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There a couple things my partner and I are working on in our relationship. Perhaps the most challenging is that there was a cheating incident a little over year ago on their end. We didn't talk for nearly 8 months after it happened, but for the past 4-5 months have been working on rebuilding our trust and proactively communicating about the issues that had pushed us apart prior to the incident itself.

What I've found is that even though 9/10 days I believe in my partner, our relationship, and the improvements we have made, I still wind up having moments of anxiety about this prior incident that I'd like to be able to discuss with them.

For example, I may be stuck on a thought like:

"Have we made enough improvement in our communicative efforts that we could effectively prevent the circumstances that led us to that point the first time?"

and would like to talk to them about it, if I can. I've found that I get nearly instant relief from the anxiety accompanying those thoughts when I am reassured that that incident was a mistake, regrettable experience, or simply that it won't happen again.

The problem is that I've been struggling with figuring out how to start these conversations since the topic rarely ever occurs naturally in our day-to-day lives. I want to avoid making my partner feel emotionally 'ambushed' by bringing it up in a way that sounds like my goal is to make them apologize or otherwise feel bad for their previous actions - because what good is easing my own anxiety if I'm creating more for them?

That being said, what is the best way I can initiate these conversations with my partner to ensure they understand my intent is not to make them feel guilty for the past, but to help resolve some of my own anxiety about the future?

  • Is your partner male or female? It matters. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Aug 7 '18 at 20:25
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    @ell My partner is non-binary, so doesn't really identify based on parts. If you can give a good reason of why that matters, I'd be more willing to disclose personal information about my partners sex, but otherwise I'd rather not. – Jess K. Aug 7 '18 at 20:26
  • That's enough of an answer. I should have said, male, female, or something else. It matters because there are differences in how males, females, and others behave. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Aug 7 '18 at 20:28
  • Have you found out the reason behind your partner's cheating yet, or are you hoping to find out in this conversation? Just wondering about background information. – TheRealLester Aug 7 '18 at 21:43
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    Not an answer to your question, but maybe a helpful tipp: I have a note written by my spouse in my wallet with a loving and confirming message to me. If I feel insecure (and can't reach my spouse or don't want to ask for confirmation again), I can read this message and it helps me to calm down. – Iris Aug 8 '18 at 7:24
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Bringing up past hurts that haven't healed is always a tricky thing to do in a relationship, for all parties involved. They're likely to feel hurt/concerned/guilty over the past transgression and you're obviously still hurting and probably having some trust issues from it as well.

Infidelities are just kind of like that... I hate to say it, but it's one of those things that are really very hard to ever fully recover from. Regardless of the reasons surrounding the infidelity, it's a hurt that damages the foundational trust of a relationship.

But, to ever really move forward, you two will pretty definitely have to be willing to talk openly and honestly about it, as often and as many times as it takes for the both of you to completely heal. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable with each other at a very deep level. Exposing those bits of yourselves that allow you to heal, also means exposing those bits that cause you to hurt, because they're the same bits. That's not easy to do.

I know it's cliche, but "I feel .... " statements can help here. It's not going to be pleasant, or easy, to admit to your partner that you feel afraid or insecure in the relationship, but it kinda sounds like that's the truth. When you feel that way, your partner kinda needs to know, if you expect them to respond to it and work through those feelings with you. Likewise, when they feel guilt, shame, or whatever, you'll need to know about that, in order to work through it with them.

In my experience... One of the worst parts of being in your shoes is how it tends to unbalance the relationship. The person who cheated will likely be excessively apologetic, and likely to become something of a doormat afraid to voice needs because they're afraid of causing more damage, or seemingly not apologetic enough, trying to act as if the infidelity hadn't ever happened. And sometimes, they'll teater back and forth between the two. This imbalance will likely rear it's head for you as well. At times you'll likely be super understanding and forgiving, and at other times, well, not so much.

This can rear it's head years after an infidelity, long after you both believe you've moved on... A simple little tiff over something trivial will push those same buttons and there that raw nerve will be once again...

I mention the imbalance and the way that the emotions you're feeling now may resurface later because it's important to remember that forgiveness is an ongoing process. It takes work. Those "I feel .... " conversations are almost never a one and done proposition. Be prepared for that.


I know it wasn't a part of your question, but this comment hit really close to home for me:

in our case it had to do with a lack of communication revolving around my partner questioning their gender identity (which I didn't know about at all) and whether or not my sexual identity would still "allow" for them as a partner. Add that in with an available ex-partner of theirs and it was a recipe for disaster. –

I've been in pretty much exactly this situation. I know, I'm probably overstepping here, but in my case there was a lot more to it, that came out over time with those "I feel .... " conversations.

Single causation is rarely accurate when it comes to these situations. I won't tell you what to do or how to feel about it, just know that while there may be reasons, reasons aren't really excuses. As in, no matter how good, or awful, the reason may be, it's still going to hurt, and you're still going to have to work hard to get past it.

It may be tempting to try to accept the excuse and force yourself to "forgive and forget", without having all of those really hard "I feel ...." conversations, but it's not something that I think can be forced, even when you really really want to.

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I think that being honest and direct is the way to go.

This situation sounds broadly mechanical-- your anxiety sometimes spikes, and reassurance from your partner resolves that anxiety right away. And your question doesn't mention any specific triggers or anything that causes the anxiety, but sometimes the thought just gets into your head and is hard for you to dislodge on your own.

If those are correct, I think you can just say to your partner what you've said here and set expectations that you might need this at irregular intervals:

Most of the time I'm OK, but sometimes I need extra reassurance or else I get caught in a spiral of anxiety about our relationship. It's just about dealing with my spiraling feelings and not anything else; is it OK if we talk when I start feeling that way?

That at least can cover things coming up "out of the blue" (from your partner's perspective) and let you get what you need when you need it. There may be a time limit on this sort of conversation (I doubt your partner will be equally happy with an arrangement like the above in ten years), but if you're feeling anxiety now it doesn't sound unreasonable to me that you seek comfort from your partner.

As for not intending to make them feel guilty, there might be a limit to what you can do. If your anxiety ultimately stems from their choices it could be impossible to separate your current needs from their responsibility for the current situation (in their mind). But the fresher the problem, the more reasonable it is that you get a bit of extra consideration.

protected by Community Aug 8 '18 at 5:08

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