My relationship is going through a rocky patch right now and I really need your help. Last month I was walking home from a soccer game when I spotted my girlfriend of almost one year in the window of a cafe. I was about to go in and say hi when another woman rushed over to the table, gave her a huge hug, and they started chatting. This woman wasn’t any of our friends. My girlfriend hadn’t mentioned that she had plans to see anyone. My mind jumped automatically to the thought that she was cheating on me and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. My last relationship fell apart because of cheating. I confronted her about it the next day and she admitted that the woman was her ex, who moved out of state for grad school, and who was home visiting family. She claimed she didn’t tell me about it because she knew how freaked out I was about cheating and she didn’t want to worry me because they were just friends. I asked her if she was planning to see her ex again over winter break or Thanksgiving and she said she didn’t know, but I don’t believe her. I kind of had a freakout about it and my girlfriend was pretty understanding, but she criticized me for not trusting her and assuming that she would cheat because I’ve been cheated on before. She said that if we’re going to be serious this is something I need to get over, only I don’t know how. So how can I learn to trust her when I’ve been lied to before?
It sucks that you were cheated on by a past partner. Your girlfriend is right, though: If you can’t learn to trust the people you are with, you are going to drive them away. It’s just a question of sooner or later.
So how do you learn to trust again after being cheated on? First, accept that it’s a process. You can’t just get over it in a week and be all good. Your girlfriend probably gets that, so what she’s asking for is for you to try. Not get it right by tomorrow.
There’s no one guaranteed way to get over that hurt. Some women need to feel all the feelings before they can find their way back to trust. We’re talking ugly cries, journaling, venting to your bestie, screaming and throwing things, writing her an angry letter you’re never going to mail. From your instant suspicious to spotting your girlfriend in the cafe, it sounds like you moved on mentally but have some emotional work to do.
On the other side of feeling like shit lies vulnerability. That’s where you want to get.
If you’re a positivity person it can help to come up with mantras that remind you that, sure, a few women are cheating scumbags, but the rest of the lesbian population really is kittens and rainbows. It might feel like you’re faking it for a bit, but ultimately, you can focus on the hurtful people in your life, the ones who let you down, or you can choose to see all the good things in your life — including your girlfriend.
The more you focus on what’s going right, the sooner that suspicion will fade. If you focus on the cheating ex, then she kind of wins. Close that chapter for good and look on the brighter side.
On a logical level, you know that you need to trust your new partner. On some level, trust is always going to require a leap of faith. This is where control fails. Right now, you might be thinking that you can engineer your life to keep you safe from ever getting cheated on again — and then finding your girlfriend at the cafe with an ex showed you how false that assumption is.
That level of control is illusory. There’s nothing you can do shore up the possibility of ever getting cheated on again, aside from live out your life in celibacy, denying any woman the chance to cheat on you. To open up to love, and to trust your girlfriend, means to open up to the possibility of being hurt.
If you’re on edge, requiring constant reassurance, or sneaking to new levels of snooping, get yourself some help. These behaviors are signs that you have emotional scars from the cheating. A therapist can help you contextualize what happened, maybe even forgive your ex for cheating, and begin to rebuild trust in yourself and your current flame so you can be happy.