QUESTION: My father was a philanderer, and I vowed no man would ever treat me like my mother was treated. Consequently I don’t trust men.
I’m now 35 and I’d like to meet the right guy and settle down. I’ve really messed up several relationships I’ve had because I’m obsessive about checking up on the guy I’m dating. A couple of times I was caught and that ended those relationships.
How can I learn to trust when I lost trust at a very early age?
~ Wary Woman
Dear Wary Woman,
If you start with suspicion, you will end in tears. Relationships must have trust to be peaceful and flourish. I will ask you to do two things to change your pattern of spoiling your chances for a good relationship by suspicion and accusation. There isn’t one human being I know who can look good in the light of suspicion. Suspicion by its very nature paints the subject in a non-flattering, unlovable way. It may even encourage the man to cheat if he is already being seen as a cheater.
The antidote to suspicion is open communication. It may seem mad or insane to you right now, but try to come clean with your next potential partner when it is getting serious. Be open enough to tell him how you value honesty above all else and really cannot tolerate lies and deception because of how you grew up and how hurtful and sad that was for you and your mom. That may be beyond you at the moment given what you have revealed in your inquiry. Please find a group therapy for yourself that will deal deeply with the issues of trust, betrayal, forgiveness and the strength to trust again. I say group therapy because within that safe space should be the opportunity to see how others have been hurt in the same way that you have and how they work with the resulting issues.
If your insurance permits, you could seek out a therapist who could work with you individually. The point will be to talk extensively about your experience with your dad, how your mom and you were hurt, if your dad redeemed himself and to what extent. If he did not apologize, and it would be very unusual if he did, your therapist will walk you through how to understand that and move on from it. Most people seldom do what they should and apologize. That kind of person would much rather sweep their bad behavior under the rug, even though their rugs are oh so lumpy and impossible to walk across.
Take heart, W.W.; you can work through this and come out much stronger on the other side. The past behavior of others must be understood and coped with, not used to stop any love that might be in your future. There are good men who can be trusted. If you do your personal work, as I have suggested, I have every confidence that you will find someone to love who will be with you and not seek other relationships behind your back.
Rabbi Janet Bieber
Dear Wary Woman,
What is harder than learning to trust? Trusting is always a risk because people are humans and humans are never perfect. Someone once said, “Our secrets keep us sick.” And secrets can kill love.
A cheating husband has a secret. Sneaking around, tailing your guy is also secret. Instead of any spying or cloak and dagger, I recommend giving what you want to get – openness.
How about this? After dating a guy for a while, why not explain what your family life was like growing up, what your dad’s choices were and how they affected you then and now? His answer will be very enlightening and maybe quite reassuring! If this man really suits your fancy, date him for a long time to see if he’s trustworthy. Time reveals much. Is he worthy of your trust? Some men are trustworthy. Some are not.
Watch how he is with other women when he’s on a date with you. See if he pays more attention than he should to others when he’s spending time with you. Ask him about past relationships. Has he cheated on other serious girlfriends? Find out what his home life was like growing up. See if his dad cheated on his mom, or vice versa.
Should you both decide you want to think about marriage, get some pre-marital counseling. You may discover a lot about your man and about yourself! And here’s a little tip no one ever thinks about: Take your man to church. Worship together. A healthy church is all about truth telling (I just happen to know one if you don’t). If your boyfriend won’t worship with you, that says a lot. Jesus said that it’s the truth that sets us free.
One final question: Are you infinitely trustworthy yourself? Have you ever been duplicitous? Have you ever cheated anyone over anything? Would you say that there could never be, under any circumstances, any man who could ever make you cheat? Or would you say that you are somehow impervious to this human weakness? If you are not, then how would you answer a man who confesses that he has trouble trusting women?
Pastor Jon Karn
QUESTION: I was on the periphery of what was quite dramatic to the parties involved. A marriage broke up, finances were compromised and one person almost took his life. Although I knew everyone this situation affected, I didn’t contribute to any of it, except in the beginning to introduce them to one another. Now two of the three will not speak to me. I’ve pretty much given up hopes of reconciliation with those two, although in my heart I’m not blaming anyone.
The third person is still holding a grudge. I’ve made several attempts to renew and revive my friendship with the two who will not speak to me. Shall I just give it up?
~ Sad Ex-friend
Dear Sad Ex-friend,
I was late going to university, so my friend-circle was a few years older than the median age at school. Nonetheless, I arranged a date between an interesting classmate and an older family gal-pal. Their date was disastrous, but it was mostly something to laugh about afterward. I haven’t played matchmaker since, but I’ve finalized matches by officiating myriad “I do’s,” and couples I’ve married have included complete strangers, marginal acquaintances and stalwart besties of mine. Couples from each group could be named who later divorced. This makes me sad and somewhat guilt-ridden, knowing I facilitated what resulted in emotional scars and broken families. But I am not to blame, as they were all adults, they extensively dated, they elevated their relationships to engagements, and then they decisively chose to culminate their tried partnerships with holy matrimony. That they later made a mess of everything – well, that’s on them.
Now about you. You were the good friend concerned for your buddies’ futures and you opened a window of possibility. They were pleased so much that they went through the same aforementioned series of steps before marriage. Then they blew it. They – not you. I’m not sure what to make of your “third” player in this situation, but all I can say is this: if I had such a case with which to personally deal, I would sit down and write each a letter. I’d let them know I valued their friendships, but I’d also let them know my hurt that they did not value mine the same; that they would blame me for what was ultimately brought about by themselves. They liked each other, they dated, they did everything and they were happy with you until they weren’t happy with each other. To use you as a whipping boy is especially cruddy of them. Nice friends, huh?
Give it a last hurrah, and pray for God’s participation. He’ll not force them to be good, but perhaps he’ll help them recognize their poverty without you (their long-time valued asset and loving friend).
Dear Sad Ex-Friend,
I am truly sorry for the loss of your friends as the result of circumstances seemingly beyond your control. It certainly sounds as though there was a lot of grief for all of those people involved, both directly and indirectly. And unfortunately it appears that three of those people have done the easiest thing – finding someone to blame – you. Sadly that solution does not make the situation better. It just encourages the hurt to continue. Confucius once said: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” So do not follow the example of your three former friends.
I can only assume that you have done everything you can to reconcile with those who are still holding a grudge against you, so there is probably nothing else you can realistically do. But that does not mean that there is no hope. You may just need to wait quietly for them to heal and come to a clearer understanding of the situation, remaining optimistic about a positive outcome.
In the meantime, do find a way to forgive them if you can and to attain solace for yourself through some form of spiritual practice, prayer or meditation. If you are a part of a religious community, you may ask for support from your minister or other religious leader. If not, you may find a therapist or counselor who can help you. But please do not lose heart or fall into a state of depression over the circumstances. Maintaining a positive attitude can help you to deal with whatever the outcome may be.
My hope for you is that you will find peace and hope in all the ways you can. And please know that I will be holding you in my thought and my prayers.