It’s unfair. You really want to trust the person you’re seeing, but you’ve been so burned in the past that you just second-guess everything. You were lied to, deceived, cheated on, betrayed. Now you’re trying to get a fresh start with someone new, but you can’t keep yourself from reading into every little thing they do, looking for red flags, searching their mannerisms for tells that they’re hiding something.
Your fear is that, in your mistrust, you will push the person you’re seeing away by grilling them (“Where were you last night?”) or trying to limit their activities. Are you destined to always be attracted to liars, or is it the case that this person is different but the filter you’ve had over your eyes is so hard to shed?
It’s easy for self-preservation to kick in. You’re less likely to get hurt if you’re on the lookout for signals that they’re hiding something. The downside is that without trust, you’re never going to be open and vulnerable with them; you can’t be truly intimate with someone you fear is going to hurt you.
So how do you move past this?
Recognize the Narrative in Your Head
The first step is awareness that your story is not necessarily reality. You’ve adapted from past wounds by using an augmented reality filter that highlights all possible red flags. However, this only reinforces the worldview that you can’t trust people. You need to develop the awareness that you are actually using a filter. Metaphorically, it means putting the phone down and viewing your partner with your own eyes. This doesn’t mean you’re all of a sudden naive or innocent — you’ve already been through it — but you rationally know there are good people out there who don’t lie, cheat and steal, and that you don’t have to automatically expect the worst from people.
When you see a strand of hair on your lover’s shirt and it’s not the length or color of either their or your hair, there is more than one interpretation that can explain this phenomenon. Yes, it could be they’re sleeping with someone else. Or maybe someone else’s hair flew through the air onto their clothing from ten miles away. Or they hugged a coworker who had a bad day. You could have fun with this exercise by writing a list of absurd ways a strand of hair could have ended up on their shirt. Write down every possible story you can to explain it. And sure, include the worst possible interpretation. But then read all of them. Some may be more realistic than the worst possible interpretation.
Communicate With Transparency and Vulnerability
If you have an empathetic lover, they will have patience if they know your history. Be transparent; tell them your last partner cheated on you and made you feel crazy for having your perceptions. That you may jump to conclusions and that you’re struggling to trust. You could say, “When I see a blonde hair on your shoulder, I immediately jump to the conclusion that you’re seeing someone else. I was betrayed in my last relationship and it’s hard for me trust new people. I’m torn sharing this, because I don’t want you to think that I don’t believe you’re a trustworthy, loyal, honest person, and I don’t want to push you away with accusations. But I still need to voice that the first story that pops into my head when I see that hair is that you’re seeing someone else.”
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that the person you’re seeing will be patient and understanding. I would like to say that if they care, they will understand what you’re going through and say that they get why you’d jump to that conclusion but actually they don’t know how that got there, or they shared a hug with a friend, or whatever. And if they get defensive it doesn’t automatically mean they’re guilty, because they have their own history and stories, and may feel triggered when someone seems to be confronting them. However, transparent expression of your fears without anger seems to generally go over better than accusing — or just isolating and obsessing, and then blowing up later.
Ultimately, healing happens when you take the risk to trust and the other person embraces you in your vulnerability, treats you with respect, and doesn’t let you down. There is always the possibility that they won’t show up for you in the way that you need, but you will never get to the place you want to go if you don’t open yourself up.
If you’re struggling with trusting a new partner and wanting to develop better communication skills, psychotherapy can help.
Photo credit: iStockphoto by AntonioGuillem