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He Cheats On Me. Is It My Fault?

Question:

My fiancee and I have been together for 2 years. We have 1 child together, one on the way and I have two other children from a previous relationship. He is a wonderful father to all. The problem is he cheats on me and has done so two times that I know of. There is a possibility that he may have impregnated one of the women. He denies having unprotected sex. He blames it on me saying that I push him away because I argue and disagree with him most of the time. Both of these incidents have occurred during my pregnancies. I do not feel that this is my fault. Is it his own personal issue and is he using me as an excuse? We were supposed to get married this month but have called it off for now. I’m confused, on one hand I want him to move out of my house because he has disrespected me but on the other he is a great father and provider. What should I do?

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Answer:

Though you say you don’t regard yourself as being the cause of your fiancee’s infidelities, you aren’t really sure how to attribute the cause of his behavior either. You aren’t sure if all of the blame for the infidelity should rest on your fiancee’s shoulders, as would be the case if infidelity was his personal issue, or what your role is exactly in causing these things to happen. Let me help you settle your mind on this issue.

It is just not possible for you to cause your fiancee to cheat on you. You don’t have that kind of control over him and never could. You might yell at him or treat him badly or deny him sex or any number of things, all of which might make him upset or frustrated but you cannot cause him to handle that upset and frustration in any particular way. Instead, it is up to him and the coping skills he has available to determine how he will handle his frustration. For example, it is legitimate for him to complain about being sexually frustrated if you and he have a mutual expectation of monogamy and you are not willing or able to have sex with him. What he may do with that sexual frustration is entirely up to him, however. If being faithful to you was a priority he could masturbate (possibly with the aide of pornography, although that might make the issue more complicated). It is just not the case that he has to find a willing sexual parter outside your relationship if he doesn’t want to do that.

What your partner is doing is engaging in a behavior called externalization. He doesn’t want to take responsibility for his actions, or maybe is not emotionally mature enough to distinguish between himself and other people as the cause of his actions. Instead of identifying and owning his desire to be with extra-relationship partners, he looks around for some reason outside of himself to blame his desire on. You are a convenient target for him to blame for his weakness for several reasons: 1) you are nearby and thus someone he thinks about quite a bit, 2) he can get you off balance by blaming you. You start to think that maybe I did drive him to do this, and then you start being upset with yourself rather than him. This is also known as the "best defense is a good offense" approach to defending yourself.

The secondary uncertainty that you close your letter with is a more difficult one to respond to. You feel disrespected (as you should) and possibly angry (with justification), but you do recognize him as a great father and provider, and I’m sure you deeply care for this man or you would not have gotten involved with him in the first place. So, the situation is complicated. I think you need to do some soul searching and thinking about the issues here and how well you can deal with them yourself before you act precipitously.

For instance, consider the strong possibility that if you remain with this man that he will continue to sleep around. He won’t necessarily be able to stop himself because he is possibly too immature to recognize the harm he is doing. Could you live with that? Under what set of circumstances could you live with such a man? Would it do lasting harm to your own self-esteem to allow him to have sex on the side or are you okay with that. How frightened are you of making it on your own if you were to leave him? Some women are okay with the prospect of being alone, and others are frightened by it but figure they’ll get through it. Some women have very low self-esteem and dependency issues and figure it is better to stay with the devil you know than risk the devil you don’t know.

If you do leave this man, you will likely have state mandated child support to help you provide for your children. However, you are forever wedded to this man as he is the co-parent of your children. You will always need to deal with him and possibly share custody with him.

People do mature and grow older emotionally. There is a chance that your fiancee will learn to see his actions in the context of the effects they have on the others he cares about around him instead of just from his own relatively selfish and shallow perspective. What it will take to transform his conscience from the one state to the other is not predictable, however. You can’t necessarily count on it happening. You can share with him how hurt you are by his actions, ask him in no uncertain terms to take more responsibility for his actions and categorically reject his attempts to blame you for his own bad decisions. You might ask him to go to counseling with you. You might ask other mature males he respects to talk to him about taking responsibility for his actions. All of these actions might push him and influence him, but none of them are guarenteed to work. So you have to decide how much you want to invest in helping him to grow to be your partner, and when you have had enough and need to do something different for yourself. These are hard choices but they are also adult choices. Good luck.

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