We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to email@example.com. Now, onto today’s topic: how to recover when trust has been violated in a relationship.
Q: “I'm looking for advice on a disagreement my spouse and I are having. We’ve been together for five years, married for two, and have had some trust issues from the very beginning: When we first started dating, she lied to me about texting her ex. I went through her phone and found an ‘I miss you’ text. She eventually told me the truth after I called her out.
Fast forward a few years: my wife recently made friends (she doesn’t have very many) with a coworker. I don’t like this coworker very much because I know she cheats on her husband. They used to text a lot; my wife claims to have stopped texting her, but today I saw that my wife snapped her a photo. She doesn’t even Snapchat me.
I know I cross the line every time I sneak a look at my wife’s phone but I can’t help but feel something’s up. My wife gets defensive when I approach her about her texting, and says it makes her feel like I don’t trust her.
Am I overstepping if I ask my wife to delete her coworker on Snapchat? I know I have trust issues that clearly need to be worked on, and I don't fully understand if really don’t trust my wife, if I’m jealous, if I’m over thinking things, or if I should be concerned. I have recently been trying to stop myself from going through her phone, but what can I ask my wife to do that may make me feel more comfortable about the situation — without overstepping?”
A: Figuring out how to rebuild trust can feel really tricky — especially in a situation like this, with broken trust on both of your ends — but I think you’re overcomplicating the issue. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to re-establish trust; here are seven steps to help you on your way to developing healthy trust.
You Can’t Snoop
First things first: it’s never OK to snoop through your partner’s stuff. I know it’s tempting, especially if you suspect something is going on, and even more so after you’ve found something incriminating. But it’s not a healthy behavior in a relationship.
Plus, you’ll never re-establish trust by snooping; if anything, snooping is only going to make you feel less trusting of your partner. You have to stop going through your wife’s phone and accounts. (It sounds like you’re already trying to do this, which is great.)
You Can Ask For Boundaries With Exes
Even though you shouldn’t have snooped in the first place, you still did find that your wife sent inappropriate texts to her ex, which is some serious boundary-crossing on her part. You can ask your wife to cut off communication with her ex — that's a reasonable request within a relationship.
You Can’t Choose Your Partner’s Friends
However, I think you’re incorrectly lumping together two separate issues — your wife texting her ex and her friendship with her coworker. The two really don’t have anything to do with each other. Your wife sending “I miss you” texts to your ex doesn’t give you the liberty to ask her to end this friendship with her coworker. I get that you don’t like this woman because she has cheated on her husband, but you just can’t choose your wife’s friends. Given that she has so few friends to begin with, you really shouldn’t be trying to step in and take away one of the few friends she does have.
I also want to point out that it sounds like you don’t know anything about this other woman’s situation. For all we know, she could have realized that she made a mistake by cheating, and then bonded with your wife by talking with her about how to be a better partner to her husband. But even if she isn’t regretful, there’s no reason to believe she’s encouraging your wife to cheat on you, too.
You Don't Have To Hang Out With Your Partner's Friends
If you don’t like this woman, you don’t have to hang out with her. Plain and simple. You can’t force your wife not to hang out with her, but you can choose not to have her in your life.
You Can’t Control Your Spouse’s Social Media Accounts
You can’t ask your wife to shut down her Snapchat account. Even if your wife had Snapchatted her ex, it’s still going over the line to ask her to delete her entire account on any social media platform. You also can't ask her to de-friend her coworker, especially considering she hasn’t done anything wrong in her relationship with this friend. You don’t have any right to try to control their friendship.
You Can Work On Your Own Trust Issues
You mentioned that you know you have trust issues, and it sounds like perhaps those trust issues extend back further than your relationship with your wife. I would strongly encourage you to take a look at those issues on your own. Talk with friends about the situations that have damaged your trust in the past. If you have lingering trust issues with friends or family members, try to address or resolve them. Go to therapy. Start journaling. Whatever it is that you need to do to take ownership of your issues and start addressing them, do it.
You Can Give It Time
Both you and your wife have broken each other’s trust: she broke your trust by texting her ex, and you broke her trust by snooping — and continuing to snoop — around on her phone. You both need to heal from these boundary violations.
Here’s the tricky thing about trust: it has to rebuild on its own, naturally, over time. Most people think that controlling their partner’s behaviors will help them feel more comfortable and trusting, but it just doesn’t work that way. Controlling your partner’s actions isn’t going to make you trust them more, because they’re not the ones making the decisions about their behaviors; you’re just forcing them to behave in ways that feel better to you. Trying to control your partner also tends to backfire, and will likely make them want to get out from under your control.
The best thing you can do right now is try to maintain that positive attitude you talked about, and give yourselves time to heal.