Lost trust

We cheated on each other once and now we're engaged but she still doesn't trust me. Will that ever change?

By Cary Tennis

Published November 1, 2002 3:40PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Is it possible to regain someone's trust once you have lost it? If so, how? I've been with the same woman since high school and I love her so much it hurts. But our relationship has had its problems through the years (I'm now 25). A little more than a year ago, we both had our bouts with infidelity. Me with a co-worker, she with a neighbor. We both felt horrible guilt and eventually admitted our wrongdoing. It was hard, and we struggled, but eventually we both decided never to feel disconnected from each other again, which is what we blamed the whole episode on. I wasn't being attentive, she was aloof and appeared too busy for me.

We started communicating more and everything looked bright. We fell in love again and became engaged, but recently she has made it clear she doesn't trust me and hasn't forgiven me like I have her. She has admitted the fact that I'm much more attentive now, but what can I do? I love this girl and want to marry her, but it is very depressing having her distrust hang over my head as a constant reminder of what I did. Please help.


Dear Distrusted,

It often seems to me that the period of engagement prior to marriage is like some senseless pregame show no one wants to watch. You want to shout, "Just get married, why don't you!" Or it's a medieval throwback in which the man places a nonrefundable deposit, in the form of expensive jewelry, on the woman's vagina, pending the outcome of a period of probation during which she must remain chaste and demonstrate her devotion. Other times it's just sheer empty ritual whose forgotten meaning is replaced with conspicuous consumption, which is pretty much decadence incarnate, no?

But in your case, it sounds like there are some issues that time alone may solve, and the trial period represented by the engagement is probably prudent. I think there are two kinds of trust and they are not always in sync; there is the gut-level trust, and there is the intellectual trust. When one has been betrayed, try as one might, even though one can calculate that the probability of being betrayed again is near zero, it's not easy to feel comfortable. Even if she believes you when you say you're going to be true, and believes you have the capacity to back up your words, it doesn't mean she's over being hurt. It might take her a long time. And, in fact, something might be broken that can't be fixed. If you become associated in her mind with that hurt, if there is too much emotional baggage, it might just be that the two of you have to call the whole thing off; there might come soon a night when you call it a day.

Stay engaged for a while. See if she regains her trust. See if you can be a good boy. If nothing gets better, move on. P.S. If you gave her a ring, let her keep it if she wants to, regardless of what happens.

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Want more of Cary's advice? Read yesterday's column.

Cary Tennis

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