How do I re-establish trust my long-term relationship after a lie?
September 25, 2012 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How do I re-establish trust my long-term relationship after a lie?

A couple of months ago, my boyfriend of a year and a half (whom I live with), told me he was staying out late for work. He frequently works in other cities that are within driving distance, but stays out after his evening meetings to drink and continue their conversations.

When he came home the next morning, I accidentally saw a text between him and another woman when I was trying to set his phone alarm before I left for the day. He HAD come back to town, went out to the bar where she works, and stayed at her house. He said he did it because he was stressed and he just needed a night away. I believe him, at my core, when he says that nothing sexual happened, but I was upset with the lie and, if I am honest, I remain skeptical about his relationships with her and other women.

Most of all, I have had trouble trusting him about where he says he is and who he says he is with at any given time.

His schedule has only gotten more busy since then, and he is still occasionally staying out late or all night for work. During those nights, I always end up panicked and in tears, making accusatory comments, grilling him on why he needs to be out all night, and sometimes driving by the office to make sure he is actually there working.

I don't know how to rebuild that trust, either on his side or mine. Just as much as my actions prove I don't trust him, he doesn't trust that I won't react badly or "go crazy" when he tells me what he is doing.

I feel like I'm in a vicious cycle where he says what he thinks I "want to hear," where I panic and believe I'm being lied to, and it all ends in an unproductive fight about my trust issues and his inability to be upfront.

This is hurting our relationship, but I don't know how to move forward. Has anyone worked through a similar situation or have any advice about how to reopen productive communication and put some faith back in the relationship?
posted by otempora to Human Relations (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
William of Occum, if he'd seen that text and were apprised of the situation, would conclude that sex, indeed DID happen. And that you BF is telling a lie to cover for another. (Occum's Razor)

There is no proof of either version, but usually the simpler explanations are the most likely to be true.

I am sorry, but my advice would be that he has to come clean, before trust begins to be re-established.
posted by Danf at 1:34 PM on September 25, 2012 [19 favorites]

nothing sexual happened

This time. Maybe.

It's not acceptable to spend the night alone with a person of the opposite sex (excepting siblings and other obvious persons) when you're in a committed relationship. The fact that he lied about it indicates that he knows this.
posted by jingzuo at 1:36 PM on September 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do you need a house to fall on you? If your relationship isn't over now, it will be shortly. You're unhappy, he's unhappy and he's only doing things to make you MORE unhappy.

I don't believe for one second that he didn't have anything sexual going on with that other woman. No mere acquaintance is letting a guy who lives in town stay over "because he's stressed". Have you been introduced to his new friend? Thought not.

Also, people who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.

Leave now, before it gets uglier, before you feel worse and before he destroys your self-esteem and your bullshit-meter.

No need for drama, just find another place to rent, rent it and move there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:37 PM on September 25, 2012 [28 favorites]

How do I re-establish trust my long-term relationship after a lie?

You don't. He does.

He can start by not staying out all night after work. He can also not accuse you of "go[ing] crazy" because you can't trust him when he lied to you about staying out all night after work.

As long as he is not owning his dishonesty, and as long as he is making your response to his dishonesty the issue, then what exactly is it that you're trying to re-establish trust in?
posted by headnsouth at 1:42 PM on September 25, 2012 [32 favorites]

From what I've heard, one method that has worked for some people is for the person who lied to voluntarily ensure that the other person has access to everything - phone, email, and so forth, at any time he or she wants to take a look. No getting defensive, no "well, there's nothing going on so why do you need to look". He lied to you so the onus is on him to restore trust - your reaction of getting upset is a normal reaction and you should not feel bad or like you're being "crazy". (which sounds borderline gaslight-y)

The agreement, of course, being that once trust has been re-established, this will become unnecessary and you can return to your previous state of believing that he will tell you things that you should know and that you won't have to go looking for them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:43 PM on September 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

if I am honest, I remain skeptical about his relationships with her and other women.

Until he stops lying when lies are more convenient than the truth, you ought to remain skeptical.

There is no evidence that he did or did not have sex with this friend. But he's already busted in blatantly lying about where he was and what he was doing. What scant evidence there is points toward not working to trust somebody who can't be bothered to even cover his damn tracks.

He doesn't trust and/or respect you enough to say, "I need a bit of time away, to clear my head and think. I'll be at -place- until -time.-"

I would bet that he's already got a habit of gas lighting you, and if he doesn't this is when he starts. You'll tell him it bothers you that he lied about where he went and he'll call you uptight. You'll object to his staying with this other woman and he'll insist that you should be able to trust him, and besides he thinks she's ugly anyway. Then when you're still upset or sad, you'll be crazy or unbalanced or too clingy.

Why should you have the burden of trusting him? And even if you can convince Me that you should, I will take the liberty of adding in a metaphor. Imagine he has asked you to lift a very very heavy boulder. Twice your size. You might be able to our it together, but you can't do more than turn it over by yourself. Instead of facing that you can't safely lift it, you're trying to build a pulley system with frayed ropes and things you've found in the kitchen.
posted by bilabial at 1:44 PM on September 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

He "just needed a night away"? Badly enough to lie about his whereabouts, and spend the night with a woman you don't know? There is way more than lack of trust going on here. I'm sorry, but that really does not sound like the sort of behavior you have in a healthy relationship.

You could always try couples therapy. It makes it easier to have a levelheaded discussion with a mediator present. But that's only if you both agree that you really want this relationship to succeed, and are prepared to work on your issues separately and together.
posted by harujion at 1:46 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I believe him, at my core, when he says that nothing sexual happened

You also believed him at your core when he told you he was out of town. Other than the fact that you really want it to be true, what's different?

Look, I'd be remiss if I didn't say this: I think you're being played for a sucker, I think the story you're telling is alarming, and I think I'd have left after the incident you describe.

But all that said:

The closest thing to a solution here is to ask yourself, honestly, what it is that would assuage your fears, and ask for it. Either he then does that or he doesn't.

But there's no way you can make him do anything. It doesn't sound like he's willing to make a good faith effort to demonstrate that he's trustworthy, and in fact it sounds like he gets upset if you dare to hint that he might not be, so I don't know. The problem with the question you're asking is this:

how to reopen productive communication and put some faith back in the relationship?

This is not something only one person can do. Both people in the relationship have to want this to happen and be willing to work openly and honestly to make it happen. That is true of you. It's not true of him. If he doesn't understand that and/or isn't willing to put in that effort then it might be time to start winding this whole thing down.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:47 PM on September 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

If your boyfriend does not have the time or inclination to make your relationship a priority in his life in the wake of this incident, you should leave him. If he's not going over and above to communicate with you--and not just when you ask questions--you should leave him.

By destroying your trust, he destroyed your image of him, and became a stranger. Do you want to keep living with a stranger? In these scenarios, couples that want to survive should be going back to square 1, looking at each other with fresh eyes, talking, learning, and deciding whether or not to become a couple all over again.

If you didn't have the accumulated crap of living with him and all your history, is your boyfriend a person you want to be with?

As bilabial notes, he seems incapable of telling you when he needs time or space to take care of himself. That skill is crucial for everyone in a healthy, adult relationship.

Don't settle for anything less. Take care of yourself.
posted by itesser at 1:50 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Most of all, I have had trouble trusting him about where he says he is and who he says he is with at any given time.

Could this be how you "accidentally" saw a text while taking it upon yourself to set the alarm on his phone? You appear to be untrusting to the point that your relationship is irretrievably broken, as is said in my trade. Panicked in tears, grilling him, and driving past his office to see if he is working? Maybe he doesn't deserve trust, maybe you are paranoid. Either way, I think your relationship is over.

Maybe he's been unfaithful for a while. Or, maybe he figured that if he is going to be treated as if he is cheating, he might as well do the deed.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:51 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

He HAD come back to town, went out to the bar where she works, and stayed at her house. He said he did it because he was stressed and he just needed a night away.

Is this okay with you? It wouldn't be okay with me. I mean, even if there was no sex involved (and I don't believe him when he says that, but let's pretend I do) it would not be okay with me.

If my husband needed "a night away" from me I would be freaked out. But if he needed "a night away" from me, he would take it with a same sex friend (or a lesbian friend) or a married couple who are friends, or in a hotel or motel, not with a single straight/bi woman.

I mean, holy fuck, he came back to town, lied to you about being in another city, and stayed overnight with a woman who (odds are) is someone who might be interested in fucking him? A woman he knows whom you don't know? Who is as far as I can tell from your ask, someone he met while drinking in a bar she works at?

This guy is busting your chops.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:53 PM on September 25, 2012 [23 favorites]

You can't fix this. He has to want to fix this. Wanting to fix this includes things like not staying away overnight anymore and striving for transparency in his whereabouts.

If he wanted to fix it, you'd see him trying.

The relationship has likely been over at least since he lied and slept at another woman's house rather than in his own home where you live.

The reason you feel unhappy is probably because of unhappiness.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:54 PM on September 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

He frequently works in other cities that are within driving distance, but stays out after his evening meetings to drink and continue their conversations.

Also, this seems incredibly unlikely to me. I mean, yeah, people do go out drinking after work with the guy from the regional office, but they don't stay out all night.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:55 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would not have been okay with this. If he wants to make the relationship work, he will have to be an open book, and do exactly what he says he does. If he doesn't, it's probably not going to work.
posted by ethidda at 1:56 PM on September 25, 2012

Occam's Razor is right. Think about it from The Other Woman's POV: If one of my attached male friends needed a night away from home, I'd tell him to get over it and go home, or find a guy friend to crash witg. Unless I was going to screw him.

I'm not saying you need to break up, but you can't fix this situation by deluding yourself, either.
posted by peacrow at 2:02 PM on September 25, 2012

You don't need to re-establish trust. You need to get out.

If anything needs to be re-established, it's your boundaries.

This guy is a manipulative liar and you deserve better.
posted by crackingdes at 2:03 PM on September 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Coming back home to the town where you live and staying the night with another woman instead of you sounds like the kind of thing that would be the climax of a novel about a failing relationship, not something that just happened to go down and it's no big deal and he lied about it but whatever, you should get over it. It's a big deal. I think the likelihood that he's not/hasn't cheated is very small, but that's neither here nor there. Ask for what you need (for me, right now, it would be no staying the night other places and periodic updates about what he's doing when he's out late). If he's unwilling to give it, I think you should consider moving on.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:06 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

What are you getting out of this relationship? From the sounds of it, very little. So why are you still in it?
posted by heyjude at 2:10 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everything else aside, there's a big difference between "staying out late for work" and "when he came home the next morning". Did he indicate at all that he would be out all night? If no, did he call you and tell you that he wouldn't be coming home and would be crashing at someone else's house as the evening got later?

If he didn't tell you ahead of time *or* call you when his plans changed then I would say he's probably putting you on.
posted by dgeiser13 at 2:14 PM on September 25, 2012

You are having trouble trusting him because he is acting like a guy who is cheating. I don't think this is about you having a "trust issue." Don't let him convince you that you are crazy.
posted by Area Man at 2:15 PM on September 25, 2012 [19 favorites]

Protect yourself, and your assets, now.

You can't trust what he says right now, and if he feels like he can lie about that, he's on the way out, , either way, he could decide to move out while you're at work, and take your piggy bank with him.

No, it's not cool to have to be so wary, but if the house is yours, it might be time to change the locks.
posted by dreamling at 2:15 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to feel like he's meeting you at least halfway, and that he's trying at least as hard as you are. Arguably, since he fucked up, he should be doing most of the work trying to get this relationship back on track.

Outside of the context of a fight, think about what you need. When you start to freak out, what would reassure you (what practical, actual things could happen)? If you need more communication, or him not to spend the night out, ask for it. If you need him to have a more willing spirit or better attitude, ask for it. I would frame it as "this will help us get back to a good place".

Truthfully, I don't have a ton of hope here. He did something off the scales untrustworthy and he isn't taking steps to fix it, or owning up to a mistake - in fact he's spending more time away and fighting when you try to talk about it. But try to fix it, if you need to. Just trust your gut and don't reason or wish away bad facts or intuition.

This sucks. Hang in there, and take care of yourself.
posted by mrs. taters at 2:17 PM on September 25, 2012

You're having such a hard time trusting him because you're fighting against your own gut instinct. A deep and instinctual part of you is screaming at you NOT to trust him. Add to that the fact that you're fighting against yourself for someone who has betrayed your trust -- and who is taking few measures to regain it. In short, you are fighting for someone who disrespects you against that part of you that loves you and wants to protect you.

You are fighting against yourself, here. The prize does not sound worth the cost. Don't you want to be with someone who wins your trust by virtue of the way he conducts himself in the world, and most especially with you? Don't you want to be with someone who makes that voice deep in your gut say, "Yes, he's a good one"?

I know you must love him very much to have fought this battle so fiercely for so long now. But love is never enough. And as many Mefites are fond of pointing out, love is also a verb. By his actions, he is not reciprocating your love. So: one-sided love is *definitely* not enough. And you deserve so much more.
posted by artemisia at 2:21 PM on September 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

What is your instinct telling you? What is your gut feeling?

Not want your mind wants to have, but what every fiber of your being is trying to warn you of.

The very first thing you need to do is learn to trust yourself. Why are you crying? What is your body trying to tell you? Why are you nervous and upset?

I think you know, but you just don't want to admit it and face what you have to face.
posted by Shouraku at 2:21 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

You have trouble trusting him because he's untrustworthy. Full stop.

And, when caught red-handed, his response it to blame you instead of doing everything in his power to prove to you that he's worthy of a second chance. He's already checked out. You deserve better.
posted by quince at 2:25 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh hell no! He lied to you about being out of town, stayed out all night with that lie as a cover, and now he continues to stay out all night? Something is NOT RIGHT there. And he accuses you of going crazy? Well, no fucking kidding. Of course you are. Personally, I would leave ASAP. I wouldn't even leave a note. But if you really want it to work, I would do as others have suggested, and insist on full access to computer/text/mail/sock drawer/whatever, and I would also insist on phone calls with schedule updates if something out of the ordinary is happening. Good luck, and I'm sorry, but do the best think for you. I know you can!
posted by amodelcitizen at 2:29 PM on September 25, 2012

Hello otempora, I've looked at metafilter daily for years, but signed up just to post this.

I signed up because I could have written this question myself about my last partner of almost 9 years. Word for word, quite uncanny. At the time I did not trust my own deep doubts and believed I was paranoid, or just insecure. That there was some failing in me! And I wanted to believe that in a way because it was better than believing that someone I trusted was cheating on me left right and centre.

But if you feel this way then it's a legitimate feeling, there's a reason for it, and I'm fairly sure the reason is not that you're 'crazy'. You must trust your gut. Once you trust your gut then whether or not he is actually doing the dirty is irrelevant. If you're in a relationship with someone you don't trust you have to get out. Or you will waste years of your own good time, arsing around with someone who a) is totally untrustworthy or b) doesn't bother to care enough about your feelings to build your trust. Either is a depressing option.
posted by stevedawg at 3:57 PM on September 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

My rule of thumb: Forgiveness is a gift but trust is earned.

Forgiving someone does not mean blithely trusting them to not stab you in the back again when they have a proven track record of doing so. The burden of rebuilding trust falls largely on him. Decent people know that and own it. Abusive people give you all this bs about the burden being on you to forgive and forget -- and let them keep doing it.
posted by Michele in California at 6:25 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

he says what he thinks I "want to hear,"

That, alone, is a dealbreaker, no? It's deliberate deception, and it's bullshit, no matter why he's doing it. Leave. Let him find someone else's narrative to write. Find someone who respects you enough to address you as an equal when you have questions. You know... a human with a conscience. They exist.
posted by heyho at 6:41 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ugh, this guy is tiresome. He's making you think that you're making him be shady. He's manipulating you and you're a kind and loving person so you're being too fair to him. He's an immature and shady baby. Toss him a coupon for a box of Pampers betore you march your boxes into a new place
posted by discopolo at 8:01 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I believe him, at my core, when he says that nothing sexual happened.

Then why do you need to reestablish trust with him?

Sorry, I think he's lying and gaslighting you and you need to drop him. You're tied up with him and don't want to leave, but your gut and instincts are telling you he's a cheater.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:01 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't agree with the whole 'never spend the night alone with a friend of the opposite sex' thing simply because I do it - but we have kids and it's organised gaming so it's different. Not to mention my partner (male) and best friend (female) have shared a hotel room while at conferences and so on and so forth.

The difference is honesty. My partner was away, but he knew that one of our friends was staying the night. And that I stayed the night at his place (his partner was also away). I knew he was sharing a room with my friend. There was no secrecy, no lying, no miscommunication. Total honesty (and waving in the background of videochat). That is key, both to making it work, and to the relationships in general.

He lied, is continuing to lie and will continue to lie to you. For his own sake, for his own comfort.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:45 PM on September 25, 2012

posted by jbenben at 2:29 AM on September 26, 2012

Your boyfriend is actively cheating on you, and becoming smarter at it. Are you going to let him walk all over you and maintain your self-delusion that he's not, or are you going to respect yourself enough to just get out of the relationship regardless of his protestations? There are a few million men out there you could give a shot instead
posted by MangyCarface at 7:15 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

What is his job? I bet you will get 10 people here on AskMe who have the same job and will say that maybe the job "requires" you to go out drinking after work, but I bet nobody will say "and I have to spend the night, too". It just doesn't make sense.
posted by CathyG at 9:36 AM on September 26, 2012

Yikes. I'm sorry this is happening to you. A little while back I had a longterm partner do something like this... tell repeated lies, and then blame me for the fact that she felt compelled to lie. It was pretty gross. Punchline: she left anyway!

I don't regret her leaving (thanks, therapy!), but I do regret that I kept giving her the benefit of the doubt in the face of multiple relationship dealbreakers, that I felt (or, more precisely, was made to feel) responsible for the lion's share of the burden to make the relationship work, and (especially) that I didn't initiate the breakup myself once I realized that my partner had such little regard for me.

Good luck.
posted by the_bone at 12:21 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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