History of cheating needn't be a deal-killer

Posted in 21 February 2014

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Question: My girlfriend has told me about her unfaithful past. It has me worried quite a bit. She told me she dated someone for three years and in the last year became unfaithful. Her then-boyfriend found out and she lied to him.

After that ended, a year and a half ago, she became very promiscuous. We met four months ago and have been dating ever since. She told me she would never cheat on me, and that her past was full of mistakes. She says she used sex to cope.

I'm trying my best not to become a jealous, possessive boyfriend. Any advice?

Answer: People can be a bad relationship bet for countless reasons. Fixating on only one of them forces you into a narrow view of a person, just when thinking broadly would optimize your judgment - not just of her, but of yourself with her.

Why are you stressed by her cheating, but not relieved by her honesty? Is cheating the only, or even the most serious, way she could hurt you?

Of course it makes sense to be concerned about her past. Of course infidelity is near the top of the bad-news food chain.

But tease out the contributing elements of cheating, and you'll get a much more useful set of traits to screen for - in part because they're behind all kinds of destructive behavior, not just infidelity.

There's dishonesty. There's selfishness, and thrill-seeking, and impulsiveness, and susceptibility to immediate gratification. There are sometimes cruelty, vanity, greed, cowardice, depression, addiction, denial, contempt.

What keeps them from infecting a relationship is mastery of them by your girlfriend, and a certain amount of acceptance of them by you both.

I like your chances if you're both mature enough to recognize there's no such thing as trusting someone never to do you harm. There's only trust that it won't be purposeful or negligent - and that you're prepared to handle it. (