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Hi, Dr. Robert.  

I have been a fan of your perceptive advice for a long time, and I hope you can find time in your busy schedule to respond to my query.  I will be as concise as possible.

I am a 41 year old woman of above average intelligence and attractiveness.  I have a strong support circle and a stable career that enables me to be financially independent.  I strive to be giving, compassionate and loving, so I believe that I am a good life partner.  I do suffer with depression, and I know this can make me very difficult to live with during the bad times, as I can be joyless, intractable, and very low-energy.  I have tried to address my depression at various times with medication, therapy, prayer, exercise, etc., but there is a very strong history of depression in my family and it has been an uphill battle.

Approximately 7 years ago I met and fell in love with a man, and we moved in together a couple of years later.  We are currently living together and though we do not have children, we have many wonderful pets and a beautiful home together.  My problem is that my man cheats on me constantly. He cheated on me very early on in the relationship, and I chose to forgive his indiscretion because I was so into him.  I rationalized his behavior, and told myself he would stop. It never has.  

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Every year or so I discover incontrovertible evidence that he has been unfaithful and we go through the same old song and dance: I cry and threaten to leave, he cries, begs for forgiveness, disparages himself, says he has a "problem" and that he will work on it.  I forgive him, and in the wake of all that turmoil we come together closer than ever and stay that way for awhile.  Then it's back to business as usual:  work, obligations, the mundane daily grind, until I discover the next affair.

Dr. Robert, the constant vigilance and mistrust is sucking my life away.  A year ago I made the decision to turn a blind eye to his extracurricular activities, to stop looking for evidence of his cheating since all I do is ultimately ignore it anyway.  But two weeks ago a close friend of mine came into my work and told me she had just seen my man out with another woman! I was devastated, but not at all surprised.  So it seems that though I may have decided to compartmentalize the truth of my lover's hurtful, unfaithful ways and turn away from the truth so as to avoid further pain and confrontation, the universe would rather have me know.

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At this point you, like any sensible person, must be asking why I stay.  He is very affectionate and attentive to my needs.  An excellent provider, a nurturer, a great cook, funny, strong, charismatic.  And I have already had and lost a few deep relationships.  I do not give myself easily, and once I do it is so hard for me to let go!  I am getting older-I am so disinclined to scrap this relationship and start over! The mere thought of it is nauseating.  Finally, to leave this relationship would entail leaving a very comfortable financial and home situation, breaking up the pets, etc.

He holds a part of his heart hidden from me, so I cannot say with certainty why he cheats on me.  I am sure that he loves me very much.  I suspect that he is able to express his sexuality in a more satisfying way when he is with the "other" woman.  Sex for him is ideally rough, pornographic, and objective.  Sex with him often feels very impersonal; I feel like I could be anyone.

My question for you is twofold.  One, do you think a habitual cheater, someone who has cheated over and over in every relationship, could ever find a reason to change his behavior? And secondly, do you think it is possible to accept that one's partner is unfaithful and stay with them anyway because you love them?  Is our collective maligning of "cheaters" perhaps just a bourgeois preoccupation? 

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Might an enlightened person be able to extend this freedom to their partner? Could that ever be healthy?

Lay it on me Dr. Robert, I welcome your wise words no matter how much the truth hurts.

Simone B.
Albuquerque, NM

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Hi, Simone--

I think you are someone I knew personally many years ago when you were a child. I always thought highly of you, was sorry about your home environment, and wished you well. Perhaps I am wrong about that. In any case, I am sorry for your suffering. Here are my replies to your two questions:

1. Very doubtful. And even if he possibly could change life-long habits, given that you have already accepted his infidelity, why would he want to?

2. Yes, I think it is possible, but what I heard in your account is not so much love of him as love of convenience—everything from finances to the pets ("excellent provider, a nurturer, a great cook"). I understand that kind of reasoning, but you should be honest with yourself. Beyond all that stuff, do you really love this particular man? What do you love about him which is not involved in your convenience? Is he the love of your life? Is your sex life satisfying for you as things stand now? Do you not sometimes imagine being loved faithfully and exclusively? Will you be happy taking care of him as you two age? What if you keep on this way and he finds one of his girlfriends superior to you, and so leaves you? How will you feel then?

Those are questions only you can answer. And, unless you are able to answer them honestly, you will never really know if you are just settling for this habitual infidelity because you are afraid of life and want to hide in this relationship.

No, I certainly do not think "our collective maligning of 'cheaters' is just a "bourgeois preoccupation." I cannot imagine giving fully of myself to a person who would then carry on sexually with someone else behind my back, perhaps with my name coming up as part of the pillow talk. How disgusting! But that's my point of view. If you think wanting fidelity is "bourgeois," and if you want to explain away your situation as a kind of freedom from or protest against middle-class values, that's life: you buy your ticket and you choose your seat. . . until the show ends.

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By the way, if your relationship were really about avoiding bourgeois values, I would think that any outside sex would be done not on the sly or with deception, but openly and with the full consciousness of everyone--both the two of you as well as any other lovers. Such honesty, including facing the inevitable pain involved in such a situation, is the only way I can imagine that a so-called "open marriage" could work as a viable, loving alternative to monogamy.

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And cheating, after all, is about as bourgeois as you can get.

If I am correct in my guess about who you are, please let me know. Even if I am not, please write again and let me know how things are with you.

Be well.

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