After Infidelity and Divorce, Now Afraid to Trust

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Reader’s Question

I left my wife two years ago because she cheated on me, and I have now been divorced for over a year. I dated a few other women but never wanted anything serious with any of them because I was going through a healing phase. A few weeks ago, I met a wonderful woman who has great qualities and with whom I can envision having a long-term relationship. While I want this relationship to develop further, I am also really scared of having a relationship at all.

I think the reason I feel this way has to do with my being extremely hurt by my ex-wife’s cheating. I can honestly say I don’t believe my new girlfriend would ever cheat on me, but I also remember saying the same thing about my ex-wife, and she did. Should I tell my girlfriend how I am feeling?

Psychologist’s Reply

It makes complete sense that you might have some trust issues in relationships given your former wife’s infidelity. I can only surmise how hurtful that experience must have been, and how that has negatively affected your current ability to trust other women. Now that you are beginning a new relationship, it seems reasonable that your fears would come to the forefront. You may be developing strong feelings for your girlfriend, and it may feel risky to be vulnerable and let you heart open up again.

If you believe that this relationship could become serious, you might wish to express your feelings to your girlfriend. I imagine the prospect of opening up in this way feels scary after what you have gone through, and you may fear your girlfriend will somehow take advantage of you or leave. However, communicating honestly about your fears may help your girlfriend better understand your relationship concerns and may even create greater closeness and intimacy between you two. Trusting a dating partner can take some time, especially after the pain of infidelity. Your girlfriend hopefully realizes this and can assist your healing by being sensitive to your emotional needs and vulnerabilities.

Your wife’s infidelity likely left you feeling hurt and betrayed, and you may have even felt victimized by your wife’s actions. To free yourself from this sense of victimhood, it may be helpful to review aspects of the situation over which you had control at the time. Perhaps, for example, there were early signs in the marriage that you and your wife were growing apart, but you ignored them. Maybe you overlooked the signs that your wife was having an affair? Processing with your therapist some of these former relationship “red flags” may help you regain a perceived sense of control and mastery going forward in your current relationship. A therapist might also help you process the feelings associated with your wife’s infidelity, allowing you to see your current relationship and girlfriend from a clearer perspective.

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