Dear Dr. NerdLove,
My husband of 9 years has a secret Twitter account where he’s been sexting other people, complete with exchanged pictures and videos. I had confronted him about it, explained that it crossed boundaries I’m not comfortable with and he promised he’d delete it. A few months later, I noticed he’d been avoiding coming to bed again and found that he was back at it. I confronted him again, and he apologized profusely, promising he really would stop. But he still hasn’t deleted the profile. I feel betrayed and cheated on.
And to make the plot all the thicker and more confusing, he wasn’t just messaging other women, but also “sissy Bois.” I asked him if that was something he wanted to explore, because he’s been very accepting that I’m interested in women as a bisexual woman. But he assured me that wasn’t it. I’m wondering if he’s possibly in denial about being bi-curious due to his conservative family.
I’m not sure how to navigate this situation. I know he wouldn’t be comfortable with me doing the same thing. And I have too much self love and respect to stand my boundaries continually disregarded. But, I still love him dearly. How do I let him know I love him unconditionally but stay firm on my boundaries?
Are We Both Bi?
Soooo this is one of those times when the question you’re asking isn’t really the question you want answered.
You ask a lot here: is it possible that he’s bi or pan, like you, just in denial? How do you let him know you love him while standing firm on your boundaries? How do you navigate this with him?
I get the feeling that the question you’re really asking is “how do you take what you know now and stay married to him?” Which is a different beast altogether.
Is he bi or pansexual? Maybe? Maybe he’s like the weirdos on Twitter who can’t stop talking about Italian model Gio Scotti being the ideal Roman bath boy for some reason. It doesn’t really matter though because, like communism, his sexuality is just a red herring.
The problem here isn’t the crime. It’s not even the cover-up. It’s the lack of change to his behavior after having been caught twice.
I’m fairly firmly on the record that I don’t think that cheating is necessarily the worst thing that a person could do in a relationship, nor do I think that cheating – for suitably personal definitions of cheating, when we’re talking about sexting and such – is an instant Relationship Extinction Level Event. I think there’s a lot of nuance in most situations and that there’s a difference between someone failing a Wisdom saving throw and active, continual disrespect. And right now, what you have is much closer to the “active, continual disrespect” side of this particular bell curve.
It would be one thing if this particular boundary violation was a one-off; you caught him sexting with folks when that wasn’t something you two had agreed was ok in your relationship, he apologized, owned his bad behavior and re-earned your trust by being trustworthy. If that had been the case, then this could be a speedbump in an otherwise long and happy relationship. Perhaps it could have been an opportunity for the two of you to talk about your mutual needs in a relationship, whether there could be accommodations made for this sort of activity or if there were other needs going unmet. Hell, depending on when you found the “sissy boi” accounts, it could even be an opportunity for the two of you to talk about his relationship with his sexuality and how both of you could support one another as you figure out how and where you could explore those sides of yourselves.
Instead, it seems that what happened was that he told you enough to get himself out of trouble this time, and then he waited until he thought the heat died down and he was ready to get back up to his old tricks again. So then you caught him again, he apologized again and swore again that he’d stop doing this.
Except, y’know. His profile is still up. Which tells you where his head’s at. Which is the actual problem. What we have here is a pattern of “fucks around, gets caught, swears he’s going to change, pretends to be good for a couple weeks, fucks around again”.
I’m a big believer in “deeds, not words”, and when word and deed don’t line up, believe the actions the person takes, not what they say. And what we have here is someone who has twice now said that he was going to change and do better and twice now has demonstrated that no, he fucking isn’t.
Now it would be easy enough to say “Ok, three strikes, you’re out, time to talk to a lawyer”. And it may still get to that point. But I want to zoom out a bit, because this goes beyond the sexting and lying about it. This comes to a matter of shared values vs. conflicting values, openness, honesty and mutual respect. And specifically: what you’re missing.
There’s an interesting TikTok that I’d seen recently, about radical honesty and alignment of values. One example used in the video is that admitting that yes your partner’s gaining weight makes you less attracted to them means that they’re likely going to leave you. The point of the video is that this isn’t necessarily a BAND thing, because they want someone who values more than their physical appearance and you want someone who values their physical appearance more. Being honest about this means that you’re both free to find people who are more in alignment with your values.
Right now, you and your husbands values aren’t in alignment. You value monogamy, or at least, you’ve structured your relationship around monogamy. You also value openness and discussion of difficult and potentially complicated issues, like understanding one’s own sexuality. At this point, it doesn’t seem like your husband’s values aren’t in alignment with yours. While that’s a problem, the bigger issue is that he’s not willing to be honest about this. If, for example, he is someone who needs more novelty in his sex life – including other sex partners – and you aren’t, that’s a misalignment. The bigger issue is that, if that’s the case, then he’s not being honest with you about this. He’s not willing to say “Ok, here’s the thing, here’s what I need.” Maybe this is because he doesn’t know what he needs yet. Maybe he’s still working through issues of shame.
However, what he’s doing is fundamentally dishonest; he’s saying what he thinks will get him out of trouble now. And that’s a pretty big issue. Even if he doesn’t intend it, he’s being disrespectful. And if he’s doing it deliberately, then that’s beyond disrespectful, that’s being malicious.
If he were able to actually talk about this, even to say “I don’t honestly know”, then that would be one thing. But he’s avoiding talking about it at all. And I could be sympathetic if the reason why he’s not talking about it is that he’s worried that being honest would end the marriage. Talking about it might reveal that yes, this relationship isn’t meeting his needs (or yours, for that matter), which would be sad, but at least that would be a choice the two of you could make together.
But he isn’t. He’s not willing to be honest about any of this and he’s showing every indication that his behavior isn’t going to change. And that’s the bigger issue at hand than the cheating or the question of his sexuality.
Which is where we return to the boundaries issue. One of the things people forget about boundaries is that it isn’t just enough to state them. You have to enforce them, especially when those boundaries are violated. There need to be consequences to someone violating your boundaries, otherwise what you have aren’t boundaries, they’re strongly worded suggestions. Possibly even just polite requests, if it’s not too much trouble, no worries either way.
Well, what we have here is that your husband has violated your boundaries, twice. The first time might be forgivable if he demonstrated actual remorse and made a point to not cross your boundary regarding sexting folks again. Except, no, he went right ahead and did it a second time and apparently is keeping his options open for a third attempt.
(I will be fair in as much as he hasn’t deleted the account yet. But seeing as it would be easy enough for him to do this in front of you, the fact that he hasn’t is sus at best.)
The problem here – such as it is – is that he has no incentive to stop. Thus far he’s violated your boundaries and gotten a slap on the wrist and the admonishment of “stop… or I’ll say stop again”. Well, you’ve said stop, twice, and he hasn’t. If you don’t make a more substantive consequence for his violating your boundary regarding this issue, then there’s going to be no reason for him to do so. He’s now incentivized to wait for the heat to die down like he’s waiting for his five star wanted level to pass in Grand Theft Auto.
So one question that you need to answer is “what are the appropriate consequences to his violating your boundaries, in such a way that he won’t do so again?”
The next question you have to answer is “How long are you willing to put up with this?”
The two are intertwined. If you don’t enforce your boundaries, he will keep violating them. And if he keeps violating them, then you’re going to be having this same experience over and over again. So are you willing to have this conversation a third time? A fourth? Are you willing to put up with this for another two months? A year? Five years? When do you say “enough”?
Part of having boundaries is that respecting them is the price people pay to have access to you and your life. Your husband isn’t respecting them. So… it may be that his access to being part of your life needs to be removed.
All of this is why – going back to the top of my reply here – is why I think the real question is “can you take all of what you know, now, and stay in this relationship with him?” I know you asked how you can show that you love him and support him while staying firm on your boundaries, but the issue here is that you’re framing it in a way that marriage stays on the table. Quite frankly, you can love him unconditionally without being married to him. You can support him from a distance if need be. And right now, I think that might be best. His behavior is antithetical to a successful marriage. It’s not the sexting, it’s the refusal to change his behavior.
If he can’t change – if he’s inherently non-monogamous – that could well be a deal-breaking incompatibility. If he won’t change, then that’s a sign that this relationship needs to end.
If he were willing to actually open up, be real with you and discuss these issues in an open and honest way – even if that ultimately meant that you may realize you can’t stay married to each other – then I’d say that there’s a chance here. You could go to a marriage counselor, mediate the discussion, figure out how best to proceed.
But so far? He’s not.
Like I said: having boundaries means enforcing them. You need to enforce yours. And if he’s not willing to respect them? Then you can’t force him to do so… but you can remove yourself from the situation. And this may be the best of a series of bad choices.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com and is republished on medium.
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