how do i regain trust after being cheated on
April 19, 2007 12:15 AM   Subscribe

how do you regain trust after being cheated on

in a very meaningful, and my first, serious long term relationship, my girlfriend cheated on me while travelling. It happened quite a while ago and im still having serious trust issues and cant seem to come to terms with it. Im sure there cant be one 100% right answer but would appreciate your thoughts views and experiences. thanks
posted by frogger12 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose it depends on what level you mistrust your significant other. In my case, while I had trouble regaining trust as to my girlfriend's ability to not behave destructively, I had no doubt (as far as one can have no doubt about another person's feelings) that it was not malicious and also not representative of her feelings towards me.

If you fully believe both of those things (if you don't, I would argue that you need to examine your reasons for remaining in this relationship), and you are willing to forgive, then you need to do one thing. Looking at it this way essentially forced me to regain trust: as the forgiver, you are obligated by your act to treat the person you forgive from then on in the manner you would had he or she not committed the act you are him or her for. That is not to say that you forget about it, or let them off the hook, merely that you do not approach the person as someone who has wronged you in your dealings with him/her. In the case of a significant other, that means treating him or her with the trust that you originally gave him/her.

Realistically, this will likely result in a situation where, at least initially, you present yourself as trusting while secretly harboring reservation. This is completely natural. However, the act of doing so, and the hopeful affirmation of the validity of your trust, as well as your own repeated self-urging, will in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, thought-informs-emotion kind of way help to believe it thoroughly and reduce your internal conflict.

I hope that helps. I don't really have anything to offer other than my own experience. It's such a hard thing, and there never really seems like there's any sort of solution for the pain you feel, and I'm sorry. Just do your best to not demonize or marginalize your SO and you are already doing better than many others. Cheers and good luck.
posted by invitapriore at 12:59 AM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

First paragraph: Had he or she not committed the act you are FORGIVING him or her for. Sorry.
posted by invitapriore at 1:00 AM on April 19, 2007

I've read that a lot of trust issues in new relationships (by which I mean, mistrusting someone when they haven't done anything to lose your trust — not mistrusting someone who is a repeat offender) really have to do with insecurity on the part of the trust-less person.

It goes like this: you were cheated on once by someone who didn't have enough respect for you, so now, in this new relationship, you have been conditioned by previous experiences to think that she won't respect you either. In fact, the whole reason the first girl cheated on you was because she found something wrong with you, so what's to stop the new girl from cheating on you too? Once you begin to succumb to those thoughts you are entering a downward spiral.

I have no idea if any of this is true, but reading that most issues of not trusting someone boil down to my *own* insecurity helped me to face that fear and get over it. Being open with my partner about previous experiences (and having a very understanding and loving partner) have helped me to get over any fear or mistrust I may have had.
posted by Brittanie at 2:25 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't forgive & forget.

I had a girlfriend betray my trust (not cheating, but other stuff). We broke up a few weeks later for unrelated reasons. We're still friends and it has been 4 years, but I still do not trust her. Nor will I ever.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:28 AM on April 19, 2007

Brittanie, as I understood the question, there is only one woman involved. And my advice was aimed at that scenario.

If it's trust issues towards significant others in general, then I'd say that the mistrust passes. For me it was a question of finding the right woman and taking the risk of being hurt after a few years of emotionally distant relationships.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:31 AM on April 19, 2007

I read this article yesterday. What I got out of it was a) people cheat because they have the chance to cheat; and b) because they are desperate for something they don't have.

If you define trust as "a high level of confidence in your prediction of an outcome", then I think getting trust back is understanding what need the cheating filled, and filling that need.
posted by ewkpates at 2:58 AM on April 19, 2007

slimepup — I see. I read the question the other way, that the first relationship was a long time ago and there haven't been any relationships since because the OP is unable to trust anyone else. But on second reading I don't think the situation is entirely clear.

frogger12, my advice still stands, if you find it helpful. Good luck.
posted by Brittanie at 3:09 AM on April 19, 2007

Yes, I can't tell if you mean you can't learn to trust your girlfriend again, or you're not even with her anymore and you can't trust anyone.

If it's the former, it's my personal opinion that you cannot ever trust a partner who has cheated on you again. You just can't stay together and ever actually get over it, forgive and trust again. Others will disagree with me, but that's just what I think. I also think if a relationship that's contained infidelity continues, then it's almost certain that infidelity will happen again by one or both people.

As for having trouble trusting others after something like this happens, sadly it's an issue, too. But it's hard to know how to help with such a vague question. How long is "quite a while"? Just how much of an effect does your anxiety about infidelity affect your life and relationships? I think anyone who's been cheated on occasionally still feels a pang of pain or anxiety about it, and it's OK, but if it's really having a strong negative affect on your life, maybe therapy is in order.
posted by lampoil at 5:21 AM on April 19, 2007

She betrayed you, there can be no forgiveness. She will do so again. If you stay in this relationship, you are a fool.
posted by mr_book at 5:30 AM on April 19, 2007

Yeah, my boyfriend cheating was like the worst thing ever. It only happened about a year ago. I slowly realized that my boyfriend cheating really had nothing to do with me. It was his own fucked up issue. I think the only people who cheat are those who are either self destructive or cowardly. But that is by no means the entirety of the population. If you stop loving someone is it really that hard to just break up with them? In my opinion, no. I know I could never cheat on a significant other. It just would be impossible for me. So know that there are trustworthy girls out there. I have talked to guys who share my feelings. I tend to believe guys who have themselves been cheated on, and can express to me the hurt it caused them, because I know that they fully understand the pain that cheating would put me through. But I am sure that there are guys who are against cheating regardless of not having experienced it themselves. It would be a shame for this one girl to keep you from finding happiness with someone. The mistrust fades with time, as long as you don't give yourself over to it. Maybe you should just try more casual dating for awhile. That's what I've been doing for the time being and it's been really fun and healing. Best of luck!
posted by amileighs at 5:38 AM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

After the mother of my child cheated on me with my best friend, I learned a few things:

First, being cheated on is not the worst thing in the world. I'm not saying this to be snarky - the perspective is important here.

Second, it's entirely possible to read too much into someone's motivations for breaking your trust. Simply put, other people *will* let you down at times. Only rarely is it personal - most times it's for a raft of other reasons that have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

With those two things in mind, the easiest way to rebuild the ability to trust others is to develop trust in yourself - you need more self confidence.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:42 AM on April 19, 2007 [8 favorites]

I think people cheat for a variety of reasons, and that the reasons for the infidelity matter in terms of whether you can regain trust or not. I would argue that there is a real difference between your girlfriend cheating because at some level she just isn't all that into you and wanted to send a message, and her cheating because she was unhappy and self-destructive, and her cheating because she had never had a real relationship before and was trying to figure things out as she went and got confused and did something she is now deeply ashamed of, and so on for all the other reasons that could be involved.

Invitapriore is onto something, though, in saying that what really matters now (assuming that you are either in the old relationship and want it to work, or are thinking about how to make a new relationship work) is how you act. If you act resentful and betrayed and unpleasant, the relationship will end, no matter how contrite she is (or how loving and trustworthy the new person is). It's sort of a "fake it until you make it" kind of deal -- you create a loving and trusting relationship by performing those actions, and not performing the actions that create the opposite sort of relationship.

All that said, my experience has been that once trust is gone, it is gone. But I have known plenty of couples that have come through infidelity intact and stronger. So this is absolutely not a one-size-fits-all situation. (Nor is it new -- concerns about trust and infidelity have been mainstays of literature since at least Homer -- it is what you might call a foundational issue in the human experience.)
posted by Forktine at 6:10 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

no need to trust her again; get rid of her
posted by uncballzer at 7:34 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yup, this would be a dealbreaker for me.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:51 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, you probably should get tested for all the STD's under the sun. just to be safe.
This action on your SO's part was uncaring not only of your emotions but your health.
Good luck
posted by Watery Death at 8:27 AM on April 19, 2007

I agree with everyone who feels it's a dealbreaker. Totally unforgivable-once a cheater, always a cheater.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:00 AM on April 19, 2007

For me the process has been one of disillusionment followed by faith.

Disillusionment: There is no such thing as magic. Just because someone makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, they say the words "I love you" doesn't mean it makes any sense to be emotionally intimate with them. And neither has any bearing on whether or not they will betray you.

Learn to be a judge of character, and try not to lie to yourself when your genitals or heartstrings get involved. That reckless girl or boy who makes you feel so excited? They're reckless, and chances are that includes their feelings about you. That over-worked and over-ambitious girl or boy who seems to let important things slide when the shit hits the fan? You may one day get to hit the fan yourself.

Any person, no matter how virtuous, will cheat under the right circumstances. But some are more likely than others, and from the broadest possible perspective there are very few surprises. If you can put your illusions aside, you'll get a chance at playing when the odds are in your favor, and a chance to walk away from the table when the odds are against you.

Faith: Ultimately, your only choices are to trust a person or to leave them. Staying and not trusting won't reduce your chances of having to deal with infidelity, and will definitely make you miserable and ruin your relationship. So either buckle in or get out.

And, you know, if you fail to put your illusions aside, or someone gives you a bad surprise, it's not such a big deal. Your pain will come in proportion to the distance between your fantasies and reality. If your initial assessment was accurate and it makes sense to be with that person, then you'll be able to forgive them. If it wasn't accurate, your illusions will be burnt away in a few months or years of misery, and in the end you'll have the opportunity to come away wiser.

Your milage may vary, but for me it takes about two years away from a relationship to understand what went wrong. And usually I'm pretty embarrassed. But that's ok. Keep on sufferin', keep on learnin'.
posted by tsmo at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

not ideal situation... denial works well for me.
posted by tomw at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2007

I've been cheated on on more than one occasion, and in all cases the relationships ended up ending, but not after me trying to forgive. Bottom line is you need to have an insanely high level of maturity, patience and pragmatism to truly forgive a cheater and regain trust. I was forever worried about what they were up to when they weren't around me no matter how much I tried not to be, and that mistrust has bled into later relationships creating trust and commitment issues.

Your best bet is really just to move on - not because of the "once a cheater always a cheater" philosophy, which I disagree with, but because this is your first serious relationship and you're likely relatively young. You just don't have the chops to regain that trust, and it'd be very unfair to expect you to do so.

I think you should just break up. You never know if your paths may cross some day again, but at your age (or at least stage of relationship development), you should give yourself the chance to get out there and meet other people.

There's a whole side debate about whether or not humans really are capable of monogamy at all that I won't get into, but depending on what side of that you're on, it may help with the coping. I, for one, am starting to think that it's almost unnatural to be monogamous, though that hasn't stopped me from being so, or being totally crushed when I was cheated on.
posted by twiggy at 9:19 AM on April 19, 2007

Here’s a different perspective. As a cheater who has cheated a number of times I always did it because somewhere deep down I already thought the relationship was over. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything so I usually would get frustrated lonely and depressed than suffer a “moment of weakness” and apologize profusely about it. Some of these relationship I was in would last YEARS after I had done my cheating but it was just cause I was too scared to commit to being single. I wanted to be dumped I think. It wasn’t until years (and several LTRs) in this pattern that I even recognized it, and learned to just end a relationship or not cheat. From my perspective she probably thought and maybe kinda hoped this would be a deal breaker. For the record I’m currently in a LTR, for the last six years, and have not cheated and won’t. But I couldn’t have salvaged those pervious relationships because even if my partners had completely forgiven me I couldn’t have respected them for not dumping me. It’s twisted but true.
posted by uddersucker at 10:05 AM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I was cheated on in my first serious LTR. For me, I was never able to regain the trust and the relationship ended. Once that trust was broken, I never looked at her the same again. I don’t know if we were together another 20 years that I wouldn’t have a thought in the back of my head every time she worked late, or didn’t return a call. It lessens, but doesn’t entirely go away. Maybe I’m just weak and immature – I don’t know. Maybe I take a tougher stance because I can’t imagine doing that to another person. It drove me crazy trying to get inside her head and figure out how she could do such a thing. It did cause some trust problems in future relationships and it just took time and patience for me to learn that not all people are like that. I had work to do to let go of blame and my own insecurity.

As others have stated, I believe you either have the make-up to cheat or you don’t. I’ve heard and read all of the stuff about how the cheater is looking to replace something that isn’t there, that both people (even the non-cheater) played a role in the infidelity. I believe that may be true to an extent, but nothing excuses the behavior.

Some people liken cheating to slipping in a pothole – “I don’t know how it happened – got caught up in the moment - blah, blah, blah.” Cheating is a conscious decision that merely culminates in the final physical act. The idea or thought started long before.

I work with a man who got caught cheating and they stayed together mainly for the kids. They’ve been married over 20 years. The infidelity happened about 10 years ago and he is still serving his sentence for the crime. I don’t’ know if I’ve ever seen a more soulless, loveless, marriage. Not to say this is the same for everyone, but I’ve never seen a couple with this issue completely recover. If you do stay together, it will never be the same so don’t try to make it the same. Her job – to NEVER give you a reason to doubt her sincerity and commitment. Your job – if you choose to forgive and move on, then forgive. This can’t be ammunition every time you have troubles. You have to learn the difference between your own insecurity and reality – and you will have insecurities after something like that. The old, trite saying that “to love means risking being hurt” is true. I completely and openly trust my wife. If something should happen I would be devastated, but I know I would pick myself back up again and move on.
posted by JimBobNoPants at 12:52 PM on April 19, 2007

Same thing happened to me. After I found out, tried to make things work after being cheated on, but since she had lied to my face about it, I could never be sure of whether or not she was really telling the truth. Stayed with her for a little while, but after a few months, realized that I was still young (20-something) and that I could do better and find someone who would treat me with the respect I deserved. On my end, I had to draw the line--I know people who have been able to forgive and move on, but it's not something I could do.

Over time, it will get better... it's been 3 years for me and I still think about it now and then, but it does get better.
posted by perpetualstroll at 3:12 PM on April 19, 2007

It could be wise to remember that not all cheating is the same, and also to compare the severity of it in light of the entire relationship, which you describe as "very meaningful".

Was it early on? Were alcohol or drugs involved? Was it a one-night stand or an affair? Was being overseas a factor? How long was she overseas? Who was it with? (there is a difference between a friend or colleague, a random stranger & an ex, for example).

I don't entirely subscribe to the "once a cheater, always a cheater" theory. There can be all kinds of mitigating factors that can 'explain' or reduce the severity of cheating, and I would suggest that if it was something like a drunken one-night stand overseas, early in your relationship, then that would be pretty low on the scale, and not necessarily indicative of future behaviour.

On the other hand, some experience has made me feel that forgiving a cheater can possibly act as a kind of endorsement, in that it tells them that it's not the end of the world, because you are so kind & forgiving, which can lead them to do it again. Perhaps a "forget but not forgive" approach is a way of explaining how you might prefer to treat it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:23 PM on April 19, 2007

(Realistically, I don't regard any of those things I mentioned as excuses. I do, however, recognise that not everybody has my strong & perfect moral fibre)
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:27 PM on April 19, 2007

ok, wow, i havent checked since i fist posted and nw have just read the first few comments and need to reply.
I am still with this person, it happened over a year ago and we have been together for a total of three years. I am 22
Is there such a thing as severity of cheating? ie; are there different rules for kissing then having sex? my problem with this comes here, once a person has lied to you how can you believe that they "just kissed".
She was overeseas and we hadn't seen eachother in 3-4 weeks but spoke on the phone and emailed often. She says, they just kissed and it never went too far.
I dont wanna be humiliated and "a fool" as one of the more insensative replies said. At the same time she is a very beautiful person and ive never loved anyone close to as much.
I appreciate your responses. thank you
posted by frogger12 at 8:22 PM on April 20, 2007

You have to ask yourself if you can take it. If the answer is "I don't know" after a year, you should go to therapy by yourself and work out what it is you want.

You are 22. There are so many options out there for you.

I tried forgiving once, it worked for about a year and then I met someone else. I did trust her after that, because the devastation on her face was so real and terrible, but I was never as interested in her again. Loyalty and support is something I am highly interested in, so I lost interest.

Since then I just drop the bomb and be done with it.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:05 PM on April 20, 2007

I'm trying to get over a affair my vife has been having for some time. She thougth she was in love sith someone else. She let me know of that and i gave here more than one oppertunity to finish this affair. Anyway she kept going but in the end she let him go. After she found out that I would not take it lying down. My problem now is that she thinks that everything sholud be back to normal, she can say to me that shs's ready to do everything to make things rigt, but she is not willing to look at her own behaver and really dosent think she has to chance anything. Now it has come to that I must getover this and keep on going and get a grip on my feelings. It is as she can not understand wwhat I had to go through and am going thourgh becouse of her affair.
posted by Einarbjo at 2:08 PM on December 9, 2007

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