Editor’s note: Carolyn Hax is on vacation. The following are excerpts from summer 2004 live discussions on www.washingtonpost.com.
Dear Carolyn: I just found out my boyfriend has been cheating on me, but he claims he wants to work it out with me. I know he still has contact with the Other Woman, which bothers me. Should cheating be a deal-breaker or is it sometimes worthwhile to work through the hurt and mistrust? – Confusedville
Did he tell you, or did you bust him? Does he have to have contact with the Other Woman (say, she’s a co-worker), or does he seek it? Were you two having problems, or was this out of the seemingly blissful blue? Is he worth keeping, or are you clinging out of habit? It’s not an easy yes-no question.
You’re just BF and GF, by the way. You’re under no pressure to make something work.
Carolyn: I just broke up with my girlfriend, and I’m depressed and confused. I’m wondering if I did the right thing. There were things that were wrong with the relationship, but I keep remembering the good times and wonder if I’ll ever be able to have those times with someone else? Perhaps I could’ve overlooked the bad parts in the relationship … or perhaps they weren’t as bad as I may have thought? Are these feelings normal? – Miami
No, you’re a complete freak.
Yes they’re normal feelings. But think about the most miserable couple you know, and I’ll bet everything in my pocket (one hair elastic, lint) that they’re together because they’re both secretly thinking, “I just need to overlook the bad parts of this relationship because if I leave, I’ll never feel X again.”
Instead of going back to your girlfriend, start doing whatever it is you have to do to make your own company preferable to the company of someone difficult. Then, you’ll never wonder again whether someone is good for you or not. Really.
Dear Carolyn: I am still single and just wonder why married people are usually told to “work things out” when they have a problem, not single people. If two people made a mistake of getting married because of unwanted pregnancy and society pressure combined, for instance, and do not like or love each other, should they try as hard as they can to make it work? Whose benefits should one consider before trying to spend the rest of one’s life with someone one doesn’t love? – Washington, D.C.
If there’s a kid, the utmost should be done to preserve the kid’s emotional health (usually that means working things out, but it can also mean running like hell from a miserable situation).
Beyond that, I think the depth of the effort to repair a breach should reflect the depth of the commitment. If you’ve made a pledge to stay for life, I don’t think it’s fair to break that pledge unless you’re confident that your unhappiness would be lifelong. Staying in that case benefits neither your partner nor you.
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