Letting the past poison the present

I would like advice on how I can keep my girlfriend’s imperfect past in proper perspective without letting it destroy our present relationship or it’s future potential. Here is the situation:

An old friend from work and I began a hot and steamy relationship as we ended long-time marriages. In short, we were each other’s rebound relationship. Like many rebound relationships, ours was full of passion, reborn spirit, and intense desires on many levels. We were both floating on cloud nine and often laughed at ourselves for acting like young teenagers again (we are both in our early 40s). The sexual chemistry was amazing as was our emotional bond. We yearned to spend every moment with each other!

A few months into our relationship, my girlfriend asked me to log in to her Facebook account and tweak a setting since she was away from her computer. While logged-in to her account, I couldn’t help but snoop and check her private messages. You guessed it---while in there I discovered naughty messages from another man. The messages were very damning in that she was flat-out scheduling an indecent rendezvous with this younger hunk of a man. He wanted to “hook-up to help her with her frustrations”, and she eagerly accepted quickly discussing when and where to meet.

As you can imagine the messages were very shocking to me. Even though their actual meeting never occurred, my reaction and the aftermath was not pleasant for either of us. The expectations of each other during this phase of our relationship were very clearly communicated, and there was no excuse for her behavior. The smart (“no brainer” really) decision was for me to end the relationship right then and there. However, I was too weak to do so.

At the time of these events we had spent and extended period apart due to family and work obligations. As a reward for our time a part, we were treating ourselves to a romantic extended vacation. This was supposed to be the heavenly end to our frustrating time apart. We were both so excited about the vacation---like kids at Christmas, we were literally counting the minutes until its arrival. This seems like a weak excuse—but breaking up with her would have meant cancelling the vacation in which plane tickets, accommodations, and vacation time had already arranged and paid for. I honestly think I would have broken up with her had we not been departing for our trip in a few short days. Instead, I justified in my mind that she was only planning to have sex with him and didn’t actually go through with it. With that twisted mental gymnastics line of denial based reasoning, we continued on our vacation together as planned.

Long-story short, as you might of guessed, by the end of the vacation she successfully convinced me to give her another chance. (Actually, it might be more accurate to say that I was relieved to have an excuse to give her another chance). During that time we had many open and honest conversations about the difficult topic, in which we each shared a level of honesty I have never experienced with anyone before. In some ways, her getting caught trying to cheat made us more intimate than would have ever been possible before.

That was over a year ago. Since then, in many ways, we are role-model examples of how the wealth of information found here at the Truth About Deception blog can help couples like us. It is uncanny how spot-on the articles are in helping survive infidelity. In hindsight, after reading many posts on this site, her behavior was textbook for someone with an intense anxious attachment that did not have constant physical contact with her lover.

The good news in this story is that we have been extremely honest and supportive of each other since that time. The bad news is, that over a year later, I still have buzz-killing flashbacks that keep hindering my enjoyment of our relationship in the here and now.

As part of the trust rebuilding process, she freely gave me passwords to all her email, phone, and credit card records. This did rebuild trust as it confirmed that she had not cheated on me physically. However, I did discover that she was continuing communications with an ex-lover that were out-of-bounds given our agreement. So, in addition to trying to sleep with a hunk-of-a-man that would prey on any middle aged male’s insecurities, she was also exchanging emotional emails with other men that were so sappy I had to practically wipe the goo dripping off my computer monitor. In addition, mixed in with these emails were exchanges that predated our the “exclusive” phase of our relationship. Logically, I know during that time she was free to talk to and love who she wanted prior to me. Emotionally--regardless of when they were written--reading those emails cut me deep.

After she strayed, her giving me an “open book” to her life was critical in part of the trust repairing process. However, in this case I wonder if the cure isn’t worse than the disease. I simply cannot unsee some of the things I have seen. Knowing about things abstractly and actually seeing them with my own two eyes are two entirely different things. The negative emotional reaction seems to be 10 times worse having read the actual emails. Unfortunately, the painful things I read are vividly seared in my mind.

Now, over a year after reading the emails, I still have intense flashbacks that ruin my mood. Here are some examples of things I think about that send me to terrible place mentally:

The messages she exchanged in which she was scheduling an indecent rendezvous were cheap and tawdry. No-one would ever guess that my girlfriend—the conservative professional, devoted mother, and community leader, would degrade herself by typing such things. I can’t get the trashiness of it out of my head and the negative emotions blindside me from time to time. Sometimes when I get her sexually aroused, I can’t help but think about how she felt the same way for this guy to such an extent that she was willing (excited and eager!) to cheapen herself with him. How could she plan that with him when her dream vacation with me was only days away? To make matters worse, I now know that on the same days she was flirting with him, she was reassuring me how much she missed me and only thought of me.

In some email exchanges with a different man, both he and she are gifted writers. Were I not personally caught in the middle of this as a victim betrayed, I would be moved by the incredible prose of the love letters. I am not exaggerating---these were truly beautiful exchanges that could be published in a book. Emotional and moving from both sides. The problem is that now, when she is trying to communicate to me how special I am, and to provide me reassurance that I am the Alpha in her life, I think about how similar what she is saying to me is to what she wrote to that man—and it makes it not feel special. After all, she said the same things to him before me. I am hardly unique.

In exchanges with yet a different man, she told him how much she loved him and how sorry she was that she couldn’t see him anymore. In hindsight, I now know that that man was being brushed off because I had entered the picture. Will I also be brushed aside when the next “upgrade” comes along for her? We continue to come into contact with this particular EX on a regular basis. It is easy to see that he is still heartbroken over her. So it is hard for me to avoid these negative thoughts since this man’s presence is a frequent reminder that I’m not the first man she’s hurt. Although she has no further communications with him, frequently the mere sight of him triggers negative thoughts for me (e.g. at a youth ball game).

In her emails there was a video of her and her friends partying one evening. She had clearly had some drinks, and was flirting with the above mentioned EX. This was before me and nothing she did was out-of-bounds. She did not do anything in the video that I would not want her to do with me. But something about watching her flirt with another man on video has disturbed me greatly---so greatly that I literally have nightmares about it. (This is the same EX we come into contact with regularly).


Logically I know that no woman I would be interested in dating is going to have a squeaky clean past—especially at my age. Considering this, my brain knows that none of the examples listed above are outrageous or damning by today’s standards. But I can’t get my emotions synced with my brain on this one! These images are seared in my head and I can’t get them out!

Together we have read the articles on this site, taken the quizzes, and have determined that what we have is special and worth keeping. She has held up her end of the agreement by going to counseling and treating all of her life as an open book to me. We have agreed to take things slow and there is no pressure to “move forward” or take our relationship to an uncomfortable level. At this point we just want to enjoy being together as a couple in the here and now.

What more can I ask for? Everything I can reasonably ask for has been delivered.

The only thing standing in the way of me and a great relationship is me acting like an insecure paranoid freak!

Why should I give a rip if we bump into an ex-lover of hers? I have her now and she dumped him, so I have no reason to feel threatened…

…and yet these memories of her leaving him for the “next best thing” come creeping in my mind, as well as the video of her flirting with him.

At one time I thought that time would ease the pain. But it has been over a year and I am starting to suspect that the deeper I fall for this woman, the crazier I am going to act. That is a scary proposition!

My questions to the TruthAboutDeception experts are:

Is there anything I can do to keep my brain from dwelling on these negative mental images?
Is there anything else my girlfriend can do that she hasn’t already done to help me cope with this?
How can it be that some simple emails could turn a self-confident man with secure attachment into an obsessive, insecure, needy man with anxious attachment?
Will my flashbacks improve with time?
Given our history, is it normal/understandable that seeing her EXs in public trigger negative emotions for me? --My brain feels that this is immature and silly for a man my age. However, at times the buzz-killing, mood altering emotions are undeniable.
Is it possible that my fragile ego is so damaged that I will never fully recover?

I am ready to stop obsessing, regain my ability to concentrate, and move on with my life! Any helpful advice to this end is greatly appreciated.

Response:

The questions you ask are right on the mark and illustrate one of the most frustrating things about love and romance.

While we are incredibly intelligent creatures, who have an amazing ability to apply logic and reason, our emotions still rule the day. The rational part of your brain knows that everything is great. You emotional self is still haunted by the past. How do you move forward?

When those past images or feelings come over you, engage in some activity to disrupt them. Find an activity that requires your full attention, shifts your mood, and stops you from thinking about the past.

Ruminating on past events is common. Often times it helps to write out what you are feeling. But, if you have already tried that and those thoughts still haunt you, doing something physical, which stops those thoughts from becoming ingrained in your memory, may help. If you can engage in some activity that requires your full attention (distract yourself), the frequency with which those negative thoughts come to mind should happen less frequently. The more you can successfully do this, the less intrusive those past memories should become. You can’t wish those negative feelings away; you need to find an activity, which shifts your attention away from them.

 her ex-boyfriend | unpleasant discovery

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