I have some things I want to say about that, to the world in general. Specifically, to anyone who might ever be tempted to do anything even vaguely resembling what she did. I want to stop you from doing that to anyone.
First, I want to clarify specifically what you should not do. And for that discussion, I want to take the focus off everything that happened at the end, because the end was not what created the problem. The end was just what revealed the problem for me to see. I want to focus on what occurred much, much earlier.
I want to talk about abuse. There are many kinds of it. What is the common theme among physical abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse, and so on? I believe the common theme is that one person aims to forcibly circumscribe the other person's power to control their own life. If you make someone live in fear that you may hit them, you make that person feel afraid to speak freely. If you constantly insult someone and make them question their own worth as a person, you make that person feel unworthy to make decisions to protect themself. If you restrict someone's access to their money, or use their credit cards to spend their money against their wishes, you make that person less financially independent. There are other forms of abuse too, that don't all have clear category labels associated with them, but that we all recognize as abusive behaviors: If you try to control someone by restricting their access to their car keys when they're sober and competent to drive, or you demand that they call you six times a day to keep you constantly apprised of their whereabouts, or you throw a gigantic fit whenever they want to go anywhere without you, or you deliberately alienate them from all their friends and family to cut off their social support network . . . these are all ways of taking away someone's power to control their own life. And that is how we know that they are abusive behaviors.
These are distinguished from mutual agreements that people freely enter into as signs of commitment to one another, which can involve willingly and mutually giving up some freedoms: both members of a couple may agree not to have sex with other people, or not to make large financial purchases without consulting one another in advance, and so on. The borders can get a little tricky occasionally, because if both members of a couple mutually agreed to call each other six times a day to keep each other mutually apprised of their whereabouts, I would be inclined to wonder whether this was really more the idea of one of them than of the other, because I have a hard time believing that both of them could be that ridiculously insecure, but I suppose anything is theoretically possible; and, too, it's theoretically possible for both members of a couple to agree that only one of them has the right to have sex with other people, but here again I would be a little suspicious about quite how mutual that agreement really was. It's possible, though; perhaps there are other factors in the relationship that help to counterbalance that particular imbalance and keep everyone satisfied with the agreement.
In any case, the salient point is freedom of choice: willingly committing to something versus being forced into it. Consent, in other words. And when we talk about consent, we talk about informed consent.
When you get engaged to someone, and move in with them, and buy a house with them, these are all supposed to be commitments freely entered into, with informed consent. You should think carefully about what is at stake for the other person - emotionally, financially, and otherwise - and about what is at stake for you - emotionally, financially, and otherwise - and you should think carefully about whether you can fulfill this commitment. And if you have hesitations or reservations or uncertainties about that commitment, you should inform the other person. Talk about it. Use actual words. Explain exactly where you're at and make sure they understand, and ask them whether they're okay with where you're at and whether they're willing to make this commitment on that basis, with informed consent.
Let me clear: this is necessarily going to be scary, and the more you've failed to be clear about these issues in the past, the scarier it will be. If you've already spent years misleading someone into thinking you're more committed to them than you actually are, then it's very likely that admitting you're having some doubts is going to significantly upset them. It makes sense for you to dread doing that.
But that is what informed consent is about. You have to actually inform them. And yes, they might end up breaking up with you over it. And yes, that might be very upsetting to you, because even though you're having doubts about commitment, you might still prefer to keep this person around until someone you like better comes along. You might in fact find the possibility of being dumped by them extremely horrifying. But you still have to take that risk. You still have to tell them. Because they have a right to make informed decisions about their own relationship. They have a right to know every single thing you know about exactly how committed you are or are not to this relationship. Before they announce their engagement to you, before they move in with you, before they invest their life savings in buying a house to suit your tastes and your needs and a budget based on the assumption that you'll be around. Before they invest years of their life in you. They have a right to know the honest truth about how committed you are to the relationship, because if you withhold that information from them, you are manipulating them into staying with you in every bit as bad a way as if you were throwing a gigantic fit whenever they wanted to go anywhere without you and deliberately alienating them from all their friends and family to cut off their social support network. Arguably an even worse way, because if you were doing those things, it might at least be easier for them to see what you were doing and recognize that they need to escape you.
In short: you should never, ever buy a house with someone under the pretext of monogamous marriage-like commitment if you can't promise not to start secretly flirting with someone else two months later.
That's the first mistake I want to urge everyone reading this to avoid making. Now for the second.
Suppose you've already made some form of the first mistake. Suppose you're in a relationship that you just don't feel very emotionally invested in anymore, and someone else starts flirting with you, and you realize that you're tempted to leave your partner for this new person, and that scares you because your current relationship is longstanding and stable and comfortable in some ways . . . but you just don't feel like you can really talk to your partner anymore, because you've somehow fallen out of the habit of doing so. Because it's just so been easier for you to avoid telling your partner certain things, and maybe you convinced yourself they were just little things, but now they've built up to a substantial wall between the two of you and you're not quite sure how to surmount it. But you're also not quite sure you want to destroy your existing relationship, so you start looking around for ways to try to fix your relationship.
There is only one way to fix your relationship in these circumstances, and I will tell you exactly how to do it:
Tell your partner everything.
I know: that's exactly what you don't want to do. Perhaps you can't imagine that your relationship would ever survive it. And I suppose there's a possibility that it won't. But there's also a pretty good chance that your relationship will survive it, since, well, how many times have you heard about couples breaking up because one member of the couple felt tempted to cheat and resisted the temptation and confessed everything to the other person, only to have the other person break up with them for it? That's not usually the way it works.
But here is what I absolutely promise you that your relationship cannot survive:
You don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore, so instead of really talking to your partner, you ask your partner to come watch you coach the basketball games where the other woman has been flirting with you . . . but your partner is working 50 to 60 hours a week and has trouble finding any opportunity to go, and you never provide an honest explanation of exactly why it's so important. So your partner does intend to go at some point but postpones it until near the end of the season, and then the last few games of the season get unexpectedly canceled at the last moment, so then your partner can't go after all.
You don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore, so instead of really talking to your partner, you mention that you're having trouble feeling excited about the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon finally make it legal for the two of you to get married. You say that if this had happened years ago it would have been incredibly exciting, but after this many years of frustration and waiting, you already feel thoroughly committed and as good as married already, so it seems kind of too late for the ceremony to have as much meaning as it would have had if it had truly marked the beginning of a new commitment, and mostly right now you're just dreading all the bother of wedding planning. Your partner is understanding about this because she's also frustrated that whatever wedding you can have now will never be the same wedding you could have had if you could have gotten married at the time you actually first wanted to get married, and she's also dreading all the bother of wedding planning, and she accepts your statement about feeling as good as married at its reassuring face value because it matches how she feels and also matches every single thing you've ever said about how you feel. You misinterpret your partner's failure to panic at your declaration that you're having trouble feeling excited about planning a wedding five years late as proof that your partner has fallen out of love with you just like you've fallen out of love with her.
You don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore, so instead of really talking to your partner, you try to arrange to go on a romantic camping trip with her. The camping trip gets called off because your partner's employer begs and pleads for her to postpone her vacation time until later because her help is needed to meet an urgent deadline. You tell her wistfully that you're very sad about the camping trip being canceled, and that you feel like both of you have been spending too much time working lately and really need a break from it to spend some time together as a couple. She takes this statement at its face value and believes that there's nothing wrong in your relationship that taking a vacation together won't solve, and she figures that rescheduling her vacation time for a month in the future will still suffice to provide a vacation soon enough.
You don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore, so instead of really talking to your partner, you try to fix your relationship by taking your partner back to the place where the two of you went on your first date together, and you wait for the location to strike sudden romantic feelings into your heart again, but nothing really happens, so you just go on saying nothing and pretend you don't feel disappointed.
You don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore, so instead of really talking to your partner, you plan a romantic hotel trip with her during her rescheduled vacation time. You go lots of exciting places and see lots of exciting things, and you still don't actually tell her anything at all about what's going on with you.
You don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore, so instead of really talking to your partner, you take her to a bridal show to research wedding venues and services, hoping that this will strike a romantic mood into your heart. It doesn't, because, well, listening to sales pitches and contemplating burdensome expenses isn't actually especially romantic. Meanwhile, your partner is very confused about why on earth you wanted to go to this bridal show, because it seems so obviously the complete opposite of anything you'd ever want to go to, and she questions you about it, but you deflect all her questions and reveal nothing.
You don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore, so instead of really talking to your partner, you decide to tell that other woman who's been flirting with you all about the problems in your relationship that you haven't told your partner about and have detailed planning discussions with the other woman about exactly what new things you're going to do in bed with your partner to try to regain some semblance of interest in having sex with your partner again.
And so on.
Don't be stupid about this. There is exactly one way, absolutely only one way, to fix the problem that you don't quite know how to really talk to your partner anymore. Tell her everything.
That is all. Go forth now, and talk to your partners.