"Will I ever trust again?" I asked, turning toward my dad in the aftermath of the day the marriage died. My voice trembled, along with the rest of my body, a pleading tone hoping for a positive response.
His eyes teared, he pulled me in for a hug. "I don’t know, but I sure hope so." It wasn't the response I wanted, but it was honest. And honest was what I needed.
Over the next weeks and months, I asked that question of my mom, my family, my friends, my journal. And every response was the same. "I don't know."
How do you recover from betrayal by the person closest to you? How do you move forward without armor so thick that no one will ever make it through? How do you ever put faith in another person after doing so destroyed your world, and you in the process?
How do you learn to trust again?
We often think of trust as a singular thing, an on/off switch that is either fully present or entirely lacking. But trust doesn't operate that way; it is multidimensional, and maintaining it is an ongoing and ever-present process.
We also generally speak of trust as something that exists solely outside ourselves. We deem certain people untrustworthy and label others dependable. We decide that someone has lost our trust because of his or her actions (or perceived actions) and that the rebuilding of trust is completely dependent upon him or her. Yet, the reality is that trust exists in the space between two people, and it depends upon both for sustenance.
It's been several years since I first questioned if I could ever trust again. And now I know I can trust because, for the most part, I do. It wasn't (and sometimes still isn't) an easy process, but it has been a worthwhile undertaking.
If you're struggling with trust, I've identified five components for you to look for in the other person, and to address in yourself:
In your partner: Deception and betrayal are often the coward's way of saying, "I'm not happy with myself." Look for a partner who is willing to be direct, rather than evasive, even when saying the things you may not want to hear. This trait was one of the main characteristics I looked for (and found) in my second husband. I trust that he'll speak the truth. That doesn't mean I'll always like it.
In yourself: Have the courage to face whatever you may see. Hiding your head in the sand only leaves you blind. Ask the hard questions. Have the difficult conversations. Be willing to walk away. Believe in your own strengths and abilities. This was a difficult road for me. I don't like conflict, and had confused my desire for something to be true with my belief that it was true. I still struggle sometimes, but I'm doing much better at facing the truth rather than turning away.
In your partner: Seek out a partner who is empathetic and compassionate about what you have experienced. There's a balance here. It's not fair to hold him or her accountable for someone else's misdeeds, yet he or she can be understanding that sometimes your aim will be off. When we first started dating, my now-husband forwarded me an unsolicited email from his boss about some upcoming travel for work. That email paid dividends into my trust bank, since I had discovered that much of my ex's "work" travel was anything but.
In yourself: Be aware of when you're responding to something from now, and when you're coming from a place of old hurt and fear. If you're (over)reacting because of your past, own it and don't try to place that responsibility on your new partner. Whenever I'm feeling triggered about something, I try to take a step back before I react. Often, I figure out that the issue is that my brain jumped from point A to conclusion Z by following assumptions drawn from my past—at which point, I work on myself, rather than blow up at my partner.
In your partner: Don't assume that your partner is lying, and also don't assume that he or she is always honest. Err on the side of belief, but also make sure that your trust isn't blind. Authenticate his or her words through observation and corroboration. In the early stages of our relationship, I sought verification for many of my now-husband's words. I didn't snoop (that behavior ALWAYS backfires!), but I was observant, looking for evidence that supported his claims.
In yourself: Don't assume that just because you feel it, it has to be real. Our emotions can lie to us as well. Be skeptical about your conclusions, and try to separate fact from reactions. Also, remember that if you look for what you expect to see, your brain is setting you up to find it. Keep your mind open, and yet questioning. I am still learning to differentiate between spilled milk and an oncoming milk truck. And I know that about myself. So when I reach a premature conclusion, I look for facts to back it up before I accept it as truth.
In your partner: Believe that there are honest people in the world. And until/unless you're proven differently, have faith that you're with one of them. I used to grow frustrated that my now-husband couldn't seem to grasp the enormity of my ex's transgressions. But then, I found solace in that fact. He doesn't get it because that kind of deception is simply not in is vocabulary. And I'm more than okay with that.
In yourself: Have confidence that you will be able to move through your past and have the security of trust again. Operate with the certainty that you'll get there, and the focus will help you find your way. In the beginning, I was asking if I could trust again. A few months out, I changed that to a declaration, “I WILL trust again.” I didn't know how or when, but I made trust a goal rather than a question.
In your partner: For those of us who struggle with trust, we can often confuse disappointment with deception. Your partner will make mistakes. He or she will disappoint you. That's not a breach of trust; that's a fact of life. In his willingness to readily own up to his mistakes, my now-husband has helped me find acceptance with infallibility. None of us is perfect. Stuff happens. And that's why trust is an ongoing process.
In yourself: Accept your part. Do you turn away from uncomfortable truths? Do you start off believing that everything is a lie and seek only to prove it? Do you place the onus for trust on another's shoulders? Also, accept that you have been wounded and that it will take time and patience for you to heal. As soon as I shifted my focus from what my ex did to what I needed to do, my healing really began. Even though I could continue to blame him for destroying my trust, learning how to find it again was up to me.
Trust is not expecting your partner to be perfect. Trust is choosing a partner that faces instead of hides. Trust is not ever being hurt or disappointed. Trust is looking beyond the result and seeing the intention. Trust is not searching for ways that others are trying to deceive you. Trust is listening to your gut and sifting out the truth. Trust is not trying to control every action and every outcome. Trust is operating within your locus of control and releasing the end result.
Trust starts with you. And it's up to you.
Written by Lisa Arends
Lisa Arends is a divorcee working to inspire others to move forward, recenter, and repurpose their lives. She has written the "How-To-Thrive Guide." Learn more about "thriving" and be inspired by visiting LessonsFromTheEndOfAMarriage.com.