Q: I’ve been happily married for a year. Before meeting my husband, I had a six-year relationship with another man. We lived together, and I truly believed that we would one day marry, but it became clear that we had very different values. After I left him, I found out he’d been cheating on me from almost the beginning. I feel stupid, because I had no idea. We’ve never discussed this and I’m still very angry. Fortunately my current relationship is a happy one, but I struggle with issues of trust and sometimes wonder what I did wrong to make him cheat on me.
A: You still have unfinished business with your ex, but I suspect that to confront him may cause you even more hurt. It seems you went into that relationship in good faith and he took advantage of your trusting nature. This says more about his shortcomings than yours. No-one likes to feel they’re naive and gullible, but the alternative is to be suspicious and cynical.
The past certainly shapes who we are, but it doesn’t need to define our lives. Making peace with the past by acknowledging that you have had this experience but are doing something tangible to put it where it belongs is important.
I suggest you write a letter to your former partner, spelling out what you’ve experienced and the emotions you’ve endured. But don’t post it! Instead, read it to a counsellor or a trusted friend. You’ll find that the very act of writing down your feelings and sharing them in a safe environment gives a sense of closure. It will also give you an opportunity to grieve. Then burn the letter. It will be symbolic of putting the episode behind you.
You’ve indicated that this experience is impacting your present relationship. The after effect of your previous relationship has left you feeling unsure of your ability to detect untrustworthy behaviour, and perhaps you wonder how you’d know if your husband cheated.
The fact remains, however, that whereas you knew your previous relationship wouldn’t work out, you did find someone you trusted enough to marry. This suggests you do have the ability to make discerning choices. Perhaps the time has come to decide to focus on the present and future, rather than the past. Trust is built through experience and over time. Put your energy into building this relationship rather than thinking about the past and this will pay off in the future.