Can We Believe Again? Part 1: Crying Wolf

find some middle ground.

"The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies, it comes from those you trust the most."
~Author Unknown

You are probably familiar with the fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. The tale concerns a shepherd boy who intentionally and repeatedly fools villagers into believing a wolf is attacking the town's flock of sheep. He cries, “Wolf! Wolf!” to watch them all come running, but they arrive to find there is no wolf. He does this several times, and eventually, when an actual wolf appears, the boy calls for them in a panic. By this time the villagers no longer believe him so they don’t come, and the sheep are eaten by the wolf. After hearing the same phony claims again and again, no one believed the boy when he was finally telling the truth. He had knowingly told the same lie several times before, but it still seemed to come as a genuine surprise to him when the villagers didn’t believe him when the story he told was actually true.

This fable speaks to the complicated and frustrating experience for both spouses after the discovery of betrayal. For the unfaithful spouse, he or she KNOWS when they ARE telling the truth and probably feels hurt and exasperated that they are doubted or continue to not be believed during the healing process. After all, they knew when they were lying, and they also know that now they’re actually telling the truth, so it should be enough, right?

The betrayed spouse is understandably guarded after the revelation of infidelity, and speaking from my experience, I refused to be fooled again. So even if I really wanted to believe him, my gut reminded me of all the lies I had heard, and that he was not to be trusted. It’s a very difficult place to be for both parties, and it takes time and understanding to even begin to find some middle ground.

Understanding why this is so hard was helpful for me to cut myself some slack for my unrelenting guardedness and skepticism. As always, my experience is mine, and does not represent all betrayed spouses or situations. It may not be relevant to everyone, but if it rings true for you, maybe you can find something that is helpful.

My husband’s long term affair ended 10 years prior to his eventual admission. I had been asking him for years to tell me the truth, but he continued to lie to me over and over again. When I finally got the truth, it was a mix of feelings. I always knew in my heart he had an affair, but was still hoping I had been wrong. I fought an internal battle all those years to convince myself I was overreacting, and that I should believe him, since he had very convincingly told me dozens of times that I was just paranoid. But it turns out I was right the whole time.

Once the truth was finally out on D-day, it was all out. To his credit, once he decided to confess he held nothing back, he told me some very hard truths, and did not try to justify his actions. However, in doing so, he seemed to feel I would just automatically believe everything he said now that he had finally decided to tell the truth. This was after intentionally lying to me for more than a decade - over half of our marriage at that point in time. After all, he knew he was finally telling the full truth. He knew he never intended to lie to me again, no matter the repercussions. But I had been on the receiving end of so many lies, for so many years. So now, I wanted to believe him; I really did, and sometimes I was able to, but some things were just a no-go for me. The ambivalence was intense, and there were elements about the affair and the affair partner (AP) that I just didn’t believe, no matter how many times he said it, and how emphatic he was. Too many lies for too long had made it hard to believe anything.

It confused me because at my core, I really believed he was finally telling me the truth. So why did I still have doubts? He was hurt that I didn’t trust him. He is entitled to his feelings and I tried to empathize, but the reality was, I didn’t trust him because he had proven not to be trustworthy.

So where do we go from here? I hope you will join me for Part 2 to continue the conversation about the impact of deception and why it is so hard to overcome.

“If you tell the truth it becomes your past.
If you tell a lie it becomes your future.”

~ Anne Bercht

Can We Believe Again? Part 2: Reinforced Walls

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Trusting after betrayal

It's been 4 years since my unfaithful husband came clean. And as the spouse in the story above, my husband held nothing back. I do believe him at my core & if I didnt love him, & know that this affair is NOT who he is, I would have left him long ago. But there is this nagging cynical voice in my gut that says "yeah right" whenever he says he loves me. I'm always looking for evidence to prove he's lying again, so I can justify leaving him. I'm glad to know, I'm not alone.

Hi Ginger

I appreciated the way you said this - "I'm always looking for evidence to prove he's lying again." That is a really good way of describing the feeling. It can be so frustrating but totally understandable considering how we got here.

You're definitely not alone and I appreciate your comment.

I have struggled in the same way

My husband also finally confessed after an affair that lasted 7 years. While it broke my heart, we have managed to begin healing over the past 2 years. The thing is... even now, I am always hunting for the lie. Whether it's that he's telling me he loves me, or that it won't happen again, or really anything meaningful... I'm always running it through my internal "lie detector", trying to find fault in what he says. He's said many times that he understands but at the same time, he finds it disappointing. A couple of weeks ago, we were talking and I had a few glasses of wine and I guess something he said triggered me, and I cried and cried. He felt helpless to stop my pain, But this is unfortunately our new reality. I think we are adjusting to this new way of life. He must be patient, and I must try, hard though it may be, to believe him.

Hi Sarah

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, it's very hard to wrestle with that inner "lie detector." For couples trying to reconcile it is really hard for both parties. Wrapping my head around the natural response to long term deception helped me to understand it was not a failure on my part, and yes, he had to learn to understand this was just a consequence of his decisions. His increased understanding over time made a big difference for me, and I hope this series might help someone who is struggling to absorb why a betrayed partner can't just accept "truth", even when it is true.

Hi Jen. Good to hear from you

Hi Jen. Good to hear from you again via your writing!
I’m probably one of those rare ones whose husband didn’t lie. He told me one lie in the 4 years of acting out, remembered it and was so troubled by it, and had such grief and remorse about that one lie. Of course he was lying by omission by not sharing his secret life, but he wasn’t looking me in the eyes and lying to my face.
He continued with the truth telling after DDay.
It’s made it so much easier to trust him again because he is a crappy liar!
I wish those spouses who do lie would realize that the healing begins with the telling of the full truth, no trickle truth or self-protective lies. No lies to protect us either!! We can handle the truth, but deception sets us back.

Hi Bighorn Mountains :)

Nice to hear from you too! I agree I think your situation is not the norm, and I'm glad he has been honest since DDay and you have felt able to trust him again. There is a lot of work that goes into that so I know that was not a quick fix.

Yes the truth is necessary for the healing of the relationship, even if the truth is ugly. There is no way around it.

how will I ever really trust again

Hi Jen, glad to see you are being posted again!
After being lied to for decades and then finding out your worst suspicions were true is more devastating than words can describe. Unfortunately, not being able to trust my unfaithful husband even though he is trying so hard is just another consequence of his cheating that caused pain for both of us as you described so well. The devastating lies and gaslighting from him and his affair partner who was “a friend of mine” makes trust impossible for me. The voices in my head tell me that I can’t trust men; I have been lied to, deceived and hurt by too many to count including clergy and counselors. I can’t trust women since they can cheat with your husband and smile at you the next morning at work having coffee with you. I can’t trust myself since I was stupid enough to believe the lies! At this point, I am struggling to trust my adult daughter who has said some careless yet hurtful things. The worst is for a time, I couldn’t trust GOD. I felt that HE deserted me when so many horrible things were happening in my life while I was trying to be the perfect mother, wife, daughter, Sunday School teacher, employee, etc. I cried out asking where was HE while my life was being needlessly and intentionally devastated. Finally, I came to realize that HE was there. Jesus came to save everyone from their sins. HE came to save the lost. HE didn’t come to save me from my husband’s sins against me, our marriage, or even our daughter. HE only saves us from our own sins, not from everyone else’s. Realizing that helped me to understand “free will.” However, this hasn’t helped me to feel safe – I fear I will never truly be able to trust another person.

Hi Paulette

Yes, trust is very hard after deception. Many of us don't think much about trusting our spouses until something happens. Then it's a struggle, as you described and your story had so many additional layers. You are also spot on that self trust is also damaged in the process, and that was hard for me as well.

We all have different paths through this but I do hope you get to a place where you can trust yourself, and then go from there. It's hard work but it is possible.

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