“Can I trust my husband?” is probably something you never thought you would have to think about. But, what if you are just being naive?
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 problems, cheating on you, having work problems, or even if he still loves you? Asking seems like the obvious answer, but that can either precipitate a crisis or just get his denial that anything is wrong. If you asking, “Can I trust my husband?”, it is time to get out of your head and to take action that may save your marriage.
Our fears can make us overlook evidence that is obvious to others
When you are angry, it is much easier to remember all the negative things your husband does. When you are happy, it is much easier to remember all of the good things your husband does. 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. 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 also possible, because of a history of bad treatment at the hands of others, that we doubt and mistrust someone who is trustworthy. Just as overlooking untrustworthy behavior can allow damage to continue, so too can seeing untrustworthy behavior when it is just not there. This is called projection, because we project our fears and doubts onto someone else. We then treat that person as if they really are untrustworthy and damage our relationships in the process. Though our spouses may at first be understanding of this behavior, they 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 receive compliments and loving words from your husband.
Get off the emotional merry-go-round
Besides your own issues, your husband’s words and behavior can make you feel loved some of the time, hurt some of the time, and confused all of the time. What he does and what he says can go around in your mind like an emotional merry-go-round. We get confused because our minds can’t make sense of the information we have. Our mind keeps trying to fit the pieces together. Until we can get them to fit, our minds won’t leave it alone. It’s like having two different picture puzzles whose pieces have been mixed together. If you try to fit them together into one coherent picture, it is not possible. To deal with this situation, you need to first sort the pieces and then put them together. That is not something best done in our heads. It is much better done on paper.
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 forever. 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 trust.
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 are items that stand out from 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 anymore and is not to be trusted.
- He both loves you and is untrustworthy.
It is this third scenario that often precedes or accompanies an affair. You could not fit it together in your mind, 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 be with someone else. This is the most common pattern I see when I work with women to end their husband’s affairs.
Becoming empowered and effective
Seeing this on paper, what is your answer to “Can I trust my husband?” 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. If you work with a relationship coach, you will have the experience of going from ideas to an organized step by step plan for achieving the results you want, whether in business or your marriage.
Strengthening your marriage
I suggest repeating this exercise, by writing about your own words and behaviors. 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 the relationship 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 masculine. 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. Here you will find a free download to get you started.
If your husband is not trustworthy or is a mixture of the two, you will need to work both on relationship building as above, and use good boundaries. Failure to use good boundaries makes men feel secure to pursue 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 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 go from, “Can I trust my husband?” to “What can I do to stop the damage and build my relationship?” which is a far more helpful question.
Hope is the best antidote for denial
People depend on denial because they think that if there are problems, then it would spell the end of their relationship. This could not be further from the truth. With the right work, your relationship can be rebuilt. This does not 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. That is usually more effective than working together in counseling (where men become defensive) or trying to get him to do relationship exercises with you (which tend to create temporary change at best). And, if you are directly confronting your husband about his behavior, you are likely finding that only creates resistance on his part. I have been in the business of helping men and women to get their partners to fall in love with them again for more than two decades. Every day I hear from men and and women who have saved their relationships just by using my books. I hope that I can help you, too. Don’t listen to anyone who says you need to give up on your marriage.