Case History: Trust

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Telling the Truth.  A Couple of LettersAugust 26 – 29, 2006

Hello, Al

I am looking for some advice, input, “wisdom”.

Dave and I were separated for 7 months, during which time we both agreed NOT to see anyone else. Well, ends up Dave was “smitten” with two other women and, in fact, dated at least one of them (if not both of them) during our separation. (I know this because I received an anonymous letter from someone telling me Dave had been/was still having an affair with one of them since last summer (2005))….when I showed Dave the letter, he did admit that he had been seeing this woman once or twice a week during our separation……….he still maintains that they did not have a “physical” relationship……but they did have a “romantic” interest in each other……..
 
I have really tried to create a “safe” place for him to be honest….assured him that what mattered more to me was his being honest/my being able to take him for his word……that his sleeping (or not) with someone was not really the issue anymore………
 
Honestly, Al,knowing Dave the way I do, I cannot imagine that he would “date” someone for 6 months (including dinners at her place) and not sleep with her……………I think he is afraid to be honest because he spent so much time and energy during our separation completely denying any interest in any other women, any dating, any anything………………..to do an about face now would mean he would have to own up to being un-truthful earlier……….
 
Here is where I am…………………..I just want to be able to take my husband at his word. I want to know that he is being honest with me. I am not sure how I can continue to move forward in a relationship with someone who, I don't know for sure, is telling the truth.
 
Question: How do I deal with this? If I tell him I am still doubting him, he will likely go into some tirade about my not trusting him and what kind of person do I think he is and blah blah blah……………On the other hand, I am not ready to just sweep this under the rug….it is eating at me…………..Whatever I do, I want to do in a productive, non-judgemental, “safe” way……but, I am struggling……………..
 
I really love this man with all my heart…..but I don't want to be a fool ……….I really want to be able to “trust” him…………………is there a dialog for this????

Reply:
 
Dear Friend,
 
This is a topic that is relatively easy for me having faced it often, but probably tough for you two at this point.  Let's see.  It has all the components of the “trust issue”.  
 
First, I think you need a new definition of Trust.   Trust is not a political statement, it is a label for a feeling in the body.  I believe that if you trust, you are feeling safe.  If you don't trust, you are feeling unsafe.  See my paper on Safety: the Lizard.  Thus, trust is about the trusting or lack-of-trusting person (you in this case) and has nothing to do with the other person.  The statement “You don't trust me.” as an accusation seems silly to me.  Of course you don't trust him.  Probably haven't for years.  You may have rarely been able to trust anyone in your life.  You like, admire, respect, etc etc.  But trust comes from feeling safe.  This is something to really be paid attention to and built.
 
Second, if you think he is lying to you, he would do so because he doesn't trust you – to be able handle his truth, his reality.  Here’s how I see it. a) You think he lies and you stop trusting (feeling safe with him) and b) simultaneously discover that he isn't trusting (feeling safe with) you.  So there is the “trust situation”.    
 
Third, when you two split for a while, everything seems to get chaotic and people do lots of stupid things.  That is normal.  If he slept with other people during that time, can you both recover?   If you did, can you both recover?  This is a bit more like going to bed with a man who has been married before.  In that situation you know he has slept with someone else.  I believe all people can recover from anything if they want to.  We are built that way. 
 
Can you move forward in a relationship with someone who you doubt is telling the truth?  Good question, but what choices do you have?  (See The Map of Relationships.)  I think the question is more about how to build trust now – enough trust so that both feel safe with each other.  Again, that is part of the Lizard paper.  Also I wrote another about “how much you tell your partner” that might be of help.  The trick is to never believe your partner when you don't believe your partner – and tell him so.  Instead, work on becoming candid with each other.   Then you will find yourself believing what you hear.  Punishing someone for lying just doesn’t work, I find.
 

August 29th
 
Dear Al
 
Thanks. I so appreciate your prompt response to my emails. I was able to read them and rely on your wisdom to help with the situation.
 
Dave and I started a wonderful dialog about “safety”………about his safety to tell, my safety to believe him………..we talked about what it is that keeps us from being honest or believing.  In our situation, it wasn't so much that Dave was necessarily trying to protect me, but that he didn't see the “purpose” in coming clean with something that had happened in the past and he could see no “upside” in my knowing.
 
We agreed that it was the asker's responsibility to ask only those questions he/she was willing to accept the answer to (knowing full well the answer might not be at all what he/she wants to hear, and in fact be very painful). That we had to trust each other, as adults, to take that responsibility. We agreed it really wasn't fair for the person being asked the question to make that judgement and that, if we were to be safe believing each other is always telling the truth, then we would need to let the asker take on that responsibility.  
 
I also, for the first time ever in our relationship, was able to tell him that I did not believe that he was telling me the whole story and that was not so much about him, but more about my level of safety and comfort in believing and trusting him. And, he didn't take it personally—-wohooooo!!!!
 
Anyway, what a great beginning for a wonderful dialog. Thank you!!!!


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