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Dr. L
Dr. L, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1166
Experience:  Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist
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Hi, I am feeling a bit guilty and need some advice. I have

Resolved Question:

Hi, I am feeling a bit guilty and need some advice. I have been with my girlfriend for 5 months now and out relationship is going really well. We are very close and things are looking very good for the future. I however have recently started feeling guilty, as when we started dating (and were not officially a couple) I had a couple of casual flings with another girl. At the time my girlfriend thought I was exclusively seeing her, and although we were not officially boyfriend and girlfriend I feel she would be upset if she ever found out about this. I felt like I almost needed to get it out of my system before starting a relationship, so at the time justified it this way. Do you agree with me that I should just let it be and move on and never bring it up with her, as it wasn't officially cheating and didnt mean anything?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. L replied 1 year ago.

Dr. L :

Hello,

Dr. L :

I would like to help you with your question.

Dr. L :

I can understand why you would feel guilty and why you would want to have another perspective.

Dr. L :

This is a tricky issue...you weren't really a committed couple at the time...but you can rationalize your behavior...still it bothers you. Likely you would feel upset if the shoe was on the other foot and she had a few flings before you got committed...right?

Dr. L :

The fact that you are feeling guilty tells me something.

Dr. L :

It tells me that you broke your own rules of behavior. Guilt is about your conscience telling you that you violated your own rules.

Dr. L :

So...who you need to reconcile with is yourself.

Dr. L :

I see you are typing..I will wait for you to reply.

Customer:

yes correct, at the time I could justify the behaviour, now I look back and see it as silly and hurtful. I feel if i was to tell her, it would really upset her and im not sure it would provide any benefit.

Customer:

Do you agree with me that, 1) it was not cheating per se and 2) there is no benefit in telling her

Dr. L :

Before I respond to your 2 questions...please tell me when you began to feel guilty about this...and why you feel guilty...

Dr. L :

What does silly and hurtful mean? Hurtful to who?

Customer:

Hurtful to her, doing that whilst she thought I wasn't seeing anyone else. I felt guilty a few weeks back when she found out I had coffee with the girl whilst we were in the dating phase.

Dr. L :

Here is how I see it:

Dr. L :

If you were not in a committed, exclusive relationship...then dating other girls would have reasonable.

Dr. L :

And so you have no reason to feel that you did anything wrong.

Dr. L :

If she "thought" you were in a committed relationship..then that is another issue.

Customer:

She said at the time she would prefer we not see other people and I agreed. So although we were not in a commited relationship ie. boyfriend/girlfriend, there was almost a gentlemans agreement that we would not see other people. I didn't date this girl, it was more of a physical thing

Dr. L :

About telling her what you did. I believe in 100% honesty in relationships. If couples are not open and honest then you risk having a trusting relationship. Trust is one of the key aspects of any relationship. Without trust...relationships do not survive.

Dr. L :

Okay...so she "preferred" it be a committed relationship...and you wanted the same thing.

Dr. L :

But then you got yourself involved with another woman. And now you see that you made a pretty foolish choice by being with this other woman...

Dr. L :

And you don't feel good about that choice. But it something you did...something you regret...and something you want to put in your past once and for all.

Customer:

yes. I believe telling her now would only really upset her and cause her not to trust me in the future. I understand honesty is the best policy, however I struggle to see how it would benefit anyone other than my own self conscious to tell her now. If we were not in a commited boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, does she really need to know?

Dr. L :

Let's look at this from several different angles:

Dr. L :

If you tell her...then you stop having this monkey on your back and you can go forward with a clean conscientious.

Dr. L :

If you don't tell her..you risk this haunting you and standing in the way of getting closer to her.

Dr. L :

If you do tell her...you risk that she will be upset and angry.

Dr. L :

Did you parents ever say to you...tell us the truth and we won't get mad? Lie to us and we will be mad?

Customer:

She asked me before if there was a crossover period and I said no. So she would be angry and upset that i firstly did it and then lief

Dr. L :

It is the same thing here...telling her the truth is going to keep the relationship "clean" and she is likely to see you as someone who knows how to tell the truth...even if it is scary and even if she might be temporarily upset.

Customer:

I dont necessarily agree. I think she will see it as deceitful and break up with me

Dr. L :

Here's how you explain that...I am sorry I was not 100% honest...I was afraid I would jeopardize our relationship so I took the easy way out by not telling the truth. I am sorry for that. I have learned my lesson and I will not do that again. I am coming to you with the truth now..and I am willing to accept the consequences of my behavior. If I did not love you and care for you, I would have kept this a secret. I want an open and honest relationship and that is why I am attempting to the truth.

Dr. L :

My point is that if you come forward with this...then you are showing that you want honesty in your relationship.

Dr. L :

But...I do see your point about her seeing this negatively and then the consequences would be terrible.

Dr. L :

And..I do not know this woman...and you do.

Customer:

I just cant see there being any benefit for the relationship if i tell her now, 6 months later. The fling meant nothing and we were not even a couple at the time. To me it only causes more problems for us in the future. It would make me feel better but her worse and she doesnt deserve that

Dr. L :

Yes..she doesn't deserve heartache.

Dr. L :

If you don't tell her...what can you do to stop feeling bad about this...

Dr. L :

How can you put this away once and for all?

Customer:

thats why i am here lol

Dr. L :

Okay...

Customer:

i guess i need someone else to tell me i am doing the right thing and that it is not cheating what i did. Although it was the wrong thing to do at the time, it was not cheating per se

Dr. L :

I agree it was not cheating.

Customer:

even though she believed we wouldnt see anyone else?

Dr. L :

I wouldn't say it was wrong. I would say that it might have been better to have thought this through more.

Dr. L :

But...at the time you were not thinking about a permanent relationship with this girl...were you?

Dr. L :

And so getting involved with this other woman just didn't mean anything...right?

Customer:

I wasn't sure at the time. I didn't think it would become as serious as it has

Dr. L :

The only place we seem to differ is that I suggest you tell her to clear the air..and you prefer not to.

Dr. L :

Exactly! So...she preferred neither of you see other people.

Dr. L :

You preferred that to. But you decide to get involved with this other woman.

Dr. L :

You did not know where the relationship was going..and so it was a fun fling.

Customer:

at the time we agreed we were not in a relationship, however she asked we not see other ppl.

Dr. L :

Now you wish you hadn't done it...but the fact is that you did. So it's a done deal.

Dr. L :

Yes...I understand that. No relationship. No commitment. Each WAS free to see other people.

Dr. L :

Each HOPED the other person wouldn't see other people.

Customer:

correct, i feel guily, after all is said and done, in your professional opinion do you agree it was not cheating as we were not boyfriend/girlfriend. Even though there was a conversation about not seeing other ppl

Dr. L :

As I said, I don't think you violated the relationship...

Dr. L :

So YES...you did not cheat.

Customer:

So how do i free myself from this guilt

Dr. L :

That means that you can do what you want about telling her or not telling her.

Customer:

I feel that telling her will only benfit me, and she deserves better than that.

Dr. L :

Does it help that you have told me?

Customer:

It does to a degree. This is how I am feeling

Dr. L :

Does that free you...knowing that you have talked to a psychologist with nearly 30 years experience working with couples?

Customer:

I know that what i did wasn't cheating by the letter of the law, however it was deceitful and out of character for me to do.

Customer:

I also know that by telling her, she will be really upset and maybe question our relationship

Dr. L :

Guilt is an opportunity to look at our behavior and ask ourselves if we are okay with our behavior.

Customer:

so I need to be able to come to terms with my guilt, as in my opinion telling her can only hurt her more

Dr. L :

Yes.

Customer:

I know your first choice is to tell her but do you also agree that not telling her has merits also

Dr. L :

Yes.

Dr. L :

Not telling her protects her from heartache.

Dr. L :

And there is value in not causing her pain.

Dr. L :

This is a legitimate concern and something to be weighted.

Dr. L :

And ... yes while my first choice is to tell the truth...I do understand the concern about hurting her.

Customer:

I care for her too much. I just see that it cant benefit her from telling her. I need to accept what i did was silly and careless but certainly not a hanging offence. Do you agree?

Dr. L :

Yes.

Dr. L :

It was unfortunate that you made the choice to be with this other woman. But in the end you did not continue with her.

Customer:

If i was to free myself from the guilt, do you think the relationship could continue to blossom if i did not tell her

Dr. L :

Yes. But you must find a way to free yourself.

Dr. L :

As it will continue to weigh on your shoulders.

Customer:

If an expert tells me what i did was not cheating and a silly mistake it certainly makes me feel better

Dr. L :

One way to let go of this is to accept that you are not perfect...that sometimes you - like everyone else in the word - makes poor choices. Thus...you can say to yourself: I'm a good person. I tend to make good decisions. But from time to time I may make a poor decision. I will accept that I am human. And if I make a poor decision, I vow to learn from that decision so that I can continue to grow.

Dr. L :

*world

Customer:

you said earlier that relationships are built on trust. Do you think that by not telling her it could affect us? Or can i just leave this as a silly mistake and not overthink it

Dr. L :

Stop over thinking!

Dr. L :

Do you feel that you are trustworthy?

Customer:

I am trustworthy and I certainly would never ever cheat on my girlfriend. Sometimes I just think, if she found out she would be so upset and that haunts me a little bit

Dr. L :

That she ought to trust you and that you give her no cause to distrust you?

Dr. L :

Yes...it is a bit scary thinking she might find out about this and then you will have to find a way to explain it all.

Dr. L :

That explanation would be...After much thought, I came to believe that I cared more about your feelings then anything and I was not willing to hurt you by bringing up something that had absolutely no meaning to me.

Customer:

and in relationships, sometimes i think we dont need to necessarily know everything about a partners past? Is that correct

Dr. L :

Yes...sometimes knowing too much about someone's past just leads to jealousy and hurt feelings.

Dr. L :

This is part of your past. You don't have to go into detail about every woman you dated, kissed, and so forth. It's the past...and it can stay there.

Customer:

For example, before we started dating, she wanted to know how many women i had slept with last year. I said 1 when the answer was 5, in my opinion that information didn't need knowing

Dr. L :

Likewise...you don't necessarily need to know - or maybe even want to know - about every guy she has known.

Dr. L :

Exactly...that kind of thing means nothing...it is usually more hurtful then anything...

Dr. L :

There is no point in revealing such details of your life.

Customer:

thats almost how i see my current situation

Dr. L :

I get it...

Customer:

If we both agree that it was careless and not cheating then why the need to tell?

Dr. L :

And you are right...this was part of your past...leave it there.

Customer:

we were not in a relationship

Dr. L :

The only reason I suggested telling her was because you were feeling guilty and I wanted to understand the depth of your guilt...meaning...was this something you could let go of...or was it something that you beat yourself up with so much that you can't get free from it...

Customer:

she sees that period of our time together differently to me. I saw it as purely dating, she saw it as a precursor to our relationship. I think thats why it would hurt her so much

Dr. L :

Yes..I understand the difference.

Customer:

in my mind at the time, what i was doing was a bit silly, but retrospectively i can look back on it and see how stupid it was

Dr. L :

And it is true that men and women see relationships differently and attach different meanings to these things.

Customer:

I can differentiate dating and relationships more than her, hence I see what i did as wrong and silly, but not cheating like she would

Dr. L :

And that change from silly to stupid is your conscience. That was what I was trying to get at earlier...your conscience did a self-examination and in that examination it told you: what you did wasn't just you being silly...it was you being thoughtless, taking an unnecessary risk, and a downright poor choice.

Dr. L :

Do you understand my point?

Customer:

yes i do

Customer:

should the relationship be jeapordized by that re-evaluation though?

Dr. L :

So now that your conscience has done the work it needs to do...you can say to yourself...I learned something here. I will be more careful in the future about my choices. If I catch myself thinking something I do is silly...I need to think a little harder because it might be me being stupid.

Dr. L :

No ... this self-examination is an internal process. It doesn't have to be shared with others. It ought to change your thinking and your perceptions about how you live your life going forward.

Customer:

So to summarise

Customer:

1. In your professional opinion i did not cheat, even though she asked we keep it exclusive 2. I have retrospectively realised how stupid and careless i was 3. Telling her would not help the situation as long as i can free myself

Dr. L :

Yes to all 3 points.

Dr. L :

And..I gave you several tips on how to free yourself...

Customer:

other than telling her?

Dr. L :

Which you can consider and chose how to proceed.

Dr. L :

Yes...telling her is one option, learning from this experience and vowing to think through situations more thoroughly is another, and accepting that you are not perfect and will may mistakes in life is another.

Customer:

so finally, in your opinion, it is a viable and good option also to go ahead with forgiving myself and not telling her

Dr. L :

Yes.

Customer:

after all we have spoken about, do you think that is my best path forwards

Dr. L :

Yes.

Customer:

to not tell her?

Dr. L :

Yes..your best path forward is to work to forgive yourself and to not tell her of this past incident.

Customer:

Can i ask what changed your mind from your original adivce to come clean

Dr. L :

It is more a matter of me adding other options to my original advice and more clearly recognizing that you had no commitment to her at the time of the incident and that it is now in the past.

Dr. L :

I should say now in YOUR past.

Dr. L :

You were not together as a couple at the time this occurred. So it clearly is not cheating.

Customer:

I did not have commitment in the way that we were not in a relationship. However we did agree we wouldnt see other ppl

Dr. L :

I understand that as an agreement that it was preferred not to see other people. A preference is not a promise.

Customer:

even if it was a promise, we still were not in a relationship

Dr. L :

Are you over thinking this again?

Dr. L :

True.

Dr. L :

Like I said earlier: no relationship. no commitment.

Dr. L :

And action in YOUR past.

Dr. L :

All of these things say: there was no cheating. there is no need to tell her.

Dr. L :

End of story.

Dr. L :

Can you live with this?

Dr. L :

It seems as if you need to keep justifying this...

Customer:

thats just the way i am

Dr. L :

Okay. I can understand that.

Dr. L :

Is it now clear in your mind? Can you move forward with her?

Customer:

I am happy to hear that you dont think it was cheating. I think that she might think it could be, however we both agree that even though there is an understanding you are monogonous. If you are not in a defined relationship then you are single

Customer:

so i accept i did the wrong thing, but move forward knowing in my mind i did not cheat her, rather do something silly that would really upset her if she found out. And for the benefit of us, leave it in the past

Dr. L :

Yes. This is how I see it and I think it is the best route going forward with her.

Customer:

ok thank you very much for your time

Dr. L :

You will need to continue to do the work of forgiving yourself...but otherwise all is well.

Customer:

you have been very generous

Dr. L :

You are welcome.

Dr. L :

Take care!

Customer:

thanks, XXXXX XXXXX

Dr. L :

I wish you the best of luck in your relationship.

Dr. L, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1166
Experience: Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist
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