I can't stop accusing my boyfriend of cheating

I know there's nothing going on, but I'm afraid to trust him.


Cary Tennis
December 16, 2005 4:51PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am on the verge of destroying yet another relationship. I really want to prevent this because I really love this man and would hate to see the relationship go the route of the last one. The problem is, I cannot stop accusing him of cheating. I am always imagining scenarios of where and how he could be acting unfaithfully, even when he spends all of his time with me. When I say he spends all of his time with me, I am not exaggerating. He's with me any time he is not working, and as soon as he gets home, he calls and we talk until we go to sleep. Yet, I am obsessed with the idea that he could be seeing someone else or making a fool of me behind my back.

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This started exactly a year and a half after we got together. I don't know that there is anything magical about this specific time, but in my last relationship, I started this nonsense at the exact same time. My last boyfriend also spent a lot of time with me, but I constantly nagged and accused him of cheating on me -- so much so that eventually he (understandably) began distancing himself from me and eventually did begin to see other women.

The thing was, when I had actual proof that he was cheating, I was devastated. I don't think I have ever experienced more pain in my life. I guess all the time I was accusing him of it, I never believed it would actually happen. I don't want to lose my current boyfriend because of this, but his patience is starting to wear thin.

I have tried to sit quietly with myself to figure out what this fear is and where it comes from. But the fear is so big and so irrational that I can't even get outside of myself to examine what it could be or where it could come from. My father left my family when I was young, partly because my mother is a nagging, argumentative and selfish person, partly because he was on booze and drugs and just plain irresponsible. All the women in my family derive great pleasure from trashing men, and not one of them is married or has been able to hold onto a relationship. I am painfully aware of all the trauma I've inherited from my family, and I've been able to deal with all of it except this issue of trust.

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I should also mention that I do not trust women either, but that manifests itself differently. Usually with women, I don't even bother getting close, but if I happen to, I usually push them away by imagining that they are out to hurt me somehow, either by talking about me behind my back or stealing my boyfriends.

I want to end this once and for all. Not only is it annoying, but it's also really painful to deal with. I hate causing my boyfriend pain by insulting his character, and I don't want to cause myself pain anymore with my fantasies of him cheating.

How can I resolve this? Is there anything I can do to overcome this fear and live happily and in peace in my relationships with others?

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Sincerely,

Lost in an Emotion

Dear Lost in an Emotion,

I think you probably can learn to stop obsessing about your boyfriend cheating on you. I think you can learn to trust people. But even if I could read your mind, I could not tell you how to fix your problem once and for all, just in this letter. Trust is something you're going to have to learn by doing -- like a sport or a dance step.

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You may be able to keep your boyfriend from bolting, in the meantime, if you explain to him where your lack of trust comes from, and what you're doing to overcome it. Learning to trust would probably involve some sessions with a therapist or other knowledgeable person who could work with you regularly over a period of time. It would involve, I imagine, taking gradual steps toward trust, first in safe and unchallenging situations and then, over time, broadening your capacity for trust into more difficult areas of your life, such as trusting a lover.

While I don't want to appear to substitute my amateur textual analysis for the help of a professional therapist or counselor, I can't help noticing some clues in your prose. (These clues are a good thing -- it means the answers may be close at hand.) When you say "the fear is so big and so irrational that I can't even get outside of myself to examine what it could be or where it could come from," I get the feeling that you could just as easily be talking about your father. Even if your father doesn't seem big to you now, fathers are certainly big to their children. And drugs and booze make fathers act irrational. Interestingly, as if to prove the point, your next sentence is this: "My father left my family when I was young, partly because my mother is a nagging, argumentative and selfish person, partly because he was on booze and drugs and just plain irresponsible."

So there is probably a strong connection between your father's behavior and your fear of trusting people. It's interesting, too, how you characterize the fear -- that it's so big that you can't get outside yourself to examine it. I find that when emotions are so powerful that we cannot get outside ourselves to view them, it is often because they arose in childhood -- a time when we have no secure boundaries, no clear sense of ourselves as different from others, a time when we cannot get outside ourselves.

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Continuing with your letter, the next sentence is this: "All the women in my family derive great pleasure from trashing men, and not one of them is married or has been able to hold onto a relationship." If none of the women in your family has learned to trust men, then it's not surprising that you didn't learn that, either. There may have been a number of alcoholic, irrational men in your family. And the women in your family perhaps have acted, in some sense, quite rationally toward these men, for their own protection.

The fact is, contrary to what you learned in childhood and what the other women in your family have taught you, there are some men in the world who can be trusted. You are just going to have to learn how to do that.

The good news is that by sitting quietly and thinking about this, you apparently came up with some very useful insights, whether you realized it or not at the time. That is why I think you can overcome this distrust and save your relationship. It will just take some work with a therapist.

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The reason I suggest seeing a therapist is because it sounds like the behaviors that are bothering you are pretty much out of your conscious control. If they were things you could manage, like, say, quitting smoking, that would be different. If you can't afford a therapist, then weekly attendance at a self-help group might help, as might other resources aimed at helping individuals overcome crippling habits and gain insight into their unconscious behaviors.

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