What can I do to regain trust in my husband? He has been addicted to pornography for most of our 44 years of marriage. He has worked hard to overcome his addiction and I think he has been successful for the last three or four years.
He seems to have replaced one addiction with another though. He has become increasingly flirtatious with other women. This last three months he has had an “affair of the heart” with an attractive single lady. He says that it’s over but I’m having a hard time getting past the hurt and feelings of betrayal.
He says I have to trust him and forgive him. I’m really trying and I think I’ve forgiven him but I don’t trust him. This is a wretched way to live.
Forgiveness and trust are two very different things. Forgiving your husband can happen as soon as you’re ready to forgive him. Forgiveness allows you to surrender the anger, fear, and resentment you carry as a result of his choices. Forgiveness frees you from playing God and exacting some kind of price from his misdeeds. It’s not easy to forgive, and it often takes time.
However, forgiving your husband doesn’t depend on his behavior. Refusing to forgive another person is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.
Trust, on the other hand, completely depends on his behavior. If he wants to have you put your life and love back in his hands, he needs to learn how to be faithful to only you. Even though you’ve stayed with him these 44 years, my guess is that you haven’t trusted him to have all of you. That isn’t something you’re doing wrong. You’ve observed he’s had a competing relationship with pornography and, now, other women, so you keep your distance.
Stopping one problematic behavior is certainly worth celebrating. However, if it’s immediately replaced with another betrayal, then clearly the root of the problem hasn’t been addressed. The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. If he’s not turning toward you completely with his full attention and commitment, then he’s not fully healing his addiction.
Your question should be, “what can my husband do to regain my trust?” The burden of restoring trust is on him, not you. Your job is to watch for and identify trustworthy, or nontrustworthy, behaviors. If you don’t trust him, there’s most likely a good reason for that. The person you should trust is yourself.
If you choose to stay with him and continue forward as a married couple, then you will eventually need to open yourself up in response to his efforts at being more trustworthy. My observation over the years is that a spouse who is committed to earning trust back after betrayal can make that process much easier on the injured spouse if they don’t demand trust, stay consistent in their behaviors, and do everything they can to create safe conditions.
I can tell you want to trust, but you’re living with a man who isn’t trustworthy. Yes, he’s had some recent success in eliminating one addictive behavior. However, that’s just the beginning of him now having the freedom to look deeper inside himself to understand how this addiction has affected him and his relationships. If he simply moves over to a new acting out behavior, then he’s no wiser and safer than he was when he was consumed with looking at pornography. As a result, you’re going to naturally keep your distance.
Help him understand that forgiving him will happen regardless of how he behaves, as you need to release yourself from the storm of emotions and pain you’re suffering. Let him know that trust is his responsibility and that it’s not something he can demand from you. If he wants to be trusted, then he needs to act trustworthy every single day and in every single situation. If he breaks that trust, then he works to repair it. This process is repeated over and over until he becomes a trustworthy person. There is no other way to do this. There are no shortcuts to rebuilding trust.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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