Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why is Trusting Again So Hard?

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to reestablish trust? Just last week a couple in my office struggled with this reality. Sam felt he had displayed amazing progress with his attentiveness and follow through in the marriage. Sue, on the other hand, still saw him as self-centered and felt that he’d made no improvement at all. What makes our points of view differ so radically when it comes to behaviors within the marriage?

Long ago I learned that couples fight because they are both right. It would be foolish or cruel to argue a topic knowing you’re wrong. We fight when we believe we’re right and the other person is wrong and can’t see the deeper issue(s). The problem stems from the fact that we’re not on the same topic. Typically, one party speaks from the perspective of how they’ve been hurt, while the other party speaks about their intentions.  It is impossible to agree if you’re not on the same point.

For example: Once when Stephanie and I were late to an engagement, as she was getting ready I suggested she skip the make up so we could get on the road. I tried to accomplish my goal by complimenting her beauty, and stating she didn’t need even need make up. Somehow my words got tangled and it came out more like, “Don’t waste your time on the makeup. It won’t do any good.” My misstated compliment left her deeply hurt. She responded with, “I can’t believe you just insulted me.” I responded with, “I didn’t insult you; I was trying to pay you a compliment.” I began to argue my intention, which was to pay her a compliment, and she kept right on making the point that I had insulted her. That’s  the beginning of a “right fight.” We were both 100% right in the points we were making, but we certainly weren’t talking about the same  topic. This dynamic reveals one of the difficulties in reestablishing trust.

According to research, in order to be considered trustworthy, follow through has to be over 90%. If an individual falls below a 55% completion rate for what they say they will do, they will be considered untrustworthy. Given that standard, if you operate at 58% you might not be considered untrustworthy, but you certainly fall short of trustworthy.

Typically, the unfaithful spouse evaluates their performance by their intention.  Past behaviors to the unfaithful spouse are just that, past behaviors, so in their mind they have a clean slate since the infidelity has come to light and they are working towards recovery. By those standards they often feel they deserve to be awarded the most trustworthy citizen of the year award. Remember, the betrayed spouse is evaluating trust by their behavior (the infidelity) while the unfaithful spouse is evaluating trust based on their intentions (recovery), so you can see how the fight for trust can feel like a losing battle.

Here’s the rub: intentions carry almost no weight in the betrayed spouse’s evaluating system, and current behaviors are viewed through the lens of past failures. The betrayed spouse wants action. Even more, they want right motive. It’s one of the few measures they have. It may feel as if actions done with the wrong motives don’t count. The discrepancies in the scores awarded by both sides create a great deal of consternation. The unfaithful spouse may well feel misunderstood and like nothing they do matters, and the betrayed spouse lives in fear that things will never change and their spouse will just never get it.

To the unfaithful spouse, I’d recommend you take a hard look at your behaviors, not your intentions. I did insult Stephanie when I tried to pay her a compliment. I’ve got to take responsibility for my failings even when it’s not intentional, and this is a huge piece to the puzzle of reestablishing safety. At the same time she has to be willing to let me make amends. It’s good to note your progress in recovery, but remember the weight of your actions. If you acted out for years and have 5 months of good behavior, do you think that’s enough “good time” to shift your mate’s perspective of you? You know your heart and your intentions, but how can your mate believe you when you’ve spent years deceiving him or her? You’re going to have to be consistent in what you say over 90% of the time if you want them to consider you trustworthy again. Having good intentions over 90% of the time will do nothing. Please be patient. If you stay the course and become the person YOU can respect, then odds are your mate will eventually join you. This is not about just ‘saving the marriage,’ but getting your life back.  It’s about getting healthy for yourself first, then for your mate. If you don’t respect or love yourself, how can you expect your spouse to do the same?

For the betrayed spouse, I’d encourage you not to discount the positive. Given the betrayal it’s natural to only see the negatives and to mistrust your spouse’s actions. No one wants to be played the fool twice. However, if their heart is soft and they’re taking responsibility, try to see their heart. Changing lifetime behaviors takes time. If you see heartfelt effort toward change, please don’t consider it nothing. The goal is progress, not perfection.

It will certainly take time before you can trust their heart, but try to be objective as you walk this road of recovery. As Leslie Hardie, author of “Harboring Hope” says; “Don’t use the pain of the past to amplify the fear of the future.” If you’re exploring the possibilities of reconciliation be cautious, but try to live in the present. Anything else robs you of life.

If you’d like help learning to trust again, consider joining a Harboring Hope class. If you’d like help learning to be trustworthy, give Hope for Healing a try. 

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Re establishing trust

Great article this week Rick. Right on time as usual. It is so wonderful and helpful in our recovery the way the right article comes just as we are dealing with those very issues. It helps me to feel we are continuing on in the right way in our recovery and what I am feeling and experiencing are valid as well as how it helps me to understand what my husband as the betrayer is feeling as well. Thank you, this article was extremely helpful and encouraging to me.

Why is trusting again so hard?

This is a great article. My husband believes the way for me to trust him again is for him began to do the things he did and used as tools to betray me. Let me give you examples. He played basketball three days a week on the way there and back the time was used to talk to his affair partner. He worked out 4 days a week and that time was used for the same purpose. He said the only way I am going to get past it is for him to get back to his life. He has learned his lesson and and now he is starting to feel like nothing he does is good enough for me.
I found out about the affair May 13, 2011and lies were still coming out about it in 2013. He doesn't understand that each time I began to heal and something new was disclosed,any work in the trust depart was damage and delayed.
I just feel like not only are we not on the same page when it comes to trust. I don't even think we are reading from the same book . It seems all he really wants is to get back to his life not the marriage. He says he wants this marriage but from where I am sitting all I can see is a person who only thinks about what is best for him. Thank you for listening.

A great article. I wish my

A great article. I wish my spouse would read it to understand why I don't believe a word he says and don't trust him any farther than I can spit a watermelon seed (not far, I'm not a good spitter). He waited almost a year after Dday before he made any real effort to seek help, and even though he states his good intentions, I have yet to see them come to fruition. They are just words to me, nothing more.18 months now past Dday and I do not know any more now than I knew back then because he refuses to talk about it or answer all my questions as deeply as I need. I have no idea if he has even closed the door on their relationship or not. It's all at work (she's his "office spouse") and I cannot monitor his phone or emails or actions while he is there. I have no access to his work related technology. He says he has not talked to or texted her for 17 months, other than work related, and that he tries to avoid her. I don't believe him because he has done nothing to prove it and I have seen nothing to prove it, no transparency. To be fair, he is now stating how much he loves me, misses me,wants me home, sending flowers and cards, and trying to reconnect by asking me to go on dates, etc. He wants me to just let all this go and move on together and have a good future. And I have tried to reconnect by going on these dates, but unfortunately, until I know for sure she is out of the picture, SHE will always be on the date with us....the "elephant on the date" so to speak. His intentions may be good in his own mind, but until I have proof in the form of TRUTH (a polygraph now since it's been so long and he has lied so much) and in his actions (NO abuse of any sort and zero contact with the elephant lady), I cannot give much credit to the positives he is showing. I know I am being extremely, and probably excessively, cautious, but this was the second time - same woman. The attachment will always be there. I don't want to be played the fool for a third time. I am already embarrassed and angry at myself that I was fooled twice. Trust and true forgiveness will be a long time coming for us this time, unfortunately. I am afraid that I will be forever hyper-vigilant. The damage in me is pretty much irreparable, but I am hoping that by placing it in God's hands, I can go on to live an extraordinary life of meaning and purpose -- with or without him. Thanks for the article..

you are brilliant, rick

you are brilliant, rick
so brilliant, helpful, and soooooo insightful!!!

Trust

Great article, describes us to a T, describes the terrible blow ups that go on still. Especially felt I understood the comments as they could have been my own!

Trust

Four years ago I discovered my husband's infidelity but it took almost 6 months for it to be totally ended. She still emails from time to time but he refuses to answer her. At the time of our counseling, he was instructed to get rid of anything relating to her. Just yesterday I again found a blown up photo of them enclosed in plastic in his work files. Also, when I found out I asked him to tell me EVERYTHING. He not only did not do this but secretly kept in touch with her. He has done a lot to make a new marriage, but when he gets angry he tells me that I am evil and will never let him be trusted and that everything in our life is his fault. That I want him dead. He is screaming this. Our counselor believes he has a dissociation disorder but that can't excuse what is happening. Each time I begin to give trust, something happens to break it.

Trust

Thanks for this article. The article is spot on from my point of view (Betrayed) and is very timely. This helps me understand our situation and things we argue about. Thanks again.

Trusting myself

How I have struggled with trusting my husband again. Affair was in 2012...confession in early July and my discovery of its continuation was a month later. I - like most other betrayed spouses - never thought him capable of such cruelty. Since Dday 2 - he is a different man - better than than he ever was - even pre-affair. He is completely transparent - and has let go of the outcomes - very honest. But I have nagging doubts - how do I know - maybe he's become more clever, more deceptive - smarter at cheating. What I've decided is that I can only trust ME. I trust that should he ever walk that path again - that I WILL survive - I will be okay. I will be devastated, I will feel the soul-crushing pain that infidelity brings...but I will eventually heal without him and come through the pain the strong determined woman I am. That is what I put my trust in - that is what I can take to the bank. I have no control over his choices and his coping mechanisms but I can control mine. I believe in the man he has become and love him more than I did on our wedding day...but if I'm wrong...I'll be okay.

Why trusting again is so hard...

I am right in the thick of this subject. If the unfaithful are still doing the same things that were related in any way to the time of the affair, it is hard to not fear that behaviors will change in the same environment. It causes me triggers. I personally feel it is cruel for the unfaithful to NOT try to avoid such places, behaviors etc..if for nothing more than to ease the pain of the betrayed. If the truly want their betrayed partner to heal the unfaithful would be wise not to keep doing things that brings reminders. Its like wiggling the knife that was previously stabbed in their heart. Leave the bandaid on and let the person heal. It is time to think about their healing, not your personal desires.

trust is earned, not given

Last week I was asking my husband about a meeting he had at work. Since I have access to all of his work email accounts I knew that there were 6 people who were invited to this meeting. When he came home he said that four of the people had "called in" to the meeting so it was just him and a woman named "Leslie" in his office. I LOST it. One of our agreements is that he will not have meetings, go to lunch, travel with, etc....with just one person, there must always be a third (or more) person present if the second person is a woman. Midway through my rant he said "I can never do anything right in your eyes".

I think that is probably true. His intentions are always right, but I see them with the giant "but" at the end. Yes, he scheduled the meeting the way we agreed, but he failed to make sure our agreement was kept. I told him that no matter what he does for now it will be overshadowed by the giant "but" of his affair. He took that "but" and made an analogy that his affair is like a giant butt and when you decide that you need to lose that extra weight you exercise and work as hard as you can to make the butt smaller. He said that no matter how many time I see the "but" in his actions he will work harder to make sure that it gets smaller over time. He does realize that his words are simply meaningless to me and his actions are all that I see and how I evaluate his regaining my trust over time.

Trust

What is trust? Its been three years and I have no idea how to rekindle our marriage anymore. She was the offender and she hid things from me and I was deceived 4 more times after D-day (hiding things, email, text, etc). Turns out the guy was a psychopath and was using her and she was trapped in his spell. Doesnt make me feel any better because half the time I have no idea if she is just staying out of convenience or if she truly loves me but in the meanwhile, I am still trapped in this emotional battle that is defeating me. The flooding, the dreams I have a night, little triggers that feel like I've had the wind knocked out of me. I do things to upset her and she does things to upset me and we're in such a hard place I have no idea what to do. We honestly cant afford therapy and so we've just been taking things a day at a time. I dont even know if she is in love with me and that has caused me to be distant from her but then again, I dont want to do something to hurt her emotionally that will make her want to leave. Eggshells. Ricks posts have been informative and I've always appreciated reading them.

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