My ex-husband’s infidelity is haunting my current relationship

I was divorced seven years ago from a twenty-three year marriage that ended because of my husband’s infidelities.

He was unfaithful to me early on in the marriage and I caught him, he wouldn’t discuss it with me and made me feel weak and needy for wanting to get to the bottom of it.

I was pregnant at the time and I just didn’t know what to do. I ended up spending the next twenty some years of my life pretending that it didn’t matter, that infidelity was just part of life and that marriage was more about the distribution of labor than a commitment.

And he kept being unfaithful—sometimes I would find out—or just sense it—and sometimes I wouldn’t. But it ate at me until I finally left him when my youngest went away to college.

I needed to tell you that before I ask my questions.

I have been with my boyfriend for a little over five years. We are living together now after years of a long-distance relationship where we spent three to five days together, but I also stayed at my own place part of the week. So we lived together, but not really!

During that time there were two different situations in which I strongly suspected him of being unfaithful. If he wasn’t unfaithful, he was at least very shady—lying to me when they called him, not taking their calls in front of me, telling one that he couldn’t talk because his girlfriend was sitting with him.

I told him that before we get married we need to sort these things out because they haunt me. He has admitted that he lied to me about them or been secretive. And he also told me that he had sex with them (not in such nice language), but then he said he only told me that because he was sick of me bringing up the subject again and again.

I told him that I was going to keep bringing it up until I felt some sort of closure or confidence that we had talked it honestly and that I understood what went on.

And then, about two weeks ago he gave his phone number out to someone that cut his hair (he told me she was the aggressor) but then he felt bad and called her and told her it would be "inappropriate" to see her. I called and confirmed this with her so I know that much is true.

He did this shortly after our last argument about the other women and he said he did it because I was accusing him of it anyway.

He lies about all sorts of little things and yet he is so tender and tells me he loves me and he is home every night and maybe I am just a paranoid/crazy/bitter/ridiculous person with all sorts of baggage from my marriage.

I think I feel better about the whole thing and then I discover some little lie and I get so sad again. I feel as though I am going crazy.

Can you help me?


Past relationships can have a strong impact on what happens in a current relationship.

Someone who enters a relationship with positive expectations and with little fear or suspicion will encounter much fewer problems than someone who has been hurt in the past (see impose beliefs and attachment styles).

Given what happened in your prior marriage, it is not surprising that you are struggling with issues of fidelity and trust.

Unfortunately, once a suspicion enters a relationship, almost any behavior can be viewed as a sign of cheating (see signs of cheating). And as you note, constantly being suspicious, can drive a person crazy.

Not only does suspicion play tricks with one’s perception of what’s going on, but suspicion often has a negative impact on one’s relationship (see living with jealousy).

Suspicious individuals often make their own worst fears come true. By constantly raising issues, asking a lot of questions, and demanding to get the bottom of things, partners often respond by engaging in more concealment and deception (see when lovers lie). Partners use concealment and deception in order to maintain a sense of independence and autonomy (see advantages of lying).

It is possible that your fear of being hurt leads you to be overly inquisitive which brings about the worst behavior in your boyfriend (he flirts, or cheats, and tries to hide it from you)—a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy (see self-fulfilling prophecy).

Or think of it this way: If you constantly accuse your boyfriend of cheating, why shouldn’t he? He’s already paid the price, why not enjoy the benefits?

It is possible that your boyfriend reacts to your suspicions by doing things which reinforce your suspicions. This may help explain why this issue does not seem to go away.

There is little you can do to change what happened in the past. But, you do not have to let the past dictate your future.

A better way to deal with your suspicions is to focus on your own feelings, not your boyfriend’s behavior. By focusing on your boyfriend’s behavior, you make the issue about him, not how you are feeling.

If you can focus on your feelings, rather than his behavior, you might find that your feelings will change over time. Not only are your feelings likely to change, but if you shift the focus away from his behavior, he is less likely to act in ways which you dislike (see talk about problems).

It is not easy to talk about problems in a way that resolves the underlying feelings, but it is undoubtedly more effective than what you’ve been trying to do so far.

Finally, you may not be able to solve this problem by talking about your feelings. There may be other issues which cannot be resolved by talking about them. Perhaps your boyfriend is similar to your ex-husband in ways that you don’t fully understand. But until you focus on your feelings, it will be difficult to see those other (potential) issues clearly.

Hope this helps.

 anxious attachment | cheating boyfriend | cheating husband | denies infidelity | my jealousy | save relationship | suspect cheating

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