Serial cheaters tend to have affairs because of their own problems, not because of relationship dissatisfaction.
Instead of being hard on yourself, set strict boundaries with your girlfriend.
If she can't work with you after you've sacrificed for her, it speaks volumes about who she is.
I'm 32 and I've been with my girlfriend for 7 years.
We love each other and have talked about getting married many times. I thought she was the one because she told me I understand, value, and respect her, and she does the same for me.
That was until 2019, when I suddenly learned she was cheating on me with her boss who is 20 years her senior. At first, they hooked up during lunchtime but eventually started seeing each other outside of the office.
To make matters worse, my girlfriend lied the first time I confronted her about the affair. I noticed she was taking lots of calls from her boss while at home. When I asked about it, she said it was just work-related stuff.
Then, during vacation with our friends, my girlfriend handed me her phone to show me some photos. She told me to scroll through and when I did, I found nudes on her phone and saw she sent them to her boss.
I confronted my girlfriend again and she denied it. For the next six months, she blamed me for being untrustworthy and I felt horrible. Finally she owned up to sleeping with her boss multiple times over the past two years. I broke things off.
A few months later, she started calling me and begging me to take her back. I said I would, on the condition we discussed the cheating and had a plan for how to move forward in our relationship.
It worked for awhile, but soon I learned my girlfriend was back to her old ways and cheating on me.
This time when I asked about it, she opened up about childhood issues like her fear of abandonment related to her dad leaving when she was 6. After sitting with her story, I had trouble feeling angry and decided I wanted to help her since I'm not just her boyfriend, but also her friend.
She told me that when she cheats, she knows it's wrong but does it anyway. She said she doesn't feel guilty about it until I confront her.
I want to help her, and have sending her online research I've learned about abandonment and psychology, but I feel like I'm losing myself in the process.
Should I keep trying to repair our relationship, or try being single?
I feel guilty because I said I'd help my girlfriend with her daddy issues, but I don't know if I can do it anymore.
You have such a big heart, and I find it admirable that you're willing to support someone who's hurt you.
At the same time, you should reconsider whether all you've given is actually helping you and your girlfriend move forward.
Based on what you've told me, it seems your girlfriend doesn't like how it feels to disappoint you. But that feeling hasn't stopped her from hurting you in the past, and I don't think it will stop her in the future.
That's because certain people's motivations for cheating have nothing to do with their partner or relationship, and everything to do with themselves.
As psychotherapist and Ashley Madison consultant Tammy Nelson previously told me, serial cheaters may continue to have affairs even after they're caught because it fulfills their insatiable need for attention.
That doesn't mean you aren't giving your girlfriend enough attention or being a bad partner. Rather, it means your girlfriend doesn't have her priorities straight and you've gotten caught up in her confusion.
It's great that you have an open line of communication and have been able to discuss where your girlfriend's cheating stems from, but it isn't your job to help her unpack that trauma or change it. That's up to her.
You see, cheaters have to want to change. That's why I suggest explaining exactly what you need from her to continue the relationship and letting her take the reigns from there.
"You can have a new relationship with that same person, but it has to be new. You have to draw a line in the sand and you have to start over from that point," Nelson previously told me. "What are going to be the new requirements [of your relationship]? What are the new options? What are the new explicit assumptions that you're both going to make about what this is going to look like?"
When you bring these requirements to the table, your girlfriend will either help you as you've helped her, or she won't, and you'll have a sense of her true colors.
For example, you can tell your girlfriend that you won't tolerate cheating and you're cutting off all communication with her at the first sign. You could also require that she attend therapy, so the onus isn't on you to help her work through her childhood trauma.
No matter what you decide, be sure to put yourself and your own well-being first.
According to therapist Matt Lundquist, it's a cheater's job to make their partner, the person who was cheated on, feel comfortable again. After what you've been through and offered your girlfriend, I think it's the least you deserve.
As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all your questions about dating, love, and doing it - no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.
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