If a restaurant gives you food poisoning, you won’t eat there anymore. They broke your trust; you move on.
If a stranger does shoddy work painting your house, you fire them. You’re not obligated to do business with them again.
If a guy sells you a lemon your trust will be shattered but who cares? You don’t live with the guy.
But if someone you love, someone you’ve spent years with, and someone you want to grow old with betrays you the issue of trust becomes super important. They broke promises, broke vows, they threw you under the bus. Things you hoped a loved one would never do happened. And the things you thought a loved one would do did not happen.
Dumping them like a bad restaurant, lousy house painter, or unscrupulous salesman sometimes isn’t an option.
To trust again means risking again. One of the sad realities of living in an unpredictable universe is that the universe is unpredictable. This includes unpredictable spouses. There are no guarantees your spouse will not betray again. There are also no guarantees that they will betray again. (If they promise to betray again, um, why are you in this relationship?)
There are no guarantees so it’s up to you to decide how to live in an unpredictable marriage (not to mention unpredictable economy, body, family, business, church, school, club, team, or neighborhood).
To quit worrying about the future trust yourself to handle whatever comes. Betrayal likely shattered your beliefs but it didn’t shatter you. Here are some new beliefs to embrace.
- It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
- My ability to trust is a virtue not a liability.
- I refuse to pay the price of mistrust.
- If I don’t have the ability to give trust it’s unlikely my partner will trust me.
- I’ll quit asking, “When is it safe to trust?” and start asking, “When is it unsafe not to trust?”
- I’ll quit waiting for a sign from heaven that it’s okay to trust again. God doesn’t deliver “Time to Trust” permission slips.
- I will set limits on how much betrayal I can endure and have an exit plan in case of an emergency.
- Uncertainty is the human condition. Trust means, “learning to live at peace with uncertainty.”
- I’ll quit waiting for trust to return. Trust is a decision.
- By keeping my partner on a short leash I’m not learning how to trust; I’m avoiding risk and trying to control the universe.
- The spiritually minded tell themselves, “I abandon myself to divine providence,” or, “Jesus was betrayed and he identifies with me,” or, “God is in control.”
Next: Betrayal and Victimhood
What does rumination look like?
- Like a cow chewing its cud; you chew the memory of betrayal over and over.
- Like a song that gets stuck in your head you replay the pain of betrayal over and over.
- Your brain won’t shut off and you ask your betrayer “Why?” a million times.
- You want to put the past behind you but fear of getting hurt again prevents you.
- Your brain gets stuck suspecting another betrayal, “What if, what if, what if?”
- You become hyper-vigilant least you get hurt again.
- Every day you check web history, phone records, and credit card expenditures.
- Your suspicious brain won’t shut off.
- When the evidence you find of betrayal turns out to be a false alarm you’re still suspicious.
How do you turn off a suspicious brain? How do you stop ruminating?
1. Focus on the areas where you do trust your partner. Do you trust them to:
- Pay bills
- Go to work like they say they are
- Be there for you
- Be faithful sexually
- Be faithful emotionally
- Tell the truth
- Raise your kids
- Own a credit card
- Get within 10 feet of a computer
- Go to a casino with self-control
- Own a smart phone
Lack of trust usually centers on one or two specific betrayals–cheating, gambling, drugging, drinking, etc. Be cautious in the areas where you don’t trust your betrayer; celebrate the areas where you do trust your betrayer. If you do not trust your spouse in any area, um….why are you with them?
2. What strengths does your relationship already possess?
- Have you successfully weathered other storms–financial, economic, employment, extended family, health, parenting, etc.?
- What would you miss if you and your partner split up–kids with two parents under the same roof, having someone to talk to, being connected to your web of extended family members, shared interests?
- Look for evidence of trustworthiness. A suspicious mind often overlooks legitimate “trust building” behaviors.
- Be wary of evidence of betrayal. Stick to the facts. Don’t judge a person based on feelings, suspicions, exaggerations, imaginations, insecurities, or jealousies.
3. Get tough with your wandering imagination. Every time you begin to ruminate:
- Snap a rubber band on your wrist.
- Make a donation to a political candidate you hate. There may be one or two out there who fit this description during this contentious political season!
- Distract yourself with more rewarding projects: work, mission, service, volunteering, hobbies.
- Write the Golden Rule on note cards and post them all over the place–car visor, bathroom mirror, wallet/purse: “I will treat my betrayer the way I’d want to be treated.” Or, “I will recall all the times I was shown grace by people I let down.” Or, “I will stop treating my betrayer in ways that I wouldn’t want to be treated.”
- Consider forgiveness. Bitterness binds you to your betrayer; forgiveness disconnects you from your betrayer. The great religious traditions of the world, especially the one I am most familiar with–Christianity–extol the virtues of forgiveness. They promote the virtue of mental self discipline. They foster mindful serenity even in the midst of dififcult circumstances. None of them, to my knowledge, require trusting the one who betrayed you. Trust and forgiveness are two different things.
Tomorrow: Trust and Risk
A person who’s been betrayed has a terrible dilemma. The thought of leaving the betrayer makes their anxiety go up; and the thought of staying and being betrayed again makes their anxiety spike even higher.
What do you do with these fears?
- Jot down your tormenting questions: “Will the person I love leave me? Will they give their time and affection to another? Will I fall from favor and be abandoned?”
- Jot down all the actions your partner can do to reassure you, make you feel safe, and reduce your anxiety.
- Be brutally honest and ask yourself, “If my partner actually did jump through all these trust-building hoops would I finally relax?”
- Realize whether or not you trust again is up to you, not your partner. If your partner is objectively untrustworthy your decision isn’t whether or not to trust him/her, but whether or not to stay with him/her.
- Learn to hate mistrust. This is one of the strategies alcoholics use to fight addiction. When the desire for sobriety becomes stronger than the pull of inebriation they change their behaviors. In the same way, when the desire for trust outweighs the fear of mistrust then they exercise trust.
- Catch yourself ruminating about the betrayal.
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Rumination
Anger and betrayal go together. There’s anger at the betrayer, of course. And anger at their affair partner, of course. But often there’s also anger at one’s self:
- “How could I be so stupid to not see this coming?”
- “How could I be so gullible?”
- “If only I had been more alert this never would have happened. I will never trust again and therefore never be tricked again.”
Here’s how some people deal with self-anger.
1. “How could I be so stupid to not see this coming?”
Answer: “Because I’m not God. I can’t read minds. I am not stupid; my betrayer simply was a good liar.”
2. “How could I be so gullible?”
Answer: “Store clerks who unwittingly accept counterfeit money are not gullible; they’ve been tricked. When my partner betrayed me I got tricked. If I was naive and ignored the warning signs I will forgive myself, learn a valuable lesson, and move forward.”
3. “If only I had been more alert this never would have happened. I will never trust again and therefore never be tricked again.”
Answer: “My partner didn’t cheat because I wasn’t alert. My partner cheated because they’re a cheater. My decision to choose to ever trust anyone again will be based on my desire to be close to anyone again, based on my risk tolerance, and based on my capacity to love.”
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Fear
Jealousy is the fear of being replaced. When religious people hear that God is a jealous God, they understand that to mean God does not want to be replaced. God wants to be number one. So if you feel jealous you are exercising a Godly emotion.
But it’s not Godly when jealousy turns to paranoia, control, panic, thoughts of murder, suicide, or rage.
If you idolize your partner or imagine him or her to be your ultimate source of energy, life, and purpose, you will of course become jealous even if all they do is look at another person. If you consider your partner to be the only one to satisfy your attachment hunger you will of course lose it if they betray you.
Some people manage jealousy by embracing the following beliefs.
- My partner is my lover but not my oxygen.
- I can live without their undying devotion to me.
- Others have survived the loss of trust and lived to tell about it; I can, too.
- I am attached to this person because they fit my definition of perfection: physical attributes, personality characteristics, and the way they are with me.
- Being replaced will be devastating but not utterly devastating. I will survive.
- My reaction to this betrayal is influenced by earlier betrayals in life.
- If my partner no longer loves me it does not mean I am unlovable, unloved, or unlovely.
- If my partner wants someone else it does not mean that someone else is better than me.
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Self-Anger
When a betrayal is minor and our tolerance for pain is high it’s easy to offer trust.
But when the betrayal is catastrophic and our pain is off the charts we simply can’t and sometimes shouldn’t trust again. Choosing never to trust again is one option. Do a cost/benefit analysis to help you decide if you want to trust again. Here’s a sample chart; add your own ideas.
After doing this calculation some people choose not to trust. They gamble that the benefits of mistrust will outweigh the risks of trust. Others get so fed up with the costs of not trusting that they take the terrifying leap and begin trusting again. In future posts we’ll discuss how to do that.
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Jealousy
The humiliation of being replaced by another is excruciating. “What’s wrong with me? What did I do to fall out of favor with my loved one? Why am I no longer desired by my lover?”
These questions are normal. Ruminating on them for a day, a week, or even a month isn’t unusual. But if you are tormented for years by these questions it’s time to take action. Here are some affirmations to repeat to yourself often.
- My betrayer broke their promise, not me.
- I am a keeper; my betrayer is the fool.
- Falling in love is risky; I gambled and lost and as painful as that is it’s not the end of the world.
- My rival has traits I don’t have–being a shameless thief (stealing my partner’s love).
- I have traits that they don’t have–integrity.
- I will not degrade myself, violate personal convictions, jump through unpleasant hoops, or make personal sacrifices that betray who I am in order to hang on to my betrayer.
- I am good enough…just not to my betrayer.
- I didn’t see this coming not because I’m stupid but because I’m only human.
Tomorrow: Cost/Benefit Analysis
How betrayal affects you depends on two variables: 1) the nature of the betrayal and 2) your tolerance for pain.
Some betrayals would be considered minor by a jury of your peers like, say, leaving the toilet seat up or down.
But if you’re hyper-sensitive with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, control issues, childhood bathroom issues, cognitive distortions, or any number of complicating factors a misplaced toilet seat could send you into crazy mode.
One solution is to make your partner leave the toilet seat exactly how you want it. Good luck with that.
The other solution is for you to beat up on your anxiety. This means learning to live in a universe that does not comply with your definition of perfection. It means learning to live with a partner who forgets to manage toilet seats “correctly.” This is hard work, of course, but the payoff is grand.
Please keep this “two variable” approach in mind as you read this blog series. It explains how some people can tolerate all sorts of betrayals while others go bonkers at the tiniest trigger.
Types of betrayal
Dismissing your emotions
Leaving a generous tip to a barista, waitress, or barber
Making eye contact with a person of the opposite sex
Not being there for you
Still having kind feelings toward an ex
Maintaining an opposite gender friendship
Drug or alcohol addiction
Drinking one beer a year
Not being told what your partner daydreams about
Not paying off credit cards each month
Tomorrow: Betrayal and Self-esteem
If a trusted loved one betrayed you, which of the following words describe how you would feel?
- The rug pulled out from under you
- The future looks uncertain
- Sick to your stomach
- All of the above
Most people pick item 7 and then add self-doubt, “I must be unlovable,” fear, “No one is trustworthy,” anxiety, “My world will never be the same again,” and anger, “I’m going to murder somebody!”
In short, it’s the ultimate yuck. Trust is like your pulse; when it’s working fine you don’t notice it. But when it’s weak it’s life threatening. Other symptoms include:
- Post Traumatic stress disorder
- Hyper-vigilance, checking, monitoring
- Obsessive thoughts, rumination
- Emotional wounds, emotional numbing
- Grief, depression, nausea
- Confusion, “Who is this person? I thought I knew them.”
- Fear, “Dare I ever trust this person again?”
In this week’s blog series, we discuss the topic of betrayal and if, when, and how to trust again.
NOTE: our focus will not be how to make your betrayer more trustworthy. That’s up to them. Our focus will be how to get yourself in a frame of mind to trust again.
- Types of Betrayal
- Betrayal and Self-esteem
- Cost-Benefit Analysis of Trusting Again
- Betrayal and Jealousy
- Betrayal and Self Anger
- Betrayal and Fear
- Betrayal and Rumination
- Trust and Risk
- Betrayal and Victimhood
- How to Trust Again
Next: Types of Betrayal
My latest e-book, Another Drink: Experiments in Sobriety Based on Secular Proverbs went public on January 1, 2016 and initial interest is encouraging. It is available on Amazon in Kindle format. Click HERE. The chapters are short and intended for readers with zero religious affiliation. If you haven’t downloaded your $2.99 copy yet, here is a run down of the contents.
1. Disclosure: A Short History of My Stupidity
2. Ambivalence: I Am Many and So Am I
3. Conflicting Desires: If I Ran the Zoo
4. Negotiation: The Zookeeper’s Consultant
5. Curiosity: I Will Seek Understanding and Then Tame My Zoo
6. Symptoms: Booze Is a Many-Flavored Thing
7. Learning: I Fell in Love with Alcohol; I Can Fall Out
8. Moderation: Dr. Lemuel’s Tonic for What Ails You
9. Need: Desires Begin in the Crib
10. Attachment: I Want a Friend That Sticks
11. Subjectivity: Alcohol Does Not Stick to Me; I Stick to It
12. Hunger: I Am Annoyed by the Void I Want to Avoid
13. Tolerance: The Brawl Is in My Count
14. Dependence: I Have a Problem With Alcohol and Without It
15. Withdrawal: Cutting Back One Drop Is One Drop Too Many
16. Cravings: I Am a Craving Lunatic
17. Motivation: I’ll Take Action Before Hitting Bottom
18. Disease: Get a Disease and Manage It Well
19. Cognition: I Think Soberly
20. Emotion: I Silence the Squawks in My Head
21. Connection: I Get a Mission That Matters
22. Rewards: The Happiness of Pursuit
23. Self Control: It Takes Power to Say I Have No Power
24. Shame: Behavioral Chickens and Emotional Eggs
25. Stubbornness: I Get Off My Drunken Ass
26. Choice: Get Your Claws Off My Decider
27. Relapse: Sage Hints of Grace
28. Temptation: I Resist the Allure of Drink
29. Triggers: My Relapse Prevention Plan
30. Sober Companions: Friends Don’t Let Friends Go Friendless
Appendix 1: Is Sapiential Sobriety a Fool’s Errand?
Appendix 2: Where Does God Fit In?
Appendix 3: Booze, Food, and Sex
Appendix 4: Interview Questions for Party Animals
Appendix 5: Society’s Role in Fostering Sobriety
Appendix 6: The Proverbs Chronic Drinker Recovery Plan
Appendix 7: How Many of These Actions Can I Do Today?
Appendix 8: A Note to Loved Ones
Appendix 9: Resources
Index: Where Does It Say That in Proverbs?
Also by Erik Johnson
On an unrelated note, I recently told a woman client at the end of our session, “Hold on; I can’t process your credit card AND schedule our next appointment at the same time. I can’t multi-task.”
She said, “Of course you can’t; you’re a guy.”
I laughed and had to agree.
My attention the past few weeks has been focused on preparing upcoming public lectures; consequently this blog has been neglected. I’m not good at multi-tasking.
However, do not give up hope, loyal readers. Stay tuned. I’ll soon be posting new blog topics.
How To Build Trust After a Betrayal
Sage Wisdom for Family Harmony
How To Break An Addiction To A Person
When Love Intoxicates