THE BLOG

How Do You Regain Trust After Being Betrayed?

02/11/2011 01:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If you've had a marriage that ended because of a betrayal in trust on your spouse's behalf, the idea of trusting another person with your heart can seem completely ridiculous. You may feel hurt, embarrassed, angry, and miserable, and it may be hard to comprehend ever getting over it.

In this kind of situation, it can be very easy to position yourself in a corner, build some walls around you, and decide that you're not going to trust anyone ever again. You swear off love, you keep your emotional baggage firmly in hand, and when someone approaches you in the future, you simply hold up your baggage and tell that person to back off, because you've been hurt.
But living this way only hurts you, and it continues the misery that your spouse inflicted on you by betraying you in the first place- except now, you're the one betraying yourself.

What I want to talk about are some concrete ways that we can start trusting others again.

Often, when cheating happens, we rush to place blame solely on one person- either the person who did the cheating, or more insidiously, if it happened to us, we blame ourselves for not being "good enough" to keep them around. But putting it all on one person doesn't paint the entire picture.

Hold on hold on, I know how that sounds. It's an easy sell to assert that a man who has been cheated on isn't to blame for his wife's straying, but it's another thing entirely to say that a wife who cheats isn't completely at fault for cheating. Hear me out: anyone who cheats is 100% responsible for his or her behavior. Nothing you did justifies being betrayed. Period. All I'm saying is that nothing happens in a vacuum.

If you've been cheated on, one of the most cathartic things you can do is to look at the situation from a safe distance to determine what part you played in what happened. Did you force yourself to ignore concerns you had about your spouse's odd behavior? Did you hold your tongue when you felt things going cold? Were you focusing your attention on someone else outside of the marriage, emotionally, in order to avoid dealing with marital tension? Don't blame yourself, but people often end up feeling completely clueless as to why the betrayal happened, and there are almost always clues. Empower yourself by figuring out where you fit into the story, so you aren't just a victim of your own marriage. A good therapist can be extremely beneficial during this process.

After you've taken the time to learn the lessons this traumatic event can teach you, it's time to take an inventory of who and what you do trust. You may think the answer is no one, but you'd be surprised. Start with the basics, like trusting that a cab driver will take you where you need to go, or that someone will return your email as soon as they are able. Then move on to those people in your life that you can trust with your emotions- who comforts you when you're upset? Your family, your friends, your coworkers- these people are proof that you do know who to trust. For each close friend you have, ask yourself what has led to you being able to trust them as much as you do.

Next, as you interact with people in your day-to-day life, look for signs of their trustworthiness. Watch how they treat the people around them, if they are callous with others' emotions or if they are considerate. Sometimes we are much better at judging people based on how they treat everyone other than ourselves. We make a million excuses for why they treat us how they do. What you're doing here is finding patterns, both in your own relationships and in others, of trustworthy behavior.

When you meet someone new, strike a balance between being completely closed off and putting your "stuff" out there immediately. Your emotions, your history- these are incredibly important gifts and should be doled out carefully. Pick a few things about yourself that are intimate but not too vulnerable (your dream career, your wishes for your children, your childhood fears), and test the waters. When you reveal part of yourself, how does the other person react? Does he/she seem interested, or does he/she immediately change the subject, make a dumb joke, or seem bored? These are clues for you to use in determining whether or not this person is trustworthy with your heart. Think back on the patterns of behavior you've seen in your close relationships, and in strangers, and use that information. Don't blindly assume that everyone is trustworthy and ignore their actual actions, but don't blindly assume that everyone will eventually screw you over. Be observant and reward those who show themselves to be worthy of you.

Trust yourself to make good decisions, and also trust that you are going to make mistakes here and there as well. That doesn't mean you're broken- far from it. Don't give up on forming intimate bonds with others. Betrayal can be extremely painful, but it's up to you how much that pain damages you permanently. You've got a long, productive life ahead of you- proceed with both your heart and eyes open.