How do I get over trust issues in a relationship?
April 6, 2010 5:24 PM   Subscribe

How do I get over trust/anxiety issues in a new relationship, with an assist from email snooping?

I'm in my late 20s and in my first relationship to last more than a month. My past relationships have mostly been with people I have been attracted to, but not connected with on a personal/emotional level. One of them was in a long-term relationship with another woman, who he didn't tell me about until we slept together, and two have made fun of me when I was in the room for not getting that they weren't "really" into me, and were actually dating or trying to date someone else.

I met my now-boyfriend about two years ago, when he was dating a friend of mine. I liked him pretty much right away, but tried to suppress it to be respectful of both of them and their relationship. They split up in October, and it later came out that he'd liked me since we met, too, and that was one of the things they had fought about when they were breaking up.

In November-December, he had an intense rebound relationship with a 21-year-old who'd just started hanging out in our social circle. I was out of town for most of it, so I didn't see it first-hand, but it was reportedly very close and intense, and she hurt him badly by dumping him for another friend of ours after saying she loved him and going through a pregnancy scare with him.

He and I got together in January, and it has been mostly wonderful. The only problem is my trust issues from my previous relationships, especially about the woman he had a rebound affair with. She hits the things I am insecure about from the times before when people have dumped me/made fun of me for thinking they wanted a relationship -- she is younger than I am, very thin, and dresses in a more trendy/funky/studenty way. (I like my own body and clothes, but hers are similar to the other women I've been thrown over for, if that makes sense.) I've talked about my trust/insecurity issues, both in general and about her specifically, to him, and he has been very reassuring and supportive. They are still friends, because she is still in our wider social group, but he doesn't see her in smaller groups much any more.

Today, I found he'd left himself logged into his email at my house, and (BAD DECISION ALERT) I went in and did a search for my name. I found an email exchange between them, back when he and I were getting together, referring to a time when they had been out drinking together and talking about me. He said something along the lines of, "Oh, don't mention what we said to anyone else, though, I really do like her, and I hate to think we have been laughing about her 'behind her back' or anything."

I know it's my own fault, but I can't get the picture of the two of them, making fun of me as close friends/recent ex-lovers out of my head. I already felt upset and insecure when I see her, because of my past issues and their previous intense closeness, but this has made it much worse. I love my boyfriend and I wish I could trust him and shut off the video of "boy goes out with trendy student girl, boy makes fun of me, boy dumps me for said girl" that keeps playing in my head.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know this isn't exactly the advice you asked for, but consider that the common factor in all these situations has been you....and that maybe the takeaway from that is not that you're a ridiculous old frump, but that you may have a broken "people picker" for boyfriends.
posted by availablelight at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry you've been having such a hard time.
I'd take a deep breath and give it a little bit of time. He did inform this other girl that he really does like you. If you find out he's done this again, just say goodbye, you deserve respect.
posted by Iggley at 5:36 PM on April 6, 2010

Sweetie, people who love you don't make fun of you to your face about trying to date someone else rather than you. I know it's not as simple as all that, but really, when someone makes fun of you to another person, the clock is probably winding down on that relationship.

That said, if you want to make it work with this man, put the kibosh on seeking a lot of reassurance.
posted by Issithe at 5:41 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, it was a bad decision. Even putting aside the ethical consideration, you're experiencing the reason why it was a bad decision based upon a metric of self-interest.

As an outsider, I can imagine a few fairly innocous precusors that would generate that comment.

For example, she says something catty or gently mocking about you. Rather than putting up a barrier and escalating it into a fight, he takes the easier route and nervously laughs or goes along with it in some fashion, trying then to quickly change the subject. Still, he doesn't want it getting back to you that he verbally agreed to her mocking comment -- even though he didn't actually believe whatever he agreed to -- so through that comment to her, without burning any friendship bridge he has with her, he convey to tell her that you mean something to him ("I really do like her") and she should shut the hell up ("don't mention what we said to anyone else") and not go blabbing it around.

Frankly, it's actually got a few hopeful/nice bits embedded in it ... in it, he says:

(a) that he "really does" like you -- which, semantically, to me is a step or two above just 'liking' you (heh, I feel like I'm in high school, parsing different variants of the "like" verb);

(b) that he doesn't trust her not to automatically keep her mouth shut and their conversation private, so he has to actually verbally tell her to do so -- which tells me something about his opinion of her; and

(c) that he cares about your feelings, and also cares about the level of faithfulness of his behavior when you're not around -- note that he says "I hate to think we have been laughing behind her back", not "I'd hate for it to get back to her that we've been laughing behind her back".
posted by WCityMike at 5:44 PM on April 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

Your boyfriend is skipping from girl to girl. Girl#1 in October. Girl#2 in November. Girl#3 (you) in January. A feeling of safety in this relationship probably isn't appropriate, since you've gotten involved with someone who apparently isn't ready for long-term anything, so don't fault yourself for worrying. But don't blame yourself. Your boyfriend's behavior is being shaped by his limitations, not yours.
posted by jon1270 at 5:44 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

One of them was in a long-term relationship with another woman, who he didn't tell me about until we slept together, and two have made fun of me when I was in the room for not getting that they weren't "really" into me, and were actually dating or trying to date someone else

Oh what the fuck? Anon, do not go blaming yourself for this, in any way, including the way where you sort-of acknowledge it's crappy behaviour but also sort-of-imagine it's your fated destiny in relationships to be treated like that. What were they, 16? Sociopaths? Both? Dear lord. If you want to sort out your insecurities, I think a really good place to start would be reminding yourself, frequently and often, that the behaviour of these people reflects badly on them and does not say a thing about you.

Also, on preview: what jon1270 said, too.
posted by Catseye at 6:05 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Stop violating privacy. This is not how you resolve relationship issues. Never, ever do that. Leave the email untouched, the diary closed. Trust your feelings in the relationship.

If someone is obviously cheating on you or something then things are different, but even then if you think you have a future with someone, don't violate them.

I know it's my own fault, but I can't get the picture of the two of them, making fun of me as close friends/recent ex-lovers out of my head

Then your relationship is doomed. Really, people do this stuff (it was in the transition) and it doesn't always mean what you think it means. If it was really an issue, he would probably have already dumped you or treated you without respect etc. If he is currently treating you with respect, not making advances towards miss skinny jeans, and being a generally ok boyfriend then i would let it drop unless some other thing comes up. This seems more about your own insecurity than anything else.

That being said, he is still someone who might take some more time to engender full trust, but you won't get there being all freaked out and paranoid. Just be mindful. (words seem to be failing me on these subtleties tonight, maybe the pinksuperhero will weigh in; she is prescient on these things)
posted by caddis at 6:06 PM on April 6, 2010

Without reading any of the other replies

I love my boyfriend and I wish I could trust him and shut off the video of "boy goes out with trendy student girl, boy makes fun of me, boy dumps me for said girl" that keeps playing in my head.

That video that's playing of him going out with the student girl and making fun of you? That's not some product of your "trust issues," some fictional scenario you dreamed up. That's what actually happened. That's what he did, in reality.

Not only that, but that whole part about how he liked you when he met you, and nursed a crush on you for the entire year and a half he was dating someone else (evident enough that his gf noticed and they fought over it), and then started dating you after they broke up ... you've already seen that he's got a wandering eye.

I know you want to trust your boyfriend. That is totally understandable, it's a fundamental need in relationships. My advice is to date someone trustworthy. Not do mental backbends to convince yourself that there's something wrong with *you* for not trusting someone who has behaved untrustworthily.

If you're determined to stay with this guy ... I think the more you see someone's behavior, the more you know what they do, the more you can predict what they're going to do, you trust them more. So, I think if you observe his behavior for a long time and he's the picture of openness, candor, and non-sketchiness, your feelings of distrust will decrease on their own.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:35 PM on April 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

P.S., I think if a guy doesn't have the guts/character not to smile along when someone's mocking a girl he's seeing (giving him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't an active mockery participant) -- how's he going to have the character not to do something that's actually difficult?
posted by Ashley801 at 7:45 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

P.P.S. (sorry) Getting burned by people lying to, mocking, and using you, and then suspecting everyone else of doing the same thing and being sketchy when there's no sign that they are sketchy at all or ever have been, is having trust issues. Getting burned by people, and then suspecting someone who has actually been sketchy of being sketchy, is not having trust issues. It's getting smarter.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:08 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree with WcityMike.
posted by uans at 8:11 PM on April 6, 2010

It's been three months. The beginning of relationships are weird times. Sometimes, it's really not clear where things are going. If you weren't already in a verbally committed relationship - as in, you had said that you were exclusive or steady or whatever - shrug it off entirely. He had a super intense relationship with a girl that he had just gotten out of. Feeling out the end of that relationship in a way that involves booze could easily result in something being said that the next day, he looked back on it and thought "Wow. If she heard I said that, she would probably really misinterpret it and I would be incredibly sad." And so he did the responsible thing and wrote the other girl and said "You know that thing we laughed about? Yeah, don't bring that up. I really like her and don't want to fuck up my chances."

Personally, I would be a little miffed and hurt, but I would also look at it in context of time passing. If things are good and he's not hanging out with her recently, I wouldn't sweat it. I *would* have a conversation with him and see how things are with you guys. I mean, do it gently and not as a Big Important Conversation. Just as a light checking in. If you all are having a lot of fun hanging out and you're talking on the phone and doing fun things together - things are probably FINE. Don't get hyper insecure because of something that happened months ago. Stay in the present and see how things are.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:20 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are overreacting to an innoccuous comment without
knowing the context.

More to the point; what you did is far worse than what he said. He trusted you not to go snooping through his email; a trust that you violated.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:26 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a lot of drama.

Stay in the present and see how things are

If you find yourself not being able to let go of all these insecurities, then break things off with him. If you're happy with him now, then stay with him. Don't focus on your insecurities, think about the fact that he *does* like you now, otherwise he wouldn't be with you. But at the same time keep him at arms length until you see that he's trustable and see that you no longer have all these thoughts going through your head. Having to keep someone you're dating at arms length is probably a red flag, but makes sense in this case because the relationship *is* new (your expectations of exclusivity may be different), because he *does* seem to jump from girl to girl, and because you *have* been hurt in really unnecessary ways (guy doesn't tell you he has a long-term relationship? definitely not YOUR fault there), it would suck to get hurt again so many times in a row.

Good luck! But remember that if this doesn't work out then it's because there was just way too much drama at the beginning, with everyone dating everyone's friends. Things like that just get messy, and perfectly good people who just want a happy relationship get hurt for no good reason.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 1:00 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also agree with WcityMike. The email sounds positive towards you and towards your relationship, regarding parts a) and c) of his answer.
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:06 AM on April 7, 2010

Your exes sound like total and utter jerks.

This guy sounds okay, and people often say innocuous things that in retrospect seem mean (I, for example, complain amusingly and near-constantly about my boyfriend's snoring/borderline autism/general obsessiveness and yet he is the absolute light of my life). He prefers you to this girl, which is why he is dating you and not staying single in an attempt to date her.

So chill out. You sound pretty cool. I'd date you. But don't read his emails again, and don't tell him you did this time. Enjoy him!
posted by teraspawn at 7:16 AM on April 7, 2010

"Oh, don't mention what we said to anyone else, though, I really do like her, and I hate to think we have been laughing about her 'behind her back' or anything."

You have no idea what happened here. There's no context provided, and you're ignoring the most straightforward reading, that he was not making fun of you but is worried it could be construed as that.
posted by spaltavian at 7:41 AM on April 7, 2010

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