My boyfriend and I of a very long time broke up two days ago, and I’m at a total loss of where to go from here. We had an amazing relationship with very little problems or issues, and I honestly thought that this could be my future husband. But about a month ago we were going through a rough patch and I made what is unquestionably the biggest mistake of my life and kissed another man. This man has no emotional meaning to me and it was a one-time occurrence.
I debated for weeks if I should tell him but I decided not to knowing he would break up with me and knowing it would never happen again. The man I kissed though had other plans and told others after I told him how important it was to keep between us because it had been a mistake. My boyfriend of course found out and asked me if had anything to tell him, and I confessed right then knowing he had found out. I told him how sorry I was and that there was absolutely no excuse for what I’d done. I told him the whole situation and that I only love him. I told him I wanted to work through it and earn his trust and forgiveness back but he broke up with me stating “I want to be with you but I have to break up with you”.
So we haven’t spoken in two days and here is my question for you. Do I let him go because I love him, or do I fight for him because I love him? I am 100% committed to fixing it and want him back but should I just set him free? He says he still loves me but should respect himself enough to break up with me. I have no idea what to do, but I know he’s the one and I’m so lost. Please help!!
Thank you for your question and I am sorry to hear how difficult this has been for you. Letting a relationship go when you are still very much attached to a partner can be very painful. While some may interpret you kissing another guy as cheating (which it seems your ex did), others may not see it that way. In a recent paper that explored perceptions of what constitutes cheating behaviors,1 three different types of cheating were identified: explicit, deceptive, and ambiguous. Explicit behaviors were those that most people label as infidelity, such as sex. Deceptive behaviors were those that were intended to be hidden from a partner, such as lying. Finally, ambiguous behaviors were those that made it difficult to tell what is going on, such as hugging or dancing with someone else. Interestingly, kissing someone was not an easy behavior to classify in the studies that were reported: sometimes participants rated kissing as explicit cheating, while other times they did not. How might your ex-boyfriend have interpreted your kissing behavior? He could have been upset because he interpreted your kissing as explicit cheating. He may have interpreted the behavior as deceptive as well, as he heard about the incident from someone else weeks later.
In terms of how your ex-partner responded to your kissing someone else, men and women both experience anger when confronted with sexual infidelity, but both men and women are more upset and distressed when thinking about an emotionally unfaithful partner.2 Although you describe your kiss as having no emotional investment, your ex might have interpreted it differently and consequently experienced anger or distress.
Now for some tough love….From what you describe, it sounds as if your relationship was undergoing some challenges even before you kissed this other man. The breaking-up process actually takes some time; it typically starts with an awareness that things are not right in the relationship (in your case, your rough patch).3 If partners feel that a break-up is inevitable, then they will do things to end the relationship. Withdrawal or avoidance strategies are approaches that can be used to end a relationship,4 particularly when problems that are specific to the relationship are the reason for the breakup. By exploring another relationship, even with just a kiss with someone else, it is possible that your behavior was just a strategy to avoid the problems that the two of you were having with each other. In other words, pre-existing issues in your relationship may have been the problem, and your kissing someone else could have been used by your ex as an excuse to end your relationship that you both on some level believed was going to end anyway. This possibility may be difficult to accept, but if you do decide to reunite with each other, it would be important to explore with him all the other relationship issues that were going on between the two of you before the kissing incident. If you both love each other, such a transgression can be worked through with a lot of honest and sensitive communication. Otherwise, it is just best to grieve, move on, and focus on being a strong, healthy person so that your next relationship can be even healthier.
1Wilson, K., Mattingly, B. A., Clark, E. M., Weidler, D. J., & Bequette, A. W. (2011). The gray area: Exploring attitudes toward infidelity and the development of the perceptions of dating infidelity scale. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151, 63–86.
2Green, M. C., & Sabini, J. (2006). Gender, socioeconomic status, age, and jealousy: Emotional responses to infidelity in a national sample. Emotion, 6, 330–334.
3Duck, S. (1982). A topography of relationship disengagement and dissolution. In S. Duck (Ed.), Personal relationships 4: Dissolving personal relationships (pp. 1–30). New York: Academic Press.
4Baxter, L. A. (1982). Strategies for ending relationships: Two studies. The Western Journal of Speech Communication, 46, 223–241.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.