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How To Improve Your Marriage When You Don’t Trust Your Husband

He tells me I should trust him. I want to, but I can’t. What do I do now?

You can be part of the solution in helping your husband to be trustworthy

Trust is something that helps our relationships grow by allowing to us to become more and more emotionally and practically committed. There should be little trust at the beginning so we don’t commit too soon. 

If we trust too much, too soon, we have a high risk of continuing with the wrong person and then being hurt. This prevents us from finding someone better and can make us cynical about relationships.

Building relationships slowly allows for better trust development and fewer problems.

We also risk losing a good relationship if we don’t trust enough. If someone has consistently been trustworthy but we continue to express doubt, our relationship will be damaged. Or if we fail to take a reasonable step with a person we trust, we can also damage our relationship.

Two steps are required for trust building:

  1. Taking small risks to allow our partner a chance to prove their trustworthiness, and
  2. Our partners must consistently behave in a trustworthy way at that trust level.

If we don’t take small risks, trust cannot be earned. If our partners continue to behave in an untrustworthy way, trust cannot be earned. Notice that trust is not earned based on a person’s promises to behave in a trustworthy way.

What is trustworthy behavior?

One of the biggest mistakes that women make is to base their trust on their husband’s promises or on their verbal expressions of love. Since men use words as tools to achieve their goals, their words should not be trusted unless the words match the behavior.

Truth is revealed in behavior. Use your eyes to determine truth and not your ears.

With your husband, you can analyze his trustworthiness with these three questions:

1 Does his behavior reflect your values?

For example, if you are Christian and his behavior reflects a disinterest or disregard for what God wants, your trust level should be low. Or if you value saving money and he spends money on frivolous things such that you can’t save, your trust level should be low. If you value family relationships, but he does not spend time with you or your children, your trust level should be low.

The more areas in which his behaviors do not match your values, the less you should trust him.

It is possible to have a values mismatch in only one area. That is the area where you must depend on boundaries rather than trust.

Failure to have good boundaries in an area where he has different values means you are contributing to the problem.

Examples of this would be giving too much financial credit to a person who misspends money, agreeing to your husband working out of town although he does little to maintain your relationship, being sexually available to a man who doesn’t value emotional intimacy.

For those examples, good boundaries would be limiting a person’s access to money, requiring your husband to work locally, and requiring emotional intimacy prior to being sexually intimate. Not having such boundaries would create financial problems, promote affairs, and a loveless marriage.

The longest lasting relationships are always going to be between people who are similar in attitudes, values, behaviors, and beliefs.

The Bible specifically tells us: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV).

This doesn’t mean however, that any Christian matches any other Christian. I would not have married my wife if she hadn’t been a Christian. But I also wouldn’t have married her if we were not very similar in other ways as well. It is only our similarity that forms the basis for our emotional connection.

2 Does he keep his word?

A person who says one thing and does another should not be trusted. Of course there are times when a person cannot keep their word due to unforeseen circumstances. However, when a man can reasonably be expected to keep his word, but doesn’t, that is reason for caution. If he regularly does not keep his word, it is reason for boundaries.

Don’t fall into the common trap of trusting someone based on the sincerity of their intention. Regardless of how sincerely someone intends to do something, if they regularly don’t they should not be trusted.

Deceit is not the only reason not to trust someone. A lack of skill is just as important. We don’t trust five year olds to drive cars or senile people to make good decisions. It’s not a question of deceit–it’s a question of ability. Your husband may simply not have the necessary skills in whatever area you would like to trust him.

Knowing how to avoid and resist temptation is also a skill which is taught by the Bible. Once a person has that skill, then it is a matter of character whether they use such a skill.

(Since it is beyond the scope of this post, I encourage you to search for ways to resist temptation on the internet if you are having difficulty with your temptations in any area. Intention without skills only leads to frustration).

3 Does he behave in a way that has your best interest in mind?

Your husband may have some parental behaviors that you don’t like. Before you consider that as making him untrustworthy, consider the intent of his behavior. It is to keep you safe? To provide for you? To prevent problems which could endanger your relationship? If so, it is a reason to trust him, even if you don’t like his behavior.

On the other hand, if his behavior endangers you, is meant to hurt you, takes away from what you need to be emotionally or physically healthy, or is likely to lead to future relationship problems, it is another reason not to trust him.

Although you may find that God tells you to do many things you don’t like, you can trust Him because He has your best interest in mind. God has never created any prohibition designed to hurt us or take away from what we legitimately need.

If your husband lives according to values which match yours, keeps his word, and behaves toward you in a way that shows he has your best interest in mind, you can trust him at your current level of relationship. You can then take small emotional or practical risks to see if he still remains trustworthy.

Unlike with God, with humans, there always comes a level where we have to draw a line on trusting. Just as you could not expect a dog not to eat a steak that you leave on the floor while you go out, never trust your spouse to spend a night alone with your best friend. Trusting beyond a person’s ability level is also a large part of ongoing trust problems.

Anyone can take us by surprise with untrustworthy behavior. But we should not be surprised when the same untrustworthy behavior happens repeatedly.

“How much should we trust early in a relationship?”

Trusting too much, too soon, is risky, since it gives the other person plenty of room to disappoint us. However, the damage is minimized if we don’t have that much to lose. For example, if I hire a new maid, and leave valuables within easy reach in my home, I increase the risk that the maid will steal from me.

However, if my valuables are insured or I can afford to lose them, it is not a great risk to me. I can more quickly come to trust my maid. But, if I could not afford to lose such valuables, then I would be taking a big risk. So it is with relationships.

Some people would be devastated if they trusted soon and were lied to or cheated. Others would rather know sooner than later so that they can more quickly move on. 

You need to have some sense of your risk tolerance. If you are easily hurt, then develop trust more slowly. If you know you are the kind of person who recovers quickly, then taking bigger risks may bring more momentum and excitement to your relationships. 

You need to keep both of these axioms in mind: “Look before you leap,” and “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” 

There is no love without trust, but there is no trust without risk.

When you are married, there is a lot more to lose by trusting too quickly in an area where trust has been broken. Use boundaries and let the trust be earned back with consistent behavior over a long period of time. We want to see at least three months of consistent behavior before trusting someone in that area.

I feel very confused about whether I should trust my husband

We feel confused when two pieces of information don’t match. If you are confused it is most likely because you are trying to mentally match his words with his actions and finding that difficult. 

For example, your husband may say that he loves you, yet treats you badly or cheats on you.

End your confusion by disregarding the words. In this example, if he says he loves you yet treats you badly or cheats on you, he does not love you. His words are false and should be disregarded. He says those words in order to keep you for some selfish reasons and not because he loves you.

While hard to admit, this will help you take more effective action to either end your marriage or regain his love. Staying in a state of confusion will only make you miserable while allowing him to have his cake and eat it, too.

You can end the confusion if you discard the words and regard only the actions. Men use words to accomplish goals, while women use words to express feelings. It’s an over-generalization, but is often true. If his words and behaviors match up, then you can be more trusting of what he says. If they don’t match, then don’t trust the words.

Jesus required words to be demonstrated by actions. Why shouldn’t you?

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46, NIV

Two more examples of trust building

A financially irresponsible husband

If your husband has driven you into bankruptcy and now wants free access to your bank account, there should be some evidence that his spending behavior has changed. Even so, you should only grant access to a small amount of money. Anything which is yours should be risked a little in order to allow your partner the opportunity to build trust without dealing you a crushing blow.

A husband who has had an affair

If your husband has cheated on you, you also don’t want to just give your whole heart right away, but you do need to risk it a little. Without planting a seed, nothing can grow. I have coached thousands of women to rebuild their relationships with a cheating husband.

The ones who have the most success are those who require their husbands to first choose between them and the other woman or else separate with boundaries to prevent him from having his cake and eating it, too.

They also require step by step relationship building to occur if their husband wants to avoid separation. If their husbands won’t choose them over the other woman or won’t work on relationship building, they separate and use good boundaries.

Women who trust quickly after their husband’s affair or who end a separation based on promises rather than actual relationship building, see a reoccurrence of the cheating behavior within a short time.

(If your husband is cheating on you or you are concerned that he will, I recommend my book: A Christian Guide to Preventing and Ending Men’s Affairs. I also have a coaching package which will help you to go through all of the steps for ending your husband’s affair).

How much should I control my husband’s behaviors when he is trying to rebuild trust?

You need to be able to check up on him rather than interrogating your spouse. Interrogation is a needy, ineffective behavior which damages relationships. Checking up often just means monitoring your bank account or watching that your husband is using relationship building behaviors with you. It doesn’t mean tracking, stalking, spying, and so forth.

Rebuilding trust always includes the possibility that it won’t be rebuilt. Remember, trust can’t be build without your taking reasonable risks. However, you do need to have a plan B in case the trust is not rebuilt. It could be divorce, but often it is just maintaining a certain level of boundaries.

A spouse who is unwilling to be accountable during the trust rebuilding process cannot be trusted

You must also do your part. If you need your spouse to pee on a stick to prove that he isn’t drinking or using drugs, for example, then do it. It will help more than it will hurt. But, if your spouse is not trying to rebuild your trust, you would do nothing of the sort. You would focus on protecting yourself, instead.

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High value women have more trustworthy partners

You should become such a good partner for your husband that he has a lot to lose if he breaks your trust. High value spouses have partners who are more loving and are less likely to take chances with the relationship. 

Low value spouses have partners who regularly break trust because they do not feel like they have much to lose. They also do not believe their spouses could easily replace them. Just as a high value employer can more easily keep her employees and recruit new ones, so can a high value wife keep her husband treating her well. 

A high value wife is one who would be difficult to replace with someone better. How hard would it be for your husband to find a woman who was more desirable than you and who treated him better than you? If it would easy, then you need to work on your value before trying to use boundaries.

I work with many women to help them increase their value to their husbands. How desirable you are is directly under your control and does not depend on what your husband says or does.

Summary of principles for building your husband’s trustworthiness

Strive to be a high value wife while also taking small risks that allow your husband to build trust. Don’t risk too much too soon or give him credit for words when behavior doesn’t match. Instead of accusing or interrogating, use reasonable boundaries and have a good plan B. The less you are afraid of his violating your trust, the more effectively you will be able to help him behave in a trustworthy way.

Also, remember that there is always a limit to how much we should trust anyone. Taking into account their skill level in being able to resist temptation or follow through is part of being a good spouse.

I hope I have helped you to see that there are things you can do other than waiting and hoping if you don’t trust your husband. If you would like to work with me on those things, I would be happy to help.

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