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Help! My Boyfriend Is Cheating On Me, But He Pays The Rent
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I'm a small business owner in NYC with a healing practice. I've been with my boyfriend for six years in a somewhat unconventional relationship and over that time he's been my ride or die. My boyfriend and I have an income gap in our professions, so he financially supports me. I'm a two-time cancer survivor, I got it first at a young age and also recently in my 30s. He has stood by my side through the very rough cancer diagnosis and my recovery.
Two years ago, when I victoriously beat cancer, we went away for an idyllic beach vacation to celebrate. During this time, I walked in on my boyfriend in the hotel room having a casual conversation with his ex-girlfriend of seven years. She apparently needed his support. Fast forward to a year later, I discover that he started getting massages from her at the spa she works at. He'd been doing this regularly for 6 months during times that I was out of town. (For my health, I regularly go away for a few months in the winter.) I approached him about it, and he totally denied it was true.
My boyfriend is very kind and loves to be of service. He says that he will always be "there" for his exes and that it has no impact on how he feels about me. The problem is I'm obsessing over her, and it has been utter torture. The pain has pushed me to be someone I am not proud of. I'm constantly questioning if he's seeing his ex-girlfriend and jabbing him whenever I discover anything that could be possible evidence of their rendezvous. Sometimes my mistrust is spot on and sometimes I'm wrongly accusing him.
I really never know when I can believe him and the net result is I'm enslaved by these thoughts and am not being my joyful, loving self when I'm with him. I am open to a somewhat open relationship provided the "affairs" are transactional. I'm torn because I do know he loves me, but I'm really at a crossroads of what to do.
I try to encourage honest dialogue but whenever I bring it up the issue of possible cheating, he gets frustrated, upset, and says he just wants to be alone. It's hard to have an emotionally intelligent conversation with him about it before it turns to anger and he begins comparing me to his ex-wife.
I am also looking for advice on how to stop comparing myself to his ex-girlfriend and being nasty about her. In my heart, I know there's a deep lesson to see how I may have unconsciously and energetically played with men (who were in relationships) through my healing practice so it all feels a bit karmic. I know there is a genuine opportunity to forgive the ex-girlfriend and forgive myself for unintended possibilities that I may have hurt another woman, and come into better alignment with the right action. I can't leave my boyfriend at the drop of hat because of the financial support, which has its own implicit complications. I am also looking for advice on how to best get financially independent so I never have to be in this position again.
I'm sorry you're experiencing such pain and anguish, and that you worry you may have lost yourself to these circumstances. The fact that you're able to exude such compassion towards the alleged mistress, despite the hardships you've endured, shows a level of emotional intelligence that is admirable. I can't imagine the toll that cancer has taken on you and your relationship, but I'm happy that you beat the illness and that your boyfriend was there when you needed him.
You say you have an "unconventional relationship," which leads me to wonder specifically how you define your coupling? Regardless, it's troubling your boyfriend isn't transparent and forthright. Based on that lack of transparency, it does seem likely that he is cheating or, at least, feels guilty about or ashamed of his actions. It's also natural you'd feel inadequate, unloved and obsessed with the "affair" and "the other woman" in a situation like this, so don't beat yourself up.
The financial dependency, which is a common reason for people to stay in undesirable relationships, is another component that is proven to cause lack of self-worth and depression. One in five people are in a relationship because of the financial security their significant other offers them, this according to a UK survey of 2000 people.
Your boyfriend isn't signaling that he's willing to work on the relationship, discontinue the happy massages with his ex, or seek help. According to Dr Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson of The Couples Institute, "When the partner who had an affair answers questions truthfully without evasiveness, it helps the other put an end to feeling suspicious or crazy. When the evasiveness continues, it signals that the feelings leading to the affair still exist and that the primacy of the committed partnership does not."
Therefore, it is important that you begin to focus on yourself and your emotional and financial wellbeing. Since you and your boyfriend share a long history and love for each other, chances are you may redefine your relationship into a sustainable friendship when the time is right. For now, you need to educate yourself on finances and carefully plan an exit strategy. There are many resources available to achieve this. Reach out to close friends or family for emotional support and also if you have the option, I'd highly recommend you seek out a qualified therapist. It is time that you heal yourself, fix your finances, and soon enough afford some of your own massages!
- The Armchair Psychologist
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.