Adapted from a recent online discussion.
To rebuild trust, girlfriend must first own up to her behavior
Va.: My girlfriend has told me that she's finally done "sowing her oats." She cheated on me two months into our relationship (she says we weren't exclusive at that point — I argued that we'd slept with each other and were). I just found out that after two years of dating, she slept with two other guys as well. She cried and told me how sorry she was, but I don't know if I can ever trust her. She says she has an extremely high sex drive, but I don't buy that excuse. How can I rebuild trust between us?
Carolyn: "I" can't. She has to do it. And all she's building now are defenses and excuses, which are anathema to trust.
Trust can be built only on a smooth foundation, meaning there are no residual lumps of ongoing bad behavior, and no cracks of resentment for that behavior.
And as evidence that she's finished cheating on you, you have nothing except her words, which have negligible value — not just because of her past dishonesty, but also because of her present need to rationalize her mistakes. "I have an extremely high sex drive"? Seriously? She thinks that makes deceiving you okay?
For what it's worth, I don't necessarily agree that your having slept with her at the two-month point meant you were automatically exclusive (if that's what you were arguing); while she should have told you she was sleeping with other people, you should have made your expectations clear.
But that's a minor point in light of her racking up lovers while pretending to be someone's girlfriend. She needs to own her behavior one way or the other — either by admitting openly that commitment isn't for her, or by realizing she is ready to change. To make a credible case for the latter, she needs to acknowledge the dark part of her that drove her to cheat and lie, and deplore that side of herself, and articulate the way she wants to be.
I don't see any sign of her owning anything. Without that, expect the status quo: She'll want the security of a relationship, the freedom to do what she wants, and a pass on doing any hard work on herself.
Anonymous: Re: Va.'s girlfriend: How should she address her behavior? Counseling? Does this fall under the sexual addiction category that would require a specialist, or is this just a general therapy issue?
Carolyn: It doesn't have to be either, if it's just a choice to satisfy herself in a way that seems appealing at the moment.
If it's just a choice, then all it takes is for her to (1) want to change, and then (2) start being the person she'd rather be.
If it's not a pure choice — meaning, say, she feels regret when she strays, doesn't like herself for it, but still does it — then I would suggest therapy with someone who at least has solid experience treating hypersexuality, if not necessarily specializing in it.
And if she wants to keep "sowing her oats" without apology, then all she needs is to start telling the truth.