Who Do You Trust
If trust is repeatedly broken can it be restored? No. Harriet, a registered nurse, had a tumultuous courtship. Her fiancé, Ira, left her to go back to a former girlfriend. When they broke up, he returned to her, promised her an engagement ring, and asked her to marry him. Two weeks later, he spent the weekend with another former girlfriend. Upon his return, he announced that he wanted to postpone their engagement because he wanted to continue dating. Harriet waited patiently until he gave up his second girlfriend. Six months later, she married him. It was a mistake. Harriet said to me, “I actually believed that Ira and I could ‘start over’. But it wasn’t true. I had lost all respect for him. My trust had been violated so often that I found myself waiting for it to happen again. And Ira continued his habit of having other sexual relationships behind my back. For our relationship to survive it was up to him to take the lead in restoring trust. And he didn’t.”
Can you restore sexual or romantic trust once it is damaged or destroyed? It’s possible, but difficult. You don’t get past a betrayal overnight; it takes months or even years.
The good news is that the aftermath of a betrayal is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship. If you and your partner openly talk about what happened, you will open the gateway to deeper intimacy. While you cannot be positive that you won’t be betrayed again you can certainly minimize the chances.
Discuss your partner’s motives for betraying you and your own involvement in the cause. Honestly share how you feel, and what you need at the present moment. Express your concerns about the future, let each other know what you expect from now on, and state your limits about what you will and won’t put up with. If you can’t have this kind of conversation by yourselves, then get professional help right away. Don’t wait; mistrust can become a habit. A qualified therapist, psychologist, or marriage counselor can guide the two of you as you explore why the betrayal happened and how to prevent another one. Gradually you’ll start trusting each other in small matters — and then in bigger ones.
One thing’s for sure: You can’t turn back the clock. You and your partner don’t feel the same way toward each other anymore. Trust has been broken and it’s difficult to fix. As you put your relationship back together, both of you see each other differently. You think, “Maybe I can trust this person again but from now on I need to be careful.” Your trust is not as complete as it once was. It may be:
Guarded trust. You think, “I’ll trust you again, but I’ll be on guard for another betrayal. If it happened once it could happen again.”
Conditional trust. You think, “I’ll trust you again under certain conditions, such as if you never communicate with the accomplice again.”
Who do you trust, selective trust. You think, “I’ll trust you with money but not with sex. You can continue to write checks on our joint account as you have in the past. But I want detailed information and frequent reassurance that you’re being faithful to me.” By making one of these agreements, you take a big first step in the right direction.
But suppose you can’t restore trust? What if you feel that you can’t trust anyone ever again? Janice, a writer-editor whose trust had been recently devastated, answers: “Since my husband cheated on me I realize that I can be betrayed at any time. In one split second my life can turn upside down. But I don’t choose to focus on the uncertainty. If I did, life would be too difficult. I couldn’t have a love relationship with anyone. So while I’m aware of the danger of trusting other people, I don’t obsess. I continue to reach out even though part of me shouts, ‘Watch out’.”
How You Create Trust
Trust is a choice. While there is no ironclad guarantee that you will never be betrayed, you have the power to create trusting romantic and sexual relationships. The moment you meet someone, you can begin to deliberately nurture trust. How?
Be in integrity with yourself. Get in touch with your real needs and feelings so you can disclose them. Know who you are and what you want from a relationship. If you are honest with yourself, you will be honest with other people. If you tell others the truth, they will tend to reciprocate.
Select a trustworthy person. Let your intuition be your guide. If your inner voice gives you a green light, follow it. Observe and listen carefully. If you perceive signs of danger (white lies, black lies, broken promises), heed them. An untrustworthy person isn’t going to change overnight even with your good influence.
Create trust moment by moment. Whenever an issue surfaces where you feel your trust is being violated, talk about it. It may make you both uncomfortable in the short run, but it will bring you closer together in the long run. If you have serious questions, ask them: “Where were you yesterday evening when I called and got no answer?” “Why were you two hours late for our date tonight?” “Who was that woman who came to your door this morning?” “To whom does this necklace on your dresser belong?” If you feel there’s something wrong, you’re probably right. Always follow your intuition.
To create trust you need to reveal your feelings — both the bad and the good. You need to share the truth about who you are, what’s going on for you now, and your intentions for the future. When you notice something that’s going on inside you must honestly report it. You must resist the temptation to lie at all costs. Lying kills trust.
If lying is so deadly why do we do it?
To look good. We choose to present an image of ourselves as attractive and desirable. We are afraid to share information that may make us look bad because we think we may lose the person we love. Actually, the opposite is true. Intimacy begins when you stop pretending to be perfect and start being real with your partner.
To avoid unpleasantness. We conceal information that we believe may cause conflict. We want our love to last, so we go to great lengths to create false, superficial harmony. This is another self-destructive myth. We get to know each other better as we reveal and negotiate our differences.
To avoid hurting our partner’s feelings. We don’t want to upset our partner by saying something that might make him angry. We want to protect him from upset. This is another self-destructive strategy. Yes, you may cause an upset by saying something your partner may find offensive, but sometimes you have to air your negative feelings to get an honest, positive dialogue going.
In his book “Radical Honesty”, Dr. Brad Blanton recommends that couples share their complete sexual histories with each other. I agree. The more honest information you have about your partner’s sexual preferences, habits, and style, the easier it is to satisfy him. And to protect yourself. For example, if your partner is uncomfortable with monogamy — and you know it — you can agree to go your separate ways or else to use condoms to protect yourselves from disease.
The Secret of Creating Trust
A friend of mine posed this question to me: “If I tell you the truth — that I lied to you — can you still trust me?” Clearly the answer is “yes”. The secret of creating trust right from the beginning is to have a conversation that goes something like this, “I have betrayed other people. I may betray you sometimes and you will probably betray me. We will try to avoid it, but when it happens we will deal with it together.”
I have been in relationships with people who proved untrustworthy. They could have spared me — and themselves — a lot of grief by being honest about their untrustworthiness. They might have said to me, “Sometimes I tell white lies; often I tell black ones. I might even sleep with someone else and not tell you about it. Do you want to have sex and romance with me on these terms?” If I had answered “yes”, I would have gone into the relationship with my eyes open. At least I would have had a choice.
Similarly, people who want an extramarital affair can clear the air by being honest with their accomplice and with their partner about their intentions. When an attractive married man invites me to have sex with him, I reply, “Go tell your wife. If it’s okay with her it’s all right with me.” Most of them reply, “If I tell her, she’ll kick me out.” My answer is, “At least she’ll know what you’re up to. Then the two of you can make a decision about what to do next.”
Personally, I believe that ongoing and complete sexual disclosure is the most powerful building block of trust. Granted, you have to be a very secure person in a very strong relationship — and very few of us are — to share your complete sexual self with your partner. But if you can manage, it works. For example, a married colleague of mine had extra-marital sex without intercourse with another woman while we were attending a convention. He insisted on calling his wife (who was at home taking care of their children) and telling her the details. Naturally she was furious. When I spoke to him a couple of weeks later he reported that they had a huge argument, cleared the air, and decided that she had equal rights to sexual pleasure with other men (and that they would hire a babysitter).
Other people take an even more radical position. I recently received a letter from a former judge which posed this question: “If you know your partner is going to have sex with other people would you rather he did it behind your back or with your knowledge? Or would you prefer that he was miserable repressing his desires?” Then he answered his own question, “Of course you’d rather have a satisfied partner and know what’s going on.”
Complete sexual honesty is the antidote to betrayal. You and your partner can share your fantasies and your experience. It may be painful, but it’s also liberating. Your emotional intimacy will skyrocket. In the long run, you will feel infinitely more relaxed. You will no longer be afraid of being betrayed.
(Return to Part1 of ‘Who Do You Trust’)
Authors Details: Who Do You Trust? The Four Stages of Trust by Dr. Riki Robbins, Ph.D a relationship consultant in California and author of the book “Negotiating Love: How Women and Men Can Resolve Their Differences” and “Betrayed! How You Can Restore Trust and Rebuild Your Life”