Trust Wisely

Living and Loving after Betrayal

Posted Sep 18, 2013

Human beings need to trust. Trust allays anxiety, helps lift depression, and makes it possible to consistently invest interest and enjoyment in one another. There could be no civilization, enduring health, or mental wellness without trust. The most ordinary interpersonal, commercial, medical, and legal interactions would be impossible without some degree of trust. In contrast, distrust is fraught with anxiety and resentment. No loneliness is lonelier than distrust.

Intimate betrayal, of course, impairs the ability to trust. That wouldn’t be so bad if trust-inhibitions affected only love relationships, as it would give you time to heal before attempting to form new intimate bonds. But impairments in the ability to trust have a way of spilling into all relationships, including those with children.

It’s useful to begin a discussion of trust by distinguishing the different kinds:

Blind trust puts faith in someone without regard to demonstrated reliability or trustworthiness. It’s more a reluctance to experience the doubt, anxiety, and loneliness of distrust than an endorsement of the other person’s better qualities.

Suspiciousness is focused on the mere possibility of betrayal.

Wise trust assesses the probability of betrayal, in recognition that we are all frail creatures capable of betrayal in weaker moments. Realistically, it’s possible that any of us could betray a loved one. Blind trust denies this darker characteristic of human nature; suspiciousness exaggerates it. Wise trust is an assessment that the probability of betrayal is low.

Trusting wisely in close relationships is a slow and gradual process. It has to be; any accurate assessment of the probability of betrayal must be based on the demonstration of reliability over time and under stress.

The Probability of Betrayed Trust

Intimate betrayal most often occurs when partners violate their deeper values to gain a temporary sense of empowerment. The way that potential partners empower themselves when feeling vulnerable is the most telling way to assess the probability of betrayal. Knowing facts about their historical behavior in intimate relationships helps, of course. But that is not always possible. Fortunately, there are subtle clues that can help assess probability.

The partner who becomes angry, resentful, or depressed when feeling vulnerable is more likely to shut down or punish or control (emotionally abuse) or seek some kind of temporary ego boost through infidelity or deceit. In contrast, the potential partner who responds to the prospect of vulnerability by trying to improve the situation, appreciate, connect, or protect is far less likely to betray you.

Use the following to assess the probability that a betrayal of trust will occur in a current relationship. If the relationship is new, fill it out every couple of weeks, until you learn more about the prospective partner.

Circle all that apply. When feeling vulnerable (e.g., anxious, devalued, rejected, powerless, inadequate, unlovable), my partner is likely to:

Improve Appreciate Connect


Shut down

Get angry



Abuse substances

Abuse me

Self-Compassion Means Slow Trust

Please don’t let the natural desire to trust people you care for rush what is a necessarily slow process. Think of it this way, the more slowly that trust returns, the better; slow trust is more likely to have a solid and durable foundation. Be patient with yourself. Your trusting nature is not lost; it’s just a little bruised. Those who love you will probably understand what you’ve been through and will most likely be patient with you. If they are worthy of your trust, they have an intuitive understanding of this: Three of the four positive attachment emotions – interest, compassion, and love – are unconditional in healthy relationships. But the fourth, trust, must be earned.

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