She Said, He Said: What you do on a ‘break’ can fracture a relationship
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori —
I had been dating my girlfriend for eight months when we decided to take a break in October. I love her, but we’ve had a few key problems from the beginning. We got to a point where we didn’t know how to stop arguing over these issues and thought a little time apart would help us re-center and get a little clarity on what we needed to make the relationship work. I went to Mexico with the intention of doing just that, but met a really cool woman while I was there. We spent a few weeks together and part of me is interested in getting to know her more. My problem is that when I came home, my girlfriend told me she loves me and is wanting to work on our relationship. I’m willing to put in the work with her to give it a real try, but I don’t know if I should tell her about this other woman I met. I won’t pursue a romantic relationship with her, but I don’t want to completely cut her friendship off either. What should I do?
Spill the Mexican Beans?
Lori and Jeff: You would benefit in the long run by telling your girlfriend. You don’t need to share the details, but rather that you met this person and spent some time with her. There may be a point in time when the woman you met contacts you and it’s better to get it out on the table now than to have to explain to your girlfriend later why you never shared. She also deserves the right to know so that she can request that you get tested if that’s important to her.
Lori: Beyond “to tell or not to tell” exists a complicated emotional dynamic, to which you seem oblivious. Transitioning your vacation fling to a friendship right now is a recipe for disaster for all involved. First, your relationship is on the rocks. Having a backup perpetually dangling in the wings is going to distract you from putting in the real work with your girlfriend. Second, your girlfriend would have to be the most secure or most delusional woman on the planet to be cool with you chatting up a woman you were just romantically involved with. Third, we have no idea if your fling still has feelings for you, and what it would mean to her to be on your sidelines.
We have a rule in our marriage that any person who wants to be a friend to either of us needs to respect our relationship and be willing to be friends with both of us. This is particularly important for exes. You need to tell your fling that you’re working it out with your girlfriend and allow time to pass for both of your feelings to fade before entertaining a friendship. And even then, she needs to be interested in being part of both of your lives for that connection to even be possible.
Jeff: Taking “breaks” from relationships can often be complicated. Some of us may remember the line from the sitcom “Friends” when Ross keeps trying to exonerate himself from having had a fling by asserting to Rachael that “we were on a break!” Unless you and your girlfriend were very clear about what being on a “break” meant, you will need to proceed carefully with your plan of re-entry. If you crossed any specific boundaries that were set while you were on your relationship hiatus — around what you could do and with whom — you will need to come clean and take responsibility for your actions and accept the consequences. If the guidelines around the rule of disengagement were more vague, you might have a bit more wiggle room in what information you offer. Either way, don’t hide your interactions from your girlfriend.
Lori and Jeff: When it comes to relationships, trying to have your cake and eat it too often leads to losing both. If working on your relationship with your girlfriend is what you choose, then be an adult and commit to doing so. Be honest with yourself and with her. There are 7.7 billion people in the world; we’re certain you can find others as cool as your Mexico fling to be friends with.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.