By Thomas Whitfield
One of the most common questions I get asked (and probably every other therapist or advice columnist too) is about trusting people after being cheated on. We all carry some baggage from one relationship to another, but for some, this baggage can ruin future relationships. So, how do you learn to trust again?
About a year ago my ex and I broke up after I caught him cheating on me. Now, I’ve been dating someone for a few months, and I’m afraid he’s going to do the same. I’m having a really hard time trusting him. What can I do? – Male, Gay, 31
For many, not trusting someone is connected to anxiety. There is an intense fear that you’re out of control and must stop them (or catch them). I don’t think this is about trusting someone else, though; it’s actually about trusting yourself. Not trusting that you won’t cheat, but trusting that if another person cheated on you, you’d get through it. Yeah, it might suck, but you’d survive. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that no one will ever betray your trust again—there just isn’t. So, you must accept that it’s a possibility and build trust in yourself that as much as you’d hate it, you’d make it through if it did happen again. Start by asking yourself what it would mean if this new person cheated too. What are your beliefs about what it must say about you? That you’re boring? Ugly? No worthy of being loved? Are those beliefs rational? Probably not. When you find yourself getting nervous about the possibility of cheating, remind yourself that if someone cheats, it doesn’t change your value as a person.
My boyfriend cheated a few months ago, and I told him I forgave him, but I guess I haven’t. I can’t stop checking his emails, texts and social media. I haven’t found anything suggesting that he’s still cheating. I have so much anxiety, and the checking helps it to go away, but I don’t think it’s helping the relationship. – Male, Gay, 27
What you’re describing is actually pretty common among people that are afraid of being cheated on, or have been in the past. Checking your boyfriend’s electronics is a form of safety-seeking behavior. Basically, you have anxiety about the potential of cheating, check his stuff and the anxiety goes away. Then, next time you have anxiety, you go back to the same behavior, which might continue to take the anxiety away, but it doesn’t really solve the issue. I would also guess that if you keep looking, you’ll eventually find something that rubs you the wrong way, and then you’ll have to decide if you tell him you were snooping or not. Read the answer above; some of this also applies to you. Additionally, talk to your boyfriend about how you feel: not just the anger, but the deeper emotions. You can also talk about what you’d expect differently from him, should it happen again.