Q: I've been with my guy for eight months. At the beginning of our relationship, he was so sweet to me, telling me all the things he planned for us to do together in the future and that I was the best girlfriend he's ever had. He was even ready to move to be closer to me. I'd never been happier in my life. I've been cheated on in the past, but my current boyfriend has never given me a reason not to trust him...outright. But because I have trust issues, I recently checked his email. I noticed he's been getting emails about once or twice a month from a girl who used to live in our area. Now she lives across the country, but the emails they send back and forth are very suggestive and she's even sent him pictures of herself topless. His responses to her usually end with him asking her for more racy pictures. I know he's not physically cheating on me, but I know she misses "home" and I'm worried that if she does come back here he will cheat on me with her. I can't confront him about it because I know it's wrong to check his email, but I feel like I can't trust him when he keeps sending charged emails back and forth with this girl. And I'm sure that they talk over IM when they're both online. I love him but I can't help but feel betrayed. How should I deal with this? -- Tracy, 22
Dr. Susan: Your boyfriend is indeed cheating on you by carrying on a flirtatious relationship with another woman. I don't care if it stays on email, it's troublesome. She's a real person, one he actually knows (not just some porn image). She sounds like a piece of work herself, sending him those photos. Doesn't she know how stuff like that ends up on the Internet? What a dope. And since she's foolish and he's a weakling, I believe you are right to be worried.
You risk alienating him by letting him know you breached his trust by snooping. On the other hand, you happened to find exactly what you were afraid of finding, which means he was betraying your trust first. These are fine points that may not help you when this all comes into the open, however. Still, I'd choose a mellow time to bring up the subject of trust. He probably knows that your previous boyfriend cheated on you, so you can use that to lead into the broader subject of what constitutes betrayal. Would he mind if you had dinner with another man? If you spoke on the phone regularly with an old boyfriend? If you exchanged flirty letters with someone? Share your own limits with him, such as that if he communicated with someone who is erotically interested in him, you'd feel insecure. If he lies about what's going on with this girl, bring up your snooping and explain why you felt you had to do it. You don't have a good future with this fellow the way things are going right now.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.