Being too suspicious or not suspicious enough can both cause you to behave in ways that jeopardize your marriage. Being secure and being objective will help you to clearly know if you can trust your husband.
In my work with women whose husbands are having affairs, about half of their husbands never were trustworthy. The other half have been trustworthy throughout the marriage.
Many women are shocked to find that after 20 years or more of a stable, positive, marriage, their husbands have become secretive, guarded, distant, and isolated.
In the absence of evidence, how can you know if he is having an emotional problem, cheating on you, having work problems, or even if he still loves you?
Asking him seems like the obvious answer, but most people who are cheating will lie about it. And, many men who are having problems are either not aware of them or try to hide them.
Our feelings filter out contradictory evidence
When we are angry, it is much easier to notice all the negative things that others do. We discount good things they do as somehow being manipulative or deceptive. If we like, or especially if we love someone, we will tend not to see all of the bad things they do. If we do see something bad, we tend to make an excuse for them.
We also tend to remember things that are consistent with our feelings. If you are upset with your husband, you will tend to remember many bad things he did before and not remember the good things. If you have loving feelings, you will tend to remember the good things he did before.
This tendency to remember things that are consistent with our current feelings is called state dependent memory because our memories match the state of our emotions.
Others who are not upset or in love with our spouses are likely to notice things that we don’t. If your friend is in love with a man, you may notice bad things about him that she can’t see. You may also notice good things about a man that a friend is angry with.
There are two major implications from this:
- Our feelings are a poor guide to the trustworthiness of our spouse. And,
- When in doubt, it helps to get an objective view from someone not involved.
Friends are often not objective because we have fed them the information which fits our feelings. A counselor, or coach are likely to be both more objective and more experienced in detecting deception. When in doubt, I recommend you NOT start by asking your spouse, but by getting an objective viewpoint from someone uninvolved.
To ask someone if they are cheating or have a problem seems logical, but can damage that person’s feelings towards you. Anxious people often ask such questions, seeking reassurance while making their relationships worse. Don’t believe it? Try it and see.
Insecurity causes objective blindness
Insecure people often treat their spouse’s poorly when the relationship is stable and treat their spouses well when the relationship is threatened. It’s a roller coaster type pattern caused by anxiety combined with needy behaviors.
If an insecure person starts to feel that her husband may leave her, her feelings of love for him will intensify. She will pursue him and throw herself at him to get him to stay. She will excuse any behavior that would be suspicious to anyone else.
The major implication from this is:
- We need to be more suspicious if our spouse is talking about separation or is intentionally distancing, and
- We need to be less suspicious if our relationship is positive and stable.
Needy people tend to overestimate how much they can trust their husbands whenever the relationship is threatened. Their fears of losing their husbands make them recall all of the good things about their husbands that they would lose. In fact, even if their husbands are obviously cheating on them from everyone else’s perspective, they may not see it, and find excuses for everything their husbands do. This inability to see what is obvious to others is called denial. Since people in denial cannot see they are in denial, how can you know if you are in denial?
Our past baggage can make us ask “Can I trust my husband?”
It is possible, because of a history of bad treatment that we doubt and mistrust someone who actually is trustworthy. Just as overlooking untrustworthy behavior can allow damage to continue, so too can seeing untrustworthy behavior when it is just not there. Making your husband doubt your trust when there is no good reason can damage your marriage.
Though your spouse may at first be understanding of this behavior, he will eventually tire of it. Therefore, it is important that you work to remove the effects of such past baggage and to see your husband as he is rather than as some other past man or men were in your life.
Failure to do so can easily affect your sex life, ability to be affectionate, and ability to trust and enjoy compliments and loving words from your husband or others.
Do you feel confused with your husband?
Besides your own issues, your husband’s words and behavior can be inconsistent. He may make you feel loved and desired some of the time, and hurt and rejected the rest of the the time. What he does and what he says can go around in your mind like an emotional merry-go-round.
We get confused when we have contradictory information. That happens either when we are being deceived or when we are missing an important piece of information that makes sense of the contradictory information.
Suppose your husband says he loves you, yet wants to get away from you. Here are two possible reasons that could make sense of that seeming contradiction:
- It is possible that he has too much time with you and just needs more time with friends or by himself. That is a good possibility if your relationship is otherwise good.
- It is also possible that your husband does not love you, but wants to do something secretive while keeping you from becoming suspicious. This is a good possibility if your husband doesn’t spend much time with you as it is. If he has been becoming more and more distant over the past few months, it is even more likely he has another reason he wants to get away (advice for dealing with this situation).
Notice that in either case, your husband is not likely to explain the contradiction to you. You need to be able to look at the evidence. In one case the evidence is that your relationship is generally good; in the other the evidence is that your relationship has been becoming worse.
What to do in each of those hypothetical situations would be different. In the first case, you would develop more interests without your husband so that you are not smothering his flames of love for you. In the other, you would use boundaries to prevent him from being able to have his cake and eat it, too. These are two very different ways to respond.
The less prone to anxiety you are, the more likely your suspicions are true. Going with your gut is a very bad idea for anxiety prone people. You will need to use an objective way to determine your husband’s trustworthiness.
An objective way to evaluate your husband’s trustworthiness
This exercise requires a piece of paper and pencil (or pen). I know those are really old fashioned nowadays, but what can I say? I still believe in old fashioned love and relationships that can last a lifetime. Would you want a relationship coach who didn’t? Just take one step at a time and I’m sure you will do fine.
1. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. You can do that by drawing a line down the middle of the paper or by folding it in half from left to right and then unfolding it. I like the folding method because it makes straighter lines.
2. In the left column (column 1), list all your husband’s behaviors
which are causing you to ask yourself “Can I trust my husband?” (e.g. he lies
about where he is, he flirts with other women, he no longer does things with you, etc.). Be sure not to put what you imagine is happening. Only what you have good evidence for.
3. In the right hand column (column 2), list all the reasons that
are encouraging you to trust your husband (e.g. he takes you places, consistently pays the rent, is always glad to see you, etc.). Again, put what your eyes and ears tell you–not what you imagine.
4. For column two, cross out all the reasons that have to do with
words. For example, “because he says he loves me” would get crossed
out. We can only trust the words of people who we already know are
trustworthy. Words can not be used as the basis for deciding if we trust someone.
5. Cross out any behaviors in column two that have lasted less than
three months. Six months if it has to do with not using drugs or
alcohol (e.g. if he has stopped using drugs, but only for 4 months, then it doesn’t count yet). Trust can be broken quickly, but takes time to be rebuilt. That’s why you need a rule like the 3 month rule.
6. Now, looking at the evidence in front of you, what conclusions can you make about whether you should trust your husband? Does the left hand column or the right hand column have more entries? Are there items that stand out as more important than the rest?
There are three possible patterns you can see from this exercise.
- Your husband obviously loves you and is trustworthy.
- Your husband does not love you and is not to be trusted.
- He both loves you and is untrustworthy.
The second pattern (no loving or trustworthy behavior) often occurs in low boundary, high conflict relationships. Learning to reduce conflict and use boundaries is the thing to do here. Confronting your husband would just create more conflict and would not make him more trustworthy.
The third pattern (mixture of loving and untrustworthy behavior) often precedes or accompanies affairs or other major violations of your marriage. It causes confusion, because it represents two pictures, both of which are true for your husband–that he does not want to lose you, and that he is disconnecting from you to do something secretly. This is the most common pattern I see when I work with women to prevent or end their husband’s affair. This situation is resolved by using effective boundaries to prevent him from having his cake and eating it, too.
Becoming empowered and effective
As you can see, getting things on paper can make it amazingly clear whether you should trust or not, even if “in your head” you couldn’t figure it out. This is because the objective part of you is examining the evidence on paper, while the emotional part of you was reacting to what you did in your head.
Successful people in every field have learned that becoming effective means organizing our thoughts through lists and plans. People who simply read advice without taking actions don’t make progress. The same is true for people who meet regularly with a counselor, but never have any action steps to do.
If you work with a relationship coach, you will have the experience of going from ideas to actions to success.
Getting out your feelings will not change them. Success is the best antidote to anger and frustration.
Strengthening your marriage
I suggest repeating this love and trust exercise, by writing about your own words and behaviors toward your husband. Go through the left hand and right hand columns listing behaviors that you do. If you were in your husband’s shoes, what conclusions would you draw about your love and your trustworthiness based on these lists? Are you doing what it takes to earn your husband’s trust? Are your words and behaviors contradictory? Are there other things that you could do to demonstrate even more how much you love and value your husband?
I recommend that you don’t share this paper with your husband
If your husband is trustworthy, then you mainly need to work on helping him to feel loved, appreciated, effective, and important. Those are the ways that men want women to make them feel. Those are what attract men out of a marriage to another woman when they do not receive them from their wives. I have a free download on my website to help you get started.
If your husband is not trustworthy or is a mixture of the two, you will need to work both on relationship building and having good boundaries. Failure to use good boundaries makes men feel free to continue behaviors which are damaging to your relationship.
Many women do not have good success in stopping damage because either their boundaries are not done effectively, or they do not also do the loving behavior necessary for building the relationship at the same time. In my book, What to Do When He Won’t Change, I help women to make a three step plan for stopping the damage in their marriages. Using such a plan, women stop thinking, “Can I trust my husband?” and instead think “What can I do to stop the damage and build my relationship?” which is a far more helpful question.
If you figure out you can’t trust your husband, you still need to take actions to make things better.
Marriage problems are an opportunity, not a disaster
Many people don’t like to admit to problems because they fear that doing so will bring about something even worse. That is only true if you don’t deal with problems in a way that build the relationship.
Having a better relationship doesn’t depend on convincing your husband to go to counseling. It depends on you learning how to re-attract your husband and deal effectively with any damaging behaviors that he has.
Marriage counseling is never going to be a good choice for improving your marriage if you have an untrustworthy husband because he will not be motivated to change. If you would like help with the effective ways to create positive change, please take a look at my coaching package for improving your relationship when you have a difficult spouse.