Dear Wendy: “I Keep Thinking About Cheating”
I have been seeing my boyfriend for the past eight months. I would describe our relationship so far as “perfect.” We rarely argue and when we do it is settled within minutes. He is so caring and actually talks to me about his feelings and wants to know the way I feel about a lot things that really do matter. Our relationship has no drama whatsoever and we are perfectly happy. The thing is, I have been known to cheat on my ex-boyfriends in the past. He does not know this nor ever will, and I have no urge to cheat on my current boyfriend whatsoever.
However, my job recently made me relocate to a different location for six months. We both agreed to stay together during this time and so far it has been great but I’m finding myself thinking about being with other men. When I see men I think to myself, “If I wanted him, I could probably have him.” I am realizing these are the exact thoughts I was thinking when I would cheat on my exes. I don’t understand why I feel this way. I know I love my boyfriend and would never ever cheat on him but how do I keep myself from having these thoughts? Is this something all people in a relationship think about but just never say anything? — Once a Cheater
You’ve gone out of your way in your letter to stress how perfect your relationship is and how you would never, ever in a million years cheat on your boyfriend, whom you are perfectly happy with, even though you’ve cheated on numerous ex-boyfriends before him and now find yourself in the same thought-pattern that led to all your past indiscretions. Frankly, it sounds more like you’re trying to convince yourself you aren’t going to cheat than anything else. And if that’s not the case — if you really, truly are 100 percent certain you’d never step out, I can’t imagine why simply thinking you “could probably have” other men would scare you so much.
Those thoughts wouldn’t scare you unless you feared deep down that you might act on them. (For the record, everyone thinks about people other than their partners, but not everyone acts on those thoughts. That’s what your problem is — not the thoughts themselves, but the acting on them). And acting on those thoughts has a lot less to do with how perfect your relationship is than how imperfect you are. Because this is really about a compulsion you have — an inability you’ve exhibited in the past to separate thoughts from action. My feeling is the compulsion to act on your impulses has been so great for you before that you don’t trust yourself to not make the same mistakes in your present, thereby screwing up your perfect relationship.
But, here’s the thing: if you cannot control your impulses, you have to control your thoughts. Or, rather, create thoughts that don’t lead you to regretful indiscretions. My advice is to counter any thought you may have of other men with thoughts of your boyfriend. Train yourself to picture him, to hear his voice, to think about your most pleasant memories together whenever thoughts or fantasies of these other men you “could have if you wanted” creep into your mind. Go one step further and call your boyfriend when you’re haunted by images of other men. This may mean calling him at inopportune times or staying on the phone with him for hours on end until your need for attention and validation is fulfilled, but he’d probably prefer that to you hooking up with some random dude while you’re away.
Finally, practice saying the word “no” to yourself over and over and over. Say it in the shower. Say it in the car on the way to work. Whisper it to yourself in the elevator or in the bathroom or any moment you have to yourself. No, no, no, no. The word will come in handy when you ask yourself whether you ought to maybe flirt with that cute guy in the produce aisle at the grocery store or let the guy at the bar buy you a drink or go home with a colleague after a work function one evening. And it’s the word you need to scream to yourself when a little voice in your head asks: “Is my self-worth dependent on the attention I get from men?” Or: “Am I less of a woman if I go a couple of months without sleeping with someone?” Or: “Do I want to continue a pattern of bad behavior, and living with regret as my only company for the rest of my life because I’ve never had the discipline and self-love not to screw up good relationships when I’ve been lucky enough to have them?” No.
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