Finding Your Way Back to Each Other
I know. You feel so hurt, so scared, so angry. There's nothing worse than when someone betrays you and you feel you can't trust them. You can't imagine it's possible that you would ever trust that person again, and at this moment you may not even want to try.
hope is a stubborn thing. Somewhere deep inside you, you sense a spark of possibility. Maybe, just maybe, the terrible mistrust you feel isn't the end of the relationship. Maybe trust can be restored. Maybe the relationship can heal.
Then again, maybe you're afraid that hope doesn't make sense right now. I understand. I felt all this myself. And so have millions of other people who've been through this.
Here's what Heather told me:
Heather's story. When she got the first hint of what Chris had done Heather was immediately swamped by those bitter, dizzy feelings of suspicion we all know so well. It's like when an earthquake starts. Anything is possible, none of it good.
In a kind of manic, dread-filled daze, Heather searched through Chris's computer and checkbook. When she finally found the awful confirmation of her suspicions, she was so angry she couldn't stop shaking. She was glad he wasn't around because at that point she truly felt like killing him. It was as if he wasn't her husband at all anymore. He was the man who'd killed her husband. This loathsome imposter certainly wasn't the man she'd married. No, he was a clueless, selfish jerk.
As she waited for him to come home, the wild heat of her anger brought her to one clear decision. And so within minutes of his walking in the door she'd thrown him out of the house. His clothes, his laptop, his iPhone, and then him. "Now you can go sleep in a motel and think of some more people you can fuck over, you rat bastard," she yelled, and she slammed the front door so hard a family picture fell off the wall.
Chris pounded on the door, saying he wanted to explain, to talk about how he hadn't meant to hurt her, how he was sorry, but Heather screamed at him, terrifying him so much that he decided he'd best leave for now. And off he drove. As she watched the red taillights of his car disappear down the street, she thought this was the saddest sight she'd ever seen.
Then Heather sat there as dusk turned into night. Her brain was racing, spinning dark scenarios, churning up clouds of pain that made clear thought impossible. There was a tightness in her chest, a lump in her throat. She was caught in a tug-of-war between rage and grief. It suddenly hit her: "I'll never sleep again." How would she ever regain her peace of mind? If this could happen, anything could happen. It was like being in an abusive relationship where you're always waiting for the next blow to fall, the next betrayal, the next disappointment. You can't eat, unless the way it's affected you is that you can't stop eating.
Part of Heather wanted to get as far away from it all as she could, and that just made her feel more trapped. Because she couldn't get away. Not today anyway, not with her kids, her clothes, her...life. And the sadness of it all hit her, and she started crying.
Heather called her three best friends and within an hour they were all there. As each one arrived, Heather repeated the whole story of what Chris had done and how she'd found out about it and how mad she was and how her life was ruined.
Finally, they all settled in to talk about what Heather should do.
Good, they all agreed, you threw him out. He deserved it.
But what next?
What next? That was the question hanging in the air. Mary said, "Look, you can't trust him, right? How can you trust him after what he did? He broke your trust into a thousand pieces. Trusting him again would just be stupid. It's all over."
"Yeah," Gail said, "I mean, this is about who you are. If you let him back, he's going to think, in the end, he can get away with hurting you. You can't let yourself be a doormat."
Nicole hadn't spoken yet. But Heather was starting to get the picture. Her friends wanted to see her as a strong heroine. They wanted her to show them that a woman wouldn't take crap from a guy. If she didn't take Chris back, their husbands would be that much more scared of betraying them.
Heather was heartbroken at the thought that she'd suddenly lost everything and she started to cry again. "I loved him so much and now I can't ever trust him again and now I've lost everything. It's over forever."
There was a long silence, and then Nicole finally spoke: "Oh sweetie, I know how awful this is for you. I mean...Chris, for God's sake, who'd have thought he'd do something like this? And you've counted on him for everything. I know," she said, taking Heather's hand, "I know you feel he's destroyed your world. You want to kill him. We all do. But...," and Nicole took a deep sigh, "all this it's-over-forever talk...I just don't know. Yeah, I know, it feels like everything's smashed into a million pieces. How can you ever trust him again? But you're like, 'Oh, now I've found out that Chris is really this evil man.' But what if he's not an evil man? I know he loves you." Nicole squeezed Heather's hand for emphasis. "What if he's just an big, fat idiot who made this horrible, stupid mistake? What if he's really sorry and would do anything to get you back?"
"I don't want him back," Heather said.
"You don't want him back because you think you can never trust him again. And maybe that's true. I can't promise it's not true. But you still love each other and...more important than that you guys had a really good relationship."
"For a very long time too," Mary chimed in.
"Yeah," Nicole said. "so after you've made him suffer for a while and scared the crap out of him..."
"Definitely let him know you've seen a lawyer," Gail said.
"...yeah, and scared the crap out of him, why don't you take him back and see if you can get to the point where you can ever trust him again."
"I just don't think..." Heather started, but Nicole interrupted her.
Nicole's story. "It can happen. I've seen it. Nicole paused, "and I've lived it." All eyes were on Nicole now. "A year after Dave and I were married I found out that he'd cheated on me with an old girlfriend about ten days before our wedding. I mean, this isn't what happened with you and Chris, but still, a betrayal is a betrayal. I was so mad and...humiliated. Of course I know how you feel. I totally felt the same way. But...I don't know. Something told me not to flush this relationship down the toilet. And it was hard. Really hard. I didn't trust him. My body didn't trust him. But I decided to give it a shot. Look, I'm sure we made every mistake in the book trying to heal things." Nicole squeezed Heather's hand again. "But we did heal things. That was eight years ago, and we have two beautiful kids and Dave is a great guy and I love him and we have a good life and...I'm so glad I hung in there. If I hadn't, I think I would've regretted it forever."
"Do you trust him now?" Heather asked intensely.
"Do I trust him..." Nicole stared into the far distance. "Dave is not a perfect person. Can I say he'll never ever do anything at all to disappoint me or hurt me ever, ever again? I don't know. I do know that I've hurt him many times." Nicole leaned forward. "People hurt each other. The more you love someone, the easier it is to get hurt. But do I trust Dave now? I do. I trust him with my life. I can sleep at night. And during the day I'm at peace. And about you...," Nicole looked back at Heather, and said, "I'm just saying broken trust can heal. If deep down Chris is basically a good guy-and I think he is-and you have a good relationship and you love each other-and I know you do-well, I think you should give it another chance."
"I don't know," Gail said.
"I think Nicole's right," Mary said.
"So what are you going to do?" Nicole asked Heather.
"I don't know..."
Who do you identify with in this story? At different times in my life I've identified with each of the women in this story. I've been in Heather's position, hurt, scared, confused, blindly struggling to do whatever I could to protect myself. I've been in Gail's position, cynical, skeptical, prickly. I've been like Mary, wavering and confused.
But now I'm in Nicole's position. It's kind of surprising, actually. I would've thought that the more I saw of life, the more mistrustful I'd become. Life is supposed to make you tough and suspicious, right? But I've seen so much in my life and work that's pointed me towards the wonderful possibilities for restoring trust.
Many of us have been in Heather's shoes. Maybe it came on all at once, a shocking discovery that blasted the foundations of trust. Or maybe it crept in slowly, small acts and words that ate away at you, eroding the trust between you until you began to doubt everything you once whole-heartedly believed to be true.. Either way, we've had the sickening sensation of feeling the worm of mistrust gnaw at our hearts. And once we're filled with suspicion and doubt, what do we do? Scold? Leave? Try to ignore the problem? Yell and scream? Most people in this situation report living in a state of pain and confusion. Our world has become a nightmare. We don't know what to do or where to turn. The person we perhaps care about most has become our biggest threat.
But still, Nicole's got it exactly right. Broken trust can heal more often, more completely, than most of us have ever thought. But I'll go even further than Nicole. Broken trust can heal more quickly than most of us have thought too. And it's worth it, because whoever coined the expression "the broken places are stronger where they heal" is absolutely right when it comes to trust.
When bad things happen to good relationships, we no longer have to choose between a painful breakup and the pain of staying in a broken relationship. We can have our old relationship back, but made new.
Is this really possible? Oh, yeah. I've seen it over and over in my work. And in my life too.
And then I go on to tell my story of how I've had to deal with betrayal and mistrust. So, yeah, I've been there too. But I now know that there are solutions that work. And they're easier and faster than you might think.
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