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Author Topic: Giving back trust, forgiveness, and are they different?  (Read 1342 times)
Cliona
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« Topic Start: February 19, 2011, 02:33:26 pm »

A couple months ago, my SO and I had a big fight over what ended up being something really small and stupid (though neither of us knew it at the time, hence the big fight), and during the fight he said he was tempted to leave and end the relationship. He ended up not, we cleared up the misunderstanding, he was apologetic for threatening a break up, all that make-upy stuff.

Turns out, that fight sent him to the internet, specifically CraigsList, looking for (in his words) a distraction. He was "testing the waters," "seeing what was out there." He posted an ad in Casual Encounters and also responded to other women's ads, and according to him there was only one that turned into lengthy e-mailing. I'm having difficulty trusting him on how many and where things stopped because when I first confronted him on it, he tried to pawn it off on a coworker.

So I'll back up. My computer's hard-drive is failing, and a computer-savvy friend told me to shut it down and leave it off while it still works, otherwise I won't be able to get any data from it. (I'm also very bad at backing things up) After I shut it down, my friend sent me told me he'd e-mail me a link to what he thinks is the best replacement, then realized I had no access to my e-mail, and my SO dutifully offered up his iPhone so I could check it. When I got to gmail, it was logged in as what I presumed (and presumed correctly I did) to be my SO, and the subjects I saw in the inbox had things like "Casual Encounters" and "Asian Girls" in them. I didn't look too long and I didn't open any of them, I just laid the phone in front of my SO and asked him what it was. He squinted at it, then grabbed it fast and said he didn't know. I didn't believe him. I left the room. Shortly before our first anniversary (fall 2009), I accidentally found pictures of other women's butts and boobs in his e-mail (another instance when my computer was getting fixed), and I was very upset about that and have never quite fully believed his story: a girl he'd once went out on one date with texted him out of the blue after we'd been dating a while and asked to have a three-way. He said he declined and said he was in a relationship, and then she sent the pictures of the girls who would be involved to try to convince him, and he still said no, but he sent the pictures to his e-mail to keep as "trophies." I found the pictures a few months later (spring 2010) and didn't tell him I forgave him until the end of 2010, just a couple months ago. And I thought I really did forgive him, but I didn't trust him. I began to a notice something was up and became fearful he was cheating around this time, and around this time we had our big fight, and even after that it felt like something was off. He stopped being romantic and I felt more ignored. Turned out that was when he started this CraigsList thing.

So I left the room, and he followed and swore the e-mails weren't his, and I asked how that could be since they were on his phone and things don't magically login and e-mail themselves on people's phones. He hesitated, then said a coworker was checking his e-mail on my SO's phone and that it was probably the coworkers. I asked if he'd call up said coworker so he could confirm that the e-mails were his, not my SO's, which would have been bad anyway because it would have meant he was going behind his wife's back. Again my SO hesitated, then fessed up and said they were his, but that they were old and he was just checking it out of habit. I asked to see them so I could see that none were recent. More hesitation, then he said there were some recent replies. At that point, I just walked out of the house. I had to get away from him because I'd seen evidence that he's strayed a little and he kept lying and backpedaling when I caught him in a lie.

I came back a few hours later that night and he was a wreck. It was only the second time in more than two years that I've seen him cry, and he said he'd had two panic attacks while I was gone, and some of my stuff was already packed up because he was sure I'd want to move out and leave him and he said he had to be productive somehow or else he'd just get drunk. He told me about the one girl he ended up e-mailing extensively, a 20-year-old from a city near here. Gave me her name. He told me he mostly just vented to her about the stress in his life, which ended up being me. She knew he was in a relationship, but he was obviously looking elsewhere, and she wanted to meet him. My SO swears up and down that he never met her in person, that he denied her that, and also that their conversations were strictly PG, there was no cybersex or anything similar. But he'd also deleted everything in the few hours I was gone, so I have no way of knowing, and all I can do is wonder, and since I don't trust him I'm wondering in the bad direction.

And now I hate her. I absolutely hate that there's a woman out there who tried to get with my SO, who thinks of me as the oppressing, suffocating, frustrating, demanding girlfriend of a man she could save from misery. My SO did that to me, made me out to be that.

I talked to my parents and they said they knew my SO loves me very much, that seeing what's out there was normal, especially for men in their twenties, and at least he didn't full-out cheat. It feels like he cheated. I also learned that my mom cheated on my dad when they were about our age, and they have the most rock-solid marriage I've ever seen. I love my SO so much and ended up returning to the house for the reason that I wanted him to know I was willing to work on our relationship, figure out how to move past this, and end up stronger on the other side. My parents did it.

But there's so many negative feelings now. I'm hurt, I'm full of hate and anger, I'm mad at myself for pushing my SO into looking elsewhere, and I'm absolutely scared because this makes two times that he's hurt and betrayed me and I don't know if this is going to be a habit of his or if I can trust him ever again. I've always thought the best of him and got over the pictures when they were just the one incident, but taken with this I can't get over them, and I hate being afraid of him and knowing the full capacity he was to hurt me. I hate not knowing if he actually cheated. I wish more than anything I could read those e-mails, because even though they would hurt, it would be better than living with my imagination. I want the truth and I don't trust the only person who can give it to me.

When I told my SO I forgave him for the pictures, I still didn't fully trust him. Can you forgive without giving back trust? Are the two exclusive of each other or dependent on each other?

And then, how do you give back trust? It feels like, right now, in the immediate aftermath of this, that I won't ever be able to trust him again. Is that true? I know he has to earn it back but I don't know how to give it back, I've never had to give it back to someone before. I told him that it would take me a very long time and he said he's willing to do what it takes to earn it, that he'll be patient with me. He also said he wants to plant a tree with me this spring, an oak (because it's my favorite) that'll be a testament to our relationship and its growth and eventual strength, and that means a lot to me, and I love him so much, but I can't trust him and that is killing me.

Any advice anyone can give after reading all that is greatly appreciated. I'm really struggling.
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« Reply #1: February 19, 2011, 03:00:59 pm »


IMO, if this relationship is to have a chance of surviving, y'all need to get into some kind of marital/relationship counseling.  He has done the SAME THING twice.  This is a pattern and a problem.

I'm not saying there can't be a way for things to get better from here - but, really, when there's already a pattern, YES you can forgive without trusting.

y'all need a professional.
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« Reply #2: February 19, 2011, 03:27:40 pm »

And then, how do you give back trust? It feels like, right now, in the immediate aftermath of this, that I won't ever be able to trust him again. Is that true? I know he has to earn it back but I don't know how to give it back, I've never had to give it back to someone before. I told him that it would take me a very long time and he said he's willing to do what it takes to earn it, that he'll be patient with me. He also said he wants to plant a tree with me this spring, an oak (because it's my favorite) that'll be a testament to our relationship and its growth and eventual strength, and that means a lot to me, and I love him so much, but I can't trust him and that is killing me.

Any advice anyone can give after reading all that is greatly appreciated. I'm really struggling.

Oh, ugh. I do agree that third party counselling can be very helpful, but some other stuff to think about:

A piece of advice a very wise friend gave me when I was going through related stuff with the now-ex-husband was: "Make him do the work. It's up to him to figure out how to demonstrate to you that he is trustworthy and reliable and cares about you and your feelings."

And as said wise friend pointed out, my ex was interested in the relationship when it got him things, but not when it got hard. Putting the responsibility back squarely on his shoulders (like adults should be able to cope with) is absolutely fair and reasonable. (and this is the place that a therapist can be hugely helpful - both in you setting those limits, and in making clear to your partner that they're reasonable and responsible and so on.)

It's fine for him to *ask* you for input once he's done his own reflection and thinking through options. "Ok, I've been thinking. Here's stuff I want to offer to do to help make this better, if they would be helpful to you. If that's not working for you, I'll keep trying." That's including you in the process, and making sure he doesn't pick stuff that either will make things worse for you, or that doesn't solve the problem. (Waste of energy and time.)

But it's not fair for him to say either "But you should trust me" or "Tell me what to do to make it better." That's not you being partners. That's you being Mommy.

You may also come up with your own list of things that would help - but I'd hold off on sharing it until your partner has done at least a bit of trying to come up with meaningful solutions himself.

As you might guess by the fact I'm talking about an ex here, my ex was not only unwilling to come up with stuff himself, but refused to follow up on the specific, pretty reasonable acts I suggested as a good faith start. (which was partly about "Can we make sure we're on the same page about our agreements to each other" and partly about the "Ok, I realise we've got a problem with X: here's what I'm willing to offer, if you're willing to do Y thing that would help me, but here's Z thing that makes me really not want to encourage X at all.")

The other thing I'll throw out there: I believe that it's possible to trust someone in some ways, but not all of them. People have different stuff they're good at doing, and stuff that's hard. One of my dearest friends is a wonderful woman - but if I rely on her to remember a specific date or plan or thing I need without some reminders.. well, about one time in ten she gets it, the rest of the time, I'm waiting. That's okay: I trust her in lots of ways, just not the ones that her ADHD makes really hard for her, and so I send her reminders of the date + day stuff when I care about it, or leave it for the next time I see her.

Likewise, it might be (and again, therapist can help with this...) that you need (at least for a while) concrete evidence of good behavior in one area (emailing/contacting other women), while recognising that you can still trust your partner to, say, treat you well, or follow up on household chores, or support you in a crisis, or whatever. While a breach of trust in one area is problematic (and shouldn't be ignored or brushed aside), it doesn't automatically mean all the others have failed. Just that you need to look really carefully at what's going on, and make appropriate steps based on what you find (the person figuring out ways to avoid that temptation, you deciding you don't need to trust them in that area - easier when it's "remember to do X chore" than when it's "not have sexy talk with other women", admittedly - or that it turns out there are enough points of trust problems that you really do need to go different ways.)
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