Dating and Relationship Advice

Dear iris,

"I dated this girl for two years. She broke my heart by cheating on me. I ended things then and there. It took forever to pick myself back up. I spent a lot of time feeling sad and lonely. She really messed with my head. But about six months after we broke up, my ex reached back out. She said she'd done a lot of soul searching and realized her issues. She apologized for how badly she hurt me and asked for a second chance. I feel like it should be easy enough to say no, but I still love her. We've been talking every day since. Not a lot. But little texts. I still feel so hurt about what she did. But idk. A part of me wants to give her a second chance, and the other part feels like I'd be disrespecting myself by getting back together with her."

Mr. Confused

Dear Mr. Confused,

Cheating hurts not just because of what the other person did, but the fact they betrayed your trust. In any relationship, trust is a significant factor that you can’t leave out of the equation.

Given this was the first time she cheated (and you need an honest answer from your ex if it was the only time), the decision is up to you. There’s no clear answer to whether or not you should take your ex back. But there are a few questions that can help you decide.

When you’re alone and able to be honest with yourself, answer these questions:

  • What was your initial reason for dating your ex?
  • Why do you want to get back together?
  • How did you and your ex change since your relationship ended?

The first question will help you decide if the relationship had superficial roots or was a genuine, mature relationship. Sometimes, we date someone because of their looks or because they’re great in bed. But other factors like their ability to communicate and whether they’re a good person matters more. If your answer seems superficial, the relationship most likely isn’t worth salvaging.

Now the answer to the second question helps you understand your motives. Are you considering getting back together because you’re lonely? Because dating is hard? Or do you genuinely miss the positive aspects your ex brought into your life? From how you said, “it should be easy to say no,” I would venture to guess that it’s one of the first two.

The last question will help determine if you both took the time to heal and learn from a shattering experience. You said your ex talked about doing “soul-searching,” but what does that mean? Did she see a therapist? Does she feel remorseful about what she did, or does she make excuses? As for you, did you spend some time considering your choices in the relationship? Did you become clear on what your boundaries are?

If you both sat around sulking or being mad, neither of you grew from the experience. Which means things most likely won’t change if you get back together.

But if all of your answers check out, then you have a choice to make:

If you choose to get back together, both of you need to uncover why she cheated. It might feel like cheating is just a crappy thing people do, but it often stems from an issue with the relationship. Maybe your ex felt like she wasn’t receiving the kind of affection she wanted from you or didn’t feel desired. That doesn’t mean her cheating was your fault, it means she needs to learn how to communicate those needs to you.

Whatever the reason, you both need to talk about it and make a plan on how to move forward. It’s a sad fact that people are imperfect. Luckily, it sounds like it’s her first-time offense. There’s room to forgive and take her back. But you have to be honest with yourself on whether you can ever move on from the cheating. The relationship won’t work if you continuously rehash an old wound once you’ve both worked on healing it.

No rule says you have to forgive your ex. Not everyone can build back trust with someone after it’s broken. And living in a place of resentment towards your girlfriend won’t make for a thriving relationship, which everyone deserves. You said it took you a long time to pick yourself back up after the relationship ended. Deciding to get back with your ex might be like taking twenty steps back in healing from the pain she caused you.

The only person who can decide which choice is the right one is you.

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