I feel like we may be able to work things out. The worst part is I don’t know what I should trust right now. He completely blindsided me. I truly didn’t think we had any serious problems! To be honest, we had just moved in together and I thought he was acting weird cause he was going to propose soon.

I feel embarrassed and like a fool. A part of me wants to take him back because I love him but another part of me is afraid that I’ll never trust him again. I’ve always thought that if someone cheats, they will always be a cheater. But now I’m not so sure. He seems really apologetic and clear that he was just insecure by how preoccupied by school. I’ve been considering putting school on pause to focus on our relationship. We’ve been together for 4 years and I saw us getting married and having kids together. I don’t want to lose this because of a mistake he made when he was drunk.

At the same time, I don’t want to look like I’m weak. I don’t want him to think he can do whatever he wants and I’ll just take him back every time. I’m so devastated that I can’t think clearly. I don’t want to make a mistake and regret my choice in the future.

What should I do? Should I take my boyfriend back?

-Afraid to make a mistake

What you should do after he cheated

Oh, afraid, I feel for you so much. This is such a painful situation and it completely makes sense why’ve you’ve been confused. A few weeks is not much time to process a huge betrayal like this. It’s understandable why you don’t have clarity yet as to how you want to proceed with your boyfriend.

Before I go further, I want to honor a simple but uncomfortable truth: No one, including me, can answer if you should take your boyfriend back or not. The only person with this answer is you.

Only you can decide to stay, or leave, after he cheats

It makes sense that you have conflicting parts: A part of you wants to stay while the other wants to leave. It is completely valid that you feel torn. You have invested the last four years into this relationship. You love him. Your lives are intertwined intimately by living together. You have envisioned a whole life together. On the other had, you are questioning if you will ever trust him again.

Fundamentally, trust means that you believe the other person has your best interest in mind. Once someone betrays you, it’s valid you will lose trust and question if they truly do care about your wellbeing. Sometimes, trust can be regained. Other times, it cannot. This is a individual process for each person and each relationship.

Healing a relationship after cheating

If you want to work on rebuilding trust, it is essential to seek couples therapy. Healing after someone cheats is a complex process for every couple and I encourage you not to go through this emotional and confusing time alone. You may find a local therapist for your needs on the Psychology Today directory.

While understandable, you are considering this, I caution you to put school on hold. Making the choice to go to graduate school and picking your program likely came with a lot of contemplation for you. This is usually not a choice people make casually and I imagine that whatever degree you are pursuing at this time is meaningful for you.

A healthy relationship compromises of two people who accept that there are times where the partner may have to shift priorities or focuses to achieve life dreams. A healthy couple not only has dreams together such as getting married or having kids but they support one another’s personal dreams. This aspect of a healthy relationship is called “making life dreams come true” and is one aspect of the “Sound Relationship House.” This model features 9 qualities that all healthy, lasting relationships share which emerged from over 40 years of research conducted by Drs. John and Julie Gottman.

It’s not your fault he cheated

Your boyfriend’s choice to cheat on you is completely his responsibility. Yes, he may have felt hurt or disconnected by your shifting priorities by going back to school. However, he chose not to communicate with you about his feelings or needs. He chose to cheat you as a way of coping with his insecurity. These choices were completely his responsibility. It is my hope, should you choose to do therapy together, he will be able to take accountability for this fully.

By shifting the blame onto you being in school, it sets up a problematic precedent in which he may feel justified on some level to betray you if he feels neglected. If you stay together, and eventually have children, he will need to learn how to cope with these feelings of insecurity or disconnection in more mature ways to not set him up to cheat again.

Related: Is it your fault if you’re abused?

It’s his responsibility to take accountability for cheating

This is the phase of your relationship where your boyfriend carriers the bulk of the responsibility to heal the relationship. Esther Perel is a therapist who specializes in supporting couples experiencing infidelity. In her book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, she states “During the crisis phase, the responsibility for repair lies primarily with the one who had an affair.” This means that right now, with his betrayal being so fresh, it’s your boyfriend’s responsibility to step forward and take accountability for how he has hurt you.

I appreciate how much you don’t want to make the “wrong” decision. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in life, or relationships. Instead, I encourage you to fully listen to yourself and your needs at this time. What do you honestly need to build back trust? Can you honestly move forward without monitoring him? Can you accept that he may still travel for work? Or he may drink when he’s not with you?

What do you need to feel safe after he cheated?

If you need to monitor him to feel safe, this is something I encourage you to address in couples therapy as well. This dynamic will create a lot of resentment and anxiety. Furthermore, this type of control even while understandable is a symptom of codependency. It’s essential for you to get to a space where you can radically accept that you can’t control his choices for you to be able to stay in this relationship in a healthy way.

You also have the right to still need time. If he’s pushing you to make a choice, please know, that you have the right to keep this relationship on pause until you have clarity about your truth or needs. Getting clear on your non-negotiable needs and then honoring them is essential to have a healthy relationship moving forward. To learn more about non-negotiable needs, and how to identify yours you may check out this article. You may choose to attend individual therapy to get more clarity. Journaling also helps you connect with what you truly need or want, deep down.

You should do what feels right after he cheated

Finally, you also have the right to not take him back. In my own life, one of the most painful realizations I had about romantic relationships is love is not enough. Trust and commitment are fundamental as well. If you feel you cannot heal from this or even, deep down, don’t want to then you have that right.

If you choose to leave, please be kind with yourself. The grieving process during a break-up is complex and painful and complicated by betrayal. Please seek support as needed both by a professional and your friends. It’s also completely normal that you will be grieving not only your life together, but the future you envisioned. Please give yourself time to heal and honor your feelings.

Please know you are not weak for staying or bad for leaving. The only mistake you can make here is neglecting to honor your authentic self. Deep down, you will know your truth as to how you want to proceed. If not, please give yourself time before making a decision to give yourself the space to hear what you need at this time. You have the right to take this space and time.

Sending you so much love and hope for your clarity to emerge as you read this.

About The Author, Krystal

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. She has focused her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She teaches the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.

This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.

Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”

Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM us @confidentlyauthentic.com