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Dear Deb: How Can I Ever Trust Again After Being Cheated On?

Dear Deb:
I thought I’d married a great guy and that we had a good marriage. Then I found out he had an affair for the last five years of our 22-year marriage. The divorce is bad enough, but I’ve lost all faith in humanity. How will I ever be able to trust again?

Dear Betrayed:
You’re asking a great question that points to the devastation caused by infidelity. Trust is a gift we give with our most vulnerable hearts. Your world is shattered when your partner betrays your trust and trashes that sacred gift. Of course, you’re shaken to your core and feel it’s unsafe to ever give your trust again. But you deserve to love and trust again, and the first step is to decide that you aren’t going to let your Ex’s actions destroy your future happiness.

Here are some things to know about learning to trust again:

Cheating is all about the cheater. Don’t make your Ex’s cheating mean anything about your worth and value because it doesn’t. All external behaviors are mirrors of one’s internal landscape. If another person betrays you, that’s coming directly from their unresolved inner issues. Although your Ex’s actions impact your experience, they aren’t really about you or something you lack. They’re about something lacking in your Ex. This doesn’t mean there weren’t other issues in the relationship that both parties could have contributed to, but the act of cheating is a reflection on the cheater, not you.

Your healing comes first. Your ability to trust another partner will hinge on you being emotionally healthy and fully healed before entering a new relationship. That means moving through your pain, hurt, and anger to acceptance. Check in and see if you’re feeling like a victim (which is understandable but not helpful to your recovery). If so, rate your willingness to be a power player in your own story by using your divorce to your advantage. That is using it to learn about yourself and reinvent your life. If you do, you’ll come out of your divorce more confident, not less.

There are many great potential partners out there who would never cheat. If and when you decide to get back out there, prioritize loyalty, dependability, and integrity over immediate chemistry or other surface-level attractions. You can look at someone’s relationship track record—and whether or not they’re loyal in non-romantic relationships—to get a good picture of their character. Research says that 20% of men and 13% of women report cheating. Although men are more likely to cheat than women, most don’t.

Trusting someone else starts with trusting yourself. Trusting yourself begins with working on self-awareness and self-worth. Using your divorce to learn about your relationship patterns and unhealed wounds increases your self-awareness, which gives you the basis for valuing and trusting yourself. Instead of thinking, “How can I ever trust again?” you’ll shift to “I love and trust myself enough to know that I’ll take care of myself in any situation.” That’s the ultimate safety.

You Ex broke your trust, but they can’t break you.

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