Synopsis: This mini-love-lesson begins by introducing the surprising side of recovering trust in love relationships; continues with the re-trust gamble of love; re-trust and anti-love; and ends with the good news about re-trusting.
The Surprising Side of Recovering Trust in Love RelationshipsIn an individual counseling session I asked Daniel, which was he the most upset about, his wife’s affair itself or her dishonesty and deception in keeping it hidden from him?
He thought for a few moments and then said, “It’s hard for me to divide the two but I can forgive the affair itself. After all I drove her to it with my loveless neglect and by being a mean alcoholic. What I cannot yet get past is all her many outright lies, and complete and apparently easy total phoniness.
Once she was calling me to come to bed with her and at the very same time she was texting him a love message. I don’t know if I ever can get over that one. I feel stupid, weak, and very vulnerable to it all happening again. That makes me fear I won’t be able to handle the pain if it does happen again. It might make me relapse which could kill me because it nearly did before I got into AA and recovery.”
I then said to Daniel, “So, maybe it’s yourself you don’t trust also? You don’t trust that you will be able to handle what your wife might again present you with – deception and betrayal? Daniel thought about that for a bit and then replied, “I guess that’s true because she is doing everything that can be done to show me she loves me, and she is sounding really dedicated to living a life of truth and never cheating again. Consciously I mostly believe her.
What I see now is that I don’t trust or believe in myself. If she had another affair and I found out about it, the pain could drive me into a relapse. If I survived that, it still could turn me back into that mean alcoholic again, driving her away from me and maybe into another man’s arms. I fear I also could hound her with angry accusations and suspicions, spy on her, and withhold my love so much it might do the same thing. To trust her again I have to be able to trust myself, and I don’t. Now I see another thing. Way down deep inside I think I don’t trust that I have what it takes to keep her loving me and be enough for her. So, naturally I think I could easily lose her to somebody better than me. Way down deep that’s what really scares me!
In the next couples, conjoint sessions, Daniel shared all this with his wife. She responded with love and reassurance, and together they went forward working on not only healing their relationship but also worked on each of them growing their own healthy self-love and the sense of strong worthwhileness which that brings. Now years later, they are together still working on growing their love even more.
The Re-Trust Gamble of LoveTrust recovery and rebuilding after an affair, or any other kind of being seriously wounding occurrence in a love relationship, takes making some big gambles. None of us knows the future for sure, and the past often does tend to repeat itself. We can say we do, or do not believe our beloved will do something that acutely hurts us again but that is not truly knowable. I suggest trust is not so much about belief and certainty, as it is about gambling. We have to gamble on our loved one treating us with truth and abiding by their pledges.
We have to gamble on our own ability not to sabotage their ‘recovering trust efforts’, or our own efforts to recover trust. We have to gamble on our own love-worthiness and love ability. We have to gamble that as a couple (as a loving team) we can win together better than we may have done in the past. We have to gamble on each other and on our own strength to survive the hard spots. Let me also suggest that trust is something ‘we live’ much more than it is something we believe or feel certain about.
If we decide we don’t have what it takes to make the gamble of re-trusting, or it just is too dangerous and unlikely to work, then we probably have to part ways as best we can. If I don’t believe in my own ability to be of high value and worth enough to merit faithfulness, then perhaps I am likely to set myself up for betrayal. It is not just a matter of re-trusting someone else. It also is a matter of trusting yourself to handle what may come your way.
Re-Trust and Anti-LoveIf you want to be sure to destroy your chances of growing, repairing or rebuilding trust in a love relationship, obviously start by suspecting and saying something negative about every little thing that can be interpreted as ‘maybe he or she is doing something you would not want them to do’. Then add a lot of accusations, blame, insults, guilt trips, judgmentalism, angry rejection and general rudeness, and to top it off play the role of the ever suffering martyr. Or you can switch to the role of the righteous wronged victim, followed by being emotionally cold and distant. You also can do a lot of invading privacy, spying and do a lot of actions trying to catch your beloved doing something wrong so you can attack them for it.
For love’s sake, I hope you do not choose any of these anti-love behaviors.
It is not that you should avoid talking about what anyone did or what happened. However, talking about it in the ways just mentioned can be regarded as anti-love actions, more likely to destroy than rebuild trust or love. Honest, straightforward work to understand and learn from what happened so that in the future you both can do better is a healthier way to go. Then mix that with honest, emotional expression but also with some restraint so as not to cause more harm. Remember, all things can be and are best said with love (see entry “Say it with Love”). Ask for and freely give lots of love-filled reassurance and forgiveness to each other and to yourselves. That is usually what it takes to go forward together, rebuilding trust and stronger love.
The Good News about Re-TrustThe majority of committed couples sooner or later face an affair, cheating or an unfaithfulness issue. Concerning infidelity, research results I have seen vary from about 52% of marriages up to 80% of marriages, and it is just as high for unmarried committed couples. The majority of those couples stay together, work it through, often making their love relationship better than it was before and, thus, make their life of re-trusting work successfully. It often takes a great deal of joint teamwork and of course lots of love well shown. In my opinion this work is best done through couples conjoint counseling, mixed with some individual counseling.
I once did some research that showed individual counseling leads to individual results, not joint results, thus, individual counseling alone may not produce the couple results you hope for. Nevertheless, in the developed nations, the preponderance of recent research results suggests that in the majority of cases infidelity does not lead to permanent breakups among committed couples – unmarried or married.
As always, Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
Do you regard yourself as strong enough to forgive?