His ex-wife cheated; now he has trouble trusting his girlfriend
Q: I am 44, divorced three years. My girlfriend was in a relationship that ended four years ago because of his inability to commit, two weeks before she was to marry him.
My ex had numerous affairs — yes, I was an idiot for staying, but with three children you think that's the best thing to do, even though it's not — and I found out about two affairs through e-mails and texts that she (ignorantly or purposely) left for me to find.
I love my girlfriend and trust her more than anything in the world, which I never would have thought possible after my divorce. But she thinks it is fine to contact her ex-fiance, as they are just friends and have a history together. I believe her when she says she could never be with him again.
However, the problem I have with this is in trying to forget about my past and the terrible things my ex put me through with e-mails and texting. My girlfriend said she won't tell me when she communicates with her ex so as not to stress me out, but that makes it worse because now I think she is going to hide something from me.
I know she won't do anything but I just can't get these thoughts out of my mind.
I have told her repeatedly that I do not appreciate her being in touch with her ex and that it is not appropriate. I don't want to ruin my relationship because of e-mail.
A: So which one is this really about — propriety, trust or Post Traumatic Marriage Disorder?
I don't mean to sound mean. I suspect the last one — PTMD? — is the true heart of your unease, and that's both awful and understandable. When the mother of your three kids has multiple clandestine affairs, you're going to carry that with you for sure.
But that doesn't make it OK to shift your burden onto your girlfriend. As long as she's being forthright with you, calling her inappropriate is inappropriate. It's perfectly decent — and potentially therapeutic for you — for her to continue a friendship that predates your relationship.
It's also simply not logically consistent to say you "trust her more than anything in the world" but fear relationship ruin at the hands of … e-mail?
You were burned, severely, and this runaway suspicion/anxiety is your scarring. It is certainly fair, even healthy, to ask your girlfriend to be aware of (and sensitive to) the way your past haunts you.
However, she's not the one who needs to change in service of your ghost; you are. There are various ways to put one's past to rest, as simplistic as deciding "It happened and it's done," or as involved as dissecting your ex-marriage with a good therapist until you're confident you won't repeat history.
Please choose one of them because it's unfair to make it her problem before you've exhausted all reasonable means of solving the problem yourself. It's not about making ourselves perfect or baggage-free — an impossibility — but instead about leading by example. When you do the emotional hard work to benefit both of you, a good partner will be much more inclined to do the same (in her way, which may differ from yours). It's the very foundation of good will.