I Can’t Trust My Husband; Considering Throwing In the Towel

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Reader’s Question

I am 23 years old, my husband is 27, and we have some serious communication issues. We are now aware of them and are constantly working to improve our communication with one another. My husband has had a major problem with being faithful, honest, and truthful. Just some examples are, cheating on me while I was upstairs, inviting other females over to our home while I was away on vacation, and putting himself in situations where other females ‘throw themselves’ at him. After the first instance it was very difficult to stay with him but I did. The other incidents happened after I had our child, which is why I stayed with him. Needless to say, my ability to trust him has been tested on a number of occasions and, after losing trust completely, it has just now started to rebuild.

I am not completely ‘golden’ myself. Just a few months ago I was masturbating online with a video camera and my husband saw me while he was at work. Just to clarify, we participate in this together, but this was the first time I had done it without his knowledge, and it upset him. In order to ensure neither one of us was hurt again, we made a promise to each other that we would not engage with any pornographic material, unless together. But I was using his phone and came across an abundance of porn. When I asked him what it was, he flipped on me and tried to tell me it isn’t a big deal (“it’s just porn”) and that it’s my fault. I do think it’s a big deal. I am not upset that he looked at porn but I feel betrayed because we both made a promise to one another. Since this isn’t the first time I have felt betrayed (at least the fifth), my question is: considering we have a child together, when is it OK to throw the towel in on someone who consistently breaks your trust?

Psychologist’s Reply

Many people operate under the assumption that trust is something that you give. While you can certainly give it out freely, what results from that is fake trust, that has no solid foundation. Fake trust is not something you can count on. In contrast, real trust — the kind you can rely upon — is earned and, as such, is built slowly over time. People who want your trust make sure that they are honest and do what they say they are going to do.

Your husband doesn’t sound like he is very invested in earning your trust. He has repeatedly shown a pattern of dishonesty and betrayal. In the last example you gave, he even tried to blame the betrayal on you! His rationale for why the pornography on his phone is your fault had to have been interesting. Moreover, it doesn’t sound like he’s given you many reasons to think that you can trust him. Although I do believe that people can change, they have to want to do so and then actively work toward that goal. If he doesn’t want to change and isn’t trying to behave differently, then I’d seriously reconsider your relationship.

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You asked when it is OK to throw in the towel. Healthy relationships are built on trust and, even though you’ve given him lots of chances, you still don’t have much of it. That’s a huge problem. You didn’t mention what you all have tried in order to work things out but, if you haven’t already done so, I’d strongly recommend couples counseling before doing anything drastic. It could be possible that you just haven’t had the right tools to change or your communication hasn’t been as effective as it could be. A good couples counselor would be able to help with all that.

If, however, you have repeatedly tried counseling and it still hasn’t worked, only you can decide when you’ve had enough. Having a child together does make things more complicated, but that shouldn’t prevent you from following your instincts for when it’s time to leave. Contrary to what some believe, research has shown that it is not divorce that harms children; it is conflict. Thus, it is the tension that surrounds the mistrust and anger with one another that is bad for your child. Additionally, you do not want your child to make the same mistakes you all did. You want her or him to be able to trust and develop good relationship skills. Kids are like sponges; they soak in everything the people around them do. Consequently, whatever you decide to do, make certain that it is something that is beneficial for both you and your child.

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