30 second therapist

How do you deal when your lover's past gets in the way?

Sep. 13, 2013 at 11:18 AM ET

This week, two readers say that their significant others' pasts are hurting their relationships. One says she can't get over how many girls her boyfriend slept with, while another says his wife had an emotional affair with an ex. Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle cuts through the fluff with her love advice in TODAY.com's "30-second therapist" series.

Q: My wife of 20 years had an emotional affair with an old boyfriend. They got in touch on Facebook and she says she just got caught up in it all. While she says nothing physical happened, she did go and meet him. I love my wife very much, and want to move forward. While we seem somewhat closer than ever, in the back of my mind, I still wonder if she really does care for him and if we have a future. She says there has been no contact since I found out, and the things she said didn't mean anything and that she loves only me. But the fact that they did share a past makes it even harder to accept that there is nothing else there. How do I get over the lies, and sneakiness of it, and trust her again so I can move on and focus on us and not them? —Tormented

Dear Tormented,

A spouse’s emotional affair can be devastating, because it incorporates that “caring” connection that you fear. You’re concerned your wife and this guy “did share a past.”  But you and she shared a deeper one—lasting two rich decades. Yes, Facebook fantasies can be seductive, yet your mate realized the illusion—and chose you.

Sometimes, straying serves to shake up a stale relationship and get it back on course. You admit, “We [now] seem somewhat closer than ever.”  But dude, you’re sabotaging the “move forward” you say you want, by acknowledging the voices “in the back of my mind.”  Trust takes time, and it also requires your cooperation. Instead of returning to “yesterday,” appreciate the value of what you have today! —Dr. Gilda

Q: I've been with my boyfriend for eight months and I love him to death. He's sweet, funny, and adorable—everything a girl looks for. His past is the only problem in our relationship. It sickens me to think about it. He's had sex with more than 20 girls, and it makes me mad when he jokes about it, or when he says he will never regret his past. I, on the other hand, gave my virginity to him and don’t regret that. But what do I do to get over all those girls he got intimate with? It disgusts me when I think of him with them, and every day, we have at least one argument about it. I always put him down about it and he'll put me down also. What do I do to stop getting mad over it, and feeling jealous? —Green with Envy

Dear Green,

Girlfriend, while you chose to follow a more chaste path, boyfriend chose differently—and you can’t unring his bell.  To argue every day over what he did before he met you is controlling and wasteful. 

If you want this relationship to last, 1) Level with your guy that his unrestrained past has obviously been a sore spot for you, and you’d like his support to release your debilitating jealousy; 2) Ask him to stop joking about it with you, to help you heal; 3) Realize that as much as you may disapprove of his history, it’s his history that has moved him towards YOU.  So girl, my Gilda-Gram™ commands, “Amp up an attitude of gratitude.” Otherwise, you may find yourself alone. —Dr. Gilda

Want Dr. Gilda to answer your relationship questions? Send them in!

Dr. Gilda Carle is the relationship expert to the stars. She is a professor emerita, has written 15 books, and her latest is “Don’t Bet on the Prince!”—Second Edition. She provides advice and coaching via Skype, email and phone.

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