During my engagement, I’ve met several of my fiancé’s friends and even ex-girlfriends, including a girl who has since contacted me on social media to tell me that he cheated on her repeatedly during their 2-year relationship. She said she wanted to make sure I know this before I marry him but I think her motive is sketchy because he told me that she didn’t want to break up and suspects she still has feelings for him. What should I do? Should I just forget about it and move forward, or should I confront him about what she shared?
Let’s face it: you’re in a bind, and I know you’re asking yourself at least a hundred questions that probably include:
>> Do you trust the report of a stranger who might have an ulterior motive or do you trust your fiancé?
>> Even if she’s right, does it really matter if he has reformed his ways and is 100% committed to you?
>> Is there a way to predict whether he will ever be unfaithful to you?
It’s completely rational to wonder if your fiancé might cheat again (if you believe her report). Obviously, no one wants the pain that follows when a trusted partner has been unfaithful.
The fact that you’re assessing this possibility now, before marriage, presents both opportunity and challenge. Allow me to suggest two main theories which may help you answer your questions and put this question behind you:
THEORY 1: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”
This theory suggests that cheating is in one’s DNA. That there is something in one’s innate make-up, including their conscience and sense of morality, that allows them to cheat without concern for their partner or their partner’s feelings.
In addition to one’s core nature, this philosophy takes “nurture”—one’s upbringing and environment—into account. For example, if your future father-in-law has a history of infidelity, you might say that he taught your fiancé’ that this kind of behavior is not only normal, but acceptable.
This model is fatalistic in the sense that it doesn’t leave room for change, maturity, or growth. It assumes that:
>> someone who gives in to temptation once will never develop the capacity to resist it in the future;
>> any initial indiscretion will naturally give rise to others; and
>> there is no basis on which to ever trust this person completely.
Before you dismiss this concept completely, consider a study being undertaken at Binghamton University (State University of NY-SUNY) which has reported that half of all people have a gene that makes them more susceptible to promiscuity and cheating.
This “thrill-seeking” gene is the same one responsible for other impulsive and addictive behaviors such as alcohol use and gambling. Ultimately, this gene may influence brain chemistry and, as result, someone’s behavior.
(I’d like to point out that these other addictions are treatable and that everyone actually carries this gene. It’s a matter of the intensity or “height” of this gene that may influence behavior but that’s not to say that this behavior is ever outside of one’s conscious control.)
THEORY 2: “Cheating is a choice.”
In contrast to the theory above, this model suggests that there are a variety of circumstances that, in combination, might influence whether or not a person is unfaithful. This could include things like whether their needs are being met by their partner, their personal maturity level, and their physical proximity to the temptation.
This theory recognizes that people and situations change and that one may, for example, cheat in a dating relationship in their early 20’s in a way they would never dream of doing in a more committed relationship in their late 30’s.
It also proposes that everyone makes mistakes, some larger than others, and that individuals can learn from these errors and choose a different path the next time they are presented with the same set of factors.
After considering both approaches, which one do YOU believe?
Carefully consider what you feel is true—especially about your fiancé—and begin to narrow the options you have in terms of arriving at the truth or moving forward without it. (And keep reading for some questions I have for you below).
Before you go on, you might be wondering . . . what do I believe?
As someone who has helped countless couples recover and rebuild their relationships from the ground up after infidelity, I can say with confidence that—as with many things—the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two perspectives.
While it’s true that cheating is always a conscious choice, I do believe there are aspects of a person’s character that have a bearing on whether they choose to cheat on a trusting partner and how easy this choice is for them to live with.
For example, I have worked with many narcissistic and sociopathic individuals who questioned why their extracurricular activities were such a “big deal” and who were angry with their partners for not being able to simply “get over it”. As you might guess, these individuals were not only not sorry for what they had done but were extremely likely to do it again.
The bottom line is that you need to seek the truth from your fiancé and expect to get it from him. Everyone makes mistakes, and for him, these mistakes could include not only having cheated on an ex but not having come forward and admitting this to you so you could make an informed decision about marrying him.
Then there’s the question of the likelihood of your fiancé’ cheating again if it’s true that he did so in the past. While there is no absolute, infallible way to predict anyone’s future behavior, their past behavior is a good measure, and certainly the best one we have.
But it’s still unfair to jump to conclusions or judge your fiancé without hearing his side of the story. As you said, your source (his ex-girlfriend) may be biased and wanting to sabotage his happiness with you, so you need to tread carefully.
Another thing that is important to remember is that people define “cheating” differently and you and your fiancé’ may not agree on this definition. (In addition, research has shown that men and women may define cheating in different ways).
Some may define cheating very strictly—as carnal contact—while others may feel they’ve been “cheated on” if their partner has an intimate conversation with a colleague of the opposite sex. Sexual affairs are more black and white, while emotional affairs are often in a gray zone.
If you’d like to read more about the variety of ways people define
cheating, check out this article on How Do You Define Cheating?
So in addition to getting to the bottom of whether or not this woman’s report is true, you need to have an open, healthy dialogue about how you define unfaithfulness and what you will consider healthy and appropriate boundaries in any future marriage.
As you think about how to best approach your fiancé, remember that you will only demonstrate trust and respect for him if you raise this calmly and NOT in an accusatory manner. Treat your report—and any follow-up questions—as very matter-of-fact and then remain silent and allow him to explain.
If he becomes defensive and refuses to discuss it, that’s a bad sign. If he is completely open and insists that her report is untrue, you’ll need to evaluate his truthfulness.
And if he admits that his ex-girlfriend’s report is true and that he was unfaithful to her, try to ascertain the following:
>> What did he learn from the experience? Probe gently and ask follow-up questions to get as much context and background as possible. Does he accept responsibility for his actions or does he blame his ex for his choice?
>> Was he unfaithful to other women he dated? What were the common denominators?
>> How did he justify his behavior?, both to himself and his partners at the time?
>> Was he honest about his infidelity?, or did he hide it from his partners?
>> Was he sorry / did he have remorse? How did he demonstrate this after the fact and how did he change his attitude or behavior as a result?
>> What does he consider “cheating” or “being unfaithful”? What will your shared definition be going forward? Now (and not after you’re already hitched) is the perfect time to agree on this!
>> How will he deal with his (inevitable) attraction to other women during your marriage? How does he want you to deal with any attraction you have to another man? Will you share this kind of attraction openly with one another?
>> What boundaries will you set in regard to your friendships and interactions with the opposite sex once you’re married?
If you are still unsure about what to do after this conversation, I would strongly encourage you to pump the breaks on your engagement and ask the other friends and family members you’ve met about this (with his permission, of course). Some of them will have known him much longer than you have and getting their perspective will probably be very revealing and help you confirm your decision.
Finally, there is no substitute for expert premarital coaching BEFORE you tie the knot forever. When you’re in love and in the early stages of a relationship, it’s easy to believe that life will always be roses and rainbows. However, dealing with this issue and many others that tend to trip couples up—before the wedding—can save your marriage before it ever starts!
If you’re interested in giving your marriage the very best chance, give us a call or check out our Premarital Coaching Program. We’d love to work with you.