“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Laurie and Frank were high school sweethearts. They married young because Laurie became pregnant and, being Catholic, any other choice was out of the question, so he decided to do the right thing. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her—he did, but as with all things high school and unfinished, over time, Frank longed for his lost youth. You can see where this is going and it’s not good. Laurie worked full-time to put Frank through college and law school. He worked long hours and she stayed home with the kids. As his success rose, they began to lead separate lives. He and his buddies would routinely frequent strip clubs after work and occasionally bust out for a Vegas trip which inevitably did not stay in there. One night after Frank arrived home drunk and passed out on the sofa, Laurie came across text messages from one of the girls wanting to hook up and that was the start of their particular fandango.
At first, he denied it, and then he became indignant, and finally contrite, sad and terrified that he would lose her. Frank realized what she meant to him, but Laurie worried incessantly every time he went out and would give him the third and fourth degree when he arrived home. Inevitably, a huge row would ensue, only to end in an icy standoff that would last for days. Laurie’s trust in Frank was shattered, and there was no turning back. They were lost in a sea of suspicion and secrecy.
Trust is the bedrock of what makes relationships work. It is the fundamental process of love and intimacy. When trust goes, what goes with it are safety, security, respect, love and friendship, replaced by anger, insecurity, anxiety, fear; the aggrieved person becomes like the police, the FBI, and/or the CIA. Distrust causes spouses to look through cell phones, check emails, and ask endless questions about “Where have you been and who were you talking to?” Life becomes laced with arguments, large and small, about what is really going on, rather than taking what is said at face value. In the intervening thirty or so years of doing therapy, there is not a thornier issue than the loss of trust, in whatever form it may take.
Trust can be lost through lies, rage, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and, most prominently, sexual infidelity. Once it’s lost, there is usually a Humpty Dumpty effect: hard to put it back together again. Usually the behaviors that created the distrust are difficult to change, because they are complex and convoluted. These little critters skip and jump through our system like ciphers popping up in unexpected places, while giving our mind the best of reasons to be doing whatever it is that our bodies are pushing for.
The body certainly does vote, and when it comes to sex, nothing is more powerful. I have seen very wealthy and powerful people literally spending millions of dollars on sex, drugs, and rock and roll—all the while being in the midst of a marriage with children. The level of guilt is staggering enough to kill a herd of horses, but it generally does not stop the offender. The reasons why men or women cheat are multifaceted. They can range from loneliness, poor self-esteem, cultural entitlement, arrogance and/or sexual issues within the marriage or relationship. Our society is also rife with willing males and females who know full well that a roll in the hay will quintuple what they could otherwise earn, not to mention shoes, jewelry, apartments and cars. It says something about our world and the steady decline of moral imperatives. That being said, it’s trust that is the biggest loser.
Once trust has been lost, what can we do to get it back—if anything?