Talking about expectations with my girlfriend

I have been dating my girlfriend, who I love with all my heart, for the past 6 months. We have been friends with for the past 10 years. It has been quite difficult on both of us because I am in the US Army and have been stationed overseas the whole time. In the past few days she first confessed to having doubts if she should stay with me because she fears she will cheat on me due to the extreme amount of loneliness she is feeling. I wrongly forced her to have a conversation about her doubts with me after she said it wouldn’t do any good.

I felt that if there is something wrong then she shouldn’t keep it from me and it’s something that we should talk about, something that we should work through together. We talked about what would happen if we went back to being just friends and determined that if we did that we almost certainly never be in another relationship again and would soon thereafter stop being friends.

After having our discussion about her doubts I was feeling hurt, I thought it would be a simple decision; either you want to be with the man you say you love or want to take a chance and loose him forever. We weren’t able to finish our conversation that night. We picked up our conversation the following day and I tried to let her think about it but I was becoming impatient, one of my flaws.

I made a foolish mistake and told her that it shouldn’t be that hard of a decision for her and if it truly is that hard of a decision then we shouldn’t be in a relationship together and should just be friends. She didn’t say anything in response, so I told her bye and went running to clear my head and shed a few tears where no one would see me.

After returning from my run we talked some more about it. I was so upset that she was willing to throw our relationship away over a fear of something she hadn’t even come close to doing. I asked her how close she had to cheating that made her so scared she was going to. She admitted to cheating on me by kissing another man while she was drunk at a club in November. She described it as when she was dancing with this man, whom she had been flirting with the whole night, she turned around and he leaned in and kissed her for no more than two seconds but she didn’t pull away.

She did not tell me about it because we had talked about cheating and set boundaries and told each other what the consequences would be. I have very strong morals against cheating as my parents had infidelity issues and I swore to myself I would never let myself be in a situation like that.

We talked for several hours and I told her how she made me feel, that she betrayed my trust and my love. She apologized as sincerely as one can on the phone. Yet I feel hurt and betrayed by what she did. I am willing to forgive her and move past this incident but I just don’t know how to. I don’t know where to begin.

Response:

To begin with, it is important to set expectations in a relationship. It is important to be clear about what you want out of a relationship and to be explicit about how you expect your partner to behave. When couples do not set clear expectations, it leads to a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

While setting expectations is important (and from your question, it sounds like you’ve done this), it is just as important to learn how to talk to a partner when things go wrong.

No matter how clear and explicit you are in settings your expectations, no one will always live up to your expectations. In long-term relationships, people always fall short of their partners’ expectations from time to time. And when people fall short of their partners’ expectations there are two options available: Tell the truth or try to conceal what happened (see expectations and deception).

Some couples decide that concealment is the best way to deal with these issues. While concealment allows couples to avoid conflict, concealment also creates distance within a relationship. The more couples conceal from each other, the less close they feel to each other (see my boyfriend hid contact).

On the other hand, talking about these issues does not always lead to a positive outcome. In fact, the way that most couples discuss problems (by attacking each other or forcing solutions onto a partner) often leads to nothing but hurt feelings and a sense of betrayal.

The trick is to learn to talk about such problems in a way that creates trust and feelings of closeness. Essentially, you want your girlfriend to be able to tell you things in a way that makes her feel understood, not under attack or that she’s being controlled (see relationship dynamics). It is also important that your girlfriend listens to how you feel. For a relationship to work, both people have to listen to each other, especially when it comes to topics which generate a lot of negative feelings.

For more specific advice on how to talk about problems, please see the following article:

Perhaps the best way to resolve this situation is to think about how you and your girlfriend resolve conflict. Can you and your girlfriend learn to talk to each other about difficult issues in a way that creates a sense of intimacy? No matter who you are with, issues will always come up. Finding someone you can discuss problems with in a way that builds closeness and trust is the key to a successful relationship.

Hope this helps.

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