A few Saturday’s ago, my girlfriend and I were hanging around our apartment, enjoying a relaxing Netflix & Chill vibe. It is typical (as I would assume it is for most cohabiting or “serious” couples), for both of us to be on and off our phones throughout the evening.
Over the course of our relationship, we have developed a respect for each other’s digital privacy. However, she had been showing some signs that something might be going on. Plus, my curiosity got the best of me. Just as I glanced over, I couldn’t help but notice that she was quickly closing iMessage. Not fast enough though, as I was able to read another dude’s name at the top of the screen, as well as a partial promiscuous message.
Does this scenario, or one close to it, sound familiar? It happens all the time, and trust me, you’re not alone! As a millennial, I think it’s easy to forget how digitally integrated our lives are and how easy this makes it for just about everyone you have ever met to contact you.
Unfortunately, this includes exes, previous FWB’s, or a random friend of a friend armed with liquid courage who finally gets the nerve pour out his/her heart. (Don’t worry, BRAD- I won’t mention any names! 😉 ) I’m sure you don’t need more examples- you get the picture. This accessibility creates a dramatically increased chance that someone will reach out. The goal, of course is some kind of response, sexual or not.
When this happens and you find out about it, WTF do you do?? When I was faced with this, I initially felt lost, my thoughts spinning. However, with my girlfriend’s help and a little time, I managed to resolve the issues and move forward. It was shitty to go through, but hopefully sharing my thought process can help with that initial WTF feeling.
1. Find out the Facts
So the cat is out of the bag. At this point, you know that something has been going on behind your back. Depending on what you have uncovered, you may be more or less aware of what that something is. Now you need more details, like to what extent your SO was involved in the interaction(s) between him/her and the other party.
As you begin to talk to your boy/girlfriend (NOTE: This may take some time, and that’s okay. It is important to wait until you are relatively calm and not still feeling overly angry/aggressive!), remember that you are throwing him/her a lifeline. That being said, view this communication, verbal and nonverbal, as an opportunity for your partner to salvage the relationship by being honest and transparent about what happened. Some example questions include:
- How long has this been going on?
- Is this the first time they have done this to you?
- Have they had a similar situation with someone else?
- Who initiated?
- Was this an online/phone relationship or did they actually meet up in person?
- Has anything sexual happened, either physically or digitally?
- Does he/she have feelings for the other person?
2. Make a decision: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Once you are satisfied with your knowledge about the interaction(s) between your SO and that unfortunate douche-bag, you are left with a decision. The Clash eloquently laid out the choices in 1982: Should I Stay or Should I Go? If you decide it’s best for you to go, then stop reading, go do you, and live your best possible life! If you stay, you are consciously deciding to work towards forgiveness and moving past your SO’s indiscretion. You and your actions mean that you still love your partner and believe they can fix the damage.
Here’s the deal:
We all make mistakes. So no matter how difficult it may be, you should try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. What lead to their decision to engage in communication with someone else? Does he/she have an answer as to why this happened? Although I’m not super proud of it, in previous relationships, I have both cheated and been cheated on. So I’m speaking from experience when I say that anxiety levels are high for both of you. In my situation (the one above), the fuck-boy initiated contact with my girlfriend, and she answered. His message by itself is whatever, but I view her response as giving consent to engage in conversation.
When I really thought about it and took an honest introspective look at myself (somewhere buried under all the other emotions), I ultimately determined that I may have responded in the same way, had roles been reversed.
Some questions to ask yourself for that honest introspective look include:
- Do they still want to be with you?
- Is your partner sorry and completely sincere?
- Can you truly forgive him/her? (This does not have to be immediate, of course!)
- Do you believe, once things calm down, that he/she would do this again?
- Is your significant other willing to or has he/she already ended ALL contact with the other person? (This may require blocking the other person on all social media, but you should discuss this with your SO).
- Did your partner have a reason for doing this secretly?
- How will your SO handle it when someone else reaches out in the future? (Don’t be naive, they likely will.)
3. Decide to Stay
Your decision to stay was likely very agonizing. So first things first, you should recognize the strength it takes for both of you to stay. You are probably still pretty upset with your partner, but remember that you have already made the decision that you are staying because taking this risk together is totally worth it.
Hopefully, the fear of almost losing you has made your boy/girlfriend realize how high the stakes are within your relationship. Around the time they have said realization, you may get enjoy to enjoy some ass kissing coming your way, but don’t take advantage of this for too long. While it’s a nice sentiment that someone is willing to do ANYTHING to keep you, it’s best that you establish what your expectations are going forward.
And BE HONEST! You should be totally up-front with your partner, and allow him/her to to do the same with you. Be sure to emphasize that you aren’t just making demands, but that clearly laid-out expectations for the future will allow for needed accountability as you continue to build a lasting relationship.
4. Work Together Towards Goals
Communication with your SO should be constant and consistent. Having an open line of communication is essential for both of you, especially following a situation when one person’s trust has been broken. No matter how much easier it may be, don’t give in to the temptation to be dishonest just because of your partner’s potential reaction. The bad news: miscommunications will happen.
Your collective response to those communication breakdowns is what will make or break you as a couple. Better communication in a relationship is a never-ending goal that can only be achieved if you’re on the #sameteam.