QUESTION: After 15 years together my boyfriend and I were unsure whether to marry or split. We felt stale, and curious about sex with others. We agreed to a trial four-month split to help us decide, during which I had a fling. This helped me see how much I loved and missed my ex. He said he felt the same way - until I confessed to the affair. He hit the roof and won’t return my calls. I feel confused and distraught. What to do?
ANSWER: In a world where the heart was a rational organ, you would have committed no offence. You and your partner agreed to a temporary split and were under no obligation to be faithful. It seems the break was almost expressly designed to allow you both some leeway with other sexual partners.
But in my experience, these kind of pacts rarely follow the logic of their terms and conditions. You can feel just as jealous during a temporary separation as you can when you live together.
Of course your partner might not have felt so angry and accusatory had he also had a fling. He’s been given the space to be both wounded and self-righteous - whereas the truth may be that no one sufficiently attractive, or interested in him, crossed his path. Whatever the truth, I imagine he’s cast himself as a man too noble and devoted to stray. He will argue that he used the space apart to ponder his feelings for you, while you simply thought: “Out of sight, out of mind.”
I’ve witnessed this particular scenario many times. When couples decide to take breaks from their relationships, everything that may unfold is still theoretical. However, when one person is faced with the cold, hard fact that their partner slept with someone else, the pain is rather less abstract. Your brain may say “We agreed to go our own way!” but the heart feels like you never ever split.
That is why the Friends’ sitcom plot line, involving Rachel and Ross having some time apart (during which he sleeps with another girl), led to much parroting of Ross’s justification: “We were on a break!” But Rachel still expected Ross to stay faithful.
It’s a little sad and ironic - but not at all unusual - that you had to have mediocre sex with someone else to realise your core relationship was the real deal. It is only human when you have been with your partner some years to wonder what intimacy with another person might be like. Often, we have to journey away from home to appreciate its true value.
I would allow your partner some time to cool off. Jealousy is a painful, cruel, impetuous emotion and he needs time to master it. Just say you made a mistake, then take a step back. You might, however, send trusted and wise friends in to negotiate on your behalf. After all, he tacitly allowed you leeway.
When your partner has cooled down, point out that it’s better to have faced this hurdle now, rather than after you’re married. If you both now show the determination to move forward together, you will be stronger - if less innocent - than before.
Most importantly of all, you won’t take one another for granted. What seems like a disaster could be the making of you. - Daily Mail