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How can I work on my own trust issues without continuing to pester my SO?
September 10, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

How can I work on my own trust issues without continuing to pester my SO?

I posted this question about six months ago. As mentioned in my follow-up there, I decided to give a second chance to the fellow I've been dating/living with, who had been flirting with his exes via text message about a year into our relationship.

He was extremely contrite, teary, and adamant that nothing of this sort would happen again. I've kept a close eye on him (yes, including Metafilter-not-approved methods) over the intervening period, and there has been nothing remotely troubling since then. He's let me vent and interrogate him a number of times since March, and if I ask to look at his calls or anything like that he hands over the phone without hesitation.

The problem is, although I have decided to give him a second chance, and I do fully believe he means well and is trying to re-earn my trust, I am having a hard time internally getting past the betrayal. I do realize that I have it easy compared to many: he didn't actually cheat, there was no serious intention to seek out other relationships, and he has stopped the problem behaviour without complaint. Nevertheless, as a naturally jealous and insecure person, I continue to feel troubled very regularly. It gives me intrusive thoughts, it makes me overreact to really ridiculous false alarms (e.g. if he gets a text, I'm on edge until I see it's his parents or somesuch), and it causes me to seek his reassurance on an abnormally regular basis.

I know this is a really unhealthy mindset and not reflective of our current relationship. I don't think it's my subconscious warning me of anything because I have been jealous and insecure in every relationship, even those without warning signs. It crops up most when I'm tired or stressed, and not based on any external stimulus such as him behaving weirdly (which hasn't happened at all since our talk).

I don't want to just dump him and seek out a different partner, because I will surely still suffer from trust issues and I do feel this guy is a very good match for me overall.

I don't know whether there's any point to therapy, because I already reassure myself that my distorted thinking is causing these negative feelings and I actively try to adjust my thinking. I assume this is what someone administering CBT would do anyway.

I don't like reading forums such as Surviving Infidelity because they actually make me feel more paranoid.

So what can I do, now that I've made the decision to stick this out, to feel safe and comfortable again?
posted by Pomo to Human Relations (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know whether there's any point to therapy, because I already reassure myself that my distorted thinking is causing these negative feelings and I actively try to adjust my thinking. I assume this is what someone administering CBT would do anyway.

I think therapy would be helpful, for these reasons:

1. Having someone help you brainstorm and scaffold strategies and then help you debrief/be accountable is really great
2. I know we're all-CBT-all-the-time here but I have found it helpful to explore where my mental habits come from - what assumptions rooted in past experience and childhood lead me to be [whatever]?
posted by Frowner at 12:41 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not all your problem now is it? He had engaged in untrustworthy behavior. You were justified in feeling insecure and jealous.

Your thinking isn't distorted.

Acknowledge to your partner that you're still hyper-vigilant about the prospect of him cheating. He hurt you deeply and you're entitled to feel the way you feel.

I suspect that while he may be contrite and sorry for what he did, that the core issue hasn't been addressed, mainly WHY did he do it? Has he answered that question to your satisfaction? If not, no matter how much good stuff he does, it will always be nagging you in the back of your mind.

He needs to be perfectly transparent, he needs to show you that the texts aren't from some Ex, he needs to prove that he's worthy of your trust.

Until you understand why he was looking outside of your relationship, you won't be able to forgive or forget.

And that's the sad truth of it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:49 PM on September 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't know whether there's any point to therapy, because I already reassure myself that my distorted thinking is causing these negative feelings and I actively try to adjust my thinking. I assume this is what someone administering CBT would do anyway.

Not really, no. I mean, do what you like, but CBT is not the same as "just encouraging you to adjust your thinking" any more than psychodynamic talk therapy is "just venting about your problems."
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:53 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I don't know whether there's any point to therapy"

I'd say there is. Even with a new partner, these fears might persist.
posted by HopperFan at 12:55 PM on September 10, 2012


This is part of the reason people suggest against snooping. It's not just invasive, It's addicting. It's a powerful feeling of imbalance that can be so hard to give up.

You'll never trust someone you are policing.
posted by French Fry at 12:57 PM on September 10, 2012 [21 favorites]


I know this is a really unhealthy mindset and not reflective of our current relationship.

The hell it isn't. Apologies and contrition don't magically re-establish a whole lot of broken trust. That takes time. What you are feeling is reflective of your current relationship because you are feeling valid feelings for someone who was hurt and betrayed.

I've kept a close eye on him (yes, including Metafilter-not-approved methods) over the intervening period, and there has been nothing remotely troubling since then.

Here's two things people do when they get caught doing bad shit:
1) Stop doing bad shit.
2) Get better at not being caught.

The more you look, the more you see, the more you assume you can't see because you don't know how to look. Keeping a vigilant eye on someone is weary work, and will assuredly spawn bad feelings. If you can't trust this person to not do this again without looming over them you can't trust this person, period.

I assume this is what someone administering CBT would do anyway.

CBT is not "administered." CBT is like going to the gym: you have a trainer, they look you up and down, tell you what's wrong, teach you techniques, and then it's on you to use those techniques to improve yourself. If you don't go along with the program, you're wasting your money and everyone's time.
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on September 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't know whether there's any point to therapy, because I already reassure myself that my distorted thinking is causing these negative feelings and I actively try to adjust my thinking.

I think talk therapy would help too, especially being able to vent what you're feeling to an objective third party without needing to involve your partner. In the meantime, I think this question about compulsive negative thinking, especially its best answer, is very useful.
posted by gladly at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2012


Also: knowing you have distorted thoughts -- which I am certainly not qualified to either agree or disagree with -- is half the battle. If your car blows a tire, you know what the problem is. It's right there, in front of you. If you don't know how to change a tire, knowing what the problem is useful just long enough for you to get someone to fix it, or teach you how to fix it.
posted by griphus at 1:03 PM on September 10, 2012


I think you would benefit from therapy, especially CBT. CBT rewires your habits. It sounds like you habitually indulge in negative feelings about your relationship when you are stressed about other issues in your life. If you are certain that these negative feelings only come from you, it would improve your overall quality of life to stop doing this. It would also improve your boyfriend's quality of life; it's not fair to him to keep punishing him and restricting him for one period of transgression.
posted by rhythm and booze at 1:04 PM on September 10, 2012


CBT is like going to the gym: you have a trainer, they look you up and down, tell you what's wrong, teach you techniques, and then it's on you to use those techniques to improve yourself.

I think a better analogy is to physical therapy. CBT therapists have extensive training and can also work with direct interventions (guided desensitizations, for instance). It's really not like training at a gym.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:17 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Physical therapy, yes, much better analogy.
posted by griphus at 1:21 PM on September 10, 2012


I have been guilty of the snooping in the past, with another partner. And it wasn't just a one-time thing, it was his attitude. There was a general atmosphere that if I didn't conform to some skewed behavior and his idealization that it was then okay for him to seek out other partners. I bought into this, because I had feelings of low self worth.

What's the worst that could happen? He meets someone else and dumps you. Is that a reflection on you, or his behavior? Because that happened to me too.

It doesn't necessarily sound like this guy has a pattern like my ex, who was definitely not contrite or weepy. He was always telling me that he really didn't stroke that woman in public, that it was perfectly normal behavior, or I deserved it because I was too fat, I mean, he made it a point to put me down when I questioned it. So definitely some gaslighting going on there!

Now, I think... it's okay for people to be attracted to other people, as long as they don't act on it when you are in an agreed monogamous relationship. And if this guy is nice and open, not nasty and furtive and hiding stuff, then go for whatever helps you feel comfortable in this relationship, or any future relationship.

Because what's the worst that could happen? You'd be left for another woman? I tried to get him back after the other woman dumped him, I was triumphant in my success. Only to realize later that he was a serial cheater, not just with me, but with a lot of women. A player, if you will.

So if you really like this guy, and the rest of your relationship is okay besides this one point that happened in the past, go work on yourself. It's not for him. It's for you. You owe it to yourself to get this cleared up in your head and stop wasting good years of your life in a mire of self doubt. Because that's what it really is: "I'm not good enough for X partner." You are good enough, and you deserve to be treated as such, but first you have to make yourself realize that you deserve it, and anyone who crosses that boundary no longer has the pleasure of your company, not the other way around.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:24 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


You describe this situation like it's all your fault - like your 'trust issues' are something inherent in yourself and only vaguely connected to the untrustworthy way your boyfriend acted, like if only you could get rid of this 'distorted thinking', there would be no problem at all. And it is sad to read that, because you sound like a nice person who's trying very hard to maintain this relationship, but this is not your fault.

I can see how your suspicion and mistrust are overwhelming right now, and harmful to your day-to-day life. But I think the reason those feelings are shouting so loud at you is because you don't want to deal with them when they're speaking quietly. And by 'deal with them', I don't mean 'dump your boyfriend' if that's not what you want to do - I mean 'deal with those feelings on their own merits, as something it is not unreasonable to feel.'

So okay. What are your worries saying? I would bet it's something like "Trusting him is dangerous! After all, I don't know if he's hiding something from me, because I didn't know the last time. I don't know if he's lying to me, because he's proved he's willing to lie to me when he wants to hide something. I don't know why he flirted with his exes last time, so I don't know if he's going to do it again. And if he I trusted him and he betrayed me again it would be awful, terrible, the worst thing ever, and I just can't risk that happening!"

Snooping won't help you deal with those feelings, but dismissing them out of hand won't help you deal with them either. You need to take them point by point and engage with them.

How can you stop being overwhelmingly terrified that he'll do something like this again? Think through what would happen if he did - you'd leave, you'd be upset, you'd get over the upset, you'd go on with your life, you'd have healthy relationships in the future and you'd be fine. How can you assure yourself he's not secretly flirting with exes? You can get to the bottom of why he did it the last time, in such a way that you feel assured he won't do it again. This means difficult conversations, going way beyond "I'm sorry" or "I promise it won't happen again", and it means him being willing to take on the responsibility for helping you feel secure - by being honest and open with you, by showing you that he's trustworthy.

This is hard and will take time, and you need to consider the possibility that it might not happen anyway. (Maybe he won't be willing or able to share with you the reasons why he did this the first time, and the reasons why he can assure you he won't do it again. People who hurt you can be genuinely sorry that you got hurt, but still lack the integrity and insight to prevent hurting you again in the future. Or maybe you'll find that you just can't or don't want to have do all the hard emotional tough-conversations work necessary to rebuild the trust to a point where you're totally happy and secure, and you'll decide you'd be happier elsewhere. That would be okay, too.)

You can't trust the other person in a relationship without also trusting yourself, trusting your own thoughts about the state of the relationship. In future, maybe your thoughts will be 'he is 100% trustworthy', and you will trust yourself on that and it'll be great. But you won't get to that point by dismissing the feelings you have today - you'll get to that point by taking those feelings seriously, and dealing with them as they are.
posted by Catseye at 1:56 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Several folks are focusing on therapy because the thing you have the most power over here is Yourself. And you say that this has felt like a problem not just in this relationship, but others as well. So how to best help yourself?

Therapy did so, so much more than "reassure myself that my distorted thinking is causing these negative feelings and I actively try to adjust my thinking". I'd worked myself through CBT workbooks that helped me to deal with my anxiety that way. But therapy helped me work so much more deeply on why I had such low self-esteem and how I could change it for the better. A professional with years of training really can make a World of difference.
posted by ldthomps at 1:57 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone betrays you. They vow never to do it again. By all appearances (and with some vigilance on your part) it seems they are holding up their end of the bargain. Over time, you may or may not come to trust them again.

So the question is, how long is too long to trust? The short answer is, there's no one answer. For some people, trust will regrow very quickly; for others, it will never regrow. If trust does regrow, it might be warranted and it might not; if trust never regrows, it might be appropriate or it might be unfair. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is this: trust cannot be forced, and if you don't trust another person for any reason, even a reason that isn't very good, or for no reason at all...well, that is who you are, and that's okay.

Is this a pattern with you, over and over, losing trust and never being able to regain it? Well, even then, the pattern is really one of being betrayed. You just happen to be a person who can't regain trust once it is lost. That's okay, really it is!

Now, if you can never trust initially, then therapy might help, and if you really do feel that your lack of trust is a problem for you, then therapy might help. Just keep focused on the idea that, if you're simply unable to trust someone -- anyone -- again after they've betrayed you, then this is something you should share with your next partner after you break up with this one.

Oh, and if you are the kind of person who can't trust again after being betrayed, but you want to be the kind of person who can, then therapy's a good bet too.
posted by davejay at 2:30 PM on September 10, 2012


If he's only "stopped the behavior," the dude has a lot more work to do to convince you that he's trustable without you having to conduct "Metafilter-unapproved" snooping.
posted by rhizome at 2:34 PM on September 10, 2012


I have been jealous and insecure in every relationship, even those without warning signs... I don't want to just dump him and seek out a different partner, because I will surely still suffer from trust issues and I do feel this guy is a very good match for me overall.... I don't know whether there's any point to therapy, because I already reassure myself that my distorted thinking is causing these negative feelings and I actively try to adjust my thinking. I assume this is what someone administering CBT would do anyway.

Okay, here's a confession: you want to know how I finally knew it was time to get unbiased, insightful, professional support from a trained therapist? (in my case, a psychiatrist was the best fit) It was when I started saying things exactly like this: "I have always been [this way]... I will sure still suffer [no matter what]... I already do X and assume there's nothing else to be done (even though, despite believing I'm a smart person and know myself better than Some Therapist could and faithfully doing X or any other approaches I've tried to date, I remain miserable. Even eyeroll-worthy Dr. Phil managed to open my eyes to the limitations of that mindset with his "So.......... how's that workin' for ya?")

I'll give you a potential spoiler alert, though. My prediction (perhaps hope) is that through the process of therapy you'll be able to acknowledge and believe that the life you should be living and striving for is not one where you feel this uncomfortable, where your nerves are so raw that every text alert "bing" makes you get that fight-or-flight-lizard instinct, or where you're wracking your brain or AskMe for a way to be cool and somehow convince yourself not just to feel "safe and comfortable," but to feel happy. Joyous, even! IN LOVE! Vibrant! Excited about the present and your future!

Exhaustion and stress will probably be factors in your life for the rest of your life, just as they are with everyone else. Similarly, your discomfort right now is not irrational just because your investigations to date have not pointed to any extracurricular behavior. Just because your boyfriend does not appear to be currently getting an ego boost or a sexual release or an adrenaline fix or an actual emotional connection from someone else, at least not via the technological media you've been able to access, does not mean he is giving you what you want, or what you deserve. I think he has, consciously or not, let you set the bar too low, and no wonder that seems to require some serious mental leaps.

All I can say is that if you were my friend or my sister or my daughter, it would seem clear to me from what you've written that I want more for you than the life you are currently in. I'd get that he seems like a good match for you on many dimensions, but I'd keep gently trying to bring you back to the fact that this relationship is not even close to making you as happy as we both know you should be, and that his tears and reassurances and the absence of explicit betrayal (like that should earn him a medal!?) still don't bring your feelings up even to neutral, let alone positive. So it's not his fault per se, nor yours. But why do you think YOU and you alone can somehow will this relationship into being awesome? Like, AWESOME. Like as awesome as Nickel Pickle's husband, which has been my litmus test for partners since I read it?

No one will every be able to advocate for yourself, or to ensure you're in the environments that encourage you to thrive, better than you will. Scary as it can seem, you alone are the captain of the Good Ship Pomo (a metaphor I'm recycling). Other than wishful thinking, is there any clear evidence to you that this relationship will become the kick-ass love you deserve as soon as you somehow categorically dismiss your "trust issues"? Is the whole of this relationship the wind in your sails that was hoped for by all the people who helped build your ship? They (and you) will be fine if settle for less, of course. But I think they'd be sad to hear that you think this would be good enough if you could just figure out a way to dismiss the real emotions and thoughts that you, Pomo, have. I think they are important to who you are. I don't get the sense that this man is your best possible, or lifelong, best mate.

Forgive me for babbling on like this -- it probably goes without saying, but I wouldn't have done so if I didn't see so much of myself in your posts, and wish I had the chance to help make things go better for you than maybe they have for me. Best of luck to you; please feel free to memail if you'd like to chat.
posted by argonauta at 7:35 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


French Fry has it. Intellectually you know that there's no reason to snoop but you're still doing it - there's that old story about how the animal that wins is the animal you feed. First, I'd say that the snooping should probably stop; you're feeding some urge that has nothing to do with your trust of him. Second: yeah, therapy.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:27 AM on September 11, 2012


Seconding rhizome. My thought is that apology + not doing the bad thing aren't enough to regain trust. I think you need to get to know your bf more deeply and see him in different lights. It would be better if not only did he/you-both cut out the negatives, you also amped up the positives. More time together, some new activity where you reestablish your bond with each other, etc., might be what is necessary to get over this. Now, it would be great if he came up with such a thing instead of just cutting out the badness. But maybe you could move toward that together.

Honestly I think even something like taking dance lessons would help. Or setting up a time to check in about your feelings every day. Or deciding you're going to read through n relationship books together over n months (or maybe just novels). Think positives and constructive activities, not just eliminating the bad.
posted by kellybird at 1:59 PM on September 11, 2012


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