figuring out what he needs and why
September 5, 2006 2:56 PM   Subscribe

How do you honestly regain trust in your partner?

My partner has issues, I was going to list them, but the litany would be boring to most. Suffice to say that he needs an unnatural amount of reassurance. I think this stems from some abandoment issuses from his godawful parents. This leads to him behaving in inappropriate ways toward females on the internet. It makes him feel wanted when some stranger comes on to him.

I know he has actually cheated on me once, he is appropriately saddened and dismayed by his actions, but says he doesn't know what to do about it. He professses that he wants to change, but says that he just "falls" into this illicit conversations.

He ends up lying to me about what kind of conversations he is having and then will end up falling asleep at the computer , leaving some heartbreaking conversation up. I feel bad for "snooping" he feels bad, but I always wonder if only feels bad because I found out again.

So how do we heal? How do we figure out what it is that he is missing and then find out if it is honestly something that I can provide. Monogamy is the ONLY option for me. I know that other people are ok with open relationships and need outside affection, if this is what he needs, I can't give it to him.

Is this what couple's thearpy is for? How do you find a couple's therpaist.
posted by stormygrey to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

it would be easy to assume that hes just a no-good unfaithful horny jerk but as you seem to understand things arent that simple. maybe he does have insecurities-- but almost everyone has a need to be liked by other people, we all share this insecurity. maybe all he really wants are friends, people to talk to online. you might also have to consider the possibly that hes grown tired of you. not that he doesnt love you, but just feels like that he knows everything about you and theres nothing left to discover. i would suggest finding a way to show him that this isnt true; people are increbibly complex and always changing, you could spend your whole life with someone and still not know everything that goes on in their warped little brain. mess with his mind a little bit, burn the caserole, fuck him silly, take him on a vacation, etc.
posted by petsounds at 3:14 PM on September 5, 2006

Why would you trust him? He regularly lies to you and when he gets caught, he bamboozles you with so much bullshit you wind up feeling sorry for him.

At the very least, you need to give him an ultimatum: any more fucking around, virtual or otherwise, and he's out. Then stick to it. If he can hanle that, then start looking for a couples therapist to work things out.

Unless you don't really mind being cheated on, in which case carry on as you've been.
posted by timeistight at 3:33 PM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

"Why would you trust him" well, I obviously don't at the moment. I wonder what he can do to make me trust him. Right now, I honestly can't think of what he can possibly do, but I don't have the benefit of perspective.
posted by stormygrey at 3:37 PM on September 5, 2006

I think, after an unspecified time, of being honest and trustworthy, then you will trust him. During the first half of that time, he owes you any reassurance you require.

If he doesn't accept responsibility ie "just falls into these conversations", then I don't believe you can trust him because he doesn't trust himself. He doesn't believe that he has control over the situation.

Time for the AskMe cliche: see a therapist.
posted by b33j at 3:42 PM on September 5, 2006

it would be easy to assume that hes just a no-good unfaithful horny jerk but as you seem to understand things arent that simple.

Although, sometimes they really are that simple.

He just "falls into" these illicit conversations? How exactly does one fall into an illicit conversation without seeking one out?

Sorry, but this doesn't sound like someone who is willing or able to change. Just because he acts sad when you bust him doesn't mean he gets it, or that he'll stop.
posted by RoseovSharon at 3:50 PM on September 5, 2006

He chooses his behavior. I'd let him know his is unacceptable and that his emotions will no longer be an excuse.

Why would you want to trust him?
posted by konolia at 3:51 PM on September 5, 2006


[not saying that lightheartedly]
posted by Substrata at 3:52 PM on September 5, 2006

I don't think this is a couples issue, to be honest. I think this is much more *his* issue, and I'd understand his issue within the framework of an addiction, possibly sexual. That accounts for the inability to stop, the lying and deceit, the promises to do better.

If my read is correct, this will continue until *he* is ready for it to change. Often, people will need to "hit bottom" before they are ready to face change. At this point, he is protected from hitting bottom by your reaction of giving him second and third chances.

His issue is out of control relationship and sexual acting out. Your issue is why you put up with it. Both of you would benefit from working on your issue. If this kind of committment (each person working on their recovery) is in place, then I think couples therapy can play a helpful role.

Check out Patrick Carnes' website if you're interested in learning more about an addictions framework.
posted by jasper411 at 3:53 PM on September 5, 2006

How do you honestly regain trust in your partner?

Your partner has to take steps to show that he has changed and is trying to regain your trust.

You have to be willing to trust him again, which won't happen if he keeps repeating the behaviors.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:59 PM on September 5, 2006

I've been through a number of trust problems in personal relationships, have done some "couples therapy," and the upshot is that I don't any longer think that you can "learn to trust" someone romantically, once they've done something to break your trust. Maybe people who have endured for years and years after a trust break can come to some renewed sense of trust, but I've never made it that far. And from what I've read about or discussed with those who have made long term relationships work after a breach of trust, it's not so much that they return to some state of bliss that existed before the breach occurred, as it is that they come to some new accommodation, where trust isn't much part of the new bargain.

Once you have evidence that your esteem and opinion of your partner's honor is of less value to him/her than whatever interest/excitement he/she got from an "other," there's really no putting the trust genie back in the bottle. You have to decide whether something you find in the relationship is worth continuing with a person who won't be trustworthy, and will be willing to disappoint and deceive you, predictably or unpredictably, at some point in the future. It's a classic conundrum, and you say that a monogamous relationship is important to you.

Well then, what about monogamy is important to you? If it is that sense of loving commitment to a relationship that is more important than self, the guy you are with doesn't feel that, as you do, and probably never will. If it is the security of knowing that you are not ever going to be externally or socially embarrassed by your partner's actions, it may be possible for him to at least give you that, if he can keep his activities only to Internet exchanges, or Vegas trips, so that his actions never come up in your social circle.

But frankly, my experience is that many people who cheat, cheat bigger and bigger, until they provoke some kind of domestic Armageddon. They're like gambling addicts, who have to eventually "lose big" to feel the thrill of playing at all. Until you are embarrassed and bawling, and they've embarrassed everyone they possibly can, they aren't truly getting all the drama they are subconsciously looking to get. In fact, my amateur psychologist, gut intuition is that romantic cheaters are riding an even more complex emotional roller coaster than addictive gamblers do, in that cheaters get some thrills from the "other" on the way into an affair that fuels an "up" phase, and then they get the gambler's huge drama blip from any eventual "reveal" to their actual partner in the "down" phase, both of which act to make them feel like the center of attention in somebody's world, such that their otherwise drab, boring lives are more like the Hollywood celebrities they so wish they were. That's no way for you to live, if you are a normal person, but amazingly, some people are so co-dependent for drama they put up with such shenanigans for years.

Unless the guy is feeding your appetite for diamonds, furs, and second houses appropriately, leave him, or start working hard to find out why you are putting up with this, even as far as you have. Sticking around and playing head games with this kind of guy can waste years of your life, if you are truly interested in a normal monogamous relationship.
posted by paulsc at 4:23 PM on September 5, 2006 [5 favorites]

find out why you are putting up with this, even as far as you have.

maybe she loves him. maybe she wants to help him. we all have our issues
posted by petsounds at 4:28 PM on September 5, 2006

this sounds like his issue, and the relationship is suffering collateral damage. does he want to change? this is the primary question. if not, make tracks, because it's never going to improve.
posted by sdn at 4:38 PM on September 5, 2006

Couples therapy is for issues that you need to work on together. It's a good place to start, but, as other people have suggested, don't be surprised if the couples therapist recommends individual therapy in addition to, or in place of, couples therapy.

Therapy for him, obviously, because if he does want to stop and the reasons you give for his e-infidelity are pretty common to people with screwed up sense of self that end up being serial cheaters.

Therapy for you, one to regain trust of other people, to explore your personal issues arising from this and possibly to figure out why you were attracted to someone who needed reassurance and attention constantly. (I say this from my experience, not based on any conjecture on how/why you got into this relationship).

Start with EAP if your employer offers it, or something similar. They'll usually give you a few free sessions to figure out what you are both interested in and need and then help you find a therapist that fits – your insurance, your style, your needs.

My ex and I went to couples therapy through EAP. She said she wouldn't work with us unless he went to AA and I went to individual therapy. It was a good experience for me to the extent it could be. (He said he'd rather get a divorce than go to AA. I've never been happier in my life.)
posted by Gucky at 4:40 PM on September 5, 2006

I see you've marked the worst answer as best answer. It seems that you want to believe that if you could just be a better girlfriend, then he'd lose all interest in other women. He won't.

I'm a man. I'm faithful, but I'm not faithful because I'm not interested in other women, but because I've given that up to have a mature, committed relationship. In other words, I've learned that I can't have my cake and eat it, too.

You're teaching your guy that he can have his cake and eat it too. Don't be surprised when that's exactly what he does.
posted by timeistight at 4:44 PM on September 5, 2006 [6 favorites]

It sounds like to me that he has had significant insecurity issues and hasn't worked past them yet. I'm also assuming from the way you phrased your question that there is something there worth working on if he can get past these issues. I think its commendable that you have the maturity to recognize flaws in a relationship and attempt to find a way through them. On to your question, having dealt with similar problems in the past, there is a chance that he is addicted to affirmation and that he finds immense pleasure in finding someone that's attracted to him. This is generally a good trait, when applied monogamously, otherwise it destroys relationships.
I think its up to him to prove to you he values you. He has to decide every day, every time he gets online, every time his eyes lock with a pretty girl while waiting in line, that YOU are more important than the rush he gets when someobody from the opposite sex flirts with him. He also should be open and honest with you with any interactions he has with other women. Most importantly you have to feel he is being honest, if it feels like he's hiding something, then there's a problem.
I would recommend figuring out an appropriate probationary timeframe - a few (1-6) months depending on how much you feel the relationship is worth, and see if you're comfortable with him then. If not, then you should listen to that uncomfortable feeling and find someone you can trust.
posted by forforf at 4:46 PM on September 5, 2006

sdn: this issue does belong to the OP because the OP is the person who came here with it. We don't know if the boyfriend has a problem, because he's not here to tell us. He only has a problem if he thinks he does. Nobody can assign people problems. As such, problems that don't "exist" can't be solved. So I will stick with the problem the OP presents: lack of trust in a partner who has been unfaithful and dishonest.

stormygrey: Hi thee to a professional therapist of your choosing, with or without the boyfriend. A topic you might find useful is trusting yourself. You have stayed in this relationship thus far because you get something from it. Probably more than one thing. What you'll need to figure out, is, are the goods you receive more valuable than the security you have lost and may never gain back.

You may not actually need a therapist to figure that out, but you might.
posted by bilabial at 4:48 PM on September 5, 2006

I wonder what he can do to make me trust him.

Nothing. Trust is a verb. He can't compel your trust any more than you can compel his fidelity.

Somebody said the way courage works is, first you do the thing you're afraid of, and then afterward, you get the courage. What you're calling trust is essentially faith, and it works the same way. It's always a gamble.

You meet a stranger and ask for her number; and when you arrange to meet at a coffee shop, you take the chance that you won't be stood up. When the early dates go well, you ask her to move in — and you both act on faith that you'll be able to make that transition. And if you're still happy, maybe you get married on the faith that you'll each remain loyal and true as partners to help each other grow as people, to succeed as parents, to overcome illness or unemployment or the death of your child or whatever tragedies life delivers.

The point being, you're always one step behind. When you arrive at that coffee shop, you have no reason to believe that she'll show up. You haven't observed any past behavior; she's a stranger and she hasn't "proved" anything to you, but you act on faith. Anyone who's tried cohabitation knows it's impossible to predict, from casual dating, what someone will be like as a roommate — but you take the gamble. That's the way it works. First you do the thing, and then afterward, you get the trust.

Just like any gamble, you look at the stakes and you figure the odds. Based on past behavior, your partner sounds like a rotten bet. That's one factor; what are the others? Does he want to change? Is he capable of changing? And what about the stakes — even if he is a rotten bet, plenty of people take long shots every day because they think the risk is worth the reward, and not all of those people get burned. Are you one of those people?

Those are questions for you to answer. The bottom line is that, as much as you'd like to shoulder this decision off onto him and prescribe some action he can take to "trigger" your trust, that ain't the way it works: You decide to trust him or not.
posted by cribcage at 4:52 PM on September 5, 2006 [4 favorites]

Maybe you should ask him to go get counseling. I can't see this as your issue. You are completely normal. He needs to change and I don't really think you'll ever be able to change him. He has to want to change and take the steps necessary. No amount of feeling sorry for him or trying to see things his way will change things.

I would move out if I were you or take a long vacation. There's no reason for you to suffer. You don't have to date anybody, but you just need to come out of this relationship.
posted by onepapertiger at 6:42 PM on September 5, 2006

Wow. People are being really lenient with this guy.

I realize people make mistakes, sometimes horrible mistakes and sometimes it's worth it to try to forgive the person who made the mistake, repair your relationship and move on.

But that is assuming the person who did the bad thing is genuinely repentant and intends to never do it again. Your partner put up a nice show about being sorry but then, why is he still doing that shit? You shouldn't have to snoop at this point...he should be giving you access to all his passwords, e-mails, etc., to show you he intends to be on the straight and narrow while you try to regain trust in him. He should get rid of the computer altogether if that's what it takes.

I see two possible explanations here: he's either a sex addict, in which case y'all need to have a long, honest chat and get in to counseling or he doesn't love or respect you enough not to continually break your heart but he is willing to do the bare minimum it takes to not get kicked out on his arse by you because he's comfortable where he is. In which case, DTMFA.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:41 PM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I certainly wouldn't go marrying the guy, if nothing else. Give this time to settle before making lifelong commitments.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:55 PM on September 5, 2006

It may or may not help, if it's at all possible, to look at this with a fresh perspective. We often carry so much "investment" in a relationship that the scales are always rigged in favor of the other person. If you came to this anew, what would you think?

Frankly, I know a few guys like this, and they don't change. For them, the domestic partner is a comfortable fallback to the more exciting life they lead elsewhere.
posted by maxwelton at 9:00 PM on September 5, 2006

It sounds like you do trust him. You trust him to screw around and lie. All you're doing is supporting this behavior.

Like any addict he's not going to want to change unless there is a reason to. Give him one.


I would say give him an ultimatum ("One more time and I'm out of your life forever.") but it doesn't sound like you have that kind of strength against him to deliver on that.

Sure, he might have had a crappy childhood, but that doesn't give him the right to be a crappy adult. He had "godawful" parents and now he has an enabling partner. In my book that puts you on the same team as the parents.

At very least, don't pay attention to the post you marked as the best answer, that one is just telling you what you want to hear. Pay attention to the ones others have marked as Favorites. Otherwise what did you ask the question for?
posted by Ookseer at 9:14 PM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

In my opinion and experience, women very, very, rarely come on to men on the internet. Your boyfriend might be flattered when some stranger responds to his come-ons, but he probably has to work pretty hard to get a response, and I doubt they're coming on to him.

Petsounds - Maybe all he wants are friends? Seriously? That's why people hang out here, or on multiplayer games, or a forum to chat about their model of car. That isn't why they stay up all night having conversations their girlfriend finds "heartbreaking".

There is a lot of good advice here, even though a lot of it conflicts, it's still good. But like others have said, you marked the worst answer as the best. What do you honestly want the answer to this to be?
posted by crabintheocean at 9:26 PM on September 5, 2006

I think its the first sentence of the post I marked favorite that makes it my favorite and think many people have shared the sentiment, its easy just to dimiss this as assiness if you just want to look at the surface.
posted by stormygrey at 10:49 PM on September 5, 2006

I once heard a story of a man who went to his pastor for help. "I can't stop abusing my wife!" the man cried. "I truly want to stop, but I just can't." The pastor said, "Every time you hit your wife you have to write a check to my church for $5,000." The man stopped the abuse.

If the consequences are dire enough, he will stop. You're enabling him to continue with your sympathy. Good on you for being sensitive to his issues, but you're hurting yourself. It's therapy together or get out. And mean it. If he won't go with you to therapy, you must go alone. As others have said, *you* might have some issues here-- rescuing, being the savior, I don't know. But you need to define for yourself how you want to be treated in a relationship, and then stick to it. YOU ARE WORTH IT. Believe it.
posted by orangemiles at 7:07 AM on September 6, 2006

You plan to marry this fellow. Are you okay with this behavior continuing after you are married? Because it will unless he engages in some sort of process to change it. Good intentions or whatever are not enough. If he fails in small things eventually he will fail in large things. If he is willing to lie to you about online activities he will be willing to lie to you about actual cheating again.

I have spent far too much time on the internet and never once has a stranger come onto me here. Insert cruel jokes about my personality here, but the simple reason is I don't hang out places where this sort of thing happens. He chooses to go to places where it does. He knows what is going to happen. He wants it to happen.

If you are not okay with this, then you need to have a conversation with him where he understands that because of his history and serial behavior of persisting in lying to you and perpetuating actions he has said he will stop, that you cannot marry him unless he engages in some sort of extraordinary demonstration of his will to change and carries through actions that prove it. You probably need couples therapy, he certainly needs individual therapy. If it all sounds like a lot of expense and trouble, ponder the future pain and trouble of your inevitable divorce if this is not truly dealt with in advance.
posted by nanojath at 9:48 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Red Alert. Deflector shields up. Don't make excuses or look out for him. Look out for yourself.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:34 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and there are many good ways to find a therapist - personal recommendations being my preferred, but that can be too personal: here is an entirely impersonal place to start.
posted by nanojath at 10:25 PM on September 6, 2006

« Older anonymous donations   |   Retreat in Japan? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.