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‘I keep cheating on my boyfriends and I don’t know why’

Ask Roe: ‘I really love my boyfriend but I have kissed three other guys so far’

Dear Roe,

I have been in a relationship for four years and I really love my boyfriend but for some odd reason I have kissed three other guys so far. I feel really guilty. I cheated heavily on my ex in our last year together (we were together for four years too), but I lost my respect and love for him and now it feels like I'm repeating myself and my nonsense. I really love my boyfriend but I don't understand why I kissed other men again. My boyfriend has called me names and insulted me but after I gave him an ultimatum he has stopped and we are going on well, but I feel horrible for having kissed other guys. I don't know how to feel.

I’m sorry your boyfriend was insulting you, and I’m glad you set clear boundaries and that things are improving. I wonder about the timing of this name-calling, and whether you started cheating before or after this? Was there an emotional switch that was flipped when he was being mean to you or when he started treating you better? Did you feel justified in cheating?

While you don’t mention how your ex-boyfriend treated you, you say that “I lost my respect and love for him” which is why you started cheating “heavily” – but you didn’t leave. In that situation you seem to be making a justification for cheating on him, but you don’t acknowledge that falling out of love with him wasn’t necessarily his fault and not something he deserved to be punished for. Nor do you acknowledge that if you had fallen out of love and respect for him, you could have simply broken up.


You need to dig deep and find the root of this behaviour. There's a lack of agency in how you describe your actions

It would be illuminating to think about your emotional process at that time. What was motivating you to stay with someone you no longer loved or respected, but also made you want to cheat? Did you want the safety of having a relationship, even if you weren’t enjoying it? Do you find it hard to leave partners even when they treat you badly? Was the relationship actually good and committed, but after three years of being faithful and maybe thinking more long-term, did you panic and want to self-destruct? How is your self-esteem? Are you comfortable being loved and treated well, or does that make you lose respect for someone, and make you want to act out and hurt them?

I often talk about the validity of open relationships in this column, but I admit I’m wary of suggesting them to people who have cheated. It may be that monogamy isn’t for you long term. You betrayed the terms of your relationship and could do that even in an open relationship. You need to dig deep and find the root of this behaviour. There’s a lack of agency in how you describe your actions – you feel surprised at your own actions, as if someone else did them, “for some odd reason”. This is you avoiding confronting your actions and their impact on your partners. It is time to look at your attitudes towards your partners; when you start feeling tempted to cheat and why, and what you can do to ensure your relationships are honest and fulfilling. Talking these issues through with a therapist would be helpful.

Until you start doing this work you are at risk of cheating on your boyfriend again. I would think carefully about whether the most fair, honest and respectful thing you could do is end this relationship until you’ve done some work on yourself.