By Susie & Otto Collins for YourTango.com.
We read a recent interview about Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn, which made us smile … and then frown in disappointment.
Despite health challenges each of them have faced this past year, champion athletes Tiger and Lindsey seem to be settling down happily in their relationship together. Vonn has even made friends with Woods’ ex-wife, Elin Nordgren. Woods and Vonn reportedly go on occasional double dates with Nordgren and her partner.
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We’re always glad to hear about couples who are able to come to a peaceful place after a very public and emotionally torturous breakup — as happened with Woods and Nordgren after Woods’ sex addiction and many affairs were discovered. But, as relationship coaches, we found the worrying part in a quote from an insider close to these couples, who commented that Nordgren is happy for Woods because, “Lindsey is really good for Tiger. She’s strong, opinionated and keeps him in line.”
Our objection is with those last four words: She “keeps him in line.”
Maybe you’ve struggled to keep a love relationship or marriage together with your partner who is an incurable flirt, or even a serial cheater. You’ve tried every way you know to get him to change and nothing has worked. And so, you’ve made it your job to “keep him in line.” You ask him the same set of questions every single day just to be sure he’s not giving in to temptation with the attractive woman at his office. You check his phone, his email and his Facebook page to monitor who he’s interacting with and you step in when another woman gets too close.
It feels like you have to be hyper-vigilant because he’s shown you before that he won’t make choices that are good for your relationship. Even if your guy has never cheated, maybe you’ve heard too many horror stories from friends who have suffered infidelity and it’s led you to believe that men just can’t be trusted. Perhaps you grew up with the lesson that men can’t help themselves and that it’s up to the woman in the relationship to make sure he keeps his promise to be faithful. Especially if your partner had an affair, flirts with others or looks too long or in “that way” at other women, it seems like you have a valid reason to take on the job of keeping him in line.
This is the only way.
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We understand the painful uncertainty of being in a relationship with someone who has disappointed and hurt you by breaking trust. We don’t want you to set yourself up for future heartbreak by denying what happened in the past or ignoring important signals you see now. But, there’s a serious downside to consider.
When you make it YOUR job to keep your partner in line….
- You send the message that he’s incapable of making his own decisions.
- He is “off the hook” and free from responsibility. (Why should he bother to make a change when you’re always policing him?)
- You make yourself morally superior to him. (Which may not be true in all situations.)
- You build up the walls between you even bigger— and make them more difficult to take down.
- You prevent trust from healing.
When you feel suspicious, or are actively trying to repair damage, after a break in trust, differentiate between what you can do and what you can’t do. You cannot make him change and you can’t do the job of making certain choices for him. But, you aren’t helpless either. There are so many ways you can help heal your relationship so that you two can move closer together and be happy again.
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4 things you CAN do to protect trust in your relationship…
1. Remind yourself of the facts: This might have to be a daily practice. No matter what happened in the past, keep bringing your attention back to what’s true now. What are the observable and verifiable facts of your partner’s behavior and of your relationship in general right now? Write them down on paper if you need to. Look honestly at the facts of your current relationship. If your partner is continuing to cheat or otherwise disrespect you and break trust, then it might be time to ask yourself whether or not it’s smart to stay in this relationship.
2. Create trust-supportive agreements: If you are committed to staying in your relationship and you decide it’s in your best interests to do so, then open up communication with your man. Invite him in and ask him to work with you to heal trust. Don’t do this by laying out a guilt trip or ultimatum; ask him to help come up with trust-supportive agreements you both will keep. Some of these agreements might involve him being more transparent with you. Other agreements may address weak points in your relationship.
3. Make it easier for him to step up: Look for the ways that you are preventing him from being honest and open with you. Is your resentment and bitterness getting in the way? Are your expectations that, “He’s a man and can’t be trusted,” coming through loud and clear, and sending the message that it’s not worth it for him to try? Help create an environment that’s conducive to re-connection.
4. Acknowledge the improvements: Give him credit when he shows you he is really trying. Let him know that you appreciate his efforts and celebrate the successes you BOTH contribute to as your relationship makes its way back to health and happiness.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: The Downsides Of Trying To Keep A Former Cheater ‘In Check’.