Can You Ever Trust Again?

Can You Ever Trust Again?

Originally published in Your Tango

First there’s shock. Then there’s pain. Then there’s rage. How could someone you’ve trusted to love you and protect you betray you this way?!? This is the end of the life you’ve known.

You want to punish your partner. You want them to grovel in the dirt before you.

Affairs are heart-breaking. Your world crashes around you, and you feel as though you’ve lost everything. If you’ve been together for a long time, the idea that your relationship is broken attacks your whole life, your families, your friends, your children, if you have them. It’s not so simple as just breaking up and going in search of a better partner. What now?

Be still. Your feelings are screaming at you to “do something!” but if you go into action now, you’re likely to regret it later. This is a time for “slow” thinking.  When your world is upside-down, there is no way you can make a considered decision.

If you were comfortable in the belief that your partner would never do this to you, you were clinging to blind trust. This is an illusion. You made the assumption that what you wanted to believe was true. In fact, you may never have truly trusted your partner. Assuming something is not the same as trusting.

Real trust doesn’t exist without doubt. Trust is a decision and an action, rather than simply a feeling. You trust you’re safe when you cross the street with the light, but you glance in both directions anyway. Blindly trusting the traffic light can get you killed.

Losing the illusion of trust is so painful that it's a lot easier to think that this partner is a monster. You don't really want to know that you've been wearing blinders. You probably don’t really want to see the reality that appears when they’re off. In the long run, though, you are better off with your eyes open. Your relationship can be better, too. When a partnership is intensely shaken up, “old” things can fall away, and make room for something alive and new. You have a chance to notice new things about yourself, as well. New trust, real trust, begins with how you see yourself.

Looking back, you will probably realize that there were “signs” you willingly ignored. You accepted good explanations rather than trusting your own perceptions. You gas-lighted yourself because you didn’t WANT to see. “Trusting” your partner meant distrusting yourself.

Just notice that. Notice how lopsided it is. You were willing to convince yourself that you were imagining things, rather than give up on the dream of a “perfect” relationship. Be compassionate towards yourself. You’ve had a trauma, and it’s vital you take the time to re-orient yourself. Talk about it, but only to those trusted people who will listen and empathize, and not tell you what you “should” do.

Take the time to explore your own experience more fully. Everyone is hurt when they’re betrayed, but what are your personal hurts? The loss of the dream? Or your worst imaginings coming true? Is it unthinkable, or “just like mom and dad”? It’s a good time to talk with a therapist, who has no separate agenda. In between sessions, exercise, practice meditation, pay attention to your breathing.  Be careful about the stories you tell yourself. Imagining what THEY did together doesn’t help YOU.

Practice expressing your emotions in words: “What you did hurt me deeply.” “You made me doubt my own sanity.” “I keep having intrusive thoughts about what you did.” This is not only better for you, but also better for any part of the relationship that survives. As tempting as it is to call your partner a liar, a cheat, a monster – well, I don’t recommend that.

Continue to find ways to soothe and comfort yourself. Make a lot of room for all your emotions. Everything you feel has a reason. Be patient with yourself. (You can also think about maybe being patient with your partner.) While being kind to yourself, you may also notice familiar patterns in your experience. I this something that “always happens”? (“I always get disappointed.” “I never get what I want.”) Are there any historical connections at play in this drama?

One of the unexpected benefits of a shock like this is that you have the chance to get to know yourself better. The more you know about yourself, the more you can believe what your senses are telling you. Learn to trust yourself.

Try to develop an attitude of curiosity. Why DID this happen? Has something been overlooked in your relationship? Have you hesitated to confide in one another? Have either of you kept silent to avoid an argument? Curiosity enhances your life and all your relationships. Assuming you “know” another person through and through can be deadening.

Believe it or not, somewhere and somewhen about this time, you may come to accept that your partner is a flawed human being. That you have been deeply wounded, but not killed. At some point, you may be willing to accept a message of true remorse. To forgive, not to forget, but to know each other in a new way.

You can trust again. The difference is that this trust comes from knowledge of your risks. Like courage, that can’t exist without fear, real trust can’t exist without some doubt. You weigh all the information you have, including signals from your emotional “antennae” and your historical knowledge of your partner’s character. That creates a strong foundation for your choices.


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