Dear Lala, Im pregnant by a serial cheater – do I let him into my babys life?

In Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems. With over 150k Instagram followers, Lala is the anonymous voice helping womankind through every bump in the road. An established sex, dating and relationship educator, she’s had her fair share of relationship drama and shares her wisdom on social media to a loyal army of followers.

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Dear Lala,

After an emotionally abusive marriage to a man with borderline personality disorder I tried to be very cautious and guarded when dating again. After another bad experience I finally met a man on tinder in London who seemed very kind, never a raised voice or bad word, very selfless and always helping me and the people around him. We had been together 15 months when I used his laptop and found out that he was cheating on me with a lot of women.

At least seven in person, sex from tinder and Instagram and then another twenty virtual/long distance flirtations. Some were very casual some he was declaring love and promising marriage to. They were Muslim; non-Muslim, every nationality every look, build, personality. Really as though he just slept with anyone that said yes. All were squeezed in at odd times around his busy schedule, so he’d been able to fool me for so long as I seemed the ‘main one’ who he’d actually stay over with etc.

It was a huge shock. He even had a secret separated wife, though it was clear he’d used her for his visa then just cheated on her too. A couple of weeks after dumping him, I found out that I was pregnant. He had always pushed me to have a family, but I wonder now if this was a backup to have a visa in case his ex-wife notified the Home Office they were apart. After two exes with infertility and my age (35) I had finally allowed his request to try just that one weekend and it worked first time.

I already know I love my baby, I have a great career, supportive parents living nearby, and I own a nice house. I can do this alone. But I do worry that the child will ask about their dad. My ex is relentlessly pursuing me still and demanding to be in the baby’s life (while contradicting himself and keeping the baby a secret from his family). I also now live 300 miles away and did for the last part of our relationship, he was meant to join me in April. This made his cheating ramp up a lot as it was easier to hide. I know that he will absolutely demand to be in my life as he’s very jealous and possessive. I have had therapy and I’ve tried being platonic. I’ve updated him about the baby and scans, but he always turns it back around to trying to win me back as a relationship.

In your opinion can serial liars/cheaters with almost multiple lives on the go be good fathers? Do I owe it to my child to give him a chance to be in their life? The reason I agreed to try for a family is he is so good with children and all our relationship he was so kind to me. Now he has been exposed it’s really difficult to decide whether he would be that kind to a child? Or would the fact that he’s liar and threatener and a cause of constant drama affect them?

Lala says:

Firstly, congratulations on your pregnancy! Among all the uncertainty and chaos, it has probably been a bit difficult to really sit and celebrate the fact that you are carrying a little human who is going to be the love of your life for the rest of your life, but you deserve to experience a happy and calm pregnancy, so please remember to savour the joyful and exciting parts when you can.

It must have been such a shock to discover the infidelity, especially because it was cheating on an epic scale. He broke your trust, he put you at risk, and he has left you feeling like you don’t really know him or his motivations at all. I am slightly confused by some of the information in your letter. On the one hand you say that he was always kind, selfless etc, but then later you describe him as jealous and possessive and someone who makes threats and constantly causes drama. I’m unclear about whether that means that he was kind until you discovered the cheating and then he became emotionally abusive, or whether he always had those qualities, but you overlooked them because he also had nice traits.

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Either way, possessiveness, jealousy, and threats are concerning behaviours – even if they are balanced out with kindness. So, I think it is important for you to consider speaking to a domestic abuse professional by contacting Women’s Aid or Refuge (0808 2000 247) so that you can explain the background to them with more detail. They will help you to assess any risks and advise you on how to manage them.

If there are no direct risks to you or your baby, then my view is that he should be allowed to be in his child’s life. You might wish to consider not putting his name on the birth certificate so that he does not have parental responsibility, especially if you’re concerned that he could leave the country with your child (he would need to go to court if he wanted to get parental responsibility at a later date). Not having parental responsibility would mean that he can’t make legal or medical decisions about your child without your consent, and he wouldn’t be able to legally just take your child without your permission. It just gives him less control and less rights and it might make you feel safer.

What you have said is that in your experience he was wonderful with children and has very kind qualities. On that basis I certainly think it’s worth giving him the opportunity to have a relationship with his child. You can always change and review things if things become turbulent. In my experience, two things can be true at the same time. Someone can be a horrible cheat and liar to their partner, but they can also be a loving consistent parent to their child.

However, in most cases, if the behaviour of one parent negatively impacts on the other parent, then that inevitably impacts on their child. So, he could be wonderful with his baby, but if he’s making your life hell then that is likely to have some knock-on effect. Therefore, it will be incredibly important for you to have very clear boundaries in place throughout. There are co-parenting apps that can help with this (try Cozi or Our Family Wizard). It will help you to very clear about things like when he can visit, how often, how long for and to set those boundaries very firmly.

I spoke to Catherine Topham Sly, a BACP Accredited Couples Therapist & Relationship Transformation Coach. She says: “Our brains have evolved to make meaning out of our experiences. This can lead us to question ourselves and our choices, especially when we go through shocking or painful experiences. But the truth is that sometimes no matter how careful we are, people will betray us. When this happens, we need to take some time to process what’s happened, to make sense of it and make a full recovery. Therapy and journaling can both be really helpful with this. When we’re stressed, we often feel rushed, and the timelines of pregnancy can exacerbate that feeling. It can be helpful to notice when you feel stressed and remind yourself that you don’t have to rush to make any big decisions.

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In fact, we can get fixated on the idea of making a decision in the hopes that it will bring us some sense of certainty. This is an illusion, though. Coparenting relationships can be long and complex, and entail making lots of decisions over many years. We can’t control other people’s choices or behaviour. Sometimes we have to find a way to accept a certain level of uncertainty.

It can be helpful to recognise that decisions are rarely right or wrong. We choose the best path we can with the information available to us at the time. Inner peace comes not from making the “right” decision, but from making decisions in line with our own values. Do you know yourself and what matters most to you in this life? Use that as your compass.

The best thing you can do as a parent is to stay focused on the parent you want to be and the relationship you want with your child. That will have the greatest impact on their wellbeing. It’s also helpful to encourage lots of great relationships with your family and friends. Families coming in all shapes and sizes, and what children need is people who love them, regardless of what relationship they are to them.

People are complicated and have a mix of qualities. Challenging relationships present opportunities for us to work on ourselves. In coparenting relationships it’s especially important to have clear boundaries (i.e. to state what is ok and not ok with you, and what will happen if those lines are crossed) and to communicate them assertively (i.e. clearly, directly, and respectfully).

Parenthood means answering lots of questions, including some we find uncomfortable. Ultimately, it’s up to us as adults to make the decisions we feel are in the best interests of our children, to communicate them in an age-appropriate way, and then to support them with it, however they feel about it all.”

I could not agree more with Catherine’s advice. In the long run, the most important thing for your child is going to be love and security. You can offer that in abundance. You can plan ahead by setting boundaries to safeguard against the problems that he might cause, but you can also be open to the fact that he might not cause any – if and when he does you can then react. Communicate with him, and make sure that your support network are all aware of your boundaries and are able help you to maintain them. For now, don’t worry about anything that you cannot control. Enjoy your pregnancy and look after yourself.

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