Russell’s story: part 2

In the last post I introduced Russell and told you how he started to hide his occasional coffee dates with other women from his partner Sylvia. Here he continues his story:

About four and a half years into our relationship I had a very brief amorous encounter (non-penetrative) while on holiday. which left me feeling very happy and free, but I knew I couldn’t tell Sylvia. I excused my behaviour because (a) I didn’t have full penetrative sex and (b) I was upset with her for going off to visit someone I didn’t like. I did feel uncomfortable when she came back and I now had a secret, though I was already experienced in not talking about sex or other women and so it remained a secret from her.

Within a year or so I had a one-night stand at a festival, and after that I found sex with other women easy to find, enjoyable partly because it was secret, but also I didn’t respect myself in the way that I do now. I think I justified my behaviour by somehow thinking that my sex life outside of the relationship was separate to my relationship – a kind of parallel life. I didn’t like any deception that I did, but in my mind there was a pile of excuses – it was ‘only occasional’, or ‘only at festivals’, or it was OK because Sylvia didn’t trust me. But then it grew so I had several ongoing ‘physical friendships’.

I was aware that I didn’t like having slices of my life invisible or lied about to Sylvia, as I much prefer being honest because it’s easier. And of course I was enjoying the illicit fun, which also caused me to keep doing it and not tell Sylvia. Opportunities arose, I took them and chose not to share the information.

I’m sure my ‘playing away’ was obvious to Sylvia, it’s just that she was blinded by love and (probably) didn’t want to believe what I was getting up to. I do have regrets that I didn’t have the guts to be honest. I was afraid to tell Sylvia my true feelings, which were that I still loved her and could have lived with her but felt the need to have other female intimate company.

There was enough positivity in the relationship still, plus history, for this discomfort and deceit to be pushed out of my life, because I wanted to continue with Sylvia. What I mean is that the ‘good stuff’ outweighed the bad stuff – the conflict in my head and the occasional conflicts Sylvia and I descended into.

I’m not proud of this bit of my life because I hurt Sylvia such a lot with that behaviour, when she found out. The end of the relationship happened when a friend of ours was having coffee with Sylvia. Sylvia was burbling on about how wonderful I was and the friend said something like ‘how can you say that when he’s such a shit?’ Sylvia asked for explanation and the friend revealed I’d had sex with one of her friends at a juggling convention. Sylvia asked me directly as soon as she saw me: had I had sex with such and such at the festival? and I answered honestly.

I was due to go away the next day for nearly a week. When I got back Sylvia had moved out, and we didn’t speak. It wasn’t a dreadfully horrible break-up and we remained civil, but we haven’t spoken much since, and she’s moved away.

I have a general feeling of not respecting myself (or her) during the last few years of our living together, and my current honesty and openness (which is easier in the long run) is partly to atone or make-up for that period of deceit.

The deceit trap

I think this part of Russell’s story shows how easy it is to go from a little deceit to hiding a large part of your life from your partner. Once you have decided not to mention an encounter, it is hard to mention any future encounters because that would mean having to admit that you have lied before. The only way to end the lying is with a crisis – coming clean or being found out.

The excuses Russell made to himself are ones that unfaithful people have made throughout the ages. ‘I didn’t have full penetrative sex’, ‘I was upset with her’, ‘It was only occasional’, or ‘It was only at festivals’. In the end there are no excuses – and yet, there are logical reasons why people behave like this. When your choice seems to be between monogamy and cheating, and monogamy is simply too difficult, what other choice is there?

If you’re in Russell’s situation, if you’re cheating on your partner but not knowing how to tell them, I can sympathise, but I have to remind you of the stark fact: sooner or later, the truth will come out and a crisis will be reached – the only question is how soon that will happen. Unless you’ve got very strong reasons for keeping your relationship superficially happy but dishonest, I would recommend telling the truth sooner rather than later, as it can only get harder to tell the truth the longer you leave it.

And by coming clean, you also have a chance to control how the information comes out. Your partner might well be angry, but probably not angry as Sylvia was when she found out from a friend rather than from Russell. You can choose when and where they find out, you can be there to answer their questions, you can give your explanations.

Russell’s suspected that Sylvia probably knew about his cheating but didn’t want to admit it to herself. I’ve heard this again and again from people who have cheated and those who have been cheated on. I suppose none of us want to accept the idea that the person we have chosen as an ideal partner isn’t quite so ideal after all.

If you’ve been in Sylvia’s situation, suspecting that your partner is not being monogamous, bear in mind that they may still love you and feel committed to you. Be wary of the common assumption that if your partner cheats it must be because of something you’ve done wrong – it could just as easily be that they find monogamy difficult and don’t know what else to do about it. This blog is here to give people an alternative.

After the crisis, someone who has cheated then has an opportunity to decide how to change things, and they can choose to avoid being deceitful to future partners. Russell took this opportunity, as he explains in the next post.

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