The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ask Sahaj: I caught my boyfriend cheating. Should I stay with him?

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; iStock)
5 min

Dear Sahaj: I’ve been dating a man for a year, and we agreed to be exclusive in our relationship pretty early on. Recently, I discovered that he had been dating another woman, along with me, for three months. Although he seems genuinely sorry to have hurt me, and he immediately broke it off with the other woman, I’m having a hard time trusting him and getting over what seems like a terrible violation. No matter what he says, it still happened, and I’m angry and humiliated. Should I give him another chance?

— Upset

Upset: Of course you feel betrayed: You made an agreement, which included the mutual expectation to not date other people, and he broke it. Just because he wants a second chance does not mean he is entitled to it. It’s your prerogative to end the relationship and decide you are unwilling to forgive him.

Think about why you want to be with a person who cheated on you, and how you can realistically — if at all — move forward from this. Giving him another chance requires trust, and trust is a leap of faith. Being this vulnerable is unlikely if you don’t feel emotionally safe with your partner.

Is your partner taking accountability for what he did and the pain it caused you? A real apology is more than just being sorry. It’s about repair. How is he working toward repairing what he broke in the relationship? Are there other ways he’s deceived you? If so, this could be a sign of a larger problem that may be irreparable.

How you found out about the other woman is important, too. You say he seems sorry for hurting you, but is he actually sorry that he got caught? If he’s defensive or resists accepting responsibility for his behavior, then it can signify a lack of care or consideration for how he hurt you. This doesn’t bode well for things to ever be different.

Skip to end of carousel
Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy and Culturally Enough, communities focused on people with bicultural identities and immigrant parents. She’s given advice about setting boundaries with your parents, friends who keep mispronouncing your name, and relationship problems.
End of carousel

How has this betrayal shifted how you behave with your partner? For example, are you doing things that are rooted in a lack of trust — like trying to catch him in a lie, or wanting to go through his phone? Just like cracked glass, broken trust in a relationship can be fixed or it can slowly spread and eventually fall apart.

If you feel like conversations with him are going in circles, and are deepening the wound, it may indicate the need for couples counseling or that you need to break up. You have to be honest with yourself because you do deserve to feel trust in your relationship.

Dear Sahaj: How do I reconcile that my ambition for my career means forgoing my personal life? In the quest to achieve my career goals, I am currently taking temporary jobs that will pay off in the long run for my ultimate career goals. This means, however, not being in one place for too long, making a stable relationship nearly impossible.

— Climbing the ladder

Climbing the ladder: There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but you wouldn’t be asking this question if you didn’t feel internal conflict about your choice. When we want to reconcile two things, it often means they don’t currently coexist in harmony.

Focusing on your values is even more important than having goals. What is important to you and how do your choices, behaviors, and life reflect these? If you’re not sure, think about when you are most fulfilled. Maybe you’ll realize your career is more important than friendship or love right now, and that’s okay. Values can evolve, but by gaining clarity, you also gain a better understanding of what is important to you and what you aren’t willing to sacrifice.

However, if you find that you do feel like something is missing, be creative on how to nurture what’s important to you. This may look like finding time to talk to, or see, friends, or take care of yourself, or even date. I believe you can prioritize your career while still having a personal life; you just have to decide to make time for it.

The illusion that when we reach a goal we will finally attain happiness is called the arrival fallacy. If I’ve learned anything in my work, it’s that most of us hope that if we just do this one thing, then the next will fall into place. For some goals, like moving up the corporate ladder or dating before marriage, this makes sense. However, life doesn’t always work like a train on a track. Sometimes, life experiences happen in tandem.

Have a question for Sahaj? Ask her here.

I don’t suggest you stop working toward your goals, I just don’t want you to wake up one day and wish you had made more time earlier for other things. I worry that your goals are distracting you from other parts of your life that are also important — like relationships, community, and balance.

Ask yourself: How long am I willing to do this for? What is the ultimate goal? It’s up to you to determine what you are willing to compromise on and for how long. We make time for the things we truly want. If you’re not making that time, ask yourself if you are making excuses and if you need to change.