My boyfriend cheated on me a year ago. He says he would never do it again and I believe him but I can’t stop thinking about that one time. He’ll go out with his friends and he’ll come back and I’ll have thought about it the whole time and I’m yelling at him right away. He told me to get over it or leave but I can’t. I told him it’s not that simple. How are we supposed to get over this?
My condolences regarding the painful feelings you would have experienced upon learning your partner had cheated. I have no judgment about people’s natural drives but it’s never pleasant to hear about another human being experiencing suffering.
It makes perfect sense that you would be angry and attack your boyfriend if you spent the entire time he was out ruminating about his act of betrayal one year ago. Whether you’re thinking about it as it happens or thinking about it a year later, as long as you process it the same way you will get the same feelings. It’s logical that angry hurtful thoughts would lead to angry hurtful feelings and actions.
While those feelings may be logical, as you know they certainly aren’t constructive. In fact, they aren’t even really reasonable because nothing can be done about events in the past. So in fact your boyfriend is correct: the only thing you can do other than leave is to forgive him and stop thinking about what happened in the past.
That forgiveness is an action in the world and it means you stop talking to yourself and others about your identity as a person who has been betrayed. Because that’s what had you so mad when he got home, right? It wasn’t the event itself, it was your thoughts comparing your expectations of what you wanted to happen to what actually happened. That was not a positive comparison, so because you had done all of that thinking (a year after the event), you dosed yourself with anger chemicals and that’s what’s hurting you, your boyfriend and your relationship today.
Think of your relationship as a bicycle moving through a huge space. You can ride it anywhere you want, but it needs momentum to keep upright. The important thing to the bike is the peddling. It’s the two individuals motion towards each other that keeps the relationship intact. But you still have freedom over where you ride, and if you keep returning to the twists and turns of your previous life (i.e. when you got cheated on), then you should fully expect to feel like you did back then. It’s as though you rode over some broken glass a year ago, and today you’re re-riding over that same glass in an effort to make it go away a year ago.
Things in your past don’t go away. They’ve happened. You either choose to re-live them or you don’t. So the first big mistake was your boyfriend’s transgression a year ago. But if you chose to accept that event and continue on, then you truly have do that. You can’t say you did that and then harbour these thoughts. You can’t ride over that same broken glass of thought repeatedly and still hope to keep air in your relationship tires. He did something that was very disrespectful to you. But even then, you still can’t blame him for your thinking a full year later.
You have to either decide the experience was bad enough to leave him for, or accept that you’re going to stay. But if you do the latter, then don’t think you can have a smooth and healthy relationship if you’re constantly circling over broken glass. Your relationship will quickly be deflated. Things in the past are not alive today. If they were painful previously why rekindle their existence with our thinking? Live in the now.
Take responsibility for your psychological landscape. Either accept life without your boyfriend, or accept it with him—but with him also means with his history. You don’t have to focus on or think about it too much but you have to accept that it exists. Because if you keep re-riding over that same sharp and dangerous spot, then you should fully expect to have sharp and dangerous experiences as a result.
Surrender to reality. What is is what is. Just let things be. You really can do it. And I wish you and your boyfriend every good fortune going forward.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.