Trust issues

How can I make my boyfriend believe I won't cheat on him?

By Cary Tennis
Published March 23, 2004 8:33PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend D for quite a while. We first began dating five years ago, but after a year and a half, we had to (somewhat reluctantly) go our separate ways and ended up in different states.

Over the next few years we kept in contact, hung out a few times, and even dated other people. But six months ago (after a few years and some growing up), we saw each other and wanted to give it a go for good this time, and that is what we are trying to do.

For the most part, our relationship is amazing. He is my best friend, and I am completely in love with him. I know, too, that he feels the same way about me. We are still living in different states, but this summer I am planning on moving in with him.

Here's the problem: On a recent trip to visit me D snooped around my apartment, found my journal, and read some of it until he felt so ashamed of himself he put it away. Although he admitted this to me and apologized profusely, I was incredibly hurt that he would invade my privacy like that. But my feelings had to be set aside when he became fiercely angry at me over what he had read -- a passionate letter to a boy I had cheated on my last boyfriend with (written months ago). This might sound like an adolescent dilemma, but I assure you, we are both college-educated, grown adults.

I know, I know. Once a cheater, always a cheater, or so D has told me. But I really don't feel that way! I love D with all of my heart, and I would never hurt him like that. He has always been incredibly insecure and nervous about my leaving him for someone "better," and now it seems I have given him proof, written by my own hand, that I am capable of actually doing this. Lately, he has been continuously making comments about my screwing around, and even the slightest noise during a phone conversation with him can cause suspicion.

Please help me. Although I am thoroughly exhausted from trying to reassure my boyfriend that I am completely devoted to him, nothing seems to be working. It is so hard to explain to him that other people I have dated are completely irrelevant, and my feelings for them do not even compare to the way I feel (and have always felt) about him. How can I convince him that I am not cheating, and how can I make him understand how much I love him?

Faithful and Frustrated

Dear Faithful,

The one thing you can do now is stay with your boyfriend and not cheat. If you do that for a long enough time, he will find it persuasive, because it will be experience, and experience is persuasive. Talk is not as persuasive as experience. Certain kinds of talk are less persuasive than others. About the least persuasive kind of talk is talk that tries to prove that something will not happen. It is especially hard to prove that something won't happen when that very thing recently did happen. You would have to prove that the capacity for that behavior no longer exists -- and how could you do that? You've still got a body and a brain and a heart. It's not like trying to prove that a country can't fire nuclear missiles because they don't have nuclear missiles. You've got the missiles. You're just claiming you'll never fire them again.

Picture him trying to puzzle it out. On the one hand you, whom he loves, are telling him you'd never cheat. On the other hand, the facts, which are hard to ignore, say that you recently did just that. What you want him to believe, I think, are two things: One, that you've changed; and two, that he's in a different category from that other guy that you cheated on, that your feelings for him are so profoundly of another order that there's no comparison, so that the evidence doesn't apply.

But he's still a boyfriend, just like that other boyfriend. And you're still the woman who cheated on a boyfriend. So how can he believe that he's in a different category? What category would that be?

See what I mean, jelly bean? To believe it, he has to see it; he has to experience your faithfulness firsthand. I know I'm belaboring this, but I just want to spell it out, brick by brick, so that you can perhaps see the fruitlessness of your efforts, and let it go. The only thing you can really do is just not screw around. After a while, it won't matter, because you will have been together a long time anyway. So by staying together and not cheating you accomplish two goals at once!

You need to earn his trust.

Likewise, he needs to earn your trust. There's no reason right now for you to believe that you can trust him in your room while you're not around. Who knows what else he's doing -- snooping in your e-mail, looking up your bank balance, reading your mail. So what both of you need to do is adopt new behaviors geared toward building long-term trust.

There are other ways to do this, ways to speed up the process. I don't mean that thing where you close your eyes and fall backward and he catches you. I mean things like not flirting with other boys, always showing up when you say, avoiding suggestive or threatening remarks about what you might do, generally not disappointing each other and not alarming each other and not giving rise to worries and mistrust.

Why don't both of you just try to live with the facts for a while. The fact is that you cheated on a former boyfriend. The fact is also that he snooped on you. So you're each capable of breaking the rules. The fact is that you love each other, you're both human and thus imperfect, nothing in life is certain anyway, you're trying hard to do the right thing, sticking together is the best shot at happiness you've got right now, so just try to stick with the program, don't do anything to make him jealous, and lock up your diary.

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Cary Tennis

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