“Are you sitting down?”
“Yes,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I logged into Pete’s Ipad and I found all these email addresses that I didn’t know he had.”
“Ohhhhh. I don’t like where this is going.” I replied.
“The emails are linked to all these dating websites. He was not only talking to other women online, but he was meeting up with them. There are emails making plans to hook up and then emails afterwards, saying how hot it was. And they go back to before we got married. He’s been cheating the whole time.”
This was the phone call I got this week from a dear friend of mine, pretty much verbatim. I felt sick after I hung up. Sick at the feelings that I knew my friend was going through and sick at the fact that her partner Pete, had fooled us all.
I liked Pete. He was exceptionally charming, handsome and cultured. They seemed so happy and everyone used to tease them about being the perfect couple. They threw elaborate dinner parties and Pete was a consummate chief and the perfect host.
When I look at their relationship backwards I can see the signs, but none of us recognized them at the time. When something isn’t even on your radar – you don’t see it – you can’t see it, because the possibility of it doesn’t even exist in your mind.
Our first instinct as human beings is to trust. It’s an innate part of our nature. We believe someone, usually until they give us a reason not to and sometimes, even beyond that. If we see the world as good and we believe that people are generally kind and honest, then that is how the world appears to us.
“How will I ever trust anyone ever again?” My friend asked. And this is the question most of us ask ourselves after we’ve experienced a betrayal and our faith is shattered.
But trust is an essential part of all deeply intimate relationships. If one enters into all new relationships believing that they will be lied to, cheated on and betrayed, then they will create the circumstances that make that a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we are mistrustful, we will look for deception around every corner and it will change who we are, and how we behave. Without trust we are suspicious, guarded and we don’t let anyone close to us. Mistrust allows us to build walls to protect ourselves from ever feeling vulnerable, so that we never have to experience hurt again.
But hiding behind walls is a coping mechanism and while it does serve a purpose, it also keeps us from true intimacy and living rich, fulfilled lives. When we’ve been betrayed in the past, it’s not someone else that we need to learn to trust – it’s ourselves.
There are people in everyone’s life that we trust without fail, it could be your mom, dad, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, boss….. and why do you trust them? Because you have, on a consistent basis, witnessed them – be true to their word, they have a moral compass, because we haven’t been let down or disappointed by them ,without good reason, because they’ve proved to us, by their actions, that they care about us, because they do what they say they are going to do, because they don’t hurt us….
But people can change and people can fool us. Just look at all those neighbors of serial killers that look shocked when they tell the media that they can’t believe it was that nice boy down the hall. Some people get really good at fooling others. When people are bent on conning others, for their own personal gain, they become really good actors. Like in the case of my friend, how her husband could finish work, go sleep with another woman and then come home, cook dinner and snuggle up on the sofa with his wife all night like nothing happened, is utterly baffling. Most people would be crushed underneath the enormous weight of the guilt, but he wasn’t feeling guilt. He played the part of the faithful, loving husband for five years and fooled us all in the process.
Learning to Trust
When we’ve been through a traumatic relationship and our ability to trust has been shattered, the only way to heal ourselves and break down those walls is to learn how to trust ourselves. Because it all starts and ends with us. People are going to do, whatever they are going to do, and there is nothing we can do about that, but we do have to learn to, as Iyanla Vanzant says, “call a thing a thing.” This means trust yourself enough to not only recognize when something is off, but to call it like it is. If someone lies to you constantly and you keep catching them in lies – let’s call that what it is – that person is not a truth teller – that person is a liar. When a person has an aversion to the truth and consistently behaves that way – it becomes habitual and part of their character. When we can recognize it and call it what it is, it forces us to be aware of it and it doesn’t allow us to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.
The second way we learn to trust ourselves, is to stop minimalizing and rationalizing other people’s bad behavior. Over-givers always make molehills out of mountains, when they should be doing the opposite. I had a neighbor invite me out to dinner a few days ago, to talk about her relationship problems. She told me how her guy stood her up for Christmas and then New Years and then Valentine’s Day, to be with someone else. She continued with her story and when I finally got a chance to speak I said, “Angie the fact that he kept standing you up to be with someone else, should have been a bouncing neon red flag for you.” She said, “He didn’t stand me up.” I looked at her like she had three heads and said, “You just gave me three instances where you had plans and he didn’t show.” She thought about it for a second and then she proceeded to give me some really lame reasons why he stood her up.
You know those V8 commercials, where the person wishes they could have had more servings of vegetables in their meal, and then someone hits them in the middle of the forehead, thus cluing them in and they say, “I should’ve had a V8.” That’s kind of what I kept doing to this neighbor in my mind. After we talked about it some more, I told her she was being fed a plate of horse manure and told it was prime rib, she started to realize that she had gotten into the habit of making and accepting excuses, for all of his horrible behavior, because she didn’t want to face the truth.
There is a time and a place for compassion and understanding, but when someone always seems to be disappointing you and causing you pain, you have to recognize when you are being fed horse manure. Sure, we are all going to be let down and disappointed a few times in our lives, but if somebody keeps disappointing you – you have to learn how to call a thing a thing, you can’t keep brushing something off as insignificant and not speaking up about it, when it has caused you pain. When you do that you are telling yourself and everyone else, that your feelings are insignificant. You innately know when an issue is a mountain and when it’s a mole hill. The problem arises when you continue to ignore your gut instincts and the facts, that are right in front of you. When you doubt your own senses you are learning to not trust yourself.
How my neighbor was able to make being stood up at Christmas a mole hill, when it was Mount Everest, is a prime example of a person who has lost the ability to trust herself. If a partner, who is consistently with you, and committed to you 364 days out of the year, wants to go out of town to spend the holidays with his family, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, if its something you’re both ok with, but if you keep getting let down and if he’s made plans with you and then doesn’t make an effort to communicate with you at all over the holidays, that behavior right there says, “I’d rather be somewhere else, than with you. I made plans with you, just incase my other plans fell through.” It’s too bad Hallmark doesn’t make a greeting card like that, because some people don’t trust themselves enough to see the truth, until it’s spelled out for them, by someone else.
When we build that protective cocoon around ourselves it does feel safe and comfortable, but it’s still a barrier, keeping us from experiencing a full life. When we learn how to trust ourselves and our own instincts, we will find that we no longer need that protection, because we know that we can protect ourselves. Trusting others all depends on whether or not, we trust ourselves and we do that by:
- Calling a thing a thing. If Bob smokes everyday he’s a smoker. If Bob tells lies everyday he’s a liar. If Bob cheats on his wife, he’s a cheater. Don’t be afraid to call it like you see it. When we miss this step we fool and lie to ourselves about what’s right in front of us. When we acknowledge it, we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
- We stop minimalizing and rationalizing someone else’s bad behavior. We need to learn how to see something, as it truly is, not how we wish it would be. When we brush off something huge, we negate our own feelings to ourselves and to the person that has caused us harm.
- Stop accepting flimsy, lame-ass excuses for bad behavior. You have to look at a pathetic excuse and put it to the test. If it doesn’t seem right to you, ask for proof. If asking for proof sparks a fight, or a deflection back at you – you have your answer. If someone cares about you and they’re telling you the truth – they’ll give you proof.
- Trust your inner voice. That feeling in your gut always knows the truth. When we’ve been lying to ourselves for a long time, we learn to ignore it, but by constantly listening and asking it for confirmation, it will grow stronger.
So when you’re ready to date again, leave your walls and your barriers behind. If you can trust yourself, you have all of the protection you will ever need.
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