"I Love You, But I Don't Trust You"

The Complete Guide to Restoring Trust in Your Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum, 2012

*The author has chosen to use "he/him" as the universal pronouns, primarily. Please insert the pronouns that work best for the individual you are in a relationship with as you read through the below summary of her book.

"These days, I don't judge myself for having handled things so badly. I now know that being betrayed makes everyone blind and crazy." (p.11).

Love can survive betrayal. "I've seen it. I've lived it. Hell, if betrayal necessarily kills love, then love is too fragile to exist in the real world" (p.12).

"It's not the betrayal by itself that causes most of the damage. It's the poor way we handle the aftermath" (p.13).

40-70% of couples have significant problems with trust, and, 90% of couples will have a crisis of trust at some point (p.14).

"Trust--not mistrust--is our default mode as a species" (p.16).

"A betrayal happens when you don't take into account another person who is relying on you...Anytime we treat someone as if he doesn't matter, he's going to feel some disappointment and betrayal...The trust-healing process consists of finding ways to radically take the other person into account" (pp.18-20).

"Trust is broken whenever someone we're counting on fails to live up to our [normal, reasonable] expectations...It's not just what he or she did in itself that makes it a betrayal; it's that we weren't considered a priority. And that's the key. Betrayal in any of its forms has a way of making us feel like we're nothing...Anything upsetting and earthshaking that makes you wonder 'Who is this other person and how can I possibly have a relationship with him?' is a major betrayal" (p.22).

"Because a fundamental expectation has been violated, it is no longer possible for you to feel safe in your world" (pp.24-25).

"It's exhausting: this feeling that you can't count on someone whose life is woven into yours" (p.26).

"Trust is a feeling based on fact...it's not a feeling based on certainty...Mistrust is a feeling based on a fact, too: anxiety because of a belief in unreliability. " (pp.101-103).

Chapter 2: Mistrust enters relationships through:

  • Major betrayals - anything that breaks a fundamental promise or violates a fundamental expectation in a way that significantly hurts your peace of mind

  • Being unreliable - always being late, repeated job losses, lacking follow-through

  • Significant differences in personality, background, or preferences

  • Having unequal power - "Trust means that two people take each other's needs into account. Power means that one of the two people doesn't have to do that" (p. 29).

      • "You can't trust someone who makes you feel helpless" (p. 230).

      • "Power is the ability to do what you want and get away with it. The more power someone else has, the less you can do what you want. So the other person doesn't have to take you into account" (p. 230).

      • "We trust because there's accountability. Accountability can narrow a power differential. Lack of accountability heightens power differentials" (p. 231).

      • "A power person just wants to win, period. A normal person can have a lot of power and be committed to fairness" (p.236).

  • Being a hidden person - regularly answering "I don't know" or shifting the subject, not sharing inner thoughts, wants, and feelings

  • Being a suspicious person - bringing a certain hypervigilance into the relationship, expecting to be hurt

Questions to reflect on in deciding 'Does it make sense to work at rebuilding trust?' (pp.37-55).

  1. Would you want this relationship if the trust could be restored? If you didn't think this was a good relationship before the betrayal, if you weren't wanting to be in it beforehand, then why in the world would you want to stay in it now? But if the relationship was a good one (putting the betrayal aside for a moment, although of course that's hard), why wouldn't you want to try to salvage it? Most people who leave a relationship right after the betrayal have regrets if the relationship had been good before that point.

  2. Does the fact that this betrayal happened ruin everything for you? If the betrayal has changed who the other person is for you so thoroughly that you can't imagine wanting to be with him--not even after your anger has died down, not even if you knew for sure he'd never betray you again--then trust isn't the issue and you'll be better off ending the relationship.

  3. Can I imagine the possibility of forgiveness? If you can see your lack of forgiveness as a self-destructive act, if you can see forgiving as a life-affirming act, and if you can sense the realistic possibility that one day you might be able to forgive, it makes sense to work at healing this relationship. Otherwise, not.

  4. Does the person you mistrust care about how you feel? If the other person doesn't care about how you feel in the sense that he consistently hasn't gone out of his way to do things to show his caring, then he will not be able to work with you during the trust-restoring process, and so it's not likely to happen. Why bother trying?

  5. Can the other person work on your relationship with you? A good way to tell if the other person is willing and able to work on the relationship is this. What happens if you attack less and listen more? If that makes the other person more willing to work on things with you, then you're in good shape. If it doesn't make a difference o, or if you can't bring yourself to attack less and listen more, then you may not be able to go through the process of rebuilding trust.

  6. What do I have to lose by giving our relationship a chance? If you can get to the point where you can say you have nothing to lose by giving the other person a chance, then it's worth staying and working to rebuild trust.

"You don't need to have hope that you two can rebuild trust in your relationship. You just need to think that it's worth attempting, if only so you can say that you attempted it...many of the very best surprises start after we've lost hope" (p. 64).

Chapters 6-11: Six questions need answers in order to restore trust:

  1. How will I ever cope with this?

  2. Does the other person really care about me?

  3. Can the other person really see me and understand how his betrayal hurt me?

  4. Can our relationship survive?

  5. Can we make things safer and better between us?

  6. Can I forgive him?

1. Coping

"With betrayal, the inconceivable happened. Someone we trusted who was supposed to take care of us or be there for us, has hurt or abandoned us. The world no longer makes any sense. Something happened that's just crazy. And it makes sense that it would make you feel crazy. That's what betrayal feels like" (p.107).

You are coping. It's normal to feel confused, having a mix of wild thoughts with no thoughts, following a betrayal. Just do not do anything you will regret. Identify you're sanest, wisest, head-on-her-shoulders friend. Any time you have a plan to do something towards the person who has betrayed you, run it by them first. Give them the opportunity to talk you out of whatever you may regret doing in the future. It is okay to feel crazy. It is not okay to act crazy.

2. Being Cared For

"If the person who betrayed you can hang in there while you're furious, he's passed the do-you-care test... Understanding never comes during the anger stage. The anger poisons the atmosphere so it's not safe to either speak or hear the truth...Angry people are scary people." (118-125).

Warning: Do not push the test past the point of endurance. Here is a relative timetable:

By the end of the first month, unlimited anger gives pause to moments of cooling off and is not so intense that you're doing crazy things to hurt yourself or the other person.

By the end of the first three months, anger does not infect everything. You and your partner are able to have goal-oriented discussions without fights occurring every time.

By the end of the first six months, anger is no longer the primary operating mode. You may still have anger flashes and a sense of walking on eggshells.

By the end of the first year, anger may still arise when something re-stimulates your feelings around the betrayal. You have a good sense that you're well on your way towards rebuilding trust within the relationship.

By the end of the first two years, you can operate with a sense of trusting each other. You're able to talk about the betrayal without getting angry and upset. The relationship feels restored, maybe even stronger than it did before the betrayal.

3. Being Seen

"The more anger in your voice, the less he hears your words. He just hears the anger. And the anger sounds like an accusation. So all he can think of to do is defend himself"

Try instead: "Look, I know you feel I'm accusing you and that makes you feel that you need to defend yourself. But it's not what I'm doing and it's not what I need from you. I just need you to see me. I just need to be able to talk about the impact of what happened and have you...just know that. I don't need you to say you're sorry. I don't need you to talk about what you meant or didn't mean to do. I just need you to show me that you understand what this was like for me."

4. Relationship Survival

"Again the need for safety has trumped the need for trust. Once the anger settles down and the feeling of running away has quieted, you may be tempted to act like everything is okay again, but that will only increase the distance.

Try instead: "Look, we've been through hell. And I know we're both feeling burned out. But we still have a real problem. Trust was seriously damaged. Now that we can begin to talk to each other without going nuts, we have to start repairing that damage" (p. 162).

5. Deal with what led to the betrayal to feel and be safe again

"It's not your fault you were betrayed. Period...Whenever there's been a betrayal there are problems on both sides and both people need to take responsibility for the part they've played" (p.167, 171).

Try instead to problem-solve without blame: "I'd like to prevent this from ever happening again. This has nothing to do with our blaming each other. No blame, okay? but let's see if we can figure out if there isn't something about you and about me that led to this happening. Please tell me if there's anything I did that somehow led to your doing what you did. And then let's talk a bit to see if there's anything I can help you with so you don't ever have to do anything like that again" (p.169).

Both partners, take turns saying ' My part in what happened is...' and do not even begin to talk about whose part was bigger. Of course, it would be nice to not hear any blame. Even if it is there, choose not to hear it. "Listen to what the other person says as a fact. It might be a fact stated with anger and resentment, but to them it's a fact nonetheless." Then, take turns summarizing, 'I hear that you need me...What can I do to show you that?' (pp.172-173).

"'It would mean a lot to me, it would make me really happy, if you___________. Is there anything I can do to help you with that?' (p.222).

The key to problem solving without blame: You refuse to hear blame. You just hear a need. And you don't judge that need nor do you try to justify yourself for whether or not you've tried to meet that need. You hear the need and talk about trying to meet it" (p.174)

6. Forgiveness

Forgiveness is "absolutely essential. Without forgiveness, the hurt and anger never really end...you can't trust someone you don't forgive and...you can't trust someone who doesn't forgive you" (p.190).

"Forgiveness is: a decision that you won't let what the other person did stand between the two of you anymore" (p.193).

Try instead: 'Look, we're in relationship rehab. We'll have good days and bad days. There will be times when we forget what's happened, and that's good. There will be times when we won't want to forget what's happened and that's okay, too' (p.200).

And start giving more weight to the good things that show evidence of the same betrayal never happening again than the feelings of anger and resentment that still might rise up occasionally.

Sometimes the forgiveness finally settles in because: the fear is exhausting, we become aware of how destructive un-forgiveness is, we have better understanding, we acknowledge something that already exists, and sometimes, we just don't care anymore: "The betrayal feels more like something from history than a living reality. It's something that happened to a former self, something that was caused by the former self of the other person" (pp.204-205).

Accepting the other person's imperfections becomes much easier when we learn to accept our own imperfections (p. 224).

Top Six Solutions to Prevent Betrayal (pp.177-184):

  1. Learn to listen to your partner in a way that makes them feel heard

  2. Make each other feel the other matters by making time for each other, listening, doing something nice, reaching out, and considering the little things.

  3. Be fair. It won't be a perfect balance of fairness, and that's okay. Rather, show genuine effort to make things more balanced.

  4. Learn how to make decisions together. That means not just accommodating, but actually deciding on something together. Experiment with different tactics of decision making together (pp.181-182):

"Tactic #1: Use your numbers. This works very often, and it's really fast. So you can't agree on something. Then each of you thinks of a number from 1 to 10 that represents how important your choice is to you. One means you barely don't care and ten means you want it as much as you've ever wanted anything. Then you tell each other your numbers. The person with the highest number wins.

Tactic #2: Taking turns. What if your numbers are the same or you just don't want to use your numbers? Flip a coin. Whoever wins this time gets their choice, then you take turns and the other person gets to choose next time. Again, it's fast and fair.

Tactic #3: 'This is important to me because...' I've noticed that couples very often get stuck making a decision because they don't understand why each other's choices are important to them. So before you get into a big ugly argument, each of you says why you want what you want. Talk about what it really means to you.

Tactic #4: Kicking it around. I've seen it over and over: two people get polarized before they've ever really talked about their options. Okay, so one of you wants the white couch and the other wants two leather club chairs. Fine. But before you get locked in, just sit down and kick around the whole furniture-buying thing. Why are you buying this stuff now? What are you hoping to get out of it? What are some other options you've never even talked about before? Often when people kick around the options before they get locked in, they make better choices without the stress."

  1. Don't belittle. Decide to both point out when one of you says something that makes the other feel little or less than. Just point it out and respond ' Oh, so it made you feel belittled when I said that? Good feedback.' Bank it and learn from the experience. No need to argue, defend, or explain the comment. "If betrayal is doing something to the other person behind their back, then anti-betrayal is doing something good for the other person to her face" (p.183).

  2. Don't be controlling. Rather, learn to have conversations about the needs underlying the behavior. Talk about how much power each of you feels you have and your partner feels they have. Understanding the felt-sense of power in each individual will help ensure you don't end up fighting, acting in ways to gain more power out of feeling disempowered (pp.238-239).

If you're still struggling deciding, try this exercise (pp.216-217):

"So how do you not deceive yourself when you're involved with someone who's unreliable--that is, someone who fills your life with small and not-so-small disappointments?

The answer is you keep an account. Here's how. Every day in your journal or your calendar you write down either a Y or an N. Y means 'Yes, I would stay in this relationship if every day for the rest of my life were like today.' N means, 'No, I would not stay in this relationship if I knew that every day for the rest of my life would be like today.'

Then at the end of a month you add up the Ys and the Ns. If the Ns outnumber the Ys, then you have to ask yourself if you're deceiving yourself by staying in this relationship. remember, if there are more Ns than Ys, then if you stay in this relationship, you're choosing to stay in a relationship where the bad times outweigh the good times. If that's worth it to you, find. But the question is, Are you really sure it's worth it to you?"

If you're still unsure of how to regain trust, ask yourself (pp.240-259):

  1. What information could the other person share with me that would make me feel more trust?

  2. What do I need to say 'This is important to me' about, to ensure my words carry weight, and my need is taken seriously?

  3. Is there follow-through? Do we keep on doing what we agreed on?

  4. How are we at respecting each other's differences currently?

  5. Are there any myths or ideals that you're still pretending aren't an issue in your relationship?

"We're frightened by hiddenness, but we're also frightened by what crawls out from that hiddenness into the sunlight. And so we give the message: Don't keep anything from me, but don't tell me anything I don't want to hear. And this makes the people around us crazy" (p. 260).

The necessary aggreement: "I'll open up if you won't slam me." "I won't slam you if you open up" (pp.262-263).

"We don't want to face the shitstorm when we reveal whatever it is we have to reveal...My acceptance is what unlocks the door to your openness. That's the deal" (pp.264-265).

When you want to be trusted (pp.278-283):

  1. Don't make big mistakes. Communicate anything that might look like unreliability in advance.

  2. Don't lie or be hidden.

  3. Accept that the other person doesn't feel safe

  4. Notice the success of being a part of healing someone's hurt by being honest, understanding, supportive, and avoiding
    all unnecessary hurt