By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Learning to trust is one of the biggest challenges for women who have endured the divorce experience. As a child, your parents’ breakup taught you that relationships are fragile and doomed to fail. Because of your past experience, you might approach relationships warily and you have come to expect the worst. Emily, for instance, is a pretty, outgoing thirty-two year old teacher who watched her family unravel when she was six years old. “I remember a vacation that never happened, helping my dad pack, and him driving off in his red Renault,” she says. For many years, Emily was estranged from her father and had a stormy relationship with her mother who relied on her too much after her dad left. For almost a decade, Emily settled for a relationship with Brian, who cheated on her and brought her constant heartache.
Emily’s parents’ divorce left her with a deep seated sense of anxiety about relationships and fears that haunt her to this day. Even when she meets a man who seems trustworthy, she freezes out the option of love for fear of being hurt. Self-doubt can be particularly strong for women like Emily who have buried their feelings of anger and fear over many years. Leaning her head to one side, she ponders, “Am I going to make the right decision about who I am going to let into my life?”
Like Emily, you may be unable to trust others, even if you find yourself in a reasonably healthy relationship. Think about it: do you find yourself being suspicious of potential or current partners even when they demonstrate trustworthiness? You might be hesitant or fearful when it comes to trusting others because you believe, deep down, that others can’t be trusted, or because you’ve been burnt in the past. Trust issues go beyond trusting that a partner will be unfaithful. You may mistrust that your partner has your best interests at heart.
Likewise, women who have survived infidelity or sudden ruptures in relationships without warning can be mistrustful and fearful of being hurt again. It has taken several years for Katrina, age forty-two, to recover from her husband of sixteen years leaving suddenly – only to find out that he soon remarried a woman who he had known for less than a year. For good reason Katrina asks: “how can I learn to trust again?” Mistrust can come in many forms, from suspecting your partner of infidelity, to fearing that he will abandon you emotionally or physically.
Extending trust to others can rekindle your inner spirit and can bring happiness to you and others. The truth is that there are smart ways to rebuild trust and gain self-respect:
Get in touch with the root of your trust issue. Do you sometimes feel that love is easily broken and fear that it will disappear despite everything you do?
Extend trust to yourself – trust your instincts and intuition. This involves moving on from the past, forgiving others, and accepting yourself as you are today.
Extend trust to others. Don’t automatically assume that a failure of competence is a failure of character. Many mistakes aren’t intentional so don’t make them into something they are not.
Make sure the words you use to express your feelings are consistent with your goal of building a loving and trusting relationship. It’s important not to blame or criticize your partner when you confront him. Listen to his side of the story.
Challenge mistrustful thoughts. Are they based in reality or related to your past experience?
Keep in mind that restoring trust is a slow process. You were born with a propensity to trust but through your life experience you may have become less trusting as a way of protecting yourself.
Face your trust issues with optimism and make a conscious choice to trust others who demonstrate consistent behavior and are deserving of your trust.
Let’s close with the words of Neal Maxwell, writer and educator: “It’s better to trust and sometimes be disappointed than to be forever mistrusting and be right occasionally.”
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook. She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).