Thursday, August 11, 2011

Help Me Get My Partner Back?

A few days ago, I received the following email from Jim (the name has been changed):

I am/was in a relationship with a wonderful man for almost six years.  Excuse me for crying, but recently I met up with an old friend whom I had not seen in over six years.  While over [at my friend's place], things got out of control, and I did not stop them when I should have.  [We became intimate], but I stopped it before it went too far.  I'm also a bad liar and wear my emotions on my sleeve.  My partner asked me what was the matter, and I spilled it.  He took his key and gave me mine back.  He said we would meet up in two weeks and see where we are. This is the thing, the wait is killing me.  I cannot do anything but cry.  I'm also experiencing panic/anxiety attacks....  So I'm wondering what can I do to stop crying and to prove...that I'm sorry and it will never happen again?

After I read this, I felt for Jim, because I could imagine how difficult his situation must be.  Then, I started to worry I didn't have anything to tell him that would be helpful.  After all, my blog is primarily about accepting and loving oneself as a gay or lesbian person.  What do I know about calming down in an emotionally charged predicament and possibly getting two people back together?

That said, the more I thought about it, the more I realized not only did Jim's situation relate to the theme of low self-esteem--which is so important to me in connection with gay people--but also I saw Jim as a good friend, someone I care a great deal about, and I began to work through what I would say to a good friend who needed the support of someone who was understanding, compassionate, and would not judge him for what he'd done.    

Below, you'll find the basis of my response to Jim's email.  Again, I share this with you in the event you find yourself in the same situation and wouldn't mind the advice of someone who might be able to help you sort through your emotions and figure out what to do.  If any of you have something else you'd like to offer to help Jim, I invite you to leave a comment.  Jim and I thank you in advance.


To get through this difficult time, Jim, I think you need to get to the bottom of why you would allow the situation with your old friend to get out of control.  It seems to me there may be two reasons: 1). Either your relationship with your partner isn’t as good as you think it is, or 2).  You don’t feel good about yourself to begin with.  In either case, when you became intimate with your old friend, some need in you was satisfied by the attention he gave.  I don’t believe the gratification you felt was nothing more than the physical thrill of being intimate.  Rather, I think he made you feel good inside because he paid attention to you, maybe more than your partner has recently.  Or maybe you’re hungry for positive attention, period, whether from your partner, your old friend, or someone else, because of how you feel about yourself.  I suggest you give consideration to why you allowed the situation with the old friend to go as far as it did, because, if it could happen once, it could happen again.    

The bottom line is, the situation with the old friend happened, and there’s nothing you can do to take it back.  In short, you have to own what you did.  You have to take responsibility for it (which includes understanding why you let it go so far).  Once you have a better sense of what went wrong, you need an opportunity to discuss it with your partner.  At this point, he feels betrayed.  I’m sure you see that.  When trust is broken, so is the bond between two people, and there’s never any guarantee you’ll get either one back.  You must be as honest as you can with your partner, including telling him what motivated you to put yourself in the situation with your old friend in the first place. Hopefully, he’ll listen to you and understand.  But he’s hurting, make no mistake about that.  He will need some time to come to terms with what happened (even though you didn’t go all the way with the old friend, you went far enough to show what your intentions were).

The two week cooling off period is a good idea, and I think you should respect he needs this time.  In fact, both of you need this time to reflect on your relationship and to decide if there’s something worth saving.  If your partner can’t get beyond the betrayal and no longer wants you in his life, you will have to respect that and move on.  While I realize at this point letting him go would kill you inside, you don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you.  That would be another manifestation of low self-esteem.  On the other hand, if your partner is somehow able to get beyond his hurt and decides to take you back, don't underestimate how fortunate you are and do everything you can to convince him that you will never play around behind his back again.  It will take a very long time indeed for you to earn back his trust.  It can be done, but it will take both of you working diligently together, possibly for years.  I know of no other way.

For now, crying is a natural reaction to what happened.  You’re upset that you let the situation with your old friend get out of control, and you’re upset that you hurt your partner and he doesn't want to see you for a while.  Allow yourself to feel badly as you need to.  If necessary, turn to friends for comfort and support.  There’s no harm in crying: it shows you're human, and you regret what you've done.  Anxiety, on the other hand, is tough to deal with.  I know this because I suffered from debilitating panic attacks over fifteen years ago.  To counter an attack, I suggest you sit still in a quiet location and concentrate on your breathing, because anxiety is often a function of irregular and shallow breathing.  Remain still and take deep, regular breaths, allowing air to move into your diaphragm.  Do this as long as you need to at any given time until your anxiety subsides.  Deep breathing will also calm the adrenaline pumping through your body, which is a big part of anxiety as well.  (If this doesn't help, please be sure to see your doctor.)    

If you have the ability to contact your partner over the two week period, either by phone, email, twitter, etc., and he’s willing to talk to you, then, if you haven't already, let him know how sorry you are about what happened.  Make sure he understands you truly regret it.  Reassure him you will never hurt him like that again.  And mean it.  But, to ensure you can live up to that, do the work I suggested to understand why you went as far as you did with your old friend.  Discuss openly and honestly with your partner what you learned about yourself.  Help him to understand why you did what you did, and what you’ll do differently to ensure it never happens again.  Hope that he takes you back.  If he does, know your relationship won’t be the same as it was before, probably not for a very long time.  And, if he doesn’t want you back, take an appropriate length of time to mourn the loss of what you shared with him, and move on, ensuring you learn from your mistake and never put yourself or a future partner in the same situation again.

I hope this helps.  If you want to talk about this further, let me know.  My fingers are crossed for you, and I wish you the best.  

If you, or someone you know, needs help dealing with something related to being gay, please send me an email.  Simply click on "Send Mail" located on the upper right hand side of this page, and I promise I will respond to you.


  1. I'm not sure I agree with the idea that low self esteem is what leads to not being monogamous, but rather that monogamy (for years on end) is challenging for a significant number of people, in and of itself. If it weren't, we probably wouldn't see the high divorce rates that we do. For those of us in monogamous relationships (Rick, myself), and don't find it especially challenging to remain that way, I think it's tempting to look at those people who struggle with remaining monogamous and say there's something "wrong" that's causing them to cheat on their partner, when they may just be wired differently. It may be that one set of rules and behaviours doesn't fit everyone....?

  2. You may well be right, Sarah. That being the case, I think we have to ask the question, why is monogamy "challenging for a significant number of people"? I think wiring is the easy answer, maybe even the excuse.

    I believe wholeheartedly that the person cheating derives something from his activity, or needs something from it, and that's why he can't help himself. And, if I've learned anything from reading and watching talk shows, that need has to do with how the person he cheats with makes him feel.

    If you're secure within yourself and fulfilled by your relationship--as you and I obviously are--then we don't consider straying within the realm of possibility. But, if one or both of these conditions are not met, then you have a recipe for potential disaster.

    So, yes, I think low self-esteem can be part of the answer, but, surely, there are other factors, too. Not an easy thing to assess on the basis of a single short email, but I think it's something Jim should give some thought to and rule out if it's not the case.

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

  3. I see what you're saying, Rick, that for people who don't feel appreciated at home, they may be more easily swayed by someone who gives them attention elsewhere. I guess it's just that I've been reading a lot lately in different places (NY Times magazine did a piece a few weeks ago) about the idea of a lifelong monogamous relationship being a relatively "modern" invention, and that historically, people didn't tend to do that. Of course, people who talk about "mostly" monogamous relationships don't seem to spend a lot of time on the feelings of jealousy and betrayal that would most likely be a by-product of going outside of one's relationship, as your letter writer is experiencing now.
    I hope he's able to work things out.

  4. Exactly, Sarah. That's what I was getting at.

    In general, I think people do things for a reason. There's some payoff for them. So, in the case of straying from a supposedly monogamous relationship, they feel more appreciated elsewhere. Someone other than their partner makes them feel better about themselves.

    And, of course, feeling badly about themselves is usually a sign of low self-esteem. Whether you routinely feel badly, or someone makes you feel that way within the context of an unfulfilling relationship, the result is the same, and many people look to relieve the internal pain by turning to someone who validates them.

    Here's what I told Chris within the first week we met. I said I would never cheat on him. Ever. One, because I'm not the cheating kind. And, two, because I'd seen too many gay men supposedly fall in love, then screw it up when the next pretty face walked in. I've never understood this behavior. Why do they do it? Why do they put themselves through the drama and pain? And why do they mess up other people's lives?

    I think if someone has any intention of cheating, he should have enough respect for his current partner to break up with him first. Maybe that's my Catholic upbringing talking, but, in general, I consider cheating unacceptable behavior. Have the courage to finish what you started. Man up to that responsibility.

    Plus, the bottom line is, I believe in monogamy. Strongly. I believe as human beings we're meant to be together with our one and only for a lifetime. If you really love that person, and not just say you do, then why wouldn't you want to be with him for life? Perhaps I've just gotten lucky, but I couldn't imagine being with anyone other than Chris (unless, of course, something happened to him, and I didn't want to be alone).

    Thanks for stimulating a lot of great conversation, Sarah. As usual, you've made a contribution with some valid points worth considering.